The northern hardwood forests of the Catskill region contain a diversity of ecological systems based on unique soils, elevation and microclimates. The forests of the Catskill Mountains contain rare plants and animals and serve as the source of drinking water for nine million consumers in New York City.
After more than a century of land protection, the Catskill Mountain region represents one of the greatest opportunities to preserve large unfragmented forest systems in the High Allegheney Plateau. Building on lands conserved in the Catskill Park and on land protected for the New York City watershed there is potential to protect forest systems large enough to ensure the survival of species that depend on interior forest habitat.
Only one hundred miles from New York City, the Catskills are under increasing development pressure from resort and second home development. Relatively large undeveloped and unprotected areas are dispersed within the areas already preserved. These areas will attract development as surely as they represent conservation opportunities.
- Second Home and Resort Development - After the decline of the traditional resort and farm economic base, the Catskill region has entered an era of intense land speculation. Anticipation of casinos and heightened interest in second homes has resulted in a new wave of development pressure. Unfortunately, lands already protected in the seven targeted forest blocks make these areas even more attractive to resort and second home developers.
- Invasive Species - Escaped ornamental plants and exotic insects introduced through human activity threaten to reduce biodiversity in the forests. Invasive plants are present at early detection levels in the lower elevations of many of the targeted forest blocks. New second home development brings the risk of increased occurrences and new introductions. Exotic insects like Hemlock wooly adelgid and Asian longhorn beetle lack any natural predators and threaten to alter the composition of forest stands.
- Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition - Research conducted in the region documents that the highest rates of atmospheric deposition occur in the Catskill Mountains. This excess nitrogen threatens the health and resilience of forest and aquatic systems.
- Other Threats - A series of additional threats to the integrity of the Catskill forest systems is being evaluated. These threats include global climate change, improper forest management, pathogens, excessive deer populations and forest taxation policies.
- Private landowners
- Matrix Forest Blocks -The vast unfragmented forest systems of the Catskills contain forest communities including hemlock ravines and high elevation spruce-fir stands mixed within a mosaic of northern hardwood forest types. These forests are the top priority in the Catskill Mountain Program area and serve as the habitat that supports many other conservation targets identified in the region including rare interior nesting birds like Bicknell's thrush.
- Native Diadramous Fish - Many of the streams in the southern part of the Catskill region are below the reservoirs of the New York City watershed and can serve as viable spawning areas for species that require the connection between fresh water and salt water. These streams also provide pristine source waters for the Delaware River and the bald eagle habitat it provides.
- Wetlands and Vernal Pools - In addition to serving as environmental filters, the extensive system of small unregulated wetlands throughout the Catskills provide critical wildlife habitat.
- Rare and Endangered Plants - Northern monkshood and Jacob's-ladder can still be found in the undisturbed forests of the Catskills and the cool talus slopes of the higher elevations support endangered plants like adoxa.
- Timber Rattlesnakes - Many of the den sites for timber rattlesnake, a threatened species in New York State, are on unprotected land in the Catskills.
- Land Protection - Preventing fragmentation of forest systems and saving sensitive habitat in the Catskills will require action to improve the protection status of these areas. Conservation easements developed as a partnership with private landowners will be critical to ensure perpetual stewardship at the scale of this two million acre landscape program.
- Conservation Through Partnership - The Catskill Mountain Program is building upon the strong conservation history in the region by contributing the resources of The Nature Conservancy in a spirit of partnership.
Director of Protection Programs