Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Open Space

Note: For a list of DEC-managed recreation lands see the Places to Go page.

Importance of Open Space

Open space is simply land or water that is undeveloped (free from residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional use). Open space can be either private or publicly owned and includes areas such as forests, agricultural field, public parks and preserves, and coastal lands. These spaces can be as small as a vacant lot or as large as the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.

Open spaces provide benefits to New York State's economy, culture, environment, and our population's general well-being by providing:

  • Scenic beauty, cultural value and historic significance
  • Production of food and forest products
  • Outdoor recreation
    Pair of older people riding bikes on a path
    Many open spaces allow for recreation
  • Protection or restoration of ecological functions
  • Wildlife diversity and habitat for endangered plant and animal species
  • Fisheries, viewsheds, public access and ecotourism potential
  • Mitigation of natural hazards, such as flooding, and protection of water supplies
  • Values that can take decades or centuries to mature and can be quickly lost to new development

NYS Open Space Conservation Plan

New York's Open Space Conservation Plan serves as the blueprint for the State's land conservation efforts. The Open Space Plan is revised periodically.

New York's Open Space Conservation Plan provides four overarching objectives to direct our priorities, policies, and actions:

  • Promote outdoor recreation
  • Address climate change
  • Ensure clean water, air and land for a healthy public and vibrant economy
  • Protect, use and conserve our natural resources and cultural heritage

The Plan provides actions that we can take in pursuit of each objective and a listing of associated programs and policies. The Plan also contains a statewide list of priority conservation projects that are eligible for funding through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).

2016 Open Space Conservation Plan Revision

The 2016 Open Space Conservation Plan is available.

photo of a marshland bird habitat at Alder Bottom Wildlife Management Area in Chautauqua County
Alder Bottom Wildlife Management Area

Smart Growth

Smart growth is an approach to land use that redirects economic growth away from undeveloped areas and back into established communities. It uses economic development and job creation to enhance the quality-of-life of a community, while preserving the natural and working environments.

Smart growth encourages clustered population centers that are full of activity, diversity and character. Achieving this vision requires a combination of community planning activity, land use regulations, government incentives, and individual actions to work toward improved communities and quality of life. To learn more about smart growth, visit the Smart Growth Network (link leaves DEC website).

DEC Actions to Promote Smart Growth

example of transit oriented development
Transit-oriented development can draw smart growth toward
mass transit corridors

DEC currently enacts the following smart growth initiatives:

Environmental Benefits of Smart Growth

  • Energy use - Smart growth reduces vehicle miles traveled and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Green development - Planned growth incorporates environmental awareness into land use decisions.
  • Water quality - Smart growth leaves more and larger areas for the natural process of absorption and filtering.
  • Ecosystems and habitat - Building compactly leaves ecosystems intact to support diverse plant and wildlife populations.
  • Connection to nature - Smart growth creates links between our neighborhoods and areas set aside for nature-based recreation.

Open Space Funding from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)

View of a shaded and groomed park in an urban setting
Urban park land

Created in 1993, the New York State EPF, as defined in Environmental Conservation Law Article 54, provides mechanisms for open space conservation and land acquisition.

Title 3 allocates funds to DEC and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for purchase of land to be included in the Forest Preserve, State Parks, the State Nature and Historical Preserve, State Historic Sites, Unique Areas and other categories.

Title 9 provides funds for local governments and not-for-profit organizations to purchase park lands or historic resources as well to develop and preserve these resources.

A portion of the revenue from New York State Bluebird License Plates (see below) supports the EPF.

Open Space Conservation License Plate

license plate example

Order New York's first conservation license plate and help conserve our most precious natural resource -- the open space that provides recreational enjoyment for people, necessary habitat for plants and animals, and economic benefit for businesses and communities.

When you buy your Bluebird Plate, $25 goes directly into the State's Environmental Protection Fund, dedicated for conservation projects identified in New York's Open Space Plan. Order your Bluebird Plate now and help the Environmental Protection Fund complete urgent land conservation projects for our families and future generations of New Yorkers.

The Bluebird Plate is designed exclusively for New York by world-renowned artist and naturalist, Roger Tory Peterson, and is made from recycled aluminum.

For more information call (518) 402-4838 or visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles Office (link leaves DEC website).


More about Open Space:

  • Smart Growth in the Adirondack Park and Catskill Park - DEC has initiated EPF funding for towns, villages and not-for-profit organization partners in the Adirondack and Catskill Park. This funding is intended to help park communities capitalize on the historic and cultural assets of existing settlements to cultivate economic growth within the framework of highly protected forest preserve lands.
  • 2016 Open Space Conservation Plan - The plan provides statewide priorities for setting aside, purchasing, and otherwise protecting lands that make up the state's vital open spaces.
  • Recent Land And Conservation Easement Announcements and Acquisitions - The Bureau of Real Property is DEC's Real Estate Agent, handling all land conveyance transactions for all DEC Divisions. This page lists recent land and conservation easement announcements and acquisitions.
  • New York State Conservation Partnership Program - New York State Conservation Partnership Program - Capacity building grants for land trusts in New York State.