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For Release: Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DEC Celebrates Earth Week with Opening of Wildlife Viewing Platform in Washington County Grasslands

New infrastructure will enhance area tourism to this local destination

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and its partners celebrated Earth Day by opening a wildlife viewing platform in the Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area today. DEC provided the funding and resources to install this new platform as part of the state's efforts to improve access to this unique habitat.

"This platform allows people to view grassland birds and other wildlife that they may miss seeing otherwise," said Robert Stegemann, DEC Regional Director. "Providing the opportunity to view the amazing inhabitants of this special habitat is a great way to celebrate Earth Day and capitalize on the growing popularity of wildlife watching. We applaud all our partners who have assisted with protecting the Washington County Grasslands."

"I have appreciated the Washington County Grasslands as a special habitat with a unique range of bird species since I was an Environmental Conservation Officer patrolling this area," said Robert Henke, Chairman, Washington County Board of Supervisors. "It was not until as we had a rare visit from a hawk owl that I fully realized the importance and potential of the grasslands. Within a week of announcing the bird's presence, we had visitors from 38 states driving the roads seeking to add to their life list. I support the grasslands as Chairman of the County Board and as supervisor of the Town of Argyle which includes the grasslands."

"The Friends of the IBA are pleased to partner with DEC to protect, maintain and promote the Washington County Grasslands", said Laurie LaFond, Executive Director, Friends of the Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area. "We lead numerous field trips to the grasslands each year and the viewing platform will add to the quality of future trips. Conserving more critical habitat in the Washington County Grasslands IBA is a top priority for Friends of the IBA. The Washington County Grasslands not only supports 10 of 11 grassland bird species listed as 'Species of Greatest Conservation Need' in the NYS Wildlife Action Plan, it offers some of the best bird habitat in the region for sheer abundance and diversity of species - more than 200."

"Southern Adirondack Audubon Society is a supportive partner with DEC as an active steward in the preservation of the Washington County Grasslands, before and since it's designation as an Important Bird Area," said John Loz, President, Southern Adirondack Audubon Society. "Our chapter took the lead in applying for this Important Bird Area designation from Audubon NY. We continue to assist DEC with bird surveys and annual spring clean-up days. The new viewing platform will allow people of many generations for years to come to have a place to rest, reflect, and view this critical grassland habitat, while observing not only over-wintering raptors, but also spring and summer breeding songbirds."

The 10 feet by 20 feet wildlife viewing platform was constructed by DEC Wildlife Technicians and is located an easy quarter-mile walk from the parking area on Black House Road. While it sits only a few feet above the ground, it is enough to allow birders and others to observe birds and other wildlife in the grass and the shrubs along Dead Creek.

The 13,000-acre Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area (IBA) is located in the towns of Fort Edward, Argyle, and Kinsgbury in Washington County. The IBA contains many working farms and grassland areas interspersed with cultivated fields, small woodlots, and wetlands.

The grasslands provide wildlife habitat for endangered, threatened and sharply declining populations of grassland nesting birds such as Northern harrier, upland sandpiper, Henslow's sparrow, killdeer, bobolink, and Eastern meadowlark. The grasslands are an important wintering habitat for short-eared owls, rough legged hawks and other raptors.

The Friends of the Washington County Grasslands IBA hold a Winter Raptor Festival that attracts hundreds of people each year.

DEC has purchased 286 acres in the core area of the Washington County Grasslands including the lands where the wildlife viewing platform and plans to protect up to 2,000 acres in the general area around Dead Creek. The lands are maintained as grasslands through mowing by DEC and haying by a local farmer. These efforts are timed to ensure no harm is done to nests or young birds.

DEC, Audubon New York and the Friends of the Washington County Grasslands IBA continue to work with area landowners to purchase conservation and management easements and to establish voluntary agreements to protect the grasslands from development and maintain agricultural activities on the lands.

Learn more about the Washington County Grasslands on DEC's website.

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