2023 CEQ Annual Report

Land Stewardship

Forests               Farmland            Wetlands

Preserved Land

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In 2023, the state acquired significantly less land than in 2022.
Goal #1: State Owned Land – ten percent

In 2023, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) acquired 141 acres of land* under the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program (Trust Program), the primary vehicle for adding land to the state’s system of parks, forests, wildlife areas, water access areas, and other open spaces. The state invested more than $850,000 and leveraged $351,000 to acquire the 141 acres of land.13

The total area of land estimated to be preserved by DEEP as preserved open space is approximately 264,670 acres. Over the previous ten years, the state preserved an average of 956 acres per year. While DEEP has made progress to increase the amount of land preserved, DEEP’s preservation efforts were 55,906 acres short of reaching the preservation goal of 320,576 acres by 2023. At the average acquisition rate of 956 acres per year (based on the previous ten years), it would take DEEP approximately 58 years to achieve the ten percent goal. In addition to the Trust Program, DEEP can issue a draft recommendation to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) as to whether all or a portion of land or land interest, identified for transfer or sale by another state agency, should be preserved by transferring the land or land interest or granting a conservation easement to DEEP. No land or land interest was transferred to DEEP in 2023.

Open space provides Connecticut's residents with options for outdoor activities, preservation of scenic beauty, habitat protection, increased biodiversity, protection of unique bedrock and surficial geologic features, and water protection and flood control. In addition, forests, farmland and other natural habitats absorb more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than they emit.** Land conservation offers a double benefit for the climate: it helps absorb GHG emissions and it prevents significant GHG emissions that would result from development.

Goal #1: The State shall acquire ten percent of Connecticut’s land for preserved open space. This goal was set in statute in 1997 (Connecticut General Statutes, (CGS) Section 23-8(b)). 

Technical Note: *State land is primarily owned in fee by the State. A notable exception is a 111-acre easement acquired in 2020, which is included in the State acquisition total. State “preserved land” does not mean land that is not managed or harvested. The lands acquired by the state as open space might not be restricted from logging or other types of management or from recreational activities. **Nationally, in 2021, the Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector resulted in a net increase in carbon stocks, which represents an offset of approximately 13.1 percent of total (i.e., gross) greenhouse gas emissions.14

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Goal #2: Other Conservation Lands – 11 percent


In 2023, state grants helped municipalities and land trusts acquire or protect 1,387 acres through the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (Grant Program), whereby DEEP provides financial assistance to municipalities and nonprofit land conservation organizations (conservation partners) to acquire land for open space.15 The amount of land preserved as the result of grants from the Grant Program in 2023 was less than last year but greater than the ten-year average of 1,318 acres.

Unfortunately, the exact amount of land held by DEEP’s conservation partners is very difficult, if not impossible, to determine because land trusts are continuously acquiring properties for conservation and outdoor recreation, the inventory of municipal land is incomplete, it is very difficult to track easements, and there is no centralized accounting of privately preserved lands. In 2023, the Council estimated that more than 302,240 acres were held as open space land in fee by DEEP’s conservation partners. This would be approximately 86 percent of the goal of 352,634 acres. The spike in 2021, depicted in the chart above as “Partner’s Area”, is due to the addition of the Council’s assessment of land trust land and water company land. 

As noted above, it is estimated that DEEP has preserved approximately 264,670 acres (Goal 1) and its conservation partners “hold” approximately 302,240 acres (Goal 2) as open space for a total of approximately 566,910 acres or approximately 84 percent of the total statewide goal of 673,210 acres.

Public Act 23-196 contained provisions for an exception to the general program rule that state grants cannot be made for land that is already committed for public use. The result is that funds from the Grant Program might be able to be used to buy certain land to be preserved as open space, provided certain conditions are met. Further, Public Act 23-205 authorized $3 million in additional bonding for the Trust Program and $10 million in additional bonding for the Grant Program for both fiscal year (FY) 2024 and FY 2025.

Goal #2: Pursuant to CGS Section 23-8(b), “not less than eleven per cent of the state's land area is held by municipalities, water companies or nonprofit land conservation organizations as open space”.


13  DEEP, Monthly Open Space Reports to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and the State Bond Commission, 2023 Open Space Reports; portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Open-Space/DEEP-Monthly-Open-Space-Reports.

14 EPA, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2021, 2023 Chapter 6: Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (April 13, 2023, 430-D-23-001); www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2023-04/US-GHG-Inventory-2023-Chapter-6-Land-Use-Land-Use-Change-and-Forestry.pdf#page=2.

15 DEEP, Monthly Open Space Reports to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and the State Bond Commission, 2023 Open Space Reports; portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Open-Space/DEEP-Monthly-Open-Space-Reports.