Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Connect To Nature

Adults and children netting insects outdoors
Hunting for and netting insects can be a
family adventure

Spending time outdoors in natural areas--whether a city park or a mountain top--reminds us that we are both part of nature and stewards of the environment. Connections to nature refresh and sustain us. Helping children experience and learn about the natural worlds builds the next generation of New Yorkers who care about conservation.

Enjoy the Outdoors and Learn at the Same Time

  • Sign up for DEC Outdoor Discovery
    A monthly electronic newsletter, where you will find valuable information to help you explore the outdoors and the recreational opportunities available in all areas of New York State.
  • Send a child to a DEC Environmental Education Camp
    The DEC runs four environmental education camps across the state. The week-long overnight camps are open to children ages 12-17. Organizations, as well as parents can sponsor a child for a week at camp. Make sure to visit the camps website for more information on this great opportunity to connect children to nature.
    Children canoeing at camp
    Children canoeing at camp
  • Visit the best wildlife viewing areas
    Want to know the best spots to view migrating waterfowl, hawks and eagles? How about a visit to one of the premier birding sites in the Northeast? Check out Watchable Wildlife with information on sites, species and wildlife viewing tips to make your experience more enjoyable.
  • Enjoy bird migrations
    View migrating hawks and shorebirds on their journey south in early fall. Some excellent bird-viewing locations include, Jamaica Bay (Queens), Fire Island (Robert Moses State Park) and Mashomack Preserve (both on Long Island), Braddock Bay (Greece) and Franklin Mountain (Oneonta).
  • Observe wintering bald eagles
    Wintering eagles begin to arrive in December, with concentrations peaking in January and February. This link will show you the best places to watch in New York State.
  • Help wildlife
    After the holidays, put your (real) tree outside as shelter for animals and as a perch for birds "waiting their turn" for the bird feeder. Ask a neighbor to keep bird feeders filled if you'll be away for more than a day or so. Buy yourself a feeder microphone (or try a baby monitor in a plastic bag) to hear feathery guests as they eat.
  • Boat green!
    To reduce the growth of algae and barnacles on your boat's hull without using toxic "anti-fouling" paint, take your boat out of the water between outings. Another option for recreational boaters is to gently scrub accumulations off with a soft brush. If you must apply a preventative, look for one containing irgarol or a zinc compound instead of copper oxide or tin. See "Requirements for Applying Antifouling Paints" to learn what's allowed in New York State.
  • Help sustain fish populations, and keep yourself healthy, too
    Consider releasing the largest fish you catch and make sure the type you catch the most are in the legal size range. Larger fish are the best breeders, and smaller fish tend to have fewer contaminants.
  • Use circle hooks when fishing with bait
    Circle hooks catch fish in the lip rather than the gut, increasing the survival rate of catch-and-release species. When you use circular hooks for catch and release, you also save your regular hooks for traditional fishing.
  • Use certified baitfish or safe baitfish from DEC's "Green List"
    You'll help prevent the spread of disease and keep non-native or invasive bait fish from taking over native fish habitat. Dispose of unused bait and water from your bait bucket on land, not water. For more on baitfish, see "Baitfish Of New York State."
  • Buy a living tree, locally, for the holidays
    Buy your tree from a local tree farm; it will be fresher than one that's been trucked hundreds of miles. Select a small (4′ or shorter) fir or spruce. A living tree can be kept indoors in a cool room for about 10 days. Before the ground freezes, dig a hole for the tree so it can be planted after the holidays. Think carefully about placement because eventually the tree will be both wide (around the bottom) and tall.
  • Help flooded trees
    Most healthy trees can survive two or three days of flooding, but more than that can stress trees and lead to insect and disease problems. Help tree roots breathe by removing any sediment deposited around them by flood waters. Check the flood tolerance of common tree species by using the offsite link on the right side of this page.
  • Use a cover crop in fall
    Protect the soil, add organic matter and nutrients, and suppress weeds in your vegetable garden by planting a cover crop. Winter rye can be planted through October and possibly beyond. Mow or use a weed whacker the following spring to cut it down and compost or till into the soil. See the link on the right to Cornell Cooperative Extension for more information.
  • Fertilize lawns in the fall
    Lawns fertilized in the fall will stay greener longer and become green earlier the following spring. Use a mix (preferably organic) with both slow and fast-release nitrogen in it. Be sure to water the lawn after applying fertilizer. Fall fertilization helps build strong roots and defends against winter stresses. Check here for the best ways to fertilize.
  • Prepare soil in fall for gardening in spring
    Mow the grass extremely short in the area where you plan to garden. Place cardboard on the remaining grass to smother it, or use five to ten layers of overlapping newspaper (no glossy pages). Wet down the cardboard/newspaper, and put compost or manure two inches deep on top. Put three to four inches of leaves on top of that. Come spring, you won't need to dig a garden bed.
  • Create a no-dig garden bed
    Mow grass very short in the fall. Smother what's left with cardboard or up to ten layers of overlapping newspaper (no glossy pages). Wet the cardboard or newspaper, and then add two inches of compost or manure. Top that with up to four inches of leaves, and you'll be ready for spring planting.
  • Make the most of your "back 40"
    Get professional advice about how to best manage your forested land and maybe even earn income from it. A free, on-site consultation by a DEC forester is available to all private landowners in New York State.
  • Hit the trail
    Take your pick from over 3,500 miles of non-motorized-use trails administered by DEC. Hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers can find a great outdoor experience for every skill level.
  • Use Google Maps
    Find bike routes and walking paths by using this handy online tool. See the link in the right-hand column.
  • Subscribe to Conservationist magazine
    Published six times a year, the Conservationist is New York's source for expert articles on the latest environmental issues, fun outdoor activities, and stunning photography. Check out the current issue on-line and the great deal on our web subscription special.
  • Dig it
    If you can't garden at home, join a community garden in your area. Use the link in the right-hand column to check the Department of Agriculture and Markets' website for a community garden near you.

Be a Good (Nature) Neighbor

Image of a New York StateTrails Supporter Patch
  • Don't feed the bears...
    Or the geese, or the deer, or the birds (in the spring and summer). Feeding wildlife when there is abundant natural food creates a dependence on unnatural food sources and associates people with food. Both are dangerous and potentially harmful to wildlife. Feeding deer anything besides their natural food is illegal in New York State and increases their chances of getting chronic wasting disease. If you want to attract a variety of animals and birds, use native plantings as a source of food. Cutting browse (trees and brush) is a legal and healthier way to provide food for deer.
  • Remove your bird feeders in early spring
    Bears leave their dens in March, when their natural food is still scarce. Bird seed is highly desirable to bears, and even small amounts on the ground will attract them. Clean up any fallen seed, or treat it with ammonia or something similar to camouflage the scent.
  • Add some native shrubs and trees to your yard
    DEC's Saratoga Tree Nursery now offers river birch-which has colorful peeling bark and good disease resistance, and arrowwood viburnum-a tall attractive shrub with blue fruits that birds enjoy. Other plants that might be available include the salt-resistant bayberry, the disease-resistant Toringo crabapple, fragrant button bush for wet areas, and witch hazel, with its late fall color and flowers.
  • Carry it in, carry it out
    When visiting natural areas, take home your trash so that the woods, meadow or beach stay pristine for those following in your footsteps, whether human or wild. Reduce what you carry in and bring re-usable picnic supplies: dishes, cups and utensils.
  • Build small campfires only when and where allowed
    Practice fire safety when outdoors. Use existing campfire rings if possible. Build fires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves. Scrape away litter, duff, and any burnable material within a 10-foot diameter. Don't leave a fire unattended. To extinguish a campfire, drown it, stir and repeat. Be certain it's completely out before you leave.
  • Buy your firewood at the campground or from a local vendor
    This will help stop the spread of invasive insects that destroy native trees. If you transport firewood, it must remain within 50 miles of its source, and you must have a receipt or label stating the source. Out-of-state firewood is prohibited unless it's heat treated. If you cut and transport firewood from your own property, you can download a Self-Issued Certificate of Source.
  • "It Takes a Village" to ice fish and socialize
    In winter, entire communities of ice fishers spring up on frozen lakes as families and friends gather to fish and visit. Watch a DEC video to learn more, and then follow the links to learn how.
  • Eat "eco" chocolate
    Buy Fair Trade chocolate or chocolate that's Rainforest Alliance Certified. Chocolate with either of these labels has been produced in a sustainable manner and meets strict standards for worker welfare.
  • Watch for perilous plants!
    Wild parsnip and giant hogweed-non-native, invasive plants-can cause serious burns if touched. Learn how to identify them, what to do if you accidentally touch them and how get rid of them.
  • Avoid decorations that include Invasives
    The oriental bittersweet vine is often used in fall wreathes and other autumn decorations. To prevent the spread of this invasive plant, don't compost it or toss it outside. Put it in the trash instead.