Helderberg Escarpment

List of Species of Special Emphasis



I. SITE NAME: Helderberg Escarpment


II. SITE LOCATION: The Helderberg Escarpment is located about 18 kilometers (11 miles) west of Albany, New York.

TOWNS: Berne, Knox, Guilderland, New Scotland

COUNTY: Albany

STATE: New York

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Clarksville, NY (42073-58), Voorheesville (42073-68), Westerlo, NY (42074-51), Altamont, NY (42074-61), Gallupville, NY (42074-62).

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUADS: Albany, NY-MA-VT (42073-E1), Amsterdam, NY (42074-E1).


III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The habitat area consists of the Helderberg Escarpment itself and the land both above and below the escarpment within approximately 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) of the escarpment face from Dormansville north to the Albany-Schenectady County boundary. This habitat area is a regionally significant geologic feature that supports several rare mammal, amphibian, reptile, bird, and plant species.


IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: The site is a mixture of public and private lands. Two state parks, John Boyd Thatcher State Park and Thompson's Lake State Park, are owned and managed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Knox Wildlife Management Area is managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Nature Conservancy manages three preserves within the area, the Limestone Rise Preserve, the Hannacroix Ravine Preserve, and the Waitecliff Preserve. The New York State Natural Heritage Program, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, recognizes the Hailes Cave site within the Helderberg Escarpment habitat complex as a Priority Site for Biodiversity with a rank of B3 (high biodiversity significance). Wetlands are regulated in New York under the state's Freshwater Wetlands Act of 1975 and Tidal Wetlands Act of 1977; these statutes are in addition to federal regulation under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977, and various Executive Orders.


V. GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION: The Helderberg Escarpment is the northeasternmost extent of the Allegheny Plateau at its juncture with the Interior Lowlands and the Hudson Valley. This juncture is responsible for the dramatic cliffs which rise over 305 meters (1,000 feet) from the valley floor. The Helderberg Plateau consists predominantly of layers of shale, sandstone, and limestone. Water flowing through the layers of limestone on the plateau has dissolved and eroded the rock, leading to a geological landscape known as karst terrain that includes several caves. Most of the land on and near the steep slopes of the escarpment are forested, with increasing amounts of cleared agricultural land further from the escarpment, and suburban development between the escarpment and the city of Albany. Several lakes, including Thompsons Lake, occur on top of the ridge, and several vegetated wetlands occur at the base of the escarpment, including Black Creek and Vly Creek Meadows.


VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: There are 11 species of special emphasis in the Helderberg Escarpment, including the following federally and state-listed species. (Living resources and their habitats are dynamic; therefore, the ecological significance and species information presented here may not be complete or up-to-date. State and federal environmental agencies [see Appendix III for office contacts] should be consulted for additional information.)

Federally listed endangered
Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)

Federal species of concern(1)
small-footed bat (Myotis leibii)

1Species of special concern listed here include former Category 2 candidates.

State-listed threatened
smooth cliff-brake (Pellaea glabella)
ram's-head lady's-slipper (Cypripedium arietinum)

State-listed special concern animals
Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)
blue-spotted salmander (Ambystoma laterale)
spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platyrhinos)
wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta)

Several sizable limestone caves occur on the Helderberg Escarpment. Eight species of bats are known to occur on the Helderberg Escarpment, including the globally rare Indiana bat and the small-footed bat, as well as northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrinalis), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), red bat (Lasiurus cinereus), and eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus). Hailes Cave within Thatcher State Park has a sizable hibernaculum; over 27,000 bats were counted in 1994.

Nineteen species of amphibians and reptiles commonly occur within the habitat area, including the spotted salamander and several other rare species such as Jefferson salamander, blue-spotted salmander, wood turtle and, occasionally, eastern hognose snake. The wetlands at the base of the escarpment at the headwaters of Black and Vly Creeks are important areas for amphibians and reptiles.

Over 200 species of birds have been recorded in the area. A small great blue heron heronry occurs at Black Creek Marsh.

Rare plants found in the area include the smooth cliff-brake, ram's-head lady's-slipper, and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Other rare plants occur outside the habitat complex boundaries in the Helderberg Highlands; these rare plants include Georgia bulrush (Scirpus georgianus), woodland bluegrass (Poa sylvestris), and pringle aster (Aster pilosus var. pringlei).

Additional rare habitats occur in the karst terrain south of the escarpment area.


VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: Suburban development of areas below and above the escarpment is resulting in loss of habitat. Development in karst areas above the escarpment may result not only in the destruction of geologic features and associated habitat, but also in contamination of the aquifer.


VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: Regional planning such as the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide is essential to protecting the unusual resources found here. More complete surveys of the karst areas, escarpment wetlands, and other significant habitats are needed. Bat hibernacula should be protected from human disturbance; this protection should include the use of gates, if necessary.



Andrle, R.F. and J.R. Carroll (eds.) 1988. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. A project of the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, Inc., New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 551 p.

Helderberg Escarpment Planning Committee. 1995. Helderberg Escarpment planning guide. Altamont, NY.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1983. Recovery plan for the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), Kansas City, MO.

List of Species of Special Emphasis


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