On Oct. 13, the Department of Environmental Conservation announced $1.4 million in grant funding to the Hudson River Estuary Program, a partner of the University. This is to continue funding the development of 23 programs that protect and promote stewardship and environmental education in watershed communities surrounding the New York State river.
Since 1987, HREP has been working with partners to generate environmental consciousness in the surrounding regions of the Hudson River. Partners include volunteers, legislators and academics such as Cornell students, town leaders and municipalities.
Because the NYS legislature allows municipalities to have authority over land use, HREP targets a very diverse set of projects and local government capacities. The program focuses on advancing conservation and biodiversity through small communities surrounding the estuary from the New York City harbor to the federal dam in the City of Troy, near Albany, New York.
HREP does not regulate legislation or parameters. It is a collaborative project created to reach out to willing partners and help them develop their own regulations.
“We’re working with municipalities to help build their capacity to make good natural resource decisions,” Laura Heady, Conservation and Land Use Program Coordinator at HREP, said.
The Conservation and Land Use collaboration between Cornell and HREP is led by Prof. Shorna Allred, department of natural resources and the environment. Throughout the last two decades HREP and DEC have collaboratively awarded 617 grants totaling $27 million to support water quality, climate change resilience, environmental education, land use and conservation projects.
Through their 20-year collaboration with Cornell, they have worked on different projects such as the recently introduced project in New Paltz, New York. This project will redefine zoning in the area and is supported by HREP funding along with the academic support from Cornell scientists.
Neil Bettez, town supervisor of New Paltz, explained that legislation determines certain zones in the town designated for residential, commercial or natural use. However, at the moment, the zoning does not really reflect the protection of the environment or preservation of areas.
According to Bettez, current zoning might prevent engineers and planners from gaining the full picture of the areas they are affecting.
Through current maps of natural resource areas, the town of New Paltz will rezone its area to provide developers a broader perspective so they can see how these projects have direct and indirect impacts on the site’s surrounding areas.
“We want to first help communities know about the important natural areas that they have,” Heady said.
This is done by providing natural resource mapping developed by the program. Mapping enables communities to establish priorities on how to manage natural resources, which the program is then able to assist them with before carrying out development projects. HREP, with the help of DEC, then targets established conservation and resource priorities through funding, partnerships and collaboration.
“Part of our mission is really to help communities recognize how they fit into regional priorities, so that they can be making decisions — not only about what’s happening within their borders but also beyond them,” Heady said.