Assemb. Steven Englebright, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation committee,...

Assemb. Steven Englebright, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation committee, on the banks of Conscience Bay in Setauket, on a scenic and environmentally sensitive parcel of land that was purchased by the state. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Clearly, New Yorkers are serious about safeguarding the state’s environment. Look no further than the approximately 30-percentage-point margin by which the statewide environmental bond act passed in November, paving the way for $4.2 billion in green spending.

That commitment deserves a matching promise from Albany — that the money gets spent well, and soon. A bill in Albany that has passed both chambers would help do just that for land conservation. Gov. Kathy Hochul should sign it.

The so-called “30x30” legislation sets a goal for the state to conserve at least 30% of its land by 2030. It’s part of national and international “30x30” preservation pushes, a worthy effort to save endangered species, fight climate change, and safeguard natural spaces for future generations. The law mandates that state officials develop strategies and a methodology to meet this goal.

Both are needed.

The 30x30 push is particularly timely in New York. The bond act allows the state to fund capital projects under the banner of open space land conservation and recreation — to the tune of $650 million. The major funding gives us the chance to protect ecosystems across the state, identifying and prioritizing the best and most strategic spaces, getting input from scientists, advocates, and local communities, spreading the benefits all around.

Some 19% of New York land is conserved or protected, according to one 2018 estimate cited in the bill justification. That includes lots of acreage on Long Island, which would benefit enormously from doubling down on our pristine space. It could entail further protection of the pine barrens region, and preservation of other watershed areas that help keep Long Island’s sole-source aquifer healthy. There are a host of underused old properties that could be protected further or outright purchased, like lush land around the never-opened Shoreham nuclear plant.

Coastal wetlands could be restored, providing flood reduction as well as recreational benefits.

The newly conserved land doesn’t always have to be empty or used as a park or preserve. It could include family farms that sell development rights, meaning the land has to remain farmland.

Different estimates suggest there are thousands of acres of land ripe for conservation on Long Island. The benefits would be numerous. Green spaces are boons for tourism and can boost quality of life for locals, as well as property values. A clear plan for conservation around the state would provide more certainty for environmentalists as well as developers, who can plan ahead and make harmonious choices about where and when to build.

Ultimately, conservation like this is an urgent matter. “Once the land’s developed, it’s lost forever,” says Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Every year we wait, we lose more land.”

We can't let this opportunity pass. Hochul must sign this bill. 

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.