Land Matters: Together for the Land

October 30, 2017Rebecca

With the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday, it is the season to reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for. Here at the Columbia Land Conservancy, we are filled with gratitude for the privilege of living in an exceptionally beautiful and ecologically bountiful corner of the earth. I suspect you feel the same way.  We are grateful, as well, for the privilege of working to ensure that it stays that way, and for the privilege of collaborating in that work with so many others – individuals and organizations – who share a commitment to caring for the mysterious and fragile natural features and resources that enrich our lives and, indeed, upon which our lives depend.

In her popular novel O, Pioneers!, Willa Cather writes, “We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it – for a little while.” Those of us here today “own it” – but only for a little while. A question we think about a lot is, what shape is it going to be in when we hand it off to our children and our children’s children. To be sure, many things have changed since Columbia County was organized in 1786, but the land has retained a good deal of its rural character – with a large amount of high quality farmland, extensive tracts of healthy forest, plentiful clean water resources, rich wetlands. All of which combine to provide a highly scenic countryside, a healthy environment and abundant wildlife habitat. Will it retain these qualities 25, 50, or 100 years from now?

The Columbia Land Conservancy has been working to protect these qualities for 31 years. We can’t hope to do this by ourselves. We do it by working in partnership with many others who share a love for the land and understand that its health is a vital foundation for our own. Here are just some of the collaborative projects and working relationships that are currently underway.

CLC is working with a number of partners – including the County’s Environmental Management Council, Hudsonia, Ltd., Cornell Co-operative Extension, Hawthorne Valley’s Farmscape Ecology Program and the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program – to put the finishing touches on a draft Natural Resources Inventory of Columbia County. This extensive report will document the extraordinarily rich natural and ecological features of our County. It will contain a vast amount of data about our landscape’s natural resources and habitats, and will include information about the impact climate change may be expected to have on our region. It will be an invaluable resource for our communities and municipal leaders in years to come.

Every year we work with private landowners throughout the County interested in taking good care of their properties. With assistance from a skilled group of volunteers, we visit with landowners to walk the properties and help the owners understand the nature and potential of their wood lots or agricultural soils and how they might best be put to good use. We are also in regular contact with more than 200 landowners whose property has been protected with conservation easements. We visit half those properties every year, often responding to the same kinds of questions. We look forward to these visits, and view them as an important way to share information about how to manage land for wildlife, for agriculture, to maintain or improve ecological health and minimize adverse impacts.

In pursuit of our effort to build connections between people and the land, CLC owns and manages a number of Public Conservation Areas. We manage these properties with an eye towards sustaining their ecological health, and improving it where possible. Stop by the  Siegel-Kline Kill Public Conservation Area (located off Route 21 in Ghent) and you’ll see the evidence of a lot of hard work by more than two dozen volunteers. Master Gardeners Glenda Berman and Tim Kennelty first contacted CLC in 2016 with a plan for improving the quality of the habitat there for birds and pollinators. Under Glenda and Tim’s direction, these volunteers have removed hundreds of pounds of invasive Japanese honeysuckle, replacing those shrubs with native trees and other plantings. Thanks to their hard work, birds, butterflies, and bees will have more food and shelter and the property will be enriched with flowering vegetation.

We were also thrilled this year to partner with students from Hudson High School who participated in Cornell University’s Nest Watch monitoring program. These dedicated students familiarized themselves with protocols for monitoring nest boxes and baby birds, and committed to visiting the Greenport Conservation Area several times a week to take note of the birds’ development. Data from these surveys were contributed to a national dataset, and will be used to help us refine our approach to managing the grasslands at Greenport and our other sites.

In addition to paying close attention to individual properties that we own and manage, we’re also taking a larger look at the landscape Columbia County is a part of. Throughout the course of the last two years, CLC has led a coalition of 15 land trusts and partners from multiple states to devise strategies to protect the Berkshire-Taconic region, a large, unbroken block of forest land that plays an important role in providing drinking water, striking scenery, and habitat for bear, moose, and other large mammals. As a result of this collaborative planning process, partners are now ramping up efforts for coordinated action by, among other things, reaching out to landowners in the region to increase conservation efforts in key places along state borders.

These are just a few examples of the ways CLC is working with many people who love the land and share a commitment to ensure its continued health. Another important example is that every year, almost 1,000 people who love Columbia County and care about preserving its special qualities contribute to our year-end annual fund drive, providing a major portion of the funds we depend upon to do our work.

We are calling our annual fund drive this year our Together for the Land Campaign. Won’t you join together with hundreds of others who value clean water, local food and places to get out into the natural world and become a member of the CLC family by making a donation of $25 or more. Visit us online at clctrust.org or call us at 518.392.5252, and help us continue working to maintain the qualities that make Columbia County such a special place.


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