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Conservation Principles

View of upland forest, looking through the trees
Large, unfragmented forests provide higher quality habitat and benefits to people. Photo by L. Heady

When key principles are incorporated into documents such as comprehensive plans, open space plans, and watershed plans, they provide a framework for considering future land-use change and conservation strategies. At a finer scale, they can also be applied to the review and design of individual projects. Decisions that are based on conservation principles will contribute to the continued health and function of natural areas, as well as the resiliency of human communities.

The following list of principles provides general guidance that can be customized for your local community or conservation goals.

  • Protect large, contiguous, undisturbed areas wherever possible. Larger areas are better able to adapt to disturbances such as floods and invasive species, and connected habitats help wildlife to move safely across the landscape. Protect contiguous areas in large, circular or broadly-shaped configurations within the larger landscape.  

  • Preserve working forests and farmland potential wherever possible. These lands have economic and scenic value, and can support the health of the estuary and its watershed when local farmers and woodland owners use best management practices.
  • Maintain, create, or restore broad buffer zones between natural areas and human-dominated land uses, including development and agriculture. Buffers of natural vegetation along streams, around water bodies and wetlands, and at the perimeter of sensitive natural areas are important for clean water, healthy habitats, and flood damage prevention.
  • Perched culvert with water flowing out about 8 feet above the stream
    Culverts can create physical barriers for in-stream wildlife. Photo by M. Adamovic
    Locate and plan new development in ways that protect natural areas; direct human uses toward the least sensitive natural areas; and provide buffers between sensitive natural areas and intensive use areas. Where possible, encourage development of altered land instead of breaking new ground. Avoid and minimize disturbance to natural areas before, during, and after construction.
  • Minimize disruption to storage and movement of water across and through the landscape to protect water quality and quantity, reduce flooding, recharge ground water, and preserve habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
  • Encourage the use of green infrastructure to manage stormwater in developed areas, utilizing practices such as rain gardens, street trees, and green roofs that allow runoff to infiltrate into the soil. Green infrastructure reduces runoff, improves water quality, provides natural cooling, and beautifies neighborhoods.

This list is based in part on general conservation measures included in the Biodiversity Assessment Manual (Kiviat & Stevens 2001).

Conservation Principles in Practice

The Town of Pleasant Valley (Dutchess County) included a list of conservation principles as "Habitat Conservation Goals" in the Environment, Greenspaces, and Farmland Protection section of its 2009 Comprehensive Plan

The Town of Esopus (Ulster County) incorporated conservation principles into the "Natural Resources and the Environment" section of its 2019 Comprehensive Plan's Goals and Recommendations.