Open space acquisition grants announced, but Connecticut lags on land preservation goals
A large state acquisition announced Wednesday will preserve land in 17 Connecticut communities and direct around a quarter of a million dollars to restore green spaces in six urban spots.
The land purchases will be funded with an overall allocation of $7.5 million in state grants and will preserve more than 1,000 acres of open space, according to the office of Gov. Ned Lamont.
“These grants continue our open space preservation legacy and will increase the availability and quality of open space for all residents across our state, whether they live in an urban, suburban or rural area,” Lamont said in a statement listing the award recipients.
Acquisitions include wetlands and riverfront space, mature forests and rocky, ridgeline habitats.
While the land acquisitions are sizable, a 2021 report from the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the state’s 2016 Green Plan acknowledge that Connecticut is behind on its land preservation goals.
Those goals are ambitious.
State law says 21% of Connecticut’s land – 673,210 acres – should be preserved as open space by 2023.
As of the end of March 2022, 513,310 acres have been preserved (76.2% of the total goal), leaving 159,900 acres still to go, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
The CEQ estimates that the total area of preserved open space is a little higher – about 84% of the goal – by estimating land preserved by land trusts and other conservation partners.
Regardless, state officials have acknowledged for years that the 2023 goal was all but unreachable in light of the pace of land development in Connecticut and the lack of funding to purchase properties.
And while the CEQ said Wednesday’s latest land acquisition is a positive step, meeting that 21% percent goal could take a while.
Accounting for the rate of just the DEEP’s land acquisition over the past decade, the CEQ report said it would take the agency more than 60 years to meet its preservation target under the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program, which is the state’s primary way of adding land to its system of forests, parks, wildlife areas and other open spaces.