Oblong Land Conservancy awarded grants at start of Earth Week

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, on Monday, April 20th, announced $1.8 million in Conservation Partnership Program grants for 55 nonprofit land trusts, including Oblong Land Conservancy, across the State. Representatives of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Land Trust Alliance unveiled the grantees at an event today at Teatown Lake Reservation in Westchester County. The announcement launches a weeklong celebration of Earth Week, which recognizes New York’s commitment to protecting our environment, conserving open space, increasing access to the state’s vast and magnificent natural resources, implementing clean energy initiatives and preparing for the effects of climate change.

“New York’s natural resources play a vital role in our economy, and today we are taking another step forward in protecting and preserving them for generations to come,” Governor Cuomo said. “With these grants, New York’s Environmental Protection Fund is securing critical funding for environmental and open space programs that will continue to protect our environment, generate jobs and revenue in local communities and ensure a cleaner and healthier New York.”

The grants, funded through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), will leverage an additional $1.7 million in private and local funding to support projects to protect farmland, wildlife habitat, water quality, enhance public access for outdoor recreational opportunities, and conserve priority open space areas important for community health, tourism and regional economic development. The Land Trust Alliance administers the Conservation Partnership Program in coordination with DEC.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said, “DEC’s partnerships with land trusts are crucial to achieving our conservation goals, without which there would be many land conservation projects that would not be possible. Governor Cuomo continues to demonstrate his commitment to the environment, diversity, providing opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen, and improving recreational access opportunities near where people live in New York State. This year’s budget provided a $15 million increase to the Environmental Protection Fund including increases to land acquisition, municipal parks and environmental justice grants.”

In this 12th round of Conservation Partnership Program grants, administered by DEC, Oblong Land Conservancy and other local land trusts received grants to help sustain and expand community and landowner outreach initiatives as well as develop an array of land conservation, stewardship and education programs.  

Oblong Land Conservancy received two grants, the first a Capacity Grant to improve access and visitor experience at its centerpiece Slocum-Mostachetti Preserve in Wingdale, NY.  The funding will be used to construct a new trailhead kiosk and additional signage.  The second, a Conservation Transaction Grant, will assist in the acquisition of 44 acres located in the Town of Dover and lying within the Great Swamp Watershed.  This transaction is part of a larger initiative to conserve property through the North American Wetlands Act (NAWCA) involving a number of partners including the Town of Dover, Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS) and Oblong.

Since the program’s inception in 2002, the Conservation Partnership Program has awarded over 647 grants totaling $11.3 million in EPF funds to 86 different land trust organizations across the state. The state’s investment has leveraged $13 million in additional funding from local communities and private donors.

The 2015-16 State Budget increased the Environmental Protection Fund by $15 million to $177 million. An additional $20 million in Wall Street settlement funds is allocated for permanent farmland protection in the Hudson Valley to help secure New York City’s foodshed.

Recent research underscores how New York’s investment in land conservation and open space boosts property values, supports local businesses, saves taxpayer dollars and protects public health. A 2011 study by the Trust for Public Land found that every dollar of investment from New York’s Environmental Protection Fund generates $7 in total economic benefits from tourism, reduced government costs and public health.

The EPF grants announced today will support local efforts that contribute substantially to the Hudson Valley region’s $800 million agricultural sector and $4.3 billion tourism economy by helping to preserve the state’s most productive agricultural lands and expanding public access to trails and other popular recreation areas. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in New York directly supports 305,000 jobs across the state, generating $15 billion in wages and tax revenue.
Oblong Land Conservancy, an all-volunteer organization based in Pawling, NY, has recently completed the application process for Accreditation demonstrating its commitment to rigorous national standards for nonprofit governance and organizational excellence.

The Oblong Land Conservancy Seeks Accreditation

The Land Trust Accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Oblong Land Conservancy is pleased to announce it is applying for Accreditation. A public comment period is now open.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. The Oblong Land Conservancy believes that accreditation will strengthen its ability to fulfill its mission through engagement with the community, maintain the natural resources of the Harlem Valley, to include wildlife habitats, water quality, agricultural lands and scenic vistas.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how the Oblong Land Conservancy complies with national quality standards.

These standards address the ethical and technical operations of a land trust. For the full list of standards see http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/tips-and-tools/indicator-practices.
To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org, or email your comment to info@landtrustaccreditation.org.

Comments may also be faxes or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Comments on the Oblong Land Conservancy’s application will be most useful by May 24th 2015

An update on the Hudson to Housatonic Conservation Initiative (H2H)

Last fall, the Westchester Land Trust (WLT) launched the Hudson to Housatonic (H2H) Conservation Initiative - a landscape scale, inter-state collaboration of more than three dozen local and regional conservation partners across Westchester, eastern Putnam and Dutchess Counties in New York, and Fairfield County in Connecticut.  H2H is led by WLT, Highstead Foundation (on behalf of Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership), Mianus River Gorge and Housatonic Valley Association.

More than 50 conservation leaders from local and regional organizations, including Board members of the Oblong Land Conservancy (OLC) as well as municipal partners in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, took part in a full-day intensive training program on Saturday, February 1st at Teaown Lake Reservation to gain the tools necessary to engage local landowners in the care and conservation of their woodlands.

During the training, leading conservation professionals coached H2H partner attendees in a variety of possible engagement strategies including agroforestry, backyard birding, and estate planning.  The workshop built upon lessons learned at H2H's first workshop in December which focused on aligning stewardship practices with climate resiliency.  A third workshop will focus on proven communication techniques and will be led by a team from Yale University following the Tools for Engaging Landowners Effectively curriculum developed by the Sustaining Family Forest Initiative.

The goal of H2H

The vast Hudson to Housatonic region is home to thousands of private woodland owners whose land plays a critical role in providing wildlife habitat, carbon storage, air purification, and buffer tributaries contributing to the drinking water supply for millions of people living in NY and CT.

Many of these woodlands also have attributes making them more adaptable to changes in the climate. H2H documents these key features, harnesses their natural synergies, unites partners across parcel, town, county and state lines.  The activities funded by the H2H initiative are designed to appeal to these woodland owners leading to tangible long- and short-term conservation and stewardship gains.

This project is funded in part through a grant awarded by the, U. S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry.


In a show of bipartisanship, on July 17th, 2014 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the House bill to make permanent an enhanced tax incentive for conservation of farmland, rangeland, woodlands and other important open spaces.  The bill, which included other charitable provisions, passed by a vote of 277-130.  This has been a priority for the Land Trust Alliance since 2006, and it represents a huge victory for conservation that reflects the strength of our community, which came together to urge Congress to act.  This would not have been possible without land trust leaders from across the country reaching out to their representatives and their congressional staff to demonstrate the importance of this legislation to voters in their district.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where we have strong support, but will face new challenges in breaking through a legislative logjam.

The conservation tax incentive has been a success in increasing the pace, quality and permanence of land conservation.  Since the enhanced incentive first passed in 2006, roughly one million acres have been conserved per year with easements managed by the nation's 1,700 community-based land trusts.
Through a limited tax deduction, landowners are able to place their most prized assets - historical sites, forests, family farms and ranches - in protected easements to ensure a legacy of natural abundance, enjoyment and agricultural production for future generations.  Land placed in easements can be farmed, grazed, hunted or used for recreation and the conservation of natural resources.  It can also be passed on to heirs or sold.  But the land is kept safe from future development ensuring that today's natural treasures don't become tomorrow's strip malls and convenience stores.

Valuable open spaces or farmland can be protected by an easement for a fraction of the cost of buying it, making easements by far the most cost-effective approach to land conservation.  For example, Federal acquisition of land costs taxpayers roughly $12,000 an acre compared to just $400 an acre for
an easement.

For more details on how to conserve open space see: http://www.oblongland.org/landowner_benefits/

Local Conservation Groups Benefit from State Conservation Initiative

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced in April that $1.4 million in Conservation Partnership Program grant money would go to 50 non-profit land trusts across the State. Both the Oblong Land Conservancy (OLC), based in Pawling/Dover, and the Putnam County Land Trust (PCLT), based in Patterson, are beneficiaries of this program.

Representatives of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Land Trust Alliance unveiled the grantees at an event at Indian Ladder Farms in Albany County as part of a weeklong celebration of Earth Day. The grants, supported with funding from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program (NYSCPP) and New York’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), will be matched by nearly $1.1 million in private and local funding and will support projects to protect farmland, enhance public access and recreational opportunities, and conserve open space. The NYSCPP is administered by the Land trust Alliance in coordination with the DEC.

Funding for priority conservation projects and land trust initiatives around the state will help communities protect water quality, wildlife habitat, community gardens, working forests and farmland. The Conservation Partnership Program funding will also enhance public access to trails and other recreation areas while enabling land trusts to implement best practices, hire professional staff, and strengthen community partnerships.

The Oblong Land Conservancy (OLC) and the Putnam County Land Trust (PCLT) jointly applied for a Catalyst Grant the purpose of which is to “catalyze” local and regional partnerships and community initiatives that will lead to greater engagement in, and increased public support for, the protection and stewardship of environmentally significant lands. Conservation Catalyst projects involve a measure of innovation for land trusts, should engage multiple partners and stakeholders, have clearly defined outcomes, and advance the land trusts’ missions, strategic goals, and programs. Funded projects typically involve collaboration with local municipalities, other land trusts, or other conservation partners. Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS) will also be a key participant in the project, one of the aims of which is to build on the work that FrOGS has undertaken in conserving large areas of the Great Swamp.

The grant of $15,000 is to be matched by contributions of $2,500 each from OLC and PCLT and has a time horizon of two years.

OLC is an all-volunteer organization based in Pawling that undertakes conservation in the greater Harlem Valley. It was founded in 1990 and now has approximately 1,100 acres under stewardship.

PCLT is an all-volunteer organization based in eastern Putnam County. Its mission is to preserve and maintain for the public, open spaces and the natural resources within, for the purpose of conservation, education and recreation. PCLT's fee properties total 1034 acres and it holds easements on another 138 acres.

Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS) is an all-volunteer conservation organization dedicated to protecting and promoting stewardship of New York’s Great Swamp. FrOGS pursues this mission through Education, Scientific Research, and direct Conservation Action. They provide science based information for local issues and focus on protecting habitat and species of conservation concern through collaborative coalitions with other organizations.

For further information please contact OLC at (845) 855 7014.

2013 Tree Program

At this time of year, we here at Oblong are enjoying the stunning catalog pictures of all the flowers, trees and shrubs, that we could plant in those bare spots around the house.

One good source of fine seedlings and small transplants, is from our County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.  These are intended for conservation purposes only, are native species that have been chosen for their value for wildlife food and cover, hardiness in our region, water resource protection, and ornamental values as well.

We can order from Putnam County or Dutchess County, or both, provided that we are prepared to pick up our plants on April 19 or April 20.  They must be ordered and paid for in advance.

All the information and order forms are available at the District web sites: www.putnamcountyny.com,  or to www.dutchessswcd.org

This year Oblong will be planting some elderberry bushes, which produce great flowers and attractive fruits that the birds love. Basswood is a fine tree to plant in alkaline soils in the Harlem Valley, honey bees love it.  It is the American native linden.

You can also order bird nesting boxes and roosts for bats, which are constructed to standards that are proven to work for the species, with complete instructions (no assembly required).

Deadline for ordering is March 22, 2013.  So take advantage of the offers as soon as you can.


Sibyll Gilbert is a resident of Pawling, a member of the Baseline Studies Advisory Committee, Vice President of The Oblong Land Conservancy, and a member of the Pawling Conservation Advisory Board.

Why Conservation Matters

Just suppose that you were important or influential enough to be invited to Davos to hob-nob with the rich and famous during the annual World Economic Forum. Whilst traipsing around between events you get stopped in the street by an inquisitive journalist who wants to know what you think are the three most pressing issues that confront the delegates. What would one say? It might be a bit of a challenge to offer something sensible ‘off the cuff’ as it were. However, as a Davos attendee, such worldly matters may be front and center and there would be no hesitation in coming up with something meaningful.

Well, here are three possibilities to consider – economic growth, environmental sustainability and the human condition. Whether these are top of your list or not they certainly warrant some attention. What is not apparent at first sight is that they are closely connected and, probably, mutually incompatible.

Economic growth is seen to be an imperative. Certainly in the West its stimulation is regarded as vital in order to bring about economic recovery and an attendant rise in employment. The issue with growth is that, as presently understood, it involves increasing levels of consumption and that has some practical limits. The planet is, essentially, a finite resource and despite our ingenuity we are bumping up against some of those limits. Leaving aside the issues of fossil fuels and energy there are the questions of where, for example, will we find the potable water and enough food to feed an increasing global population? This, of course, says nothing about improving the lot of the one billion or so of us who are presently under- or malnourished.

This is where the second pressing issue, that of environmental sustainability comes in. It is a matter of observation that nothing in the natural world grows or expands for ever, at some point everything goes into decline and is then replaced by a new generation or a variation on the previous theme. We all appreciate the universality of this cycle at some level although we seem not to make the connection so far as the desire for economic growth is concerned.

That brings us to the last issue, that of the human condition or well-being. It ought to be clear that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely and is incompatible with environmental sustainability. So long as growth exceeds the capacity of the planet to provide or recycle resources the condition of humanity must suffer.

We are not suggesting that this is a zero sum game – we can only improve our lot on the basis that others in the less developed world cannot improve their quality of life. But the challenge is to find a way for us in the developed world to consume less of the planet’s resources so that others may approach our level of well-being.

It seems to be the case that growth is programmed into mankind in some way. We all seem to want more or something better. As soon as the new 4G ‘phone appears the 3G gets tossed (or given to a technologically challenged spouse). As soon as the ashtrays are full in the beemer we better get a new one. The fact is that more doesn’t always satisfy in a progressive way. The law of diminishing marginal returns operates and after the third helping of pie a la mode . . . Well, you get the idea.

This is where the idea of conservation comes into play.

It would be wrong to assume that all human motivations, such as our desire for more, are selfish, altruism plays its part as well. Indeed, all of us are torn between selfishness and altruism at one time or another.

Shalom Schwartz of the Hebrew University in Israel has done a great deal of work on basic human values and motivation. Together with his colleagues he has developed a ‘Circumplex’ of human values that are structured around two distinct tensions in our psychological make-up. In broad terms the first is the tension between selfishness and altruism. The second is between openness to change and conservation.

As societies have developed, sometimes in hostile environments, we (mankind) have struggled with balancing the needs of the individual against the needs of the group. This has been met in different ways at different times depending upon a variety of factors including cultural and societal criteria. The need to innovate has been balanced by the need for stability or tradition, or put another way, the need for conservation. Selfish needs have to be balanced against the broader needs of the group.

Increasingly, today, we seem to be in a situation where the institutions of consumer society are designed to favor materialistic (and, to borrow a politically charged term, rugged) individualism. In turn that leads to the relentless pursuit of economic growth and the resultant need to innovate which embraces an openness to change. The current economic situation bears ample witness to the effect of these forces.

Schwartz’ Circumplex, which has been tested in over 50 countries, suggests to us that to address the relentless pursuit of growth it needs to be balanced by conservation measures that would act as a brake upon those expansive forces. These measures would need to have application at every level in our societies and some will have to be legislated; we cannot rely upon enlightened self-interest to carry the day. In the US we already have some measures in place in terms of institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but we need a greater level of awareness in the global community about the need for conservation.

Perhaps we could get this on the agenda for Davos next year.

Chris Wood


In June of 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to consider sustainable development. In June this year they will re-convene in Rio to consider Rio+20, the 20th anniversary of that event and also the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The objective of the upcoming conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges.

Two themes will be the subject of focus; first, a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and, second, the institutional framework for sustainable development. Weighty matters indeed and worthy of our interest.

A great deal of preparatory work is underway as befits the importance of the event and various stakeholders have prepared draft discussion papers for consideration. One such paper that we have seen has been developed by Oxfam, the highly respected UK-based charitable institution. It is entitled A Safe and Just Space for Humanity - can we live within the doughnut?

Simply put, the paper examines the question: Can we eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity for all within the planet’s limited natural resources?

This is a large question and one of the difficulties with something of this order is getting one’s arms around it. The paper does this in an engaging way by the use of the image of a doughnut (better yet a bagel for New Yorkers). The bagel is defined by an inner and an outer ring. In this cleverly constructed image the inner ring of the bagel is defined by what is described as the ‘social foundation’ and the outer by the ‘environmental ceiling.’ The space in between the rings, the bagel, represents the safe and just space for humanity.

The inner ring, the social foundation, effectively defines the open area in the center of the bagel and it contains what may be described as the dimensions of human deprivation. They are given as 11 in number and include access to water, food, jobs, education and other things like gender equality and social equity. One can readily appreciate that to the extent that an element of humanity falls below the ‘social foundation’ ring into the bagel’s center one is outside the safe space.

The same situation applies with the outer ring, the ‘environmental ring.’ Outside the bagel are 9 dimensions which include climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and land use change. To the extent that one encroaches beyond the outer ring one has moved beyond the safe space.

Given that there are approximately 1 billion people that are under- or mal-nourished and some 1.4 billion live on less that $1.25 per day it is clear that there are far too many of us living below the level of the ‘social foundation.’ On the other side of the bagel we seem to have broached the environmental ceiling at least in the areas of climate change, nitrogen use and biodiversity loss.

In view of the fact that the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 from its present 7 billion odd by 2050 coupled with an expanding global ‘middle class’ we have our work cut out to develop a modus vivendi with the planet and one another.

This is far from a lost cause. The discussion paper notes that eradicating poverty need not put stress on the outer bagel ring. Providing the additional food needed by the 13% of the world’s population facing hunger would require just 1% of the current global food supply. Bringing electricity to the 19% of the world’s population that does not have it would increase global CO2 emissions by less than 1%. Ending income poverty for the 21% of the population who live on less than $1.25 per day would require just 0.2% of global income.

In terms of the outer ring the paper states that the biggest source of planetary stress comes from the excessive resource consumption by the world’s wealthiest 10%. Specifically, 50% of carbon emissions come from the production of goods and services for 11% of the global population. 57% of global income is in the hands of 10% of the population and 33% of the world’s sustainable nitrogen budget is used to produce meat for the European Union, a mere 7% of the population.

Looked at in this way it is easy to see that, from a practical point of view, it ought to be possible to rein in the excesses and provide a sustainable standard of living for all within the so-called limits of the safe space. As we may well appreciate the solution will lie in the political realm and therein lies the rub. As we know from our domestic politics it is seemingly near impossible to get agreement on matters like tax reform and deficit reduction. Scale that up and we can readily appreciate what the conference delegates will have to deal with in June.

Chris Wood

OLC First Saturdays: Building Sustainability

On Saturday November 5th we hosted a great morning of presentations around the subject of sustainable building and renovation.  Here are some the materials and information from that meeting:

Melissa Everett - Keynote Message
Wayne Neckles - Building Sustainability through Energy Efficiency
Allan Shope - Sustainable Architecture: A Conversation 
Leo Wiegman - Energize Program Overview
Mark Thielking - Energize Program: Economics
Mike Purcell - Pawling Press Article About The Project

Exhibitors included:

Hudson Valley Clean Energy

for more info on the event and the presenters, see: http://www.oblongland.org/pdf/olc_first_sat_nov_2011.pdf

Density and Taxes

The good news is that the Town Board of Pawling have heard the community and extended the period for public engagement in the town’s comprehensive planning process. The bad news is that the mail delivered the school tax bill. This year’s bill is 5.35% above last year’s and last year was 1.66% above the 2009 figure. No doubt many of us will have different levels of increase depending upon what has happened to the estimate of our property’s full market value, STAR savings and so on. However, the direction of market value has been down and that of taxes up.

What has planning to do with taxes?

The comprehensive plan is the blueprint for what the community will look like in the next couple of decades. It is a policy document and organic in nature but it sets out some guidelines and deals with, amongst other things, land use. School and local government taxes are generated by means of a levy upon property values. The more one’s property is worth the more taxation it will stand, at least that’s the underlying principle. Land value is a function of use and use is a function of zoning. All other things being equal (and they rarely are) land zoned for, say, retail purposes is more valuable that that zoned for, say, some types of residential use. Many, many other factors come into play including size of community, density of population, availability of utilities, size of the buildings on the property and, of vital importance, the general economic climate.

So, on the face of it, a community with more land zoned for commercial, more valuable purposes would be better off from a taxation standpoint than one with a predominance of land zoned for less valuable purposes. So far so good; however, it is not that simple. There are historic patterns of land use that have to be considered. Once land has been zoned for a particular purpose and developed in accordance with that zoning, a change to a more valuable use may not help much in the near term. Equally, and of great importance is the existing relationship between all the different land uses. It will readily be appreciated that an intensively developed community, a city for example, will offer one type of lifestyle whilst a less developed community, like Pawling, offers another type of lifestyle.

The challenge that we face in Pawling is that we have a very small percentage of our land allocated to commercial uses. It is not simply a matter of zoning more land for such purposes since that could materially affect the quality of life that we all moved here to enjoy. It also requires that there be additional land that could be allocated to commercial uses and, that again, is problematic because the land has to be physically and economically capable of being developed for those commercial uses. There needs to be suitable pedestrian and vehicular access, water, sewer, visibility and, by no means least of all, demand for the space to be created in accordance with the zoning and other regulations. Unless there is unlimited land available and one has the longest of time frames in mind, there is no point in zoning something for a particular use unless, first, there is a plan to provide access, sewer etc., and, second, there is likely to be a demand in the near to medium term for that particular use.

The comprehensive planning process has to wrestle with all these challenges and wrestle it must.

The mantra of the last three or four decades has been that growth is good and that has meant that planning, in some instances, has been driven by the desire to generate economic growth. This has its implications since it means that other factors, such as the environment, broadly defined, are much lower down on the scale of importance. Clearly human needs have to be met but the environment, in all its aspects, must be protected and there is a growing global awareness of this.

How are we going to deal with this locally?

Clearly taxes cannot continue to rise at a rate greater than residents’ ability to afford them. We also have a limited stock of additional land that can be usefully developed for commercial purposes. One obvious answer is to increase the density of the development on the existing stock of commercially zoned land. That will serve, over time, to increase the square footage of buildings that can be created and thereby increase our tax base. Another obvious answer is to look closely at the mix of commercial uses to ensure that they are complimentary and will feed off one another rather than the reverse. This is no mean challenge since we have a village core and a Route 22 commercial corridor within a relatively short distance of one another. There are also a range of macro-economic forces at work over which we have no control.

These are some of the vital matters with which the comprehensive planning process concerns itself. There are no easy answers but with the time now available to us as a result of the extended period of review of the Comprehensive Plan Update we have the chance to fully address them. There are also more than enough intellectual resources available in the community to grapple with these challenging issues. Now all we need to do is to mobilize them.

Chris Wood