Environmental benefits of protecting the land, according to Scenic Hudson, include the preservation of 200 feet of Hudson River shoreline visible from historic mansions and parks in Dutchess County (Mills Mansion, Wilderstein, Norrie Point State Park) and it preserves a large vernal pool where amphibians breed. (I've hiked at Esopus Meadows in the past couple weeks, and the peepers are going like mad.)
The surrounding area is part of the Esopus Meadows Biologically Important Area (pdf), designated in 1987 by New York State. The state deems this area "irreplaceable."
The following, about the designated Esopus Meadows Biologically Important Area, is copied from the NYS Department of State Division of Coastal Resources. (I would note that the text seems to reflect data from the time of the region's designation (1987) and that -- particularly when it comes to fish populations -- the information may be dated. The populations of fish in the Hudson River, with the exception of striped bass, shortnose sturgeon and a handful of others, have been in serious decline. The importance of this area to Atlantic sturgeon, American shad and other significant species may be much more critical today than it was 20 years ago.)
Ecosystem Rarity: Relatively large area of shallow, freshwater, tidal flats and aquatic beds; rare in New York State, but several larger areas exist.
Species Vulnerability: Shortnose sturgeon (federally endangered) may occur in the area, but habitat use not adequately documented.
Human Use: One of the most popular waterfowl hunting and recrea-tional fishing areas on the Hudson River;
commercial shad fishery of regional significance.
Population Level: A major concentration area for various fish species and waterfowl in the mid-Hudson Valley;
Esopus Meadows is located on the west side of the Hudson River, approximately four miles south of the City of Kingston, in the Town of Esopus, Ulster County (7.5' Quadrangles: Kingston East, N.Y.; and Hyde Park, N.Y.). The fish and wildlife habitat is an approximate 350 acre shoal in the river, most of which is shallow (less than 10 feet deep at mean low water), freshwater, intertidal mudflats, and subtidal aquatic beds (dominated by wild celery and Eurasian water milfoil). Esopus Meadows is located adjacent to a natural deepwater area in the Hudson River, so the area is not subject to disturbance from periodic maintenance dredging. The land area bordering Esopus Meadows is mostly wooded, with some low to medium density residential development where County Route 81 runs close to the shoreline.
FISH AND WILDLIFE VALUES:
Esopus Meadows is a relatively large, undisturbed area of shallow, freshwater, tidal flats. Areas such as this are extremely valuable fish and wildlife habitats in the Hudson River, and are not found in other coastal regions of New York State. Esopus Meadows is a productive littoral area located near the lowest reaches of shallow freshwater in the Hudson River, which is a critical area for many fish species. The shallow, subtidal beds provide spawning, nursery, and feeding habitats for anadromous species such as striped bass, American shad, and white perch, and for a variety of resident freshwater species, such as largemouth bass, carp, brown bullhead, yellow perch, and shiners. Concentrations of spawning anadromous fishes generally occur in the area between mid-March and July, with substantial numbers of young-of-the-year fish remaining well into the fall (October-November). Esopus Meadows may also serve as a feeding area for populations of shortnose sturgeon (E) wintering in the adjacent deepwater channel.
The abundant fisheries resources in the area provide excellent opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing, attracting fishermen from throughout the mid Hudson Valley. Esopus Meadows and the edge of the tidal flats support one of the best recreational striped bass fisheries in the Hudson estuary. Research collections have included capture of up to 10 striped bass over 20 pounds (maximum 45 pounds) in a single seine haul. Concentrations of black bass on and adjacent to Esopus Meadows also support a regionally important recreational fishery. Access to the area is available by boat and from much of the river shoreline north of Esopus Meadows Point.
Significant concentrations of waterfowl also occur in the Esopus Meadows area. Dense growths of submergent vegetation provide valuable feeding areas for many species of ducks, and are especially important during spring (March-April) and fall (mid-September - early December) migrations. Concentrations of diving ducks, such as scaups, redhead, canvasback, common goldeneye, and mergansers, are regularly found out in this area. This open water area is also used by dabbling ducks, including mallard, black duck, and blue-winged teal, especially during calm weather, and much of the area provides refuge from hunting pressure in shoreline areas. However, portions of Esopus Meadows that are accessible comprise one of the most popular waterfowl hunting areas on the lower Hudson River. Depending on weather conditions, some waterfowl may remain in the area throughout winter; mid-winter aerial surveys for the period 1976-1985 indicate average concentrations of approximately 80 birds in the area each year (500 in peak year), including black duck, mallard, canvasback, and mergansers. Although occasional observations have been reported, the extent to which other bird species, such as loons, grebes, gulls, and shorebirds, may use the area has not been well documented. However, the variety of birds observed here, and its accessibility, makes Esopus Meadows popular among many birdwatchers in the mid Hudson Valley.
A habitat impairment test must be met for any activity that is subject to consistency review under federal and State laws, or under applicable local laws contained in an approved local waterfront revitalization program. If the proposed action is subject to consistency review, then the habitat protection policy applies, whether the proposed action is to occur within or outside the designated area.
The specific habitat impairment test that must be met is as follows. In order to protect and preserve a significant habitat, land and water uses or development shall not be undertaken if such actions would:
Habitat destruction is defined as the loss of fish or wildlife use through direct physical alteration, disturbance, or pollution of a designated area or through the indirect effects of these actions on a designated area. Habitat destruction may be indicated by changes in vegetation, substrate, or hydrology, or increases in runoff, erosion, sedimentation, or pollutants. Significant impairment is defined as reduction in vital resources (e.g., food, shelter, living space) or change in environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, substrate, salinity) beyond the tolerance range of an organism. Indicators of a significantly impaired habitat focus on ecological alterations and may include but are not limited to reduced carrying capacity, changes in community structure (food chain relationships, species diversity), reduced productivity and/or increased incidence of disease and mortality. The tolerance range of an organism is not defined as the physiological range of conditions beyond which a species will not survive at all, but as the ecological range of conditions that supports the species population or has the potential to support a restored population, where practical. Either the loss of individuals through an increase in emigration or an increase in death rate indicates that the tolerance range of an organism has been exceeded. An abrupt increase in death rate may occur as an environmental factor falls beyond a tolerance limit (a range has both upper and lower limits). Many environmental factors, however, do not have a sharply defined tolerance limit, but produce increasing emigration or death rates with increasing departure from conditions that are optimal for the species. The range of parameters which should be considered in applying the habitat impairment test include but are not limited to the following:
- destroy the habitat; or,
- significantly impair the viability of a habitat.
- physical parameters such as living space, circulation, flushing rates, tidal amplitude, turbidity, water temperature, depth (including loss of littoral zone), morphology, substrate type, vegetation, structure, erosion and sedimentation rates;
- biological parameters such as community structure, food chain relationships, species diversity, predator/prey relationships, population size, mortality rates, reproductive rates, meristic features, behavioral patterns and migratory patterns; and,
- chemical parameters such as dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, acidity, dissolved solids, nutrients, organics, salinity, and pollutants (heavy metals, toxics and hazardous materials).
Although not comprehensive, examples of generic activities and impacts which could destroy or significantly impair the habitat are listed below to assist in applying the habitat impairment test to a proposed activity. Any activity that would substantially degrade water quality in Esopus Meadows would result in significant impairment of the habitat. All species of fish and wildlife may be adversely affected by water pollution, such as chemical contamination (including food chain effects), oil spills, excessive turbidity or sedimentation, disposal. Continued efforts should be made to improve water quality in the Hudson River, which is primarily dependent upon controlling discharges from combined sewer overflows, industrial point sources, and ships. Oil and other hazardous substance spills are an especially significant threat to this area, because the biological activity of tidal flats is concentrated at the soil surface, much of which may be directly exposed to these pollutants. Disruption of plant communities or benthos in the area, through dredging, filling (including dredge spoil disposal), or bulkheading, could reduce its value as a fish and wildlife habitat. No new navigation channels should be cut through the area; any dredging activities needed to maintain the existing channel should be scheduled in mid to late summer to minimize potential impacts on most aquatic organisms and migratory birds. Thermal discharges, depending on time of year, may have variable effects on use of the area by aquatic species and wintering waterfowl. Installation and operation of water intakes could have a significant impact on juvenile (and adult, in some cases) fish concentrations, through impingement or entrainment.
Appropriate public access to Esopus Meadows should be maintained or enhanced to ensure that adequate opportunities for compatible human uses of the fish and wildlife resources are available.