After nearly 30 years, New York's landmark wetlands protection law has finally been reformed. Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed into law a budget passed by both chambers of the New York state legislature that includes reforms to protect more than 1 million acres of wetlands in the state. These new changes will protect more wetlands throughout New York state, make clearer the definitions for what qualifies as a wetland and will place priority protection on wetlands that host waterfowl habitat.
Ducks Unlimited (DU) and our partners in the Save NYS Wetlands Coalition praised Gov. Hochul and the state legislature for including reforms to the NYS Freshwater Wetlands Act in this year's budget. This historic legislation will allow the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect more than 1 million acres of large, critically important freshwater wetlands that are currently unprotected. The legislation also protects tens of thousands of additional, smaller wetlands that are considered of “unusual importance” to our environment.
DU conservation staff played a pivotal role in ensuring any changes made would be directly beneficial to waterfowl and their habitat.
“The reforms included in the state budget have been years in the making and are a testament to the vast partnerships between the conservation community, the legislature and the Governor's office,” said Ed Farley, Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist (NY). “Protecting 1 million additional acres of wetlands will provide ample habitat for the majority of wildlife in the state, including migratory waterfowl.
“Additionally, expanding the criteria for protected wetlands to include state species of special concern, like the American Black Duck, will ensure the most critical habitat for waterfowl in New York is protected. We applaud the Governor, the Senate and Assembly for prioritizing wetlands in this historic budget.”
Prior to this historic agreement, New York State's wetlands had to be included on official state maps before they could be protected by the DEC, which led to the filling, dredging and draining of unmapped wetlands. The legislation enacted in the budget would eliminate this arbitrary requirement and finally allow the DEC to protect more than 1 million acres of freshwater wetlands that are currently unmapped. The bill will also enable the DEC to protect wetlands larger than 7.4 acres and smaller wetlands deemed of having “unusual importance,” which provide significant benefits such as mitigating flooding, providing critical habitat for wildlife, increasing climate resiliency, sequestering carbon and maintaining clean drinking water.
For Ducks Unlimited, these changes are a significant advancement of our conservation mission in New York and are a testament to the work of volunteers and staff engaging with elected officials to advocate for important conservation measures. The new criteria represent a significant modernization of the law and the way it's administered throughout the state. Appropriate protections will now be provided to more than a million acres of wetlands as well as to critical species like the American black duck and many others. These accomplishments will ensure that New York's waterfowlers and outdoor enthusiasts will be able to enjoy these wetlands and the many species of wildlife they support, while improving water quality for generations to come.