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Researching the Environment

The history of environmental affairs in New York State is the story of how New Yorkers have used natural resources and how they struggle to use soil, timber, water, air, and wildlife in ways that do not do irreparable damage.

Environmental policies developed in New York State have set national and international precedents:

  • First to define parcels of land that it owned as "wilderness area" requiring permanent protection (NYS Constitution, Article 14) inspiring the federal Wilderness Act and similar legislation in other nations.
  • First to codify a Conservation Law, establish a sustained enforcement system staffed by fish and wildlife officers and forest rangers, and create a state park system.

At present, federal, State, and local laws shape New Yorkers' efforts to ameliorate the effects of existing environmental damage, prevent further environmental harm, and respect the rights of the people who live, work, and play in the State.

Value of Enviromental History Records for Research

Within the Environmental History Virtual Research Collection you will find links to records and images that document the wide array of public and private perspectives on the acquisition, management, and use of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

The records shed light on the environmental, cultural, social, political, economic, and scientific history of New York State's two great natural areas by providing a wealth of information not only on the forest preserves, but also on the parks, their inhabitants, and the millions of tourists who have visited them for well over a century.

They provide information on environmental issues such as:

  • acquisition (property seizures, legislation, acquisition and lawsuits resulting development of the Ashokan Reservoir which forced hundreds of residents off of their land and submerged entire villages to provide more drinking water for New York City)
  • management (shoreline and wetland usage, construction of roads and highways including the Adirondack Northway/Interstate 87, water resource development, regulations)
  • use by businesses (lumber industry, forest products, development of ski areas, Olympics)
  • use by individuals (recreation activities, land ownership, property loss compensation, great camps, limits on private land use, conservation efforts).

Of particular note are:

  • the history of science and technology, particularly 18th and 19th century cartography and surveying (for instance the largest and most comprehensive state-supported topographical survey of the 19 th century).
  • the rise of wilderness exploration
  • programs (such as Department of Environmental Conservation's the reforestation and endangered species programs) designed to protect as well as manage the natural resources of the Adirondacks and Catskills
  • efforts by the State to work with the federal government,
  • other states, localities, and the private sector to study, contain, and mitigate the harmful effects of acid rain.
  • the birth of the conservation movement that flourished in New York State and throughout the nation in the late 19th and early 20th century.

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