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CATSKILLS IN NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: NATURAL HERITAGE THREATENED BY DEVELOPMENT

Group Puts New York Park on 'BioGem' Watch List as Hotels, Casinos Loom

NEW YORK (March 8, 2005) -- New York's 120-year-old Catskill Forest Preserve was designated today as one of the country's most unique and endangered natural landscapes. The preserve was placed on the BioGems Watch List by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), a leading national conservation group based in New York.

The BioGems Initiative is NRDC's international campaign to protect imperiled wilderness throughout the Western Hemisphere. It mobilizes citizen action to defend extraordinary areas ranging from the Catskills to the Arctic to the southernmost reaches of South America.

For more information about NRDC's 2005 BioGems, click here.

"The Catskill Forest Preserve is an invaluable treasure owned by the people of New York. The preserve and the Catskill Park that surround it rank among the top natural places in our hemisphere, but these resources face serious trouble if we do not stop the massive attack on their borders by reckless development projects," said Eric A. Goldstein, an attorney with NRDC. "This is our heritage; we must protect it."

Leading threats to the Empire State's premiere wilderness come from sprawling new development plans that would bring giant hotel and golf course projects to Catskill mountain ridges, and five Las Vegas-style gaming casinos to the edge of Catskill Park, according to NRDC.


100 Years of Wilderness

Less than two hours from America's largest city, the Catskill Park is a 101-year old ecological gem, and one of the first major state parks created in the United States. The 705,000-acre park includes both public and private lands, stretching over four counties. Within the park is the Catskill Forest Preserve -- nearly 300,000 acres of wilderness lands that are protected as "forever wild" in the New York State Constitution.

Catskill Park is considered to be the birthplace of fly-fishing. Theodore Gordon, the dean of American fly-fishermen, first recorded his experiences on Catskill waters in the early 1900s, and today the park continues to offer some of the best fishing opportunities in the United States. Rainbow, brook and brown trout in the Esopus Creek, the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, Schoharie Creek, the Neversink River, Catskill Creek, Batavia Kill, and the Delaware River draw anglers from around the world.

Besides the fishing, popular outdoor recreation in Catskill Park and Forest Preserve includes hunting, birding, hiking, biking and camping. The Catskills also has a rich cultural history. It was the birthplace of the Hudson River School of painting and home to many famous naturalists, including author John Burroughs. The Catskill Park ecosystem includes two major watersheds that provide 90 percent of the drinking water for nine million New York State residents.

The park is also home to an unusual diversity of wildlife. Bobcats, minks, coyotes and bears are some of the secretive Catskills residents. Catskill Park, whose peaks above 3,500 feet are listed as a state Bird Conservation Area, is an ornithologists dream. The Bicknell's thrush, discovered in the Catskills in 1881, was bestowed full species status in 1995 by the American Ornithologists' Union. The bird is listed in New York Sate as a "Species of Special Concern."


Gaming, Golf, Gobble Catskills Landscape

Despite close proximity to millions of people, the Catskills Park and the rural communities that surround it have remained tranquil and unspoiled for a century. The delicate balance is now endangered as a result of several massive development proposals that would be constructed on privately held lands, just outside the Forest Preserve or Catskill Park boundaries.

A primary threat is the proposed Belleayre Resort development, by far the largest development project in the history of the park. The scheme includes two golf courses, two large hotels, hundreds of time-share units, two sewage plants -- 99 new buildings on nearly 600 acres of mountainside and mountain ridge lands. The project, which would destroy at least 86,000 acres, and send stormwater draining into world-class trout streams that flow into New York City's two largest upstate reservoirs.

Meanwhile, politicians in Albany want to impose five giant new gaming casinos near the park border, which, along with the traffic congestion and related development they would bring, would change the environment and the quality of life in the Catskills forever. The five casinos would generate backups nearly 7 miles long and nearly double traffic volume on key stretches of Route 17 (the region's main artery) according to a recent analysis by one of New York's leading traffic engineering firms.

Roadway expansion, sewage and stormwater runoff, and other construction would add pollutants to sensitive waterways, decrease contiguous habitat land, generate secondary sprawl-type development throughout the region and erode the Catskills' wilderness experience.

"The Catskills Forest Preserve provides a unique natural experience for many millions of visitors as well as thousands of residents who live within the Park's boundaries. But unless our elected officials agree upon a vision for the Catskills that preserves this special heritage for future generations, this area can and will be transformed into a sprawling pattern of suburban development, and the richness and majesty of the region's natural environment will be lost forever," Goldstein said.


History of Victory

NRDC has been fighting hard to protect the Catskills and Delaware watersheds, as well as the Hudson River, for 35 years. And the BioGems Initiative has sparked conservation victories on two continents.

"The BioGems Initiative demonstrates the power of the internet as a tool for conservation," said Jacob Scherr, NRDC's BioGems campaign coordinator. "We have used the Web to enable citizens to have a voice in the protection of some of the most precious wild places in our hemisphere."

Over the last four years, NRDC's 500,000 online BioGem activists have sent more than 5 million messages to government officials and corporations, protesting plans to sacrifice some of the Western Hemisphere's last wild and unspoiled places.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
BioGems: Saving Endangered Wild Spaces
BioGems Media Center

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