The End of a Grassland

Last week I read an article  in the Southern Albany County Ledger  about the proposed development in New Baltimore, Greene County.  This development is massive and actually requires the movement of the New York State Thruway exit in Coxsackie nearly 1/4 mile away.  To the residents of the Town this development would mean an easement on property taxes which are very high, especially when compare to residents in nearby Albany County where there is some industry.  It would also mean more work and opportunities for residents of the County and offer more chances to lure companies and their jobs associated with ‘Tech Valley’. 

For those who are not familiar, Greene County is per capita one of the poorest counties in the State of New York.  It has little industry and nearly half of the county is within the Catskill Park, which further limits what people can do.  For decades the county has tried to survive on Tourism and those communities closer to the Hudson on long distance commuters to Albany.  It is hoped that this development changes things and I hope it does.  Nothing would be worse than to have an empty mall.

But, as always there will be casualties.  This development will be built on some of the last remaining land of the Coxsackie-Athens flats, which years ago was one of the priemere birding locations in the State.  Piece by piece the grasslands have given way to suburban sprawl and industry, to the point where it is a shadow of its former self.  This new development will destroy another large chunk of land and though the developers have at least publically tried to minimize the impact on the grasslands, it is unavoidable.

This to me is sad.  Within the last few years two giant warehouses were built a few miles south on 9W in Coxsackie.  Those companies worked with local government and other intersted parties and some land was preserved adjacent to the warehouses.  I have spent many hours in those fields, especially in Winter.  The highlight last year was a Snowy Owl which spent about a month on the roof of one of the warehouses.  The location used to be good for species such as Short-Eared Owl, Northern Shrike, Rough-Legged Hawk and Northern Harrier.  Harriers and Rough-Legged Hawks are still quite common in the fields, but at times they are crowded.  This past winter it was not unusual to see 10 or more Rough-Legged Hawks and 5 or More Harriers (plus quite a few Red-tailed Hawks) in ONE field.  Luckily there was an absurd abundance of rodents, but this winter may not be quite so kind.  Short-Eared Owl is now fairly rare in winter and summer residents have been reduced to more common birds.  But it should not be forgotten that a lot of work has now gone into the fields to make them more nature friendly and the results are paying off.  Even in these tight conditions, we continue to find good birds.  Another example on how important our green spaces are.

But soon that area will become even more restricted and fields where I have watched Northern Harriers cruise and glide over the fields will be replaced by a parking lot and people from New York City.  I’m not opposed to progress and I understand the stress that nearly all rural communities face in trying to find funding.  This once former birding hotspot has lost its fight against progress.  Maybe I will be wrong and they will do as good a job as the warehouses did further south.  Perhaps I will be able to go to this mall and still find many of the species co-existing.  However, I don’t have a lot of hope in this scenario.  I expect I will find a barren land, filled with Crows, Gulls, House Sparrows and Starlings.  The Gray Ghosts which used to glide over the fields, will now only be ghosts in my memory.

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