Trouble is brewing in bunny land

COPAKE—The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has adopted a plan for creating a habitat conducive to the New England cottontail and other targeted species at the Doodletown Wildlife Management Area.

But some of human species who live near the 689-acre area that spans the towns of Ancram, Gallatin and Taghkanic don’t like it.

About 50 people attended a public meeting at the Copake Park Building Tuesday evening, August 28 at which DEC officials rolled out their 10-year habitat management plan on the property DEC purchased in 2017 for $2.8 million in funds from the federal Pittman-Robertson Act. The funds 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.

Region 4 Wildlife Manager Michael Clark introduced the line-up of seven DEC officials present and DEC Wildlife Biologist Selinda Brandon gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining the habitat management plan which calls for:

Managing approximately 12.3% of the wildlife management area (WMA) as young forest (12.8% of the total forested area) to promote New England cottontail (“a species of special concern”) and ruffed grouse habitat while monitoring the impact of white-tailed deer within the WMA and managed forest stands

Maintaining approximately 84.2% as mature forest to provide habitat for forest interior species including scarlet tanager, bobcat and red-backed salamander

Maintaining approximately 3.4% as wetlands

Maintaining approximately 0.1% as open water.

The component that does not already exist in the WMA is young forest. The DEC will create 85 acres of young forest by using a seed tree method. The method is defined in the plan as a “forest regeneration or harvest method that entails cutting of all trees except for a small number of widely dispersed trees retained for seed production and to produce a new age class in fully exposed microenvironment.”

The plan will accomplish the creation of young forest to allow for a diversity of habitat and wildlife, by cutting some trees in the now-665-acre (96.5%) mature forest, reducing it to 580 acres or 84.2%. The size of wetland habitat (23.7 acres) and open water habitat (.5 acres) will not change.

A 53-acre invasive species removal project for barberry, multi-flora rose and honeysuckle, much of it involving the hand-pulling of these invaders, is already underway. These weeds are being piled, and in some cases hung from trees to die without re-rooting, according to Ms. Brandon.

Following the presentation, Mr. Clark opened the floor to questions or comments from the audience, which included:

Would machines be used in the cutting of trees or would it be done by people with chainsaws? How would Westfall Road, a dirt, one-lane road, be impacted by logging machinery?

While some percentage of young forest would be gained, what would be lost in terms of wildlife?

How will raptor nests, vernal pools, amphibians, bat habitat and other sensitive areas be protected during the tree removal?

B y far the topic of greatest concern raised by WMA neighbors was related to the application of herbicides to combat the invasive species onslaught that will likely occur in the void created by the removal of mature trees.

Kim Tripp, a member of the Ancram Conservation Advisory Council, noted that the “explosion of invasives” will be impossible to keep up with by hand and wondered how adjacent vernal pools, streams, wetlands and wells will be protected if herbicides are applied.

Wildlife Manager Clark said he did not know if herbicides would be used until invasives show up.

Residents demanded to know how they can find out if the DEC is using harmful chemicals at the site.

Mr. Clark said there is no protocol for notifying the public about small applications.

Ms. Brandon explained that if the DEC decided to use a herbicide, it would then consider what product will provide the best outcome and would abide by label restrictions for the specific use.

According to one woman in the audience, studies regarding the use and effects of herbicide chemicals “have been bought and paid for by Monsanto.”

Suggesting that DEC is “thinking outside the box” when it comes to battling invasives, one DEC official noted that no raspberry has been found on the site. He said, perhaps raspberry could be planted there to occupy the space barberry might invade. Mr. Clark said the DEC might introduce goats to consume invasives.

Ms. Brandon told the audience that they can go on the DEC website and look up all the products registered for use on barberry and other invasives to find out about their contents and application.

As the questions and accusations kept coming about herbicides, Mr. Clark said, “We are in this profession because we care deeply about water, animals and plants. Let’s not get hung-up on this, we may not be using it. We are going to do the right thing for the environment.”

With regard to the logging operation, Mr. Clark said the tree removal will be put out to bid. The company that wins the bid will own the timber and the removal work must be done only in the fall and winter months. The bidder will have to put up a bond to cover damages. The DEC will be onsite to monitor the work weekly, when it rains or if complaints are received. Timber removal will be restricted to existing logging roads and stone walls will be preserved. The earliest the logging could start is November 2019 and while the bidder has three-years to complete the work, officials said there is no way it will take that long. Officials can stop the logging operation at anytime if it is not done properly.

One woman said she owns a lot of property in the area and while it’s nice that the DEC wants to help wildlife, she does not need any more rabbits or deer.

Mr. Clark noted that prior to the DEC’s purchase of the WMA hunting was not allowed there and now it is.

Taghkanic resident Moisha Blechman spoke about the interconnectivity of trees, even of different species, noting that in the current “crisis of climate” “trees are our friends” and remove carbon dioxide from the environment. It should be a major consideration to have as many trees as possible to mitigate the effects of “a planet at risk.”

A DEC official noted that a young forest will sequester more carbon than an old forest. He said when one old tree is cut, a hundred more new trees will grow in its place.

Near the close of the 90-minute session one audience member beseeched officials, “Please don’t poison us.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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