The northern Shawangunks represent a relatively intact landscape
located between the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains.
The northern Shawangunks are bordered by the Wallkill River and
Shawangunk Kill on the southeast, Route 52 on the southwest and
Roundout Creek on the north. The area is a glacially scoured mountain
range of white quartzite conglomerate rock with a patchy layer of
shallow soils. The site has one of the most unusual pine barrens in the
northeast and includes a largely unfragmented chestnut-oak forest.
Wetlands exist in rock depressions, and a few deep lakes have formed
in eroded faults and fractures. The site contains a globally rare 2,000-
acre dwarf pine ridge community. The area supports 27 rare plants,
nine rare insects, and three other rare natural communities. According
to the NY GAP land cover data, approximately 85% of the site is
forested, and includes Appalachian oak-pine, deciduous wetland,
evergreen northern hardwood, evergreen plantation, evergreen
wetland, oak, pitch pine-oak, successional hardwood, and sugar maple
mesic forests. Agriculture is an active, but declining industry in the
areas below the ridge. A mix of private, municipal, state, and nongovernmental
conservation agencies own the site, which includes over
12,000 acres administered by NYS OPRHP (Minnewaska State Park),
6,600 acres owned by the Mohonk Preserve, and 4,600 acres managed
by The Nature Conservancy.
This site supports an exceptional example of a characteristic higher
elevation forest bird community with particularly good representation
of a pine woods community. Characteristic forest bird species breeding
include the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Northern
Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-throated
Vireo, Common Raven, Winter Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Hermit
Thrush, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler,
Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler,
Louisiana Waterthrush, Canada Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Rosebreasted
Grosbeak. There are also breeding characteristic shrub
species inhabiting this site including the Whip-poor-will, Goldenwinged
Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Eastern Towhee, among others.
Peregrine Falcons currently breed in one location on a cliff.
This site is listed in the 2002 Open Space Conservation Plan as a priority
site under the project name Shawangunk Mountains. With low levels
of fragmentation and a high level of biological diversity, the northern
Shawangunks is one of The Nature Conservancy?s highest priorities
for protection in the northeast. The lack of fire is a primary threat
for this fire-adapted ecosystem, altering the structure of vegetation
communities. Scattered residential development has a cumulative
effect by fragmenting natural communities, thus threatening their
integrity and limiting management options. Permanent protection
and stewardship of private portions of the site are needed to prevent
fragmentation resulting from development. Options include public
or land trust acquisition, purchase of conservation easements, and
sustainable forestry agreements. Approximately 550,000 people visit
the area annually, generating $10-15 million in local economic activity.
Rock climbers have the potential to impact cliff and talus communities,
and disturb species such as Peregrine Falcons. There is an ongoing
land stewardship and protection program for the area spearheaded
by The Nature Conservancy. The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity
Partnership, made up of public and private conservation agencies,
has an active ecological research program; during the first round of
IBA site identifications, this site was recognized under the research
criterion. More research to document the importance of the area to atrisk
species is needed.