A conservation career measured in acres
Sandy Burnell devoted decades to protecting land for people and wildlife, in the Highlands Region and throughout New York

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Making a significant contribution to natural resource conservation in the state of New York takes tireless dedication over years of service. As she nears retirement, Sandra (Sandy) Burnell, a real estate specialist, reflects on decades of serving her beloved state.

“Helping to protect New York’s valuable resources through strategic land acquisitions has been a very rewarding experience,” she said.

Sandy got her start in the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s (OPRHP) Business Office, where she worked for 15 years. From there she moved to the OPRHP Real Property office for a total of 21 years, working first as a Real Estate Specialist 1 then moving up to Real Estate Specialist 2.

“Since I became the Real Estate Specialist 2 in 2012, OPRHP’s Real Property has protected almost 21,000 acres of land throughout New York State,” said Sandy.

Sandy has enjoyed working alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the years, connecting with Service employees in the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program through the Highlands Conservation Act (HCA) grant program. Highlands funding supports state conservation agencies working to sustain key landscapes in the Highlands region for the benefit of both people and wildlife.

The Highlands Region spans 3.4 million acres across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The HCA helps states conserve an array of plants, fish, wildlife, and their habitats. Additionally, it supports key conservation objectives such as clean drinking water, healthy forests, thriving wildlife populations, productive agriculture, and abundant recreational opportunities.

These lands have been the source of many memories for Sandy. On one trip, she had the opportunity to drive a truck along rough mountain roads. During that expedition, while walking in the forest, a chance encounter with a timber rattlesnake taught her not to wander into thick brush. The snake slithered by without incident.

On another occasion, she witnessed a doe giving birth, which is one of her most vivid memories:

Everyone halted and watched in silence as the touching scene unfolded. It was a rare opportunity to see nature in all its glory. Unfortunately, the doe spotted us as soon as she finished giving birth and ran off leaving the baby behind. As one, our group quietly made a retreat as we spotted the new mother partially hidden in the distance, keeping an anxious eye on the helpless fawn. We knew that with our departure, she would return to care for her newborn.

Sandy’s favorite parcel that she helped conserve is the 925-acre Scofield Ridge property. 

“This property had been on OPRHP’s radar for a very long time. With the assistance of the land conservation organization Scenic Hudson, we were finally able to acquire the property this year. It is a magnificent addition to Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve,” she said.

Sandy has personally helped conserve more than 5,000 acres in the Highlands Region of New York. This achievement ensures the protection of public places and natural resources for future generations. Her devotion to conservation will continue to inspire others for years to come.


For information on the Highlands Conservation Act, grant eligibility, and previously conserved properties, visit the Highlands website: https://www.fws.gov/program/highlands-conservation-act-grant

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