SIGNIFICANT HABITATS AND HABITAT COMPLEXES
OF THE NEW YORK BIGHT WATERSHED

Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge
COMPLEX #31

List of Species of Special Emphasis

Maps

 

I. SITE NAME: Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge

 

II. SITE LOCATION: The Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge is located in the Ridge and Valley physiographic province of southeastern New York and the northwestern corner of New Jersey, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) northwest of New York City.

TOWNS: Blairstown, Frankford, Hampton, Hardwick, Knowlton, Montague, Pahaquarry, Sandyston, Stillwater, Walpack, Wantage, NJ; Deerpark, Gardiner, Greenville, Mount Hope, Mamakating, Marbletown, New Paltz, Rochester, Rosendale, Shawangunk, Wawarsing, NY

COUNTIES: Sussex, Warren, NJ; Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, NY

STATES: New Jersey; New York

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Portland, NJ-PA (40075-81), Stroudsburg, PA-NJ (40075-82), Flatbrookville, NJ-PA (41074-18), Branchville, NJ (41074-26), Culvers Gap NJ-PA (41074-27), Lake Maskenozha, PA-NJ (41074-28), Unionville, NY-NJ (41074-35), Port Jervis South, NY-NJ-PA (41074-36), Milford, NJ-PA (41074-37), Otisville, NY (41074-45), Wurtsboro, NY (41074-54), Yankee Lake, NY (41074-55), Naponoch, NY (41074-63), Gardiner, NY (41074-62), Mohonk Lake, NY (41074-72), Kerhonkson, NY (41074-73), Bushakill, PA-NJ (41075-11)

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUADS: Allentown, PA-NJ (40075-E1), Middletown, NY-NJ-PA (41074-A1), Monticello, NY-PA (41074-E1), Scranton, PA-NJ (41075-A1)

 

III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge habitat complex includes the northern section of the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge from its northernmost extent at the junction of Rondout Creek and the Wallkill River in the town of Rosendale, Ulster County, New York, south through New Jersey to the Delaware River. The habitat complex includes only the portion of the ridge within New York and New Jersey; the ridge continues south across the Delaware River at the southern end of the Delaware Water Gap into Pennsylvania and along the Appalachian Mountains, but that part of the ridge is beyond the geographic scope of this study. The southern portion of the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey is in the Delaware River watershed, outside of the study area, but is included here because the entire ridge is important for its contiguous forest and ridge communities and the rare species they support. The boundaries of the habitat complex on either side of the ridge are generally based on the break in slope between the ridge and the adjacent valleys. This habitat complex encloses the diverse upland and wetland communities and rare plants occurring on the ridgetop, slopes, and cliffs, as well as the entire ridgeline for its importance as a migration corridor for raptors, other migratory birds, and large, broad-ranging mammals. Most of the rare communities and species are known from the wider sections of the ridge at the northern (north of New York State Route 52) and southern (south of Interstate Route 84) ends of the habitat complex; the focus of this narrative is on those areas. Also included within this habitat complex is an adjacent portion of the lower Neversink River just west of the Shawangunk Ridge because of the importance of the ridge in maintaining the good water quality in the river and the presence of globally significant mussel populations there.

 

IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: The top of the northern Shawangunk Ridge in New York is largely protected through both private and public ownership. Two private preserves, the Virginia Smiley Nature Preserve and the Mohonk Preserve are owned and managed by the Mohonk Preserve; these, along with the Mohonk Mountain House, make up the northern part of the area. An undeveloped state park, Minnewaska State Park managed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, makes up the middle part of the area. The Ellenville watershed owned by the village of Ellenville is on the southern part of the northern Shawangunk Ridge; it is used for water supply, as well as being leased to a commercial outfit for use as a scenic drive. South of Route 52, the long, narrow part of the Shawangunk Ridge is largely in private ownership, with the exception of the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area, managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which includes wetlands in the Basher Kill valley as well as adjacent portions of the ridge. The majority of land on the top of the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey is in public ownership. High Point State Park, including the Dryden Kuser Natural Area, is managed by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry. Stokes State Forest, including the Tillman Ravine Natural Area also managed by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, runs along the southeastern edge of the ridge. Worthington State Forest, including the Sunfish Pond Natural Area and the Dunfield Creek Natural Area, is at the southern end of the ridge in New Jersey. The Reinhardt Preserve is owned by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust. There are three Wildlife Management Areas on the Kittatinny Ridge: Haines, Flatbrook-Roy, and Walpack, managed by the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.

The Appalachian Trail runs along the eastern edge of the ridge in New Jersey before turning east across the Wallkill Valley at the New York border. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service, runs along the Delaware River and includes significant portions of the southern Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey. The Nature Conservancy owns several preserves on the Kittatinny Ridge, including Montague Woods, Nocella Nature Preserve, Artic Meadows Preserve, and Mashipacong Bogs Preserve, and has cooperative management agreements with several public and private landowners on the ridge. Other parts of the ridgetop and most of the slopes of the ridge are largely in private ownership; there is some residential and commercial development, particularly along the lower slopes where residential development is spreading up from the valley. The portion of the Shawangunk Ridge within the town of Shawangunk is considered a Critical Environmental Area by the town, requiring more stringent review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. Ice Caves Mountain in the northern Shawangunks is recognized as a National Landmark by the National Park Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated Tocks Swamp as a priority wetland site under the federal Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. Wetlands are regulated in New York under the state's Freshwater Wetlands Act of 1975 and Tidal Wetlands Act of 1977, and in New Jersey under the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act and Wetlands Act of 1970; 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.

The New York State Natural Heritage Program, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, recognizes several Priority Sites for Biodiversity within the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge habitat complex. These sites are listed here along with their biodiversity ranks (only sites with biodiversity ranks of B1 through B3 are listed for New York State): Lower Neversink River Macrosite (B1 - outstanding biodiversity significance), Northern Shawangunks (B1), and Neversink Glade (B3 - high biodiversity significance). The New Jersey Natural Heritage Program recognizes several Priority Sites for Biodiversity within the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge complex. They are listed here along with their biodiversity ranks: Arctic Meadows (B1 - outstanding biodiversity significance), Dingman's Ferry Bridge (B3 - high biodiversity significance), Flatbrookville Rivershore (B3), Flatbrook Valley Roadbank (B3), Hainesville Woods (B3), Kittatinny Cliffs and Talus (B3), Mashipacong Bogs (B3), Montague Rivershore-Bridge (B3), Sawmill Pond Swamp (B3), Smith Ferry (B3), Vancampens Glen (B3), Wallpack Ridge (B3), Buttermilk Falls (B4 - moderate biodiversity significance), Colesville (B4), Crater Lake (B4), Hemlock Pond (B4), High Point (B4), Kuser Cedar Swamp (B4), Millbrook Gap (B4), Montague Rivershore-West (B4), Mount Tammany (B4), Old Mine Road (B4), Rosencrans Ferry (B4), Wallpack Center Road (B4), Wallpack Ravine (B4), High Point Macrosite (B5 - general biodiversity significance), and Kittatinny Mountain Macrosite (B5).

 

V. GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION: The Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge is the northernmost ridge in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The ridge continues south of New Jersey into Pennsylvania and the southern Appalachians where it becomes the Blue Ridge (see physiographic setting chapter). Within the habitat complex, the ridge is primarily composed of a hard quartzite conglomerate and sandstone caprock overlying shale. This shale was laid down during the Ordovician (470 million years ago), and the conglomerate was laid down in the Silurian (about 420 million years ago); both sedimentary rock layers were subsequently folded and uplifted during the Permian (about 270 million years ago) to their present position and angle with a pronounced dip to the northwest, resulting in prominent cliffs on the east side of the ridge and more gentle slopes on the west side. On the Kittatinny Ridge at the southern end, the conglomerate caprock is narrower and confined to the eastern part of the ridge. The middle and western parts of the Kittatinny Ridge are sandstone and shale, with increasing amounts of limestone on the western slopes along the Delaware River. The ridge is widest (12 kilometers [7.5 miles]) near the northern end, narrow in the middle (under 2 kilometers [1.25 miles]), and wide again in northern New Jersey (11 kilometers [6.8 miles]), with maximum elevations of 698 meters (2,289 feet) at Lake Maratanza on the Shawangunk Ridge and 550 meters (1,803 feet) at High Point on the Kittatinny Ridge, the highest elevation in New Jersey. The ridge rises above the broad Wallkill Valley to the east and the narrow valley to the west that contains Basher Kill and Rondout Creek at the northern end and the Neversink River and Delaware River at the southern end. These adjacent valleys are composed of more erodible limestones and shales. Portions of the ridges along the Neversink and Delaware Rivers have limestone outcrops. From an area just north of the New Jersey State line south, the Delaware River parallels the ridge to the east, separating the ridge from the Allegheny Plateau and forming the Delaware Water Gap. The quartz conglomerate caprock is very hard and resistant to weathering; where the underlying shale erodes along the edge of the cliff, the conglomerate forms cliffs and talus slopes, particularly along the east side of the ridge. The entire ridge was glaciated during the last (Wisconsin) glaciation which scoured the ridges, left pockets of till, and dumped talus (blocks of rock) off the east side of the ridge. Two recessional glacial moraines cross the northern Kittatinny Ridge in the vicinity of High Point. On top of the ridge, the soils are generally thin, highly acidic, low in nutrients, and droughty, but in depressions and other areas where water is trapped by the bedrock or till, there are interspersed lakes and wetland areas. Soils on top of shale are thicker, less acidic, and more fertile. Topography on the top of the northern Shawangunks is irregular due to a series of faults that form secondary plateaus and escarpments.

There is an unusual diversity of vegetational communities on the ridge containing species and communities typically found north of this region alongside species and communities typically found to the south or restricted to the Coastal Plain. This results in an unusual area where many regionally rare plants are found at or near the limits of their ranges. Other rare species found in the habitat area are those adapted to the harsh conditions on the ridge. Upland communities include chestnut oak and mixed-oak forest, pine barrens including dwarf pine ridges, hemlock-northern hardwood forest, and cliff and talus slope and cave communities. Wetlands include small lakes and streams, bogs, pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps, an inland Atlantic white cedar swamp, red maple swamps, acidic seeps, calcareous seeps, and a few emergent marshes.

The most ubiquitous forest community on the dry slopes and ridgetops of the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge is the chestnut oak forest, dominated by chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and red oak (Q. rubra), along with white oak (Q. alba), black oak (Q. velutina), sweet birch (Betula lenta), and pitch pine (Pinus rigida), with a sparse understory of heath shrubs (Ericaceae family) and saplings of red maple (Acer rubrum), black birch (Betula nigra), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and American chestnut (Castenea dentata). On more mesic (moderately moist) parts of the ridge, the chestnut oak forest grades into a mixed-oak forest with dominance by the oak species mentioned above, as well as white ash (Fraxinus americana), red maple (Acer rubrum), pignut and shagbark hickory (Carya glabra and C. ovata), yellow and gray birch (Betula alleghaniensis and B. populifolia), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and American beech (Fagus grandifolia).

On the ridgetops is a pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit community characterized by sparse vegetation with numerous bedrock outcrops. Dominant species include pitch pine, scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia), chestnut oak, common juniper (Juniperus communis), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), poverty-grass (Danthonia spicata), common hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), three-toothed cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata), and cow-wheat (Melampyrum lineare), as well as mosses and lichens. The more exposed sites are typically dominated by scrub oak with grasses and sedges found in open areas. Unvegetated rock faces and outcrops are common throughout this community.

Pitch pine barrens on the ridge, particularly in the northern Shawangunks, are dominated by pitch pine with a few red maple, black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and chestnut oak; the shrub layer is dominated by heaths including black huckleberry, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and lowbush blueberry, and herbaceous species including wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), and Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense). The unique dwarf pine ridges community on the flat summit of Sam's Point is composed predominantly of dwarf pitch pines (generally less than 2 meters [6 feet] tall) and black huckleberry, with gray birch, black chokeberry (Pyrus melanocarpa), withe-rod (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides), lowbush blueberry, hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), sweet fern, and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) shrubs, and herbs and grasses including bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Canada mayflower, pink lady-slipper (Cypripedium acaule), and cow-wheat.

North-facing slopes and ravines have hemlock-northern hardwoods forest dominated by eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), with varying amounts of hardwoods including red and chestnut oak, sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech, tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and black cherry (Prunus serotina). The understory shrub and herbaceous layer is generally sparse under the hemlocks, with the exception of great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) thickets in some places. Some of the more inaccessible ravines and slopes were never logged and have old-growth hemlocks. A recent infestation of the hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) has killed many of the hemlocks in the region and, if it spreads throughout the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge, will likely result in a major change in this forest community.

Cliff and talus communities include conglomerate cliff and talus occurring on the eastern side of the ridge and smaller areas of shale cliff and talus occurring on the western side of the ridge. The conglomerate talus slopes are unusual in the varied sizes of talus rocks from pebbles to boulders, creating a diversity of microhabitats. These cliff and talus communities create harsh, unstable conditions that support lichens and mosses on the rock faces, and ferns, herbs, and woody plants in the crevices. Dominant trees in the crevices of conglomerate talus include pitch pine, chestnut oak, red oak, black birch, and white ash. Shale talus slopes support a slightly different community with chestnut oak as the dominant tree.

Ice caves are deep fissures in the conglomerate bedrock that retain ice through much of the summer, resulting in a cool microenvironment that supports several northern species such as black spruce (Picea mariana), hemlock, mountain ash (Sorbus americana), and creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), and bryophytes such as Isopterygium distichaceum. These ice caves are concentrated on the southeast, southwest, and northwest sides of Sam's Point in the northern Shawangunks. Larger limestone caverns occur along the lower slopes of the Rondout and Delaware River valleys.

Lakes and wetlands occur mostly on the flat-topped ridges at the northern and southern ends of the habitat complex and, to a lesser extent, along the western side of the middle part of the ridge. Lakes and ponds occurring on conglomerate tend to be clear, nutrient-poor, and very acidic, due to limited buffering capacity of the bedrock. The northern Shawangunks have five lakes, the "sky lakes," which are, from north to south: Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Mud Pond, and Lake Maratanza. The pH in four of the lakes averages about 4 (very acidic); Lake Mohonk, which partially overlays shale bedrock and is therefore partially buffered, is closer to neutral pH (7.0). Lakes on the Kittatinny Ridge portion of the habitat complex, including Stony Lake, Steenkill Lake, Saw Mill Lake, Lake Marcia, Mashipacong Pond, Kittatinny Lake, Lake Ashroe, Long Pine Pond, and Catfish Pond, occur mostly on the shale and sandstone portion of the ridge.

Pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps are mixed in with the dwarf pine ridges community in the northern Shawangunks (described above). These wetlands are dominated by pitch pine, with a few red maple and gray birch, a shrub layer dominated by heaths including highbush and velvetleaf blueberry (Vaccinium corymbsum and V. myrtilloides), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), black huckleberry, leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) and rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), and a groundlayer dominated by peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.) and herbs.

An inland Atlantic white cedar swamp occurs at High Point in New Jersey. Cedar was dominant at one time in this swamp but, due to logging of cedar, the swamp is now dominated by hemlock and red maple, along with young Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and yellow birch, an understory layer of large shrubs such as great rhododendron, highbush blueberry, and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), a sparse herbaceous layer, and a carpet of peat moss.

Northern bogs and swamps found in glaciated terrain occur at a few locations on the ridge, most notably at the Mashipacong Bogs site on the Kittatinny Ridge. These dwarf shrub bogs occur on a floating sphagnum mat and are typically dominated by leatherleaf and other northern shrub species such as bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla), pale laurel (Kalmia polfolia), and sheep laurel. These bogs are often adjacent to or surrounded by black spruce swamps with varying amounts of tamarack (Larix laricinia).

Red maple swamps occur in several areas on the Kittatinny Ridge and a few small sites in the northern Shawangunks. These swamps are dominated by red maple with black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), ash, and yellow birch, shrubs including speckled alder (Alnus incana), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), and a herbaceous layer with skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), and peat moss. A complex of red maple swamps, scrub-shrub swamps, and emergent marshes occurs in the Mill Brook Valley on the Kittatinny Ridge.

An acidic seep community at Arctic Meadows in the southern Kittatinny Mountains in New Jersey occurs where cold ground water emerges in a diffuse pattern. This community is dominated by grasses, especially tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), sedges, rushes, and herbs, with several species of northern affinity.

Calcareous communities occur on the westernmost part of the ridge, where the more recently deposited limestone extends up onto the ridge or glacial till on the surface is dominated by calcareous rock. Along the Delaware River, there are calcareous riverside seep communities where seasonal ice scouring maintains open seepage areas along the riverbank. These communities are dominated by grasses such as tufted hairgrass, sedges such as Carex hystricina and C. viridula, and rushes such as path-rush (Juncus tenuis var. dudleyi), as well as a few shrubs such as sandbar willow (Salix exigua). On the drier slopes along the Neversink River (Neversink Glade), there are calcareous red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) glades with scattered trees in grassy meadows dominated by hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), poverty oatgrass (Danthonia spicata), and various sedges.

The lower Neversink River is a mid-reach stream that flows southeast from its source in the Catskills (see Catskill High Peaks habitat complex) until it runs into the Shawanagunk Ridge, at which point it is joined by the Basher Kill and flows southwest along the ridge to the Delaware River. The section of the Neversink River along the Shawangunk Ridge is bordered on the east by the steep forested uplands of the ridge and on the west by a broad, flat floodplain that is predominantly in agriculture.

 

VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge is a regionally significant habitat complex supporting a diversity of rare upland and wetland communities and rare plant and animal populations, and serving as an important migratory corridor for many species of birds and mammals. There are 137 species of special emphasis in the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge habitat complex, incorporating 63 species of plants and 43 species of birds, and 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
dwarf wedge mussel (Alasmidonta heterodon)
small-whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)

Federal candidate
bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii)

Federal species of concern(1)
swollen wedge mussel (Alasmidonta varicosa)
New England bluet (Enallagma laterale)
northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
long-tailed shrew (Sorex dispar)
small-footed bat (Myotis leibii)
Hammond's yellow spring beauty (Claytonia virginica var. hammondiae)

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

State-listed endangered - New Jersey
timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
bobcat (Lynx rufus)
variegated horsetail (Equisetum variegatum)
water sedge (Carex aquatilis)
brownish sedge (Carex brunnescens)
Crawe's sedge (Carex crawei)
finely-nerved sedge (Carex leptonervia)
mud sedge (Carex limosa)
flat-stemmed spikerush (Eleocharis compressa)
barber pole bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus)
strict blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum)
white twisted-stalk bellwort (Streptopus amplexifolius)
rosy twisted-stalk bellwort (Streptopus roseus)
heart-leaved twayblade (Listera cordata)
kidney-leaved twayblade (Listera smallii)
American mannagrass (Glyceria grandis)
northern yellow-eyed grass (Xyris montana)
Pringle's aster (Aster pringlei)
bearsfoot (Polymnia uvedalia)
round-leaved water-cress (Cardamine rotundifolia)
snowy campion (Silene nivea)
northern stitchwort (Stellaria borealis)
shrubby St. John's-wort (Hypericum prolificum)
erect bindweed (Calystegia spithamaea)
bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla)
creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)
pale laurel (Kalmia polifolia)
squirrel-corn (Dicentra canadensis)
skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum)
early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis)
three-toothed cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata)
pear hawthorn (Crataegus calpodendron)
dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum)
foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

State-listed threatened - New Jersey
longtail salamander (Eurycea l. longicauda)
wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta)
great blue heron (Ardea herodias)
barred owl (Strix varia)
red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

State-listed threatened - New York
timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
broom crowberry (Corema conradii)
mountain spleenwort (Asplenium montanum)
highland rush (Juncus trifidus)
possum-haw (Viburnum nudum)
Appalachian sandwort (Minuartia glabra)

State-listed special concern animals - New York
Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium)
spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)
eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
barred owl (Strix varia)
common raven (Corvus corax)
eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

State-listed rare plants - New York
hirsute sedge (Carex complanata)
clustered sedge (Carex cumulata)
Emmons' sedge (Carex albicans var. emmonsii)
somewhat-tailed rush (Juncus subcaudatus)
swamp pink (Arethusa bulbosa)
rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)
violet brush clover (Lespedeza violacea)

Rare Plants and Communities

The extensive flat-topped ridge, cliffs, and talus slopes of the northern Shawangunk Ridge support diverse upland and wetland communities. One of the most significant of these is the dwarf pine ridge community found on top of Sam's Point (Ice Caves Mountain); it is one of the most extensive ridgetop pine barrens communities, and one of the few known dwarf pine plain communities occurring on bedrock in the world. This latter community is about 1,012 hectares (2,500 acres) in extent. The structure resembles the dwarf pine plains communities found in the Long Island Pine Barrens (see Long Island Pine Barrens - Peconic River complex) and the pine plains communities that occur in the New Jersey Pinelands (see New Jersey Pinelands habitat complex), but the composition differs in that scrub oaks are co-dominant on the Coastal Plain, while huckleberry is co-dominant on the Shawangunk Ridge. Whereas the pine plains communities of the New Jersey Pinelands and the Long Island Pine Barrens occur on unconsolidated sands and are maintained primarily by fire, the dwarf pine ridge community on the Shawangunk Ridge occurs on bedrock, and the structure may be controlled by a variety of other climatic and edaphic factors such as soil nutrient levels, soil depth, climate, elevation, and exposure to wind, as well as frequency of fire. Berry pickers historically set fires on Sam's Point to increase the fruit yields in this area, probably influencing the community structure in the process. Research is presently being conducted on the fire history and other aspects of this community. The pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps that are interspersed with the dwarf pine community on Sam's Point are considered to be regionally rare, as is the pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit community that occurs on much of the Shawangunk -Kittatinny Ridge. These pitch pine communities contain southern or Coastal Plain elements (pine barrens) along with northern elements such as bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and rhodora. This combination of northern and southern elements and interspersed upland and wetland communities results in an unusual diversity and juxtaposition of range-limited plant and insect species. Cliffs in the northern Shawangunks support one of the densest known occurrences of the rare mountain spleenwort, possibly an endemic form (Asplenium montanum shawangunkense), and have also recently supported Bradley's spleenwort (Asplenium bradleyii). A large population of mountain spleenwort also occurs at the southern end of the Kittatinny Ridge at Mount Tamany. The regionally rare northern species three-toothed cinquefoil occurs in rocky ridgetop habitat throughout the habitat complex. The only known occurrence of broom crowberry (Corema conradii) outside the Coastal Plain occurs on a rocky promontory near Lake Minnewaska in the northern Shawangunks. This species is locally common in the New Jersey Pinelands. The only known occurrence of trifid rush (Juncus trifidus) within the New York Bight study area occurs on Sam's Point. Rare bryophytes include several rare Sphagnum mosses, such as Sphagnum platyphyllum, S. tenellum, S. trinitense, S. andersonianum, and S. angermanicum, and other mosses including Isopterygium distichaceum and Sematophyllum marylandicum. Nearly 70 species of lichens have been documented from the ridgetops, cliff and talus, ice caves, and dwarf pine ridge communities on the Shawangunk Ridge.

Kittatinny Ridge has a more complex surficial and bedrock geology, compared with Shawangunk Ridge, resulting in a higher relative percentage of wetlands. The inland Atlantic white cedar swamp at High Point is the furthest inland and at the highest elevation of white cedar swamps in the Bight watershed. The dominant canopy trees and structure of this swamp differ from those of the cedar swamps on the Coastal Plain; many of the associated plant species are northern plants, including black spruce, bunchberry (Cornus canedensis), gold thread (Coptis groenlandica), clintonia (Clintonia borealis), dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pussillum), three-leaved false Solomon's seal (Smilacina trifolia), and painted trillium (Trillium undulatum). Sawmill Pond Swamp supports one southern twayblade species, the kidney-leaved twayblade, and one northern twayblade species, the heart-leaved twayblade. There are Priority Sites for Biodiversity containing rare natural communities and plants south of the watershed boundary on the Kittatinny Ridge outside of the study area. These sites are not specifically mapped or fully described in this narrative, but a few highlights are provided here. Mashipacong Bogs is an excellent example of a northern glacial bog/black spruce swamp complex with regionally rare northern species such as bog rosemary, mud sedge, creeping snowberry, and northern yellow-eyed grass. Several smaller glacial bogs occur in the northern Shawangunks. Second-growth forests on the Kittatinny Ridge support the only two occurrences in New Jersey of the federally listed endangered small-whorled pogonia. These are the only occurrences of this species between New England and Virginia. An unusual acidic seep community occurs at Arctic Meadows on the Kittatinny Ridge. This community supports the only known occurrence of Hammond's yellow spring beauty in the New York Bight watershed. Very different wetland and upland communities occur along the interface between the ridge and the Delaware River because of the limestone bedrock found there. Riverside species such as those found at the Montague Rivershore, Old Mine Road, Smith Ferry, and Flatbrookville Rivershore are typical of riverbanks, marshes, and moist woods; these include crooked-stemmed aster (Aster prenanthoides), variegated horsetail, Tradescant's aster (Aster tradescantii), Crawford's sedge (Carex crawfordii), flat-stemmed spikerush, stiff gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia), musk flower (Mimulus moschatus), Oswego tea (Monarda didyma), barber pole bulrush, snowy campion, white-water buttercup (Ranunculus trichophyllus), shining ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes lucida), and American purple vetch (Vicia americana), and upland species including purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), and drooping bluegrass (Poa languida). An exemplary occurrence of a red cedar rocky summit (limestone glade) community occurs at Neversink Glade in New York State on the western slopes of the Shawangunk Ridge above the Neversink River.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Timber rattlesnake occurs at several locations, including at least six known den sites on the northern Shawangunk Ridge, mostly on the southwest-facing slope where large slabs of conglomerate form excellent basking habitat. Seven known den sites occur within the habitat complex on the Kittatinny Ridge, including one in High Point State Park and six other known dens occurring along the southeast slopes of the Kittatinnies south of the habitat complex and north of the Delaware River. There are no known den sites along the narrower middle part of the ridge, possibly due to a lack of basking habitat, although it is possible that this area may serve as a connecting corridor between the northern and southern populations. Two major highway barriers (Route 17 at the northern end and Interstate 84 at the southern end) may prevent colonization of this middle part of the ridge. Northern copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) share similar ledge habitat on the ridge and eastern hognose snake are also found along the ridge. Five-lined skinks (Eumeces fasciatus) are found on rock outcrops and talus slopes. Turtles inhabiting the ridge include spotted turtles in the ponds and wetlands, and wood turtles in wooded riparian habitat all along the ridge. The federal candidate bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii) occurs in the adjacent limestone valleys and at a few locations on the southern Kittatinny Ridge. Numerous vernal pools are found on the ridge and these pools and surrounding habitats support a variety of amphibian species, including regionally rare salamanders such as the spotted salamander, Jefferson salamander, and longtail salamander.

Birds

The Kittatinny Ridge is one of the most important and best-known raptor observation areas in the Northeast. Hawk watches occur or have occurred at the northern end of the Shawangunk Ridge at Near Trapps and Banitou Crag, and at several locations on the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey including Catfish Fire Tower, Culver's Gap, Raccoon Ridge, and Sunrise Mountain, as well as in the adjacent Delaware Water Gap. The well-known Hawk Mountain observatory is on that portion of the Kittatinny Ridge in eastern Pennsylvania about 88 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of the Delaware River. The number of migrants is higher at southern hawk watches, suggesting that more hawks follow the ridge as they fly further south. The species that constitute the bulk of the autumn migrations include osprey (Pandion haliaetus), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus), red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and American kestrel (Falco sparverius), with lesser numbers of several other species including the federally listed threatened bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) nested on the cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge until about 1958; attempts were made to reintroduce them in the mid-1970s. These attempts were unsuccessful, probably due to predation by great-horned owl, raccoon, and other species, and possibly due to human disturbance. Peregrines have been sighted in the area recently during the breeding season, but no nests have been established. A major concentration of wintering bald eagles occurs along the Delaware River, just to the west of the habitat complex upriver of Port Jervis. Various birds nest in the diversity of relatively unfragmented, undisturbed, deciduous and coniferous forests and wetlands on the ridge. Rare breeding raptors include Cooper's hawk and northern goshawk, and northern birds breeding here include common raven (Corvus corax). Nesting waterfowl include mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and wood duck (Aix sponsa). Over 70 breeding birds have been confirmed for the northern Shawangunk Ridge. The relatively continuous forests all along the ridge are important for forest interior-nesting birds such as barred owl, warblers, and thrushes.

Mammals

There are several regionally rare large mammal species on the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge, including black bear (Ursus americanus), bobcat, and fisher (Martes pennanti). The black bear population in the Kittatinnies is increasing. The black bear population in the Catskills is about 300 bears, with 50 to 100 bears in the southern Catskills within range of the Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge is thus a possible migration route between these populations. Fishers were reintroduced into the Shawangunks and Catskills and have successfully reproduced. Fishers from these introduced New York populations have been seen on the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey as far as 140 kilometers (87 miles) from the original release site and in numerous locations between the Shawangunks and the southern Catskills, suggesting a regular migration between these wooded mountain areas. Bobcats are rare and secretive, but are likely found all along the ridge. They have been reintroduced in New Jersey. These species are protected in New Jersey, but there is a limited hunting season for all three species in New York State.

Caves include limestone caverns lower on the ridge, which, along with the larger ice caves, support winter hibernacula for several species of bat, including little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), small-footed bat (Myotis leibii), northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), eastern pipstrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus), and big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). There is, in addition, probable occurrence of other species, including the federally listed endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis).

The cliff and talus community on the Shawangunk Ridge recently supported one of the northeastern-most populations of Allegheny woodrat (Neotoma magister). The Allegheny woodrat population on the ridge was extirpated, probably by a parasitic roundworm spread by raccoons. This area is an important potential site for reintroduction. The talus slopes also support the federal species of concern long-tailed shrew (Sorex dispar), which is generally found in moist talus habitats where it hides among the fallen rocks. The talus slopes of the northern Shawangunk Ridge may be a stronghold for this rare species. The northern Shawangunks may also be one of the few places that has all seven northeastern shrew species. The Kittatinny cliff and talus slopes also support the long-tailed shrew and an historical population of the Allegheny woodrat.

Mussels

The section of the Neversink River that flows along the Shawangunk Ridge contains the world's largest known population of the federally listed endangered dwarf wedge mussel, estimated at 80,000 individuals in a five-mile stretch of the Neversink, as well as several other rare freshwater mussels including the species of concern swollen wedge mussel, alewife floater (Anodonta implicata), squawfoot (Strophitus undulatus), and eastern elliptio (Elliptio complanata). On the other side of the ridge, the Shawangunk Kill, a tributary of the Wallkill River, also supports swollen wedge mussel and six other freshwater mussel species (see Shawangunk Kill habitat complex).

Fish

Within the Shawangunk - Kittatinny Ridge habitat complex are several streams capable of trout production; they include Mill (Clove) Brook, which the state of New Jersey manages as a wild trout stream, and Sandyston Creek, Shimers Brook, and White Brook that are managed as trout production waters. Additionally, there are a number of streams and creeks that are managed as trout fisheries through various stocking strategies. Water quality is a primary determinant in all trout waters, especially where native populations occur. Suitable habitat needs include water temperatures that do not exceed 21 C (70 F), dissolved oxygen levels over 4 milligrams per liter, areas of gravel bottom free of silt, and an adequate supply of macroinvertebrate food items. Suitable trout habitat depends on forest buffers and tree canopies to provide water quality and stable temperatures. The ridge habitat area also includes a number of lakes and ponds, including Stony Lake, Steenkill Lake, Saw Mill Lake, and Lake Marcia. While trout species tend to dominate the cooler and cold water systems, largemouth (Micropterus salmoides) and smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) and yellow perch (Perca flavescens) are found in the warmer lakes and ponds. Other important species that are found in these waterbodies include members of the following families: suckers (Catostomidae), sunfish (Centrarchidae), sculpins (Cottidae), minnows and carp (Cyprinidae), killifishes (Cyprinodontidae), pikes (Esocidae), and perches (Percidae).

Research and Monitoring

The Mohonk Preserve in the northern Shawangunks has maintained one of the longest-running natural history databases in the country. Natural history observations have been collected and recorded for over 60 years, originally by Daniel Smiley, and now continued by the research staff at the Preserve using consistent routes and methods. Weather data has been collected continuously for 100 years in the Mohonk Preserve. These data and observations have helped detect and document trends and effects from events such as acid rain, gypsy moth infestations (Mohonk Preserve was never sprayed), and extirpation of the Allegheny woodrat.

 

VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: Development of the remaining unprotected land on the ridgetops would fragment both the forest and wetland habitats and reduce the suitability of the ridge to support its rare plant and animal populations. There are strong development pressures on the lower and middle slopes of the Shawangunk and Kittatinny Ridges. The soil and water are sensitive to increases in nutrients, heat, and amounts of silt or other materials; these and other results of human activities can cause major changes in the upland and aquatic habitats and their biological communities. The town of Ellenville has proposed various developments, such as wind farms or microwave towers, for the ridge at Sam's Point, threatening the globally rare communities found there. Fire suppression on Sam's Point may result in changes in the structure and composition of the rare dwarf pitch pine community. Disturbances to the slopes above or the floodplain of the Neversink River could affect the water quality of the river and impact the dwarf wedge mussel population. Changes in water level, flow, or chemistry in the Neversink River would likely impact the rare mussel populations found there. Deer grazing of rare plants such as the small whorled pogonia and broom crowberry could be a threat if the density of the deer population increases. Peregrine falcons are disturbed by any activities above or below their nests, including rock climbers. Obstructions such as radio towers to migratory raptors and other landbirds could result in loss of birds. Hemlock wooly adelgid threatens the hemlock forests on the ridge.

 

VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: Although much of the land on the top of the ridges is protected, it is essential that the remaining unprotected pieces receive protection, which could include easements and acquisition. Significant habitat areas along the periphery of the publicly owned lands in the northern Shawangunk and northern Kittatinny Ridge should be identified and considered for inclusion into adjacent protected areas. The Ellenville watershed, including Sam's Point, is globally significant and must be maintained as a natural area. The publicly held lands need to be managed to maintain the integrity and diversity of the upland and wetland habitats and rare plant and animal populations. The impacts of water use from surrounding developments should be investigated. If peregrine falcons should again nest on the ridge, these areas must be avoided during nesting season and predator control should be investigated. A better understanding of the factors that maintain the structure of the dwarf pine ridge communities is necessary. Any attempts to manage this community through controlled burns or other means should be done on a limited basis until the effects are well-understood. Protection of rare plants against deer grazing during the winter may be necessary. The Shawangunk Ecosystem Research Program that is presently underway as a collaborative effort among the New York State Museum, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Mohonk Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Shawangunks and Awosting Reserve, and Open Space Institute should be supported; the research should incorporate the relatively unknown southern Shawangunks and the effort should include New Jersey agencies and organizations involved with the Kittatinny Ridge. The valuable natural history database and continued monitoring should be maintained by the Mohonk Preserve. Ridge overlay zoning may be one way that the municipalities along the ridge can recognize and protect the rare natural communities along the ridge.

It is not necessarily best, nor possible, for government agencies or conservation organizations always to acquire all the lands needed to protect a rare community type or important habitat. Various approaches and strategies exist for protecting valuable wildlife habitats; each provides different degrees of protection and requires different levels of commitment by regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and landowners. These techniques include combined public and private financing, land exchanges, conservation easements, cooperative management agreements, mutual covenants, purchase of development rights, comprehensive planning, zoning and land-use regulations, enforcement of existing local, state, and federal regulations, and fee simple acquisition. Techniques can be combined to develop a strategy for land protection that is tailored to a specific site. Partnerships among individual landowners within habitat complexes offer an exciting, practical, and innovative approach to the large, landscape-scale habitats recognized here.

A management plan for the lower Neversink River involving federal, state, county, and local agencies and organizations focused on protecting the habitat and water quality for mussels would be beneficial. The lower Neversink River, floodplain, and adjacent uplands need to be protected through a variety of mechanisms, including acquisition and easements, to prevent impacts to the globally significant mussel population. The water quality, water flow, and water chemistry must be maintained, and appropriate flows from the Neversink Reservoir must be maintained. Research should be conducted to determine host fish and other life history requirements of all the rare mussel species in the lower Neversink River. Tasks and objectives of the two species recovery plans -- dwarf wedge mussel applicable to the Neversink River, and small-whorled pogonia recovery plan applicable to the Kittatinny Ridge site -- should be implemented. Applicable tasks for the dwarf wedge mussel include: compile information and map point and nonpoint pollution sources; work with landowners, local government officials, and regulating agency representatives to solicit support for protection of the species and mitigation of impacts to the species and its essential habitats; provide long-term protection of essential habitats through acquisition, registry, management agreements, and establishing stream buffer zones; and conduct life history research on the species and population levels.

 

IX. REFERENCES:

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List of Species of Special Emphasis

Maps

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