Preserving Nature in New York City: NYC Parks' Forever Wild Program

        Preserving Nature in New York City: NYC Parks' Forever Wild Program

          Article summary

          Urban biodiversity has increasingly been recognized as providing multiple local, regional, and even global benefits. In New York City (NYC), conservation and planning professionals in the Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) pursued biodiversity protection through the creation of a “Forever Wild” program in 2001, which designated and aimed to protect 8,700 acres of the largest, most ecologically valuable natural areas across City parkland. In 2018-2020, NYC Parks’ Natural Resources Group (NRG) expanded the program’s extent, resulting in 2,500 acres added to the Forever Wild program, for a total of over 12,300 acres. These additions reflect new acquisitions to the Parks system as well as an acknowledgment of the ecological importance of smaller patches of habitat. By prioritizing the conservation of habitat at the scale of the Parks system, the Forever Wild program enabled tackling some of the scale mismatches that often challenge urban ecosystem management. Over the past two decades, this program has highlighted the value of habitat conservation within NYC Parks, enabled the reduction of natural resource impacts from construction projects in or near Forever Wild areas, and included hundreds of acres of ecological restoration. At the same time, the program has faced constraints and challenges due to competing priorities for limited public land in NYC. Because the program does not confer any regulatory or statutory power, its effectiveness has waxed and waned under different administrations, each with their own priorities. To meet this challenge, NRG has aimed to make information about Forever Wild areas, the program, and its intent widely available within the agency and to the public. NRG has worked to coordinate with other parts of the agency to anticipate and better manage conflicts while protecting biodiversity. Still, upholding the program’s conservation goals in the face of continued threats remains an ongoing challenge. More recently, the need for outdoor recreation during the COVID pandemic has given new visibility to natural areas in NYC. NYC Parks will continue to rely on the Forever Wild program to care for these areas while also facilitating their appropriate use.

          In a nutshell, this resource offers:

          • A description of how New York City protects natural areas. 
          • A history of New York City's Forever Wild Program.
          • A case study for how to formalize a network of natural areas. 

          How to use this resource:

          • As an example of advocacy for natural areas in an urban setting. 
          • As a timeline for how programs are developed over time. 
          • As an example of criteria for inclusion of natural areas in programming.

          Author: Georgina Cullman, Novem Auyeung, Jennifer Greenfeld, Kristen L. King, Marit Larson

          Date published: March 2023

          Point of contact: Georgina Cullman

          Citation: Cullman, G., D.N. Auyeung, J. Greenfeld, K. King, and M. Larson. 2022. Preserving Nature in New York City: NYC Parks’ Forever Wild Program. Cities and the Environment. 

          Resource is available online here.


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