President Bush has signed into law a plan to spend $10 million a year for 10
years buying land in the Highlands, a swath of the Appalachian Mountains through
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania that includes southern
Another $1 million per year would fund Forest Service activities in the region.
A 2003 Forest Service study, which inspired the legislation, identified some
100,000 acres of prime forests, watersheds, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas
in the New York-New Jersey Highlands in danger of being lost to development and
should be protected.
Of 11 priority areas highlighted for conservation, two were in Dutchess -- the
Depot Hill/West Mountain area through Pawling and Beekman, and the East Hudson
Highlands in Dutchess and Putnam counties.
Land will only be bought from willing sellers.
President Bush signed into law the federal Highlands Conservation Act on
Tuesday, authorizing $110 million to preserve open space in New Jersey and three
neighboring states now under relentless development pressure.
"This is an historic achievement," Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chief author
of the Highlands Conservation Act, said in a statement. "We've established a
national model for the preservation and protection of open space, drinking water
supplies and recreational lands that our families will be able to enjoy for
The act authorizes Congress to match $100 million in state open-space
acquisition funds over 10 years. It also authorizes an additional $10 million
for acquisition planning in the Highlands, a mountainous forested region of 3.5
million acres across North Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. The
region provides water for 11 million residents, and is host to more than 200
plant and 50 animal species.
The Highlands Conservation law received strong, bipartisan support from New
Jersey representatives. Frelinghuysen, a Morris County Republican, helped write
the House bill. Democratic Sens. Jon S. Corzine and Frank R. Lautenberg
sponsored the Senate version.
The federal act comes three months after former Gov. Jim McGreevey signed the
state's Highlands preservation law. That measure severely restricts large-scale
development across 395,000 acres in North Jersey's Highlands, which stretches
from Bergen County through portions of Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Somerset, Warren
and Hunterdon counties. It also allows property owners to sell protected lands
to the state's Green Acres program, for a price based on land values before the
The new federal conservation act will help stretch state dollars and is a
"welcome boost," said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of
"It should ensure stable funding to support our Highlands protection effort," he
said. "The critical question going forward is whether the Bush administration
will seek the appropriations that are needed to fund the legislation. ... That's
the part of this we will be watching closely."
The federal funds will be included in the Department of the Interior's annual
budget. Congress votes on that appropriation as part of the federal budget each
year. It's up to local governments to identify eligible parcels; the governors'
offices are responsible for submitting requests for the funding to the Interior
In New Jersey, land parcels eligible for federal conservation dollars are not
identical with the state's self-identified core preservation and planning
Highlands areas. The federal funding is based on a four-state Highlands region
map created by the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The region is densely populated, and about 84 percent of it is privately owned
and could be developed. According to a federal study, more than 25,000 acres of
forest in the Highlands were lost from 1995 to 2000.
"The federal act has great potential," said Tom Gilbert, executive director of
the Highlands Coalition advocacy group. "These watersheds span state lines, and
you can't always protect them fully by just looking within one state's borders.
This is a recognition of the area as a national conservation priority."