ROSENDALE, NY—June 24, 2015—The Open Space Institute (OSI), the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) and the Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy (RELC) today released a comprehensive scientific assessment of the Binnewater Hills confirming its unique ecological significance and calling for continued conservation in and around the area.
Best known for its recreational and scenic value, the Binnewater Hills’ natural ecological importance is quantified for the first time in the report, which calls the area a national “biological treasure.” Other key findings of the report, conducted by Hudsonia Ltd. and summarized in the companion document Preserving a Biological Treasure: Conservation in the Binnewater Hills, include the fact that the landscape is significantly above-average for “climate resiliency,” offering a key stronghold for sensitive plants and animals in the wake of continuing climate change.
The report also calls for strengthening partnerships and coordinating targeted preservation efforts around the Binnewater Hills, a priority conservation area of the New York State Open Space Plan stretching five miles through central-east Ulster County from Rosendale to Kingston and the Hudson River.
Despite its valuable ecological significance, only 12 percent of the Binnewater Hills study area is preserved, and the area is threatened by the growing pressure of expanding development.
“The Binnewater Hills is a quietly amazing landscape that generations of Ulster County residents have grown to love for its recreational and scenic charms,” said Kim Elliman, President and CEO of OSI. “This report underscores the full imperative of protecting the area. We thank our partners WVLT and RELC and look forward to working alongside them to protect more of this Hudson Valley gem.”
“In addition to recreation, this report documents the unique ecological value and biodiversity of the Binnewater Hills,” said Hensley Evans, President of WVLT. “Conserving more land in this area not only contributes to our current quality of life but helps maintain crucial habitat.”
“Whether for recreation, history or nature, this assessment demonstrates how important it is to find ways to safeguard this local treasure,” said Rob Rominger, President of RELC. “RELC looks forward to working with our partners to catalyze more conservation of the Binnewater Hills and keep it preserved for Ulster County, forever.”
“It was a joy to be able to capture the full extent of the Binnewater Hills’ impact on sensitive species, climate resilience, and beyond,” said Dr. Erik Kiviat, Executive Director of the nonprofit natural sciences organization Hudsonia, Ltd. “We cannot underscore enough the importance of preserving the Binnewater Hills. We look forward to watching future conservation projects unfold in protecting this key regional landscape.”
In compiling the report, scientists from Hudsonia, Ltd. recorded the astounding biological diversity of the Binnewater Hills, which is a top-15 wintering site in the world for bat habitat and harbors several species of conservation concern, including the northern slimy salamander and the worm-eating warbler.
Calling the area a “geologist’s paradise,” the scientists further noted that the region’s geology can support or potentially support a large biological diversity. They also assessed the area according to recently-release “resiliency” science standards by The Nature Conservancy, and found the area is especially valuable as a haven for sensitive species under a changing climate.
Their report also highlights the Binnewater Hills’ valuable role as a “habitat corridor” for species. As one of only two such relatively intact corridors stretching across the Hudson River south of the Adirondacks, it links the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains to the west with the Marlboro Mountains and, across the Hudson River, the Taconic Range to the east.
Located just northeast of the Shawangunk Mountains, the Binnewater Hills has offered generations of visitors excellent recreational opportunities. The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, recently named a top-10 US rail trail by the nonprofit Rails to Trails, crosses over part of the Binnewater Hills.
OSI, WVLT and RELC are committed to preserving the Binnewater Hills, where they elected to undertake this conservation planning effort two years ago. In December 2010, OSI acquired a 118-acre tract at the southernmost extension of the Binnewater region, which includes Joppenbergh Mountain. OSI then transferred the land to WVLT, which is engaged in a planning effort to make the rugged place available for public recreation and education. (In an ongoing effort, area nonprofit Friends of the Shawangunks is committed to raising half of the acquisition price of Joppenbergh Mountain to help defray these costs for OSI.)
Over the last several years, RELC has also acquired two contiguous conservation easements, totaling over 520 acres, in the southern Binnewater Hills, to protect important bat habitat and two of the region’s five lakes.
Funding for this project came from the New York Environmental Protection Fund and the New York State Conservation Partnership Program administered by the Land Trust Alliance, in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).