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Large tract of eastern forest set for preservation

Jan 05, 2011 8:41 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Map of Rensselaer Plateau, from Rensselaer Preserve Alliance website."][/caption]A geologically unique section of the East of Hudson part of our listening area, in eastern Rensselaer County, is now part of a federal program designed to protect forest lands from conversion to non-forest use. The Times Union reports today that the 196,000-acre Rensselaer Plateau, an upland area about 20 miles long and nine miles wide that stretches over several Rensselaer County towns, has been designated a U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Area. The area includes all or parts of the towns of Berlin, Brunswick, Grafton, Hoosick, Nassau, Petersburgh, Pittstown, Poestenkill, Sand Lake and Stephentown, and touches on Columbia County. An escarpment steeply rising from the surrounding lower elevations marks the plateau's boundary. The program, overseen by state Department of Environmental Conservation, would allow the state to seek federal funds to help pay private landowners on the plateau who are willing to sell either development rights or land as a way to preserve the forest, all on a completely voluntary basis. The region hosts the area's only permanent moose population.

''It is an unfragmented forest, and that is what we primarily want to protect,'' said Jim Bonesteel, president of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance. ''It provides unparalleled wildlife habitats, clean drinking water and offers many recreational uses.''

The plateau is the state's fifth-largest contiguous forest and is similar in many ways to the Adirondacks because of elevations as high as 1,800 feet. The area is home to the Capital Region's closest moose population.

The plateau also includes several unique wetlands and fens. It also includes a collection of mammals not typical of the greater Capital Region, including black bear, fisher, otter, bobcat and moose, according to the DEC.

The area also contains the Tomhannock Reservoir watershed, which provides drinking water to more than 100,000 people.

Just over 100 years ago, the forest was nearly gone.

''In the mid-1800s, the area was 80 percent deforested,'' Bonesteel said.

The plateau was not good for farming, and thus attracted the timber, glass and pottery industries that relied on softwoods and hardwoods.

Much of the timber, though, was used in charcoal-making, a fuel that was made in kilns and then transported to Troy to fire the iron industries along the Hudson River.

Meanwhile, the Rensselaer Land Trust, a not-for-profit dedicated to preserving the county's natural spaces, has taken a donation of land on the plateau in Stephentown for public access.

A land owner who does not live in the area donated 30 acres along the Black Brook, a pristine native trout-spawning stream popular with area fly fishers, to the land trust.

The site is at the intersection of Horse Heaven and Garfield roads and will be named the Robert Ingalls Preserve in memory of RLT's vice president and longtime board of directors member, who died in November.

''This is appropriate because he was very active with our group,'' said Land Trust Executive Director Christine Young. "He is really missed.''