Some are hopping mad over DEC bunny reserve

ANCRAM—Some residents say they are in for a hair-raising experience as a plan to create a hoppy habitat for rabbits moves forward.

The Doodletown Wildlife Management Area (WMA) officially opened to the public last week. This week, neighbors of the now public and protected 690-acre property, which spans parts of Taghkanic, Ancram and Gallatin, met with several state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials at the Ancram Town Hall to ask questions and voice concerns about stray bullets, forest fires, animal traps, garbage, poisons, ATVs and damage to clean water and to a mature, intact contiguous woodland.

The DEC purchased the property from a single anonymous owner earlier this year for $2.8 million. The agency says the new WMA provides opportunities for the development and expansion of young forest/early successional habitat. The Doodletown area has shrub habitat that supports the New England cottontail. The rabbits are found nearby and are a state wildlife species of special concern.

The meeting was arranged by the Ancram Conservation Advisory Council and member Kim Tripp laid out the agenda.

Selinda Brandon, a DEC Young Forest Initiative (YFI) biologist, gave an informational slideshow about the initiative, which the DEC plans to implement at the Doodletown area.

Young forest results from cuts that regenerate the forest, and typically has a dense understory where tree seedlings, saplings, woody vines, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants grow together. Young forests are approximately 0 to 10 years old. Historically, young forests were created by natural disturbances such as: fire or flooding, insect outbreaks, changes to the landscape by beavers, human activities, such as logging and farmland abandonment. Today, active land management is required to maintain young forests throughout New York’s landscape,” according to the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov.

The New England cottontail, along with 60 other kinds of wildlife, need this kind of habitat, such as the golden-winged warbler, American woodcock, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, and whip-poor-will, so the DEC is going to establish it on 10% to 20% of the land in the 690-acre WMA.

Their approach will be to write a wildlife management plan, which involves doing habitat inventories and picking a target species on which to base the plan.

Creating the young forest habitat will necessitate a timber harvest of some type “such as clearcuts to create gaps in the tree canopy, [so] sunlight can reach the forest floor and spur the regeneration of shrubs, woody vines, and tree seedlings needed by a variety of wildlife species,” the website says.

When it came time for audience questions one resident wondered how the New England cottontail had been chosen. Region 4 Wildlife Manager Mike Clark explained that the cottontail lives on adjacent properties and the Doodletown WMA is the only DEC property in Region 4 where the state has an opportunity to be proactive and help these rabbits become prolific again. Apparently the non-native Eastern cottontail, a species introduced from the Midwest, has contributed to the decline of the New England rabbit by being better at living in “smaller, thinner patches of cover” than the native New England cottontails require.

One man in the audience suggested that by creating more rabbit habitat, perhaps the area would be overrun with rabbits as happened in Australia.

If we were going to be overrun with rabbits, then we’d already be overrun,” said Mr. Clark.

Our predators species were raised with rabbits, so we will not have that problem,” said DEC Land Manager Stacy Preusser.

Another resident suggested that the activity of clearcutting timber will be loud and noisy and scare the rabbits away.

DEC Forester Mike Echtner explained that the logging would be done quickly over three months and the rabbits might move away temporarily but would be back.

Residents voiced concerns about hunting and trapping, which would be allowed on the property. A father of two youngsters, ages 5 and 8, said he had already lost sleep over the fact that his property line is 20 feet from the WMA. “What’s protecting my kids from a stray bullet?” he asked.

Mr. Clark said hunters must complete a safety course to get a license and the law prohibits the discharge of a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling and that “no discharge areas” would be clearly marked on kiosk maps. He said trees around houses would be marked with a “blaze” indicating guns should not be fired within that perimeter and residents can also post their property with No Hunting signs.

One man said the hunters rip down the posted signs on his land and then go hunting anyway.

Mr. Clark said the land was purchased with funds from the federal Pittman-Robertson Act, which come from an excise tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition and archery equipment to pay for restoration, land acquisition, wildlife habitat management and wildlife-related recreational programs.

If it weren’t for sportsmen and women the state would not have had the money to buy the property. There is no reason for hunting not to occur there,” said Mr. Clark, noting that DEC relies on hunters to help control the deer population. “The DEC manages four million acres and 99% of it is open for hunting,” he said.

Residents expressed concerns over:

* Increased traffic and speeding on roads where parking/access points would be established especially on Westfall Road, a one lane road

* Where traps would be placed and how they would be monitored

* When would garbage be picked up.

When asked how the DEC would control succession or manage invasive species after the logging was done, Mr. Ecktner mentioned that Roundup or a similar weed killer could be sprayed on a stump.

One woman voiced concern that a water source (reservoir) for the City of Hudson is in Taghkanic and the DEC should protect the water quality.

A man who identified himself as a research scientist blasted the DEC for spreading a known carcinogen on public land.

Larry Kadish, a retired surgeon and Vietnam veteran, said the government lied to people about Agent Orange adding “it hurts my heart” to hear that the DEC will follow manufacturer’s instructions. After all, “they’re selling the product.” he said. “Later you’ll say, oh damn, we shouldn’t have done that.”

When Mr. Clark explained that a trained technician might spray one stump to treat invasive species and the substance would not be broadcast all over, the scientist said, “One molecule is too much.”

The one-and-three-quarter-hour session ended with Mr. Clark supplying residents with the names and numbers of DEC personnel they could call if they saw illegal activity at the WMA or had questions about specific issues.

After the DEC creates a wildlife management plan for the Doodletown Wildlife Management Area, a public hearing will be scheduled.

Mr. Clark said Ancram’s Natural Resources Conservation Plan would be taken into consideration when formulating the management plan.

The phone number for the DEC’s 24/7 environmental conservation officer dispatch center is 1 877-457-5680.

To contact Diane Valden email

 

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