Bethlehem gets $195K to buy forested land

— Photo from Lauren Chiyoko Axford

“The future community forest, as viewed from Betty Nolan’s back porch,” says Lauren Chiyoko Axford, Bethlehem’s open-space coordinator, who spearheaded the grant application. “Now that we know we are proceeding with the project, there will be lots of photos to come in the future!”

BETHLEHEM — The town of Bethlehem has been awarded $195,000 in the second round of Community Forest Conservation grants, announced on Nov. 29 by State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“We’re thrilled,” said Bethlehem Supervisor David VanLuven.

Bethlehem will use the money to buy 68 acres in Selkirk, which is 80 percent forest and 20 percent fields; the forest cover is primarily mixed hardwood species with some stands of white pine near a ravine, according to the DEC.

Two residents of the hamlet of Selkirk, Betty Nolan and Marilyn Stangle, wanted to see their land of forests and fields protected, said VanLuven. They worked with the town’s open-space coordinator, Lauren Axford, looking at different options, he said.

In October, an application was submitted for the Community Forest Conservation grant, he said, with support from the Slingerlands fire department, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, and the nearby Albertus W. Becker Elementary School.

The property is located near the intersection of Beaver Dam Road and Maple Avenue.

“Our vision is it will have public access … with trails at some point,” said VanLuven.

The state grant will cover four-fifths of the cost while the remaining fifth — $52,000 — will need to be approved by the town board, VanLuven said; it will be drawn from the town’s Farms and Forests Fund.

He went on to say that, since he has been supervisor, over the last six years, Bethlehem has protected more than 550 acres from development and this new acquisition will bring the total to over 620 acres.

The grants announced by the DEC this week, totaling $1,035,340, are to protect forest resources of local importance. With this funding, more than 200 acres of community forests will be established and protected from future development. The other grants are for purchases in Suffolk, Dutchess, and Columbia counties.

“Forest Conservation and sustainable management is an essential part of New York’s efforts to tackle climate change and protect water quality while also growing our forestry economy,” said Seggos in a statement.

The Community Forest Conservation Grant Program is administered by the DEC as part of New York's ongoing efforts to meet Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals to conserve forests and combat climate change by increasing the rate of forest protection.

The program also supports the goal of New York’s 30-by-30 law — to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and water by 2030, which in turn contributes to the national 30-by-30 goals set through President Joseph Biden’s “America the Beautiful” initiative. 

Funding for the grant program was provided by the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which funds land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention and eradication, recreation access, water quality improvement, and environmental justice projects. The 2023-24 state budget maintained EPF funding at $400 million, the highest level of funding in the program's history.

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