Rensselaer Plateau. Photo Courtesy of Nate Simms

Addition to Pittstown State Forest Protects Drinking Water Supply and Critical Wildlife Habitats, Enhances Recreational Opportunities, and Promotes Sustainable Forestry

Governor Kathy Hochul today announced the permanent protection of 1,175 acres of forested lands adjoining Pittstown State Forest on the Rensselaer Plateau in the town of Grafton. The recent acquisition from the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, announced as part of New York State’s Earth Week celebration, will double the size of the Pittstown State Forest, preserve critical open space, and expand recreational opportunities to support the local economy.

“New York State is laser focused on preserving and enhancing open space, and the Rensselaer Plateau, just a short visit from the Capitol, provides a spectacular outdoor escape from Albany’s bustling downtown,” Governor Hochul said. “Today’s addition to the Pittstown State Forest, more than doubling its size, will provide expanded outdoor recreational opportunities for locals and visitors while protecting valuable open space and unique wetland communities that define the Rensselaer Plateau.” 

More than 900 acres of the acquisition was formerly owned by the Gundrum family, owners of Gundrum Logging and Lumber. Rensselaer Plateau Alliance (RPA) purchased 927 acres from Rynard Gundrum in 2016, and later acquired an additional 248 acres of adjoining land in three separate transactions with other landowners with support from The Conservation Fund. 

The properties were priority acquisitions under both the New York State Open Space Plan and the Rensselaer Plateau Regional Conservation Plan. DEC purchased the properties from RPA for $894,000 using money from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Among the many environmental victories in the 2022-23 State Budget, Governor Hochul succeeded in enacting an increase in the EPF from $300 to $400 million, the highest-ever level of funding in the program’s history. The EPF supports climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, improves agricultural resources to promote sustainable agriculture, protects our water sources, advances conservation efforts, and provides recreational opportunities for New Yorkers. The budget also helped fulfill the Governor’s commitment to improve the State’s wetlands protection program, safeguarding an estimated one million additional acres of unprotected wetlands habitat and helping New York adapt to increased flooding and severe storms fueled by climate change. 

Department of Environmental Conservation  Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “As Governor Hochul’s recent environmental budget demonstrates, New York State’s commitment to preserving the wild and natural spaces on our doorstep is stronger than ever. DEC is preserving these properties as sustainable working forests with year-round recreational opportunities for all New Yorkers. We are grateful for the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, The Conservation Fund, the Gundrum family, and DEC Regional Forester Bill Schongar for a shared vision to secure these lands and ensure they remain protected.”

State Senator Daphne Jordan said, “People, wildlife and their generations to come, can rejoice that an additional 1,175 acres of the Rensselaer Plateau will be permanently protected as an addition to the Pittstown State Forest. This land is home to forest and wetland ecosystems which support many animals, birds and plants. It also provides streams which create the water supply in the Tomhannock Reservoir for 135,000 people in Rensselaer County. Congratulations to the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance for their foresight and drive to make a land preservation project, which protects habitats, viewsheds, water supply and provides hiking and outdoor enjoyment to all, a reality. This is a terrific example of what can be accomplished with a group of interested people, the Conservation Fund and the State’s Environmental Protection Fund.”

Assemblymember Jake Ashby said, “This is a huge victory for Rensselaer County and the Rensselaer County Plateau alliance. The Rensselaer Plateau is an essential part of our area and this acquisition will continue to strengthen our commitment to protection our natural resources.”

Jim Bonesteel, Executive Director for the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, said, “We are very excited to play a role in conserving this land. We are so thankful to the Gundrum family for their vision of conserving this land for future generations and for donating a portion of the land as part of a bargain sale to help make it happen. We appreciate our strong partnerships with DEC and The Conservation Fund, without whom we would not have been able to do this.”

Tom Duffus, Vice President and Northeast Representative for The Conservation Fund said, “Land conservation requires time and dedicated partners to bridge the gap so the result, like here at Pittstown State Forest in view of the Albany Capital District, can provide multiple benefits to nearby communities and the environment. Forests provide us so many essential resources — clean water and air, recreational opportunities and timber jobs — and we will continue to collaborate with Rensselaer Plateau Alliance and DEC to protect additional working forestlands in the area.”

Rynard Gundrum, Jr., whose family sold the land, said, “After almost 30 years of logging this tract when it was part of my family’s woodlands, I have always been committed to the idea that the Grafton Forest should remain a working forest, and my preference was to entrust the future of this land to the State of New York. We have logged on State Lands for decades and have an exceptional relationship with DEC’s local foresters. I knew the State – through its local foresters – would manage the forest properly.”

The former Gundrum’s land includes significant natural areas identified in the Rensselaer Plateau Regional Conservation Plan, including several important wetland ecosystems. It is within the largest intact forest on the plateau and has hundreds of acres of high-quality forest ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of wildlife such as moose, bobcat, black bear and many species of amphibians, reptiles and birds. Streams fed from this land provide clean water to the Tomhannock Reservoir, the drinking water supply for 135,000 people in Troy, East Greenbush, North Greenbush, Poestenskill, and Brunswick. Numerous rocky outcroppings provide stunning views of the northern Hudson Valley, Adirondacks and Green Mountains. 

The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance works with the community to promote and facilitate the conservation of the Plateau’s forests and important wildlife areas. An alliance of diverse organizations and individuals, who share a common vision that 100 years from now the Plateau remains a large forest that still provides enough clean water for thousands of people, habitat for wildlife, support for the local economy, and many other benefits.

The Conservation Fund is a national non-profit dedicated to making conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Through its Working Forest Fund®, it aims to permanently conserve five million acres of at-risk working forests to mitigate climate change, strengthen rural economies and protect natural ecosystems. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, the Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including nearly 493,000 acres in New York.