Search for a term on the page by using the search box.

A Better Understanding of the Natural Resources in Dutchess County, NY

Natural Resources Inventory (NRI)

Dutchess County, New York has a rich natural heritage that has enabled its communities to prosper and grow and has contributed to a high quality of life for its residents. Diverse habitats, productive farmland, abundant water resources, and scenic landscapes are all distinctive characteristics of the region that have attracted residents and have helped foster a strong sense of place. Natural resources consist of living things and naturally occurring materials in the environment that sustain human life and economies. Natural resources include, but are not limited to, air, minerals, soils, sources of energy, water, wildlife, and habitats.

The natural resources inventory (NRI) is a document that catalogs the physical and biological characteristics of an area, collects the data in a usable format, and interprets the findings. An NRI can serve as a planning and project review tool for municipalities at the local level and as a tool for county or regional planning and project assessment. An NRI can also serve as a valuable resource for landowners and educators looking to learn and teach about their local landscapes. Fundamentally, a better understanding of natural resources enables communities to conserve their natural resources for current and future generations.

Updating a natural resources inventory helps communities develop a comprehension of where their natural and cultural resources are located, and which resources are significant to a community. The compilation of maps, data, and descriptions within an NRI contributes to a better understanding and appreciation of the community’s natural resources and provides the foundation for a wide range of planning and conservation applications. In particular, the inventory provides the building blocks for land-use and conservation planning and serves as a tool for natural resource information to be included in local planning and zoning.
The natural resources inventory (NRI) of Dutchess County, NY is an important tool for locally elected and appointed officials, educators, and the general public. It is available on the Dutchess County Planning and Development Department website as a series of webpages and has been enhanced to include an interactive mapping application that highlights the latest available natural resources data for the county. This mapping application, called the Dutchess Environmental Mapper, is referenced and linked in many places throughout this NRI, and both the NRI webpages and mapper are most helpful when used in tandem with one another. The NRI is intended to be used as an advisory document for officials involved with land use and natural resource planning to make more informed decisions. Elected and appointed officials, including planning and zoning boards, Conservation Advisory Councils or Boards, and the Environmental Management Council, are encouraged to refer to the NRI as they consider the value of natural resources in their communities. The public can use the NRI to help inform them of their surrounding environment, and local educators can use the document to create locally relevant lesson plans about the local environment. Communities can use the NRI as a decision-making tool to:
  • Identify critical areas for conservation, such as wetlands, floodplains, or prime aquifer recharge areas;
  • Identify threats to natural resources and plan for conservation and mitigation;
  • Provide a baseline of information to assess the environmental impacts of proposed activities;
  • Develop a set of goals and strategies for natural resource conservation and management;
  • Assess existing conditions, such as the current pattern of development and distribution of open space;
  • Develop comprehensive plans that incorporate natural resource conservation; and
  • Inform natural resource conservation policies, such as planning and zoning board procedures, zoning law, and ordinances.
Periodic updates will be made as budgets and time allow. The maps and data provided in the NRI are not a substitute for site-specific studies, and municipal-level or parcel-level issues may need to be examined on a site-specific basis. Many Dutchess municipalities also have their own natural resource inventories, and these local-level documents should be consulted as well when working within corresponding municipalities.

An ecosystem is a biological community that includes all the non-living factors influencing that community. Together, the living and non-living components of ecosystems form one physical system, exchanging energy, water, and nutrients. The quality and availability of soil, water, and air all play a role in how a forest ecosystem functions, as does the presence of other species including vegetation and wildlife.

Ecosystems can be as small as a community of microorganisms in a teaspoon of soil, or as large as the entire planet Earth, which is itself one whole ecosystem of interconnected living and non-living things. The size and complexity of ecosystems vary according to the scale at which people observe them. To aid in the development of conservation practices and policies at several scales, from national or continental to state and regional, scientists and policymakers group areas with similar ecosystems into ecological regions. At the broadest scale, Dutchess County is located within the eastern temperate forest ecological region, distinguished by its moderate-to-mild humid climate, its relatively dense and diverse forest cover, and its high density of human inhabitants. At more local scales, topographic and rainfall patterns within different parts of Dutchess County support different types of vegetation and wildlife communities.

Interactions within ecosystems are affected by the geologic setting in which they occur. Geologic processes determine topography, soil structure, and the distribution and availability of water; these underlying conditions vary across the landscape, supporting different types of ecological communities. For example, some geological formations in Dutchess County create conditions that provide habitat for rare and unique species. These communities are discussed in the Physical Resources section of this NRI.

Ecosystem Services 

Ecosystem processes provide clean water, clean air, sources of food, recreational resources, and other benefits to humans. The functions performed by ecosystems that directly or indirectly benefit humans are called ecosystem services. These benefits include provisioning services, regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation.[2]

These services have many linkages to human well-being. They provide the basic materials for life, including food, shelter, and livelihood. Healthy ecosystems offer security and stability, in part through access to resources, which in turn contributes to healthy social relations. In addition, they benefit physical health by providing clean air, clean water, and other resources.[2]

It is important to understand how ecosystems function, especially to avoid sacrificing the ecosystem services on which people depend. Because components of ecosystems are interconnected, and these relationships may be complex, changes made to one part can have an impact on others. Conserving healthy, functioning ecosystems is essential to ensure that they continue to provide us with these invaluable services over time.

Sprawl and Smart Growth

Increasing sprawl has become a concern nationally and within Dutchess County. [3][4] As the county’s population has grown, many people have moved away from rural areas and city centers towards developments in outlying open areas. Sprawl is characterized by low-density residential and commercial areas extending far out of traditional settlement areas, and is often the result of poor or no land-use planning. Sprawl can cause many problems, including loss of a sense of place, habitat loss, threats to farmland, increased costs of services to local governments, and health impacts.[3] Sprawl patterns in Dutchess County are associated with the major transportation routes, such as Route 9, Route 44, Route 55, Route 52, and Interstate 84. Extensive commercial and residential development can be found along, and spread out from, each of these transportation corridors.

Planners have become increasingly aware of the problems associated with sprawl, adopting or encouraging sustainable development practices such as smart growth.[5][4]Smart growth includes focusing development in traditional settlement areas, taking advantage of existing infrastructure, maintaining open space, implementing zoning laws that allow for multiple uses within buildings and neighborhoods, and providing access to mass transit.5][3] Examples of how to implement smart growth principles can be found in the Dutchess County Greenway Compact Program and Guides for Dutchess County communities.

Climate Change

Climate change is a critical challenge that is affecting human beings and the natural resources upon which they rely, both globally and locally. Climate change refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer.[5] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body of scientists working through the United Nations has concluded that the earth’s climate is changing much more rapidly than ever before, and that "human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land" by increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs).[6]

Climatic changes are already occurring, on both a global and local scale. Temperatures have risen almost 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in New York State since 1900 due to the emission of GHGs. [7] These changes have caused scientists to predict higher average annual temperatures, decreased snowfall, and increases in extreme precipitation, punctuated by longer periods of dry conditions. [8] These changes will have a profound effect on water resources, soils, air quality, and biological resources. As local municipal officials plan for future land use and infrastructure, it will be increasingly important to consider scientifically based projections of climatic change in the northeastern United States and Hudson Valley region.

Ecosystems are dynamic communities that provide clean water, clean air, sources of food, recreational resources, and other invaluable services to humans, as well as having their own intrinsic value. As community members and elected and appointed officials at the local level, in whose control local land use planning decisions lie, it is important to recognize the impact our growth patterns can have on ecosystem functions and to consider sustainable development or smart growth alternatives. Officials and planners should also begin to consider the short and long-term effects of climate change as they start planning to help their communities adapt to climate change and help ecosystems become more resilient. Local decision-makers should keep all of these concepts in mind in order to help communities utilize natural resources in a sustainable fashion, while at the same time preserving their quality, value, diversity, and abundance.

New York State Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) Article 47 on County and Regional Environmental Management Councils mandates the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council (DCEMC) to maintain an accurate inventory of the natural resources of the County. A Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) was first prepared by the Dutchess County Department of Planning & Development (DCDPD) and the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council in 1985. A revised NRI for Dutchess County was prepared in 2010 through a collaborative effort that included the Dutchess County Department of Planning & Development, Dutchess County Environmental Management Council (EMC), Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County (CCEDC), Vassar College, and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

This 2023 iteration of the Dutchess County natural resources inventory is an update largely built off of the detailed 2010 NRI. Created in collaboration with the Dutchess County Department of Planning & Development (the lead agency for the project), Dutchess County Office of Central Information Services (OCIS), Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County, and the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council, this version of the NRI includes updated important data, images, figures, and tables to incorporate new information collected since the 2010 NRI was produced. In addition to the primary project contributors above, Dutchess County would like to also thank the local experts and scientists from Hudsonia, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC) for participating in this project.

Stakeholder engagement was a critical part of this NRI update. Input was received via collected surveys from local CACs and environmental organizations, and an advisory group was established to help guide project development. Members of the natural resources inventory Project Advisory Committee deserve recognition for providing direction to the 2023 update. Participants of the NRI Project Advisory Committee include: Devin Rigolino (DCDPD), Jen Cocozza (DCDPD), Sean Carroll (CCEDC), Kelsey West (CCEDC), Carolyn Klocker (CCEDC), James Frederickson (DCEMC), Vicky Kelly (DCEMC, Cary Institute), Gretchen Stevens (Hudsonia), Julie Hart (DLC), and Neil Curri (Vassar College).

This project has been funded in part by a grant from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund through the Hudson River Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Dutchess County’s first 1985 NRI
Dutchess County’s first 1985 NRI
This image shows the cover paged used for Dutchess County’s 2010 NRI Update which includes several photographs taken around the County depicting local natural resources.
Dutchess County’s 2010 NRI Update

Municipal Natural Resource Inventories

A list of existing natural resource inventories for cities, towns, and villages within Dutchess County can be found here below. This list will be updated as new NRIs are made available.

Prior Dutchess County Natural Resource Inventories

Copies of the 1985 and 2011 Dutchess County NRIs can be accessed here:

[1] Campbell, Neil A. and Jane B. Reece. Biology, 8th Edition. San Francisco, CA: Benjamin Cummings, 2007.
[2] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: General Synthesis. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005.
[3] Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development. “Greenway Connections: Greenway Compact Program and Guides for Dutchess County Communities.” Poughkeepsie, NY, 2000.
[4] Stone, Jeremy, Ed. “Breaking Ground: Planning and Building in Priority Growth Districts.” White Plains, NY: Land Use Law Center, Pace University School of Law and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 2005.
[5] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Smart Growth. Washington, DC. Accessed 2023.
[6] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. Working Group 1, 2021. Accessed 2023.
[7] NOAA, Frankson, R., K.E. Kunkel, S.M. Champion, B.C. Stewart, W. Sweet, A.T. DeGaetano, and J. Spaccio. New York State Climate Summary 2022. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 150-NY. NOAA/NESDIS, Silver Spring, MD, 2022.
[8] NYSERDA. Responding to Climate Change in New York State. Albany, NY, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-936842-00-1. Accessed 2023.

Cultural services: Benefits provided by ecosystems that include recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits.

Eastern temperate forest ecological region: An ecoregion of the United States that includes much of the Eastern US and the Midwest and enjoys a mild and moist climate. It is generally warmer as latitude decreases and drier as longitude increases.

Ecosystems: A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.

Ecosystem services: The functions performed by ecosystems that directly or indirectly benefit humans.

Geologic processes: All types of processes affecting geologic structures (e.g. erosion, weathering).

Greenhouse gases: A gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy at thermal infrared wavelengths, causing the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

Habitat: The place or environment where an organism spends all or part of its life, defined by both biological (e.g. plants and animals) and non-biological (e.g. soil, water, sunlight) components.

Microorganisms: An organism that can be seen only through a microscope. Microorganisms include bacteria, protozoa, algae, and fungi. Although viruses are not considered living organisms, they are sometimes classified as microorganisms.

Mitigation: Sustained action that reduces or eliminates long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects.

Natural resources: Living things and naturally occurring materials in the environment that sustain human life and economies.

Provisioning services: Goods obtained from ecosystems that provide material benefits to people, including food, water, timber, fiber, and other natural resources.

Regulating services: Benefits provided by ecosystem processes that moderate natural phenomena (e.g. climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality).

Resilience: The capacity to withstand, recover from, and adapt to stresses such as those caused by floods, climate change, or other catastrophic events.

Smart growth: Planned economic and community development that attempts to curb urban sprawl and worsening environmental conditions.

Sprawl: The rapid spreading of the geographic extent of urban developments on undeveloped land.

Supporting services: Natural cycles which support all ecosystem services (e.g. the water cycle, soil formation).