State Parks and Forests Aren't as Protected as You Think

Jan 28, 2014

Credit Flickr Creative Commons / ChrisHConnelly

If you think Connecticut's roughly 270,000 acres of forests and parks are protected forever, you're wrong. That's according to a new report from Connecticut's Council on Environmental Quality claiming state conservation lands aren't always preserved forever.

DEEP can't sell conservation lands, but it can gift or exchange open space through land transfers.

Eric Hammerling, who heads up the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association, said, "Certainly, there is an expectation from the public that if they live next to, or visit, a state park or forest, that's something that's protected on behalf of the people, and will be there forever. But that's not actually the case." 

Most state land deeds for conservation space don't require perpetual conservation. Granted, large-scale land transfers are a really tough sell, but Karl Wagener from Connecticut's Council on Environmental Quality said he still wants the state's land-transfer process to be more open and transparent. 

Currently, The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection can't sell conservation lands, but it can gift or exchange open space by engaging in land transfers. Land transfers currently work in two ways. If a town requests taking over state-owned conservation land, it can go to DEEP and request the land be granted as a gift. The town can also offer up some land in exchange, as was the case with 2012's Haddam land swap. 

If DEEP denies the swap, Wagener said there's another option for towns: going to the legislature. "There's a bill in the legislature every year," Wagener said, "called the conveyance bill and lots of parcels of state land are given to towns or other parties." Usually, these land transfers are mundane. They aren't large conservation spaces. They're things like small parcels of land that would allow a town to implement a road expansion or other infrastructure improvements.

Wagener cautioned the door is still open to larger developers eyeing development in conversation space. "We have seen proposals to give a piece of land to a town to add to a park," he said. "We have seen proposals to use a large state forest for a wind farm. The proponents of these proposals usually bring forward some information which may or may not be accurate."

Right now, Waegner says there are no major land transfers up for debate, but that could change as the legislature assembles next week.