The Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), the Abode of the Message, John and Brenda Adams, the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, Darrow School, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) are working on a project to permanently protect 1,310 acres of land in New Lebanon and Canaan. Potential funding cuts have put this wonderful opportunity in jeopardy. CLC is calling on area residents to contact their Federal representatives and tell them to support the Mount Lebanon Forest Legacy Project.
The project area consists of land in and around the Mount Lebanon Shaker Society National Historic Landmark and the adjacent Shaker Swamp. The land includes scenic beauty, important wildlife habitat, and historically significant sites. It also is a potential boost to both the local forestry and tourism economy. The project supports several goals of Canaan’s Strategic Plan and New Lebanon’s Comprehensive Plan, as well as goals articulated at the state and national level.
Working with NYS DEC, the landowners and town officials, CLC has submitted a grant application to the Forest Legacy Program, a federal program administered by the USDA Forest Service. The funding would, in part, purchase conservation easements on 1,310 acres on four separate properties – permanently protecting the land as well as providing opportunities for public recreation, environmental education, and archeological research.
Mount Lebanon is part of the Taconic Mountain Range, an ecological system of hills and wetlands that straddle the New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont borders. Prior to 1760, the Mahican Tribes inhabited the area and used medicinal plants and waters found in abundance in Lebanon Springs. From 1785 until 1947, the Mount Lebanon Shaker Society inhabited the area and established what became the largest and most industrious Shaker community as well as the spiritual center of Shaker society in the United States. Mount Lebanon was registered as a National Historic Landmark on June 23, 1965. The site was also recently designated part of the new “Shaker Historic Trail” by the National Park Service (NPS), and is part of the NPS National Register of Historical Places Travel Itinerary.
The project area also includes portions of and areas neighboring the Shaker Swamp, a 495-acre NYS DEC designated Class 1 wetland complex (the highest rating for a freshwater wetland as designated by NYS DEC). The Shaker Swamp contains plants and herbs that have been cultivated for medicinal by both the Native Americans and later by the Shakers. In 1824, the oldest pharmaceutical company in the U.S., Tilden and Company, was established in the area for growing, processing, and selling herbal pharmaceuticals.
The Taconic Mountain Range, including the Mount Lebanon section, and the Shaker Swamp are listed in the current New York State Open Space Conservation Plan as high priority areas for protection and are identified as a significant biodiversity area by the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program.
PROJECT UNDER CONSIDERATION BY CONGRESS
Earlier this year, a national review committee from the US Forest Service reviewed a total of 69 Forest Legacy applications from 42 states, totaling $168 million for funding consideration. President Obama’s proposed FY 2013 budget includes $60 million for the Forest Legacy Program and a proposed list of 20 projects for funding. The Mount Lebanon project is ranked ninth. Over the coming months, the Forest Legacy Program will be subject to debate and negotiation as part of this year’s budget deliberations. If, at the end of the process, there is funding for at least the top 9 forest legacy projects, then the Mount Lebanon project will be approved for funding.
The House Appropriations Committee has passed a Fiscal Year 2013 Interior Appropriations Bill that slashes next year’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) funding by 80% to just $68 million. The LWCF makes Forest Legacy Projects possible. The funding cuts would effectively eliminate funding for new Forest Legacy projects, such as the one in Mount Lebanon.
ENCOURAGE CONGRESS TO ACT
Our federal representatives have been extremely supportive of this project, the only New York State Forest Legacy Project in this year’s budget. Contact Congressman Gibson, Senator Gillibrand, and Senator Schumer and ask them to reach out to their colleagues on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Sub-Committees and implore them to include at least $35 million in funding for the Forest Legacy Program in 2013.
- Congressman Gibson by email form or (202) 225-5614
- Senator Gillibrand by email form or (202) 224-4451
- Senator Schumer by email form or (202) 224-6542
The successful implantation of the Mount Lebanon Forest Legacy project will be an investment in critical working forestland, wildlife habitat, and natural resources that will benefit generations to come.