In 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the “30 by 30” law that establishes a conservation goal for New York State of protecting 30% of the State’s “lands and inland waters” by the year 2030.
This landmark environmental protection legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support, passing the State Senate by a vote of 58 to 3, and the State Assembly by a vote of 137 to 8. The 30 by 30 law commits New York to do its part to reach a similar national goal established by President Joe Biden in 2021, to protect 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, and is a major step forward to protect New York’s open spaces, forests, and wetlands, which are cornerstones of the State’s long-term climate resilience and mitigation efforts.
Protect the Adirondacks released a new special report 20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act that assessed the level of protected lands and waters in New York State in 2023, the types of lands protected, what constitutes protected lands, and the amount of land that needs to be protected by 2030 to reach the goal of protecting 30% of New York State’s lands and waters as set out in the 30 by 30 Act.
The new report also lays out recommendations for needed actions by the State of New York and includes tables for all 62 counties that details the types of lands and total acreages currently protected in each county.
New York State encompasses 31,369,853 acres of land and inland waters. Protect the Adirondacks’ analysis concludes that 6,220,150 acres of lands and waters are currently protected in a variety of ways, creating a legacy and heritage of ambitious land conservation. These wild places include 2.9 million acres of Forest Preserve in the Adirondack Park and Catskill Park; over 850,000 acres of state-held conservation easements; over 700,000 acres of State Forests; nearly 350,000 acres of State park lands; and over 235,000 acres of municipal park lands, county forests, and watershed lands.
Other protected areas include conservation easements and lands owned by land trusts and agricultural land conservation organizations, totaling approximately 600,000 acres. Changes to the State’s Freshwater Wetlands Act in 2022 could also add significant wetland acreage to protected areas in New York.
Protect the Adirondacks identified 12 types of land ownerships across New York that enjoy permanently conserved status (see chart below). From the Forest Preserve to state parks to conservation easements to county forests and municipal parks to lands protected by land trusts and conservation organizations, over 6.2 million acres have been protected.
The goal now is to focus on a variety of strategies that include existing and new land protection programs. The Department of Environmental Conservation has a deadline of July 1, 2024 to release a report about how to achieve the goals in the 30 by 30 Act.
Protect the Adirondacks’ analysis concluded that approximately 20% of New York’s lands and inland waters is protected in 2023, some 6,220,150 acres. Thus, we believe that an additional 3,190,806 acres will need to be protected by 2030 in order to reach the statutory goal of the 30 by 30 law. DEC and Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation recently announced that work has begun to update the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan.
Regional Advisory Committees have formed and are preparing land lists and a draft updated plan will be released for public hearings in 2024. With the State committed to protecting another nearly 3.2 million acres by 2030, the 30 by 30 law should play a major role in the focus and objectives of the updated Open Space Plan.
Reaching the 30 by 30 goal will be a monumental challenge for New York State and requires a sustained commitment from State leaders, State agencies, land
trusts and conservation organizations, and local governments in all corners of the state.
The 30 by 30 report set out an ambitious goal for New York, in concert with the federal government and many other states. Meeting this goal is vital for mitigating climate change impacts and for preserving our heritage and open spaces for future generations of New Yorkers to enjoy.
There is a path for achieving the goal of the 30 by 30 Act , and it requires state leaders, state government, private conservation organizations, land trusts, and local governments across New York to work together to tackle this monumental challenge.
According to New Yorks’ Real Property Tax Assessment Rolls, lands in parcels measuring between 10 to 25 acres in size, and classified as lightly developed or as open space, total over 1.7 million acres. This land base exists in over 111,000 individual parcels.
Lands classified as open space in parcels measuring 25 to 50 acres total 2.33 million acres, and are distributed in over approximately 65,000 parcels.
Lands classified as open space in parcels measuring 50 to 100 acres total 3.44 million acres, and are distributed in over 49,000 parcels.
Lands classified as open space in parcels measuring over 100 acres total over 4.85 million acres, and are distributed in over 28,000 parcels.
Given the undeveloped open spaces that remain across New York State, the land base clearly exists to meet the 30 by 30 goal and permanently protect lands from future development.
To reach the State’s 30 by 30 goal, new lands will need to be protected through a variety of programs. State leaders need to re-ignite land protection at state agencies and explore new programs that protect open spaces.
To meet the 30 by 30 goal to conserve 30% of New York State’s land and inland waters by 2030, a total of 3,190,806 acres will need to be protected. This is an audacious objective for State leaders and communities across New York.
Protect the Adirondacks believes that this goal is attainable for the State of New York and can be accomplished through a number of different programs and with a number of different partners.
1. The Hochul Administration Should Set a Goal of Protecting 1,000,0000 Acres through State Acquisition by 2030.
There is precedent for accelerated state action on land protection. The Pataki Administration protected over 1 million acres across New York in a 10-year period in the late 1990s through 2006. The goal of acquiring 1 million acres can be achieved by purchasing lands in fee and conservation easements.
For example, the 1-million-acre goal can be achieved by expanding the Forest Preserve by 250,000 acres, State Parks by 75,000 acres, State Forests and other state lands by 100,000 acres, Working Forest Conservation Easements by 500,000 acres, and agricultural easements by 75,000 acres.
The 2022 Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act has approximately $2.275 billion in funding that is allocated to protect lands and waters in New York State, and the $400 million Environmental Protection Fund is also a source of annual funding for land purchases. Significant new land protection funding will also be necessary between now and 2030.
2. New Open Space Conservation Plan Should Make 30 by 30 its Top Priority.
The New York State Open Space Conservation Plan is currently in the early stages of revision. The first plan was approved in the early 1990s and last updated in 2016. The Open Space Plan is built on the work of nine Regional Advisory Committees made up of local government officials and various individuals selected by state agencies. The new Open Space Plan should have as its stated priority a commitment to achieve the State’s 30 by 30 goal.
3. The Adirondack Park Plays a Key Role in Meeting the 30 by 30 Goal.
The Adirondack Park contains large tracts of undeveloped and unprotected lands that would benefit from protection as additions to the Forest Preserve or by conservation easement. State planning for meeting the 30 by 30 goal should spotlight the key role that the Adirondack Park can play in meeting the state’s land conservation goals.
From the 36,000-acre Whitney Park tract to the large tracts of commercial forestlands, there are critical opportunities for land protection that would enhance public access, expand Wilderness areas, and preserve managed forestlands. Land protection in the Adirondack Park is an investment in the economy and environment in the Adirondack Park and in the future of New York.
The goals of the 30 by 30 law should be merged with the state’s Climate Action Plan prepared under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Land protection should be a cornerstone of CLCPA planning complementing expansion of alternative energy sources, conservation, and improving the state’s transmission and electrical grid.
One weakness of the state’s Climate Action Plan is the absence of a private forest land management program where lands are permanently protected by some form of “forever wild” state easement for the purpose of carbon sequestration and long-term carbon storage.
New York needs this type of program because there are many forestland owners across the state who are not interested in managing their lands for commercial forestry and would be interested in a state program providing payments and long-term tax benefits in exchange for permanent open space protection and carbon storage.
Our research estimates that there are over 12 million acres of lands that are lightly developed or in open space and would be suitable for this type of program.
The state should set a goal of protecting two million acres through a new climate-change-based forest management program. Such a program would meet objectives for both 30 by 30 and the CLCPA.
5. Land Trusts and Private Institutions in New York Should Protect Over 190,000 Acres.
As part of the New York State’s 30 by 30 goal, land trusts and private organizations should permanently protect over 190,000 additional acres by 2030. These lands enjoy flexibility in the conservation management that allow private uses, and some public uses, yet protect the land’s most important natural resources.
6. State Agencies Need to Improve and Streamline Land Purchasing Procedures.
The Department of Environmental Conservation needs to add additional staff to its Real Property Office to improve the State’s ability to buy lands. The State Comptroller, Attorney General, and DEC Commissioner need to streamline State land acquisition procedures to shorten the time that it takes to complete a purchase.
Protect the Adirondacks has identified over 6.2 million acres of protected lands out of the 9.4 million acres that need to be protected to meet the 30 by 30 statutory goal of protecting 30% by 2030. There are 12 million acres of unprotected open space lands across New York that offer prime opportunities for protection to reach the 30 by 30 goal.
The revised New York State Open Space Conservation Plan can set the blueprint for the State’s acquisition of 1 million acres of lands and waters, with a particular focus on the Adirondack Park. Another 2 million acres of land can be protected by creating incentives for private landowners to preserve forests to meet the climate change goals in New York’s Climate Action Plan and through protection actions by private land trusts and other NGOs.
There is a clear pathway for the State of New York to protect another 3.2 million acres and reach the goal set forth in the 30 by 30 legislation.
Illustrations: Chart showing New York State Protected Land; Map of All Protected Lands in New York State; the cover of Protect the Adirondacks’ special report (Protect the Adirondacks 2023).