In their updated Draft 'New York-New Jersey Highlands Regional Study', the U.S. Forest Service has reaffirmed the importance of the four-state Highlands and the development pressures it faces. The draft study has examined the Highlands' natural resources, focusing on how these resources are likely to change and what the impacts of those changes would be.
- every year, more than 5,000 acres of land are developed in the Highlands, including forests and wetlands. The core interior forest has decreased by 65,000 acres since 1984.
- the Highlands population grew by 11% over the last decade, with higher growth expected in the future. If current trends continue, local groundwater use is expected to exceed supply in several Highlands watersheds, including the Ramapo, Whippanny, Pequest, Upper Delaware and Lopatcong. - 62% of the Highlands (873,996 acres) provide habitat for threatened or endangered wildlife species.
- 38% of the Highlands (542,499 acres) has been rated as having "exceptional" conservation value, while more than half these lands (285,629 acres) are unprotected from development.
State and local governments can act to protect the Highlands' critical resources by adopting strategies to manage future growth, safeguard drinking water, conserve forests and open space, and provide recreational opportunities, while promoting economic growth in the region.
Dear Birders: The effort to protect the highlands has a direct impact on areas of conservation interest in Connecticut including several pending Important Bird Areas in Northwestern CT. Areas of interest to birders and bird conservation within this area (or at least the unprotected forest blocks that support such areas) include: River Road in Kent, Canaan Mountain, Robbins Swamp, Audubon Sharon, Audubon Miles, Housatonic State Forest, Mohawk State Forest, and many, many others (not to mention the sites in NY, NJ and PA). The large contiguous forest blocks within this region are critical to the continued health of populations many species of forest birds and other wildlife in our area.
Please take a moment to express your support for efforts to protect the highlands. I will be sending on behalf of the Audubon State Office, the following draft letter but additional letters of support will definitely be helpful, even if it is just sending the form letter to the US Forest Service that is available at: http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/highlands/wdi6bi2vt8ii. The deadline for comments is May 3rd 2002.
For more information on this initiative please see the following links: http://www.outdoors.org/conservation/highlands/index.shtml
Thank you, Patrick
Patrick M. Comins
Director of Bird Conservation Audubon Connecticut
Copy of the letter to be sent by the Audubon Connecticut State Office to comment on the Highlands study.
Mr. Marcus Phelps
U.S. Forest Service
1547 County Route 565
Sussex, NJ 07461
April 23rd, 2002
Dear Mr. Phelps,
I am writing on behalf of the 16,000 members of Audubon Connecticut to comment on the Draft Highlands Regional Study update recently released by your office. While the study clearly outlines the importance of the highlands area of New York and New Jersey, this landform extends from Reading, Pennsylvania to Massachusetts and beyond, and should be addressed comprehensively to assure maximum protection of the critical habitats of the region. We strongly urge the Forest Service to expand the study to specifically include the highlands within Connecticut and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Included within the Connecticut highlands area are some of the largest remaining contiguous forest blocks in the state, vast areas of which are privately owned. These areas are critical to continued healthy populations of forest nesting bird species including, Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Blue Warbler and many others. These species are considered of high conservation priority by Partners in Flight, a coalition of state, federal, non-profit, private and academic groups working to ensure healthy populations of birds in North America. Each of them is also included on Audubon's WatchList. WatchList species are those faced with population decline, limited geographic range, and/or threats such as habitat loss on their breeding and wintering grounds. A centerpiece of conservation at Audubon, the WatchList is an early warning system that focuses attention on at-risk bird species before they become endangered. Saving species pushed to the edge of extinction is difficult, costly and politically charged, and the WatchList shifts the agenda from reactive, last-minute rescue attempts to preventive action. Many species of birds have been showing significant declining population trends over the past 35 years, and thirty-one species of woodland-nesting birds have declining trends of greater than 1% annually according to USFWS Breeding Bird Survey results. Today we stand at a critical juncture for bird conservation. While many species of birds are declining, most species have populations that are large enough so that these trends can be reversed before it is necessary to take drastic measures. If we act now to proactively conserve and maintain healthy populations of birds we can keep common birds common so that they can continue to contribute to our nation's biodiversity and enrich the lives of future generations. The Forest Service can greatly assist these efforts by expanding the focus area of your highlands program to include Connecticut and the Berkshires, which will only strengthen the already strong case for the conservation of this area. The expertise of the Forest Service will enhance land protection and management efforts by providing technical assistance to landowners and managers, as well as agencies and organizations with an interest in conservation of this important area. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.