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Habitat & Biodiversity Program for the Hudson River Estuary Watershed

Conserving the Plants, Animals and Habitats of the River Basin

Pink lady's slipper is a native wold orchid of acidic woodlands.
Pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
is a native wild orchid of acidic woodlands.

The landscape surrounding the Hudson River Estuary boasts remarkable diversity and splendor. Biological diversity, or "biodiversity" is the wide array of plants, animals, and habitats found in the Hudson Valley and the world. Biodiversity also refers to the complex interactions between living things and their environment.

Biodiversity is important to us all, because it provides the ecological services on which we depend. Healthy, naturally vegetated areas clean our drinking water, ensure our water supply, provide pollinators for crops, and buffer and reduce storm damage. These services are often provided by nature's 'green infrastructure' at a lower cost than built systems. If we conserve biodiversity, we are less likely to suffer disruptions of these essential services as our climate continues to change.

Large marches help store slood water, and provide breeding habitat for birds like night herons.
Large marshes help store flood water, and provide
breeding habitat for birds like night herons.

The Hudson River Estuary Program is partnering with communities to encourage biodiversity conservation at the local level to sustain the health and resiliency of the entire estuary watershed. By providing technical assistance, information, and training, the Estuary Program offers strategies for "smart planning" which supports economic growth and quality of life, while keeping nature in mind.

Target Habitats

The following habitats are conservation targets in the estuary watershed:

  • Shoreline corridors that provide essential habitat along the Hudson River and its tributary streams for river otter, wood turtle, cerulean warbler, wading birds, trout, stream salamanders and Hudson River water nymph.
  • Unbroken forests needed by scarlet tanager, warblers, wide-ranging mammals, hawks, owls, box turtles, and plants like fringed polygala flower.
    Caterpillars of Baltimore butterfly are often seen on its host plant, turtlehead, in wet meadows and fens
    Caterpillars of Baltimore butterfly
    (Euphydryas phaeton) are often seen
    on its host plant, turtlehead, in wet
    meadows and fens.
  • Grasslands and shrublands that shelter northern harrier, bobolink, eastern meadowlark, golden-winged warbler, short-eared owl and uncommon butterflies.
  • Wetlands, including marshes, swamps, wet meadows, bogs and surrounding lands that support American bittern, marsh wren, Blanding's turtle, northern leopard frog and a rich diversity of flora like pitcher plant.
  • Seasonal woodland pools for animals that are declining throughout the Northeast including Jefferson, marbled, and spotted salamanders, wood frog, spotted turtle, fairy shrimp and others.
  • Caves and cliff habitats that are used by bats, peregrine falcon, overwintering snakes, migrating hawks, and rare cliff plants like purple cliffbrake and prickly pear.
  • Unique natural areas that support at-risk plants and animals.

Steps for Conserving Biodiversity

There are a number of steps communities can take to determine which natural areas provide the most benefits and how to conserve them.

Local decision-makers and planners learn about woodland pool conservation in Erstuary Program workshops.
Local decision-makers and planners learn about woodland pool
conservation in Estuary Program workshops.
  • Step 1: What do you have? (identify natural resources) - This process begins with identifying priority habitats and important natural resources within an area.
  • Step 2: What's most important? (prioritize natural resources) - Habitats with a high conservation priority in the Hudson Valley include unfragmented forests, stream corridors, wetlands, grasslands and shrublands, caves and cliffs, and the estuary shoreline. Of course, not all natural areas have equal biological importance. For example, migration corridors and connected habitats often have higher value than degraded or fragmented habitat.
  • Step 3: What can you do? (plan, protect, and manage natural resources) - The identification of conservation priorities provides a foundation for smart growth and protection of biodiversity. By knowing what resources are important and where they occur, municipalities can include sound recommendations in their master plan updates, open space acquisitions, and site-plan reviews. Understanding an even broader view of the ecological landscape can contribute to watershed planning, intermunicipal agreements, and regional initiatives. Whether at the site or regional scale, considering biodiversity early in the planning process benefits an array of stakeholders, and contributes to the long-term protection of our natural heritage.

Resources Available for Conservation and Land Use Planning

Maps, Data, and Web-based Guidance

The red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) is found near healthy streams and springs.
The red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber)
is found near healthy streams and springs.
  • Hudson River Estuary Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Framework: This manual provides an overview of biodiversity issues in the Hudson River estuary corridor, describes key plant and animal habitats, includes a map and descriptions of Significant Biodiversity Areas in the region, and proposes various strategies for their conservation. This manual is available in pdf format on the Hudson River Estuary Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Framework web page.
  • Mapping Nature in Your Community: Important Areas Maps: These maps were developed by the NY Natural Heritage Program in partnership with the Hudson River Estuary Program, and include areas important to known populations of rare plants and animals, and to known significant ecosystems. Completed in December 2007, the Important Areas GIS data are currently being distributed to county agencies and municipalities by the Hudson River Estuary Program for use in open space planning, development of natural resource inventories and master plans, and other regional land use planning efforts. For more information in Albany, Rensselaer, Columbia, and Greene counties, contact Karen Strong at klstrong@gw.dec.state.ny.us and in Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester, contact Laura Heady at ltheady@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
  • Habitat Summaries: The Hudson River Estuary Program can provide your municipality with a summary of documented significant ecological communities, rare plants and animals, and other available data on biological resources in your town. Communities in Albany, Rensselaer, Columbia, and Greene counties can contact Karen Strong at klstrong@gw.dec.state.ny.us and in Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester, contact Laura Heady at ltheady@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
  • Conservation Guides: The NY Natural Heritage Program maintains online animal, plant, and community guides that include descriptions, habitat distribution, places to see wildlife or habitats, conservation issues, and other information on the species and communities they track in their database. Future updates will include additional recommendations for planning and management. Use the Offsite links on the right side of this page to view the NY Natural Heritage Program's Conservation guides online.
  • Environmental Resource Mapper: The Environmental Resource Mapper is an interactive mapping application that can be used to identify some of New York State's natural resources and environmental features that are state protected, or of conservation concern. The Environmental Resource Mapper is found at the NYS DEC website.
  • Guidance for Management of Priority Birds: This Audubon New York web tool offers guidance on priority bird species of the Hudson Valley and species-specific management guidelines; habitat recommendations on grasslands, shrublands, and forests; a habitat management decision-tree; and Important Bird Area (IBA) map and information. Use the Offsite links on the right side of this page to view the Audubon Guidance for Priority Birds.
  • Additional Online Data: The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has completed several atlases that will tell you what breeding bird, or amphibian and reptile species are found in your area of the Hudson Valley. Atlas data were collected by volunteers who reported their wildlife observations to DEC biologists. Both the Breeding Bird Atlas and the Amphibian and Reptile Atlas can be viewed online at the NYS DEC website.

Training and Education

Volunteers are trained by Hudsonia to create local habitat maps for use in planning.
Volunteers are trained by Hudsonia to create local
habitat maps for use in planning.
  • Conserving Nature in Your Community: Biodiversity Outreach staff at the Estuary Program offer education programs, workshops, and roundtables to communities to support local conservation efforts in the Hudson Valley. Past workshops have offered guidance and training to planning board members and environmental commissions on topics such as SEQRA and biodiversity; maps and tools available for conservation and land-use planning; and the importance of ecosystem services.
  • Biodiversity Assessment: Through a partnership with the Estuary Program, Hudsonia offers a 10-month training and 3-day short course on biodiversity assessment for land-use decision makers and planners. Participants learn how to use maps, air photos, and field investigation to identify important habitats in their communities and discuss strategies for conservation. The "Biodiversity Assessment Manual for the Hudson River Estuary Corridor," written by Hudsonia and published by NYS DEC, serves as the primary text for the training. For more information, visit the Hudsonia website using the Offsite links on the right side of this page.
  • Private Lands Conservation: The Estuary Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension offer annual educational programs to private landowners and conservation leaders in the Hudson Valley. The workshops and field identification trainings usually focus on habitats that are conservation targets in the Hudson Valley, planning and stewardship guidelines, and cost-share and incentive programs available to landowners. Past workshops have emphasized forest, grassland, and woodland pool habitats. For information on upcoming workshops, contact Laura Heady at ltheady@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
  • Land Use Law: Pace University's Land Use Law Center offers training to local officials, environmentalists, and developers in land use law and consensus building techniques. Their 4-day "Land Use Leadership Alliance Training" is offered to community leaders involved in land-use decision making, and covers the technical and process tools needed to develop sustainable communities. For more information, see Land Use Law Center in the links leaving DEC's website.
  • GIS: The Estuary Program has partnered with Cornell University's Institute for Resource Information Sciences (IRIS) to deliver annual trainings on the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and Hudson Valley spatial data. The hands-on workshops are delivered at Hudson Valley locations and offered to natural resource professionals and community members who use biological information for land-use planning. For more information, contact Karen Strong at klstrong@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
    Workshops and roundtables help raise capacity of local and conservation partners.
    Workshops and roundtables
    help raise capacity of local and
    conservation partners
  • Coastal Land Management and Community Decision-Making: Many community partners have benefited from workshops offered by the Estuary Training Program of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Topics covered include project design and evaluation, social marketing, Canada goose management, and landscaping with native plants.

Citizen Science

  • Frog and Toad Monitoring: Through a partnership with Cornell University, the Estuary Program is engaging volunteers to collect frog and toad population data using a calling survey technique, in which observers identify local amphibian species by their unique vocalizations. For more information or to participate, contact Suzanne Beyeler at scbeyele@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
  • Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings: The Estuary Program and Cornell University are working together to conserve forests, woodland pools and the wildlife that depend on these critical habitats. Volunteers can help by reporting when and where they see migrations of woodland pool amphibians. For more information, contact Laura Heady at ltheady@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Publications

  • Hudson River Estuary Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Framework: This manual provides an overview of biodiversity issues in the Hudson River estuary corridor, describes key plant and animal habitats, includes a map and descriptions of Significant Biodiversity Areas in the region, and proposes various strategies for their conservation. The book is available for free download from the Conservation Framework page. CD copies are also available.
  • Conserving Natural Areas and Wildlife in Your Communities: Smart Growth Strategies for Protecting the Biological Diversity of New York's Hudson River Valley: This is a manual for local government agencies that provides information about the relevance and importance of natural areas, and describes local tools and techniques that enable protection of important habitats in Hudson Valley communities. The book is available for free download from the Conserving Natural Areas page. Limited CD and paper copies are available for municipalities.
  • Metropolitan Conservation Alliance (MCA): The Metropolitan Conservation Alliance (MCA) has published a number of biodiversity plans for different parts of the Hudson Valley, as well as technical guidance on a variety of planning and conservation topics. See offsite link for a list of publications and free downloads.
  • Land Use Law: Pace University's Land Use Law Center has published many guidance documents on land use law, smart growth, and conservation ordinances. In addition, the Land Use Law Center maintains a free, on-line "Gaining Ground Information Database" of land use resources and ordinances from across the United States. Use the Offsite links on the right side of this page to go to the Land Use Leaders website for a list of available publications and to access the Gaining Ground Information Database.
  • Fact Sheets: The NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program is developing a series of fact sheets related to biodiversity conservation and land use planning in the Hudson Valley. Check back for new fact sheets.

Funding


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