Before the Philipstown Planning Board is a request for Hudson Highlands Reserve, a proposed “Conservation Subdivision” off Route 9 between Horton Road and East Mountain Road North. It is the first Conservation Subdivision in Philipstown and will set the stage for future developments.
At the June 20th Philipstown Planning Board meeting, the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society was in attendance regarding the proposed Hudson Highlands Reserve Project, off of Route 9 near Horton Rd. Under Philipstown zoning code, this is the first "conservation subdivision" being reviewed.
In light of the potential environmental impact that such a project, and future projects following this precedent may have, the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society was present to submit comments.
We've included our response below and welcome your feedback.
I represent the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society with over 250 local members in the area. We appreciate the thoughtful concern the Philipstown Planning Board is giving to the proposed Hudson Highland Reserve “conservation subdivision” project. In line with the Town’s adopted Conservation goals in 2017 it is our position that the DEIS wildlife assessment for this project does not include essential and sufficient monitoring procedures. The field sightings done did not cover the breeding and nesting times of most species and did not cover a long enough period of time to establish the biological diversity these lands support and what species breed and nest on the site.
In the DEIS, “Wildlife Sightings” and “Existing Conditions” are included with four field date visits on May 6 & 26, July 9 and August 1, 2015. Four field visits is simply too short a time span to conduct meaningful monitoring of birds. The absence of breeding bird surveys and counts for birds to determine they are not nesting have been omitted, or not done. Bird species breed at different times during the year. Owls breed in winter, Hawks and Eagles breed in Spring through the Summer months and it takes vigorous monitoring and surveying to find their nest sites. Migrating warbler species and forest birds that breed here during the late Spring and Summer would also have been largely missed by the short visit dates.
Forest bird species have been a special concern to Audubon as their numbers have been dropping. Loss of habitat, fragmentation of forest habitat, as well as climate change are causing these species to decline. Any additional stressors can spell real trouble for these species.
The Warblers migrate thousands of miles back north to their breeding grounds in the Hudson Valley from South and Central America, Mexico and southern U.S. They do this because the long daylight hours provide them with the time needed to feed and raise their young nestlings. The Hudson Valley and the Hudson River act as migration corridors for birds that stop here to breed, and those that stop to feed up, before continuing up to the northern boreal forests. The plant community in our town supports the insects that these birds need to sustain them on their migrations.
Several bird species listed on the NY State “Special Concern List” are known breeders and nesters in adjacent lands. These include: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Whip-poor-will, Cerulean Warbler and possibly Golden-winged Warbler. Bald Eagles are on the NY State “Endangered Species List” with nearby nests.
Reptile and amphibian studies were also not done thoroughly for this study. Serpents move in June from their over-wintering shelters in hollow logs or caves where they spend the winter. Turtles also start moving to areas where the females will lay eggs in very late May or June. Again, the “wildlife sightings” were not done during the seasonal time where they could be monitored. "Species of Special Concern” on the NY State List that are likely to be found on these lands since they are on adjacent properties are: Spotted Turtles and Wood Turtles. I personally rescued a Wood Turtle that was crossing the road in the direction of this property from East Mountain Road South two weeks ago. In addition, Salamanders, such as the Jefferson Salamander, another species on the NY State “Species of Special Concern List” are likely to be found there as well. Amphibians are shy secretive animals that live on the forest floor and near streams and it takes many hours of turning over logs and rocks to establish their presence.
There is no mention of audio monitoring for the presence of bat species so this component of wildlife sightings is missing as well.
There is also no mention of monitoring for New England Cottontails which are known to breed on the ridge. They are also on the NY State “Species of Special Concern” list.
The project has been designed with houses forming a half circle around the pond which means that wildlife use will be limited or become non-existent. Building houses near the pond means that lawns, ornamental shrubs and decorative plantings will replace the native plant species that form a pond community that supports pond species. Chemicals used to support the lawns and ornamentals will find its way into the pond and disrupt the natural processes of ponds and the wildlife they support. Has the Town studied the wetland delineation infield?
Constructing an equestrian center with 40 horses on the property will likely mean eutrophication of the pond and a lowering of the dissolved oxygen available for fish. Clove Creek and its tributaries will also suffer from the degradation of water quality.
We have learned over the past decades that fragmentation of forests result in increased invasive plants and decreased native plants. Many non-profits in this Town have supported the “green corridor” concept that allows wildlife species to migrate and survive unhindered by buildings, roads and other developments. Putnam Highlands Audubon, Constitution Marsh Audubon, Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Scenic Hudson and New York State Parks have all worked together for many decades to preserve lands in our community that form a “green corridor” and promote survival of our native flora and fauna.
When “conservation building designs” were first introduced they seemed to be a solution to rampant sprawl. The reality, is that the lands the projects set aside as “conservation areas” are usually areas that are unbuildable anyway. They are devoid of the very resources that native plants and wildlife need to survive. The habitats used for the building areas are the ones that animal species need.
We ask the Town Planning Board to consider that this “conservation project” is the first of many. It must be an environmental model with real seasonal monitoring and assessments, with environmental standards and limits that any future projects must also adhere to before consideration in this Town.
Today we serve Putnam and Dutchess Counties. We maintain bird sanctuaries deRham Watergrass Sanctuary in Philipstown and Reese Sanctuary in New Hamburg. We offer monthly bird walks and educational programs in Beacon, Cold Spring, Garrison, Philipstown and other local towns. Learn more here www.putnamhighlandsaudubon.org
Putnam Highlands Audubon Society