Winnakee Land Trust

Restoring Hudson Valley Forests as an indispensable investment in our region’s future

By Bob Davis, Executive Director, Winnakee Land Trust

The Hudson Valley is one of the most sought-after places in the world.  Our towns are always ranked as the top best small towns to live, and our region is a world-class tourist destination. The reasons have a lot to do with our great access to irreplaceable landscapes that define our enjoyment of the outdoors through recreation as well as iconic viewsheds that have inspired art movements and rival some of the prettiest vistas in the world. 

Early in my career, I worked for DEC in this region, and after some 30-odd years after leaving the area to pursue my career, I decided to come back to the Hudson Valley to enjoy its landscapes and to dedicate my forestry expertise into protecting and restoring them.

The natural landscape, the forests, fields, and open spaces provide the background for everything we do and help define and enrich our quality of life.  What you probably didn’t realize was that within the lifetime of a child born today, many of these benefits to us, and wildlife that depend on them, could be lost:

  • The Hudson Valley is the fastest growing region in New York and post pandemic saw one of the greatest increases in U.S. population growth, with sprawling development consuming open space and community character at a rapid rate.
  • We are faced with unprecedented environmental threats such as climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive plants, and introduced pests and pathogens as well as an overabundance of deer.
  • As a result, fully 60% of Hudson Valley forests have been shown to be unable to regenerate enough young trees to replace the existing older forest canopy after death or a significant overstory disturbance – and it’s even worse in the southern and eastern counties like Dutchess, Putnam.

These increasing threats in the last decade mean that the challenges of land protection have changed, and therefore our conservation strategies must evolve with them.  Protecting land from development is a start, but we must prioritize protection of intact forests and active stewardship to restore them to withstand growing climate issues, overabundance of deer, and pests and pathogens. 

Given the profound environmental changes expected in the coming decades, and absent deliberate and timely land protection and active stewardship, our treasured Hudson Valley landscapes, the forests and open spaces that we have taken for granted will be gone — diminished to small patches in all but the areas that we have conserved. The decisions we make today will determine whether the Hudson Valley’s children of tomorrow will have access to and be sustained by the natural landscape.

As the UN’s International Day of the Forest today highlights, so many aspects of our lives are linked to forests in one way or another – whether we realize it or not. Forests purify the water, clean the air, capture carbon to fight climate change, provide food and life-saving medicines, and improve our well-being.   If we are to keep our scenic viewsheds beautiful, and support the ecosystem services forests provide, we must help forests regenerate naturally, which is what Winnakee’s FOREVER FORESTS campaign to protect and restore 10,000 acres in ten years by 2032 is all about.

Despite discouraging facts, we have every reason to be optimistic and even thankful. In their hearts, most of our region’s people care deeply about this natural world on which we depend, and to their credit, thousands of them have supported Winnakee’s work to safeguard them into the future to ensure that the next generation will have the opportunity to benefit from and enjoy what we have.

So today, I am introducing Winnakee’s new blog: The Understory, named after the crucial forest understory where the natural life cycles of forest self-regeneration takes place and where its many micro-habitats nurture our region’s most at-risk species. On this blog we’ll be bringing you regular updates on the work that Winnakee does, from the people that do it. You’ll be able to discover more about how our land protection strategy uses 21st-century science and technology to study the landscape and prioritize the places that are important to protect in order to ensure the long-term integrity of the landscape and the environment, how our land stewardship restores forest health and improves wildlife habitat, increases climate resiliency and controls the spread of invasive species, and finally why we are passionate about reconnecting people with our natural environment through education and public events, and much more.

Winnakee strongly believes that a central part of our mission is building collaborations that make conservation work last, so you will also hear from guest bloggers on the connections we make to improve our organization’s efficacy, impact, and sustainability and enhance programming.  

Forests give so much to us, and this International Day of the Forest, Winnakee would like to offer you with many ways you can give back to the irreplaceable land and landscapes that sustain us and the wonderful biodiversity of this region.

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