Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

April 20, 2007

For Release: Immediate
Press Contact:
Eileen Larrabee

State Parks Highlights Unique Ecological Inventory

Comprehensive Report Details Rare Plants and Animals in New York's Park System

(Albany, NY .... April 20, 2007) New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash joined with State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alexander B. Grannis today in highlighting the findings of the first-ever comprehensive inventory of rare plants and animals and significant ecosystems found within the New York State Park System. The report, titled Biodiversity in New York's State Park System, documents the results of a six-year effort during which 183 state parks and historic sites, encompassing more than 290,000 acres of land and water, were surveyed for rare species and ecosystems.

"Earth Day is the perfect time to celebrate the rich array of natural treasures that are found throughout New York's state parks," Ash said. "The Biodiversity report is a comprehensive inventory confirming that our State Parks provide unique habitat for many of the Empire State's most threatened plants, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and other wildlife. This valuable research dramatically enhances our ability to conserve these rare species, educate park visitors about the exceptional variety of our natural environment, and promote responsible stewardship of our public parklands."

"Protecting and preserving our state's vast natural resources is an important responsibility and all New Yorker's should be aware of the rich natural resources our state holds," Grannis said. "The scientific research generated in this report will be a valuable tool, not only for the Department and those involved in the state's ongoing management efforts, but also a powerful tool for future education about some of these rare species."

The report was made possible by the Environmental Protection Fund through the NYS Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI). State Parks partnered with the New York Natural Heritage Program - a collaborative program of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and The Nature Conservancy - to complete the biodiversity inventory project. Through the project, Heritage Program staff documented 91 imperiled animal species and 178 rare plant species on state parklands. In addition, the project mapped 121,000 acres of high quality ecosystems within the parks. Rare species and ecosystems were found at 924 different locations, of which 487 sites were new discoveries (Heritage staff also confirmed the presence of 437 previously identified sites).

DJ Evans, the Director of the New York Natural Heritage Program who oversaw the inventory project, said "Over the course of six years, I had the distinct privilege of exploring more than 100 Parks across the state in search of rare species and ecosystems. Our State Parks have long been celebrated for their natural beauty. We now know that they also are home to some of New York's most imperiled plants and animals."

Henry Tepper, The Nature Conservancy's New York State Director, said "The New York State Park system's incredible diverse landscapes, encompassing the beaches of Long Island, the shorelines of the Hudson River and Lake Ontario, the forests of the Allegany region, and the gorge at Niagara Falls, harbor a unique legacy of plants, animals, and ecosystems. This project provides New York State with vital information needed to steward these resources."

"Congratulations to Commissioner Carol Ash for recognizing that NYS Parks are not just about active recreational opportunities. The large majority of State Park land is undeveloped and biologically important. This study, thanks to funds available pursuant to the EPF, allows the Office to identify critical habitat for species of conservation concern and provides a solid foundation for proper stewardship of birds and other natural resources," said Albert E. Caccese, Acting Executive Director of Audubon New York.

Cliff Siegfried, Director of the New York State Museum, said "The Biodiversity Research Institute was pleased to provide EPF funding for this important project. It was a huge, demanding project and it is enormously satisfying to see it come to fruition and to begin to realize its potential as a management tool for the protection and care of the significant natural resources in our parks."

Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks and Trails New York, said "Our parks harbor an amazing array of natural resources. This inventory serves as a blueprint for responsible stewardship of these natural resources so that they can be protected and so that future generations can enjoy and learn about the diversity of the natural world."

"The recommendations of the Natural Heritage Program's biodiversity report helpfully outline the next steps to be taken by parks and their Friends groups to protect the rare birds, wildlife and plants of our magnificent properties," said Lucy Waletzky, Chair of the State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "The 10 new natural resource positions recently announced by Commissioner Ash will make it easier to follow up on those recommendations and also help the biodiversity surveys be extended to new parks and deepen the survey data on existing parks."

Examples of key findings highlighted in the biodiversity report include:

- Thacher State Park is the home to one of only a handful of caves in New York where federally-endangered Indiana bats hibernate each winter.
- Two extremely rare plants - basil mountain-mint and Torrey's mountain-mint - which live in only a handful of locations worldwide were found in High Tor and Hook Mountain State Parks north of Manhattan.
- New York's largest population of cobblestone tiger beetles was discovered in Letchworth State Park in the Genesee Region. This brightly-colored beetle is thought to survive in as few as 20 locations globally.
- Allegany State Park in western New York is home to a population of spiny softshell turtles, one of New York's more unusual reptiles.
- Comet Darners, a bright red and green rare dragonfly that can grow to nearly the size of a hummingbird, were documented in Brookhaven State Park on Long Island.
- Ninety percent of the world's American Hart's-tongue fern is found in Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks. Chittenango Falls S.P. is also home to Earth's only population of Chittenango ovate amber snail. Biologists have searched other locations for this species for more than a century, but the Chittenango Falls population is unique.

The full Biodiversity in New York's State Park System report can be downloaded from the State Parks website at, under Publications. Regional highlights including particularly interesting plant and animal findings - covering Long Island and New York City, the Hudson Valley and Capital District, North Country, Central New York, and Western New York are noted below.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 176 state parks and 35 state historic sites. For more information on any of these recreation areas please call (518) 474-0456 or visit the web site at



Niagara Falls State Park, Whirlpool State Park, and Devil's Hole State Park exemplify the Niagara Gorge's unique combination of waterfall misting, wet seepage areas interspersed with dry open rock faces, and calcareous bedrock, producing one of the most diverse assemblages of rare plants within New York State. The various microhabitats within the Niagara Gorge support 13 rare plant populations representing eight different species. Three of these plants are listed as state endangered and are found nowhere else in the state: sky-blue aster, elk sedge, and slender blazing-star. In addition to the rare plants within the Niagara Gorge, the calcareous cliff community and the calcareous talus slope woodland that bisect Niagara Falls, Whirlpool, and Devil's Hole State Parks are of statewide significance. The plants and animals that live in these habitats are typically restricted to them and tend to have small populations which depend on specific characteristics of the rock substrate for survival.

The marsh at Buckhorn Island State Park is one of only two remaining in the Niagara River Corridor and has been a focus of marsh restoration projects for the past several years. It now provides habitat for many rare marshland species, including a rare crayfish (Devil crawfish), a rare plant (southern blueflag), and two rare marsh birds (northern harrier, sedge wren).


Letchworth State Park harbors more than 40 rare plant populations representing 18 different species - a number unmatched by any other state park in New York. Of particular note are New York's only populations of giant pine drops, a state-endangered plant. Also present are some of the state's best populations of the state-threatened woodland agrimony, Willdenow's sedge, green gentian, golden-seal, butterwort, bird's-eye primrose, and yellow mountain-saxifrage. The Genesee River, Letchworth State Park's central feature, contains the largest documented example of a cobble shore ecosystem in New York. These sparsely vegetated rock bars are found along bends and on islands in the large, meandering Genesee River. The cobble shore at Letchworth provides habitat for the cobblestone beetle, a very rare insect that was discovered in 2000 in and near the park. This species is extremely scarce across its range and typically local in distribution. Elsewhere in New York, the cobblestone tiger beetle has only been found on cobble bars in Cattaraugus Creek in the Zoar Valley and at a single site on the Delaware River.

Great Lakes dune systems occur at only nine places along the shores of the Great Lakes in New York, and all are on public lands. The state park system has three of these dune systems at Woodlawn Beach, Southwick Beach and Hamlin Beach State Parks. The dune system at Hamlin Beach State Park is the fourth largest in the state and is one of only three examples that contain areas of mature forest or wooded dunes.


Allegany State Park is one of the four largest intact forested landscapes in the state and the largest forested landscape in western New York. The Park contains the second largest old-growth hemlock-northern hardwood forest system in the state and the largest old growth area in the state outside of the Adirondacks. Allegany State Park is the only area of New York that was not glaciated during the last (Wisconsinan) glacial advance. The more weathered, very productive soils and rounded hills of Allegany Park Region are a unique feature of the unglaciated landscape and the only place these features can be seen in the state.



The American Hart's-tongue fern is a federally threatened plant that grows in woodlands on calcium-enriched talus slopes. In New York, it is restricted to the plunge basins of large post-glacial waterfalls. Almost all the species' total numbers live in the Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks.

Chittenango Falls State Park is also home to the world's only population of the federally threatened Chittenango ovate amber snail. Biologists remain unsure about why only one population of this terrestrial snail has ever been found. There have been surveys for it by biologists since the late 1800s, but the population at Chittenango Falls remains unique. As a result, it is particularly vulnerable to extinction.

Two rare bat species were found at Clark Reservation State Park. The first, a juvenile Indiana bat is listed as both state and federally endangered, and biologists are just beginning to understand the summer movements of this species in the Northeast. Capturing a young bat indicates the possible presence of one of the first known maternity colonies in New York. The second species, a male small-footed bat, indicates the possible presence of a bachelor colony (a roost for male bats during the non-breeding summer months) somewhere in the vicinity.


Watkins Glen State Park a single Leedy's roseroot, a federally threatened wildflower with fewer than 10 populations in just two states: New York and Minnesota. The finding at Watkins Glen represents one of just two populations on public lands (the other is in Minnesota's Whitewater Wildlife Management Area). All other populations are found on private land, which leaves them vulnerable to destruction despite the species' federally listed status.

Newtown Battlefield State Historic Site is home to two rare plants. New York's only known population of Porter's reedgrass grows here, as does one of the state's best populations of the state-threatened nodding wild onion.

Taughannock Falls State Park protects one of the New York's best examples of a shale cliff and talus ecosystem, characterized by nearly vertical exposures of shale bedrock with small ledges and areas of steep, unstable talus. Covering 38 acres, the cliff and talus community supports three state-threatened wildflowers: butterwort, bird's-eye primrose, and yellow mountain-saxifrage.


Several populations of the state-threatened Blanding's turtle are known in state parks within this Park Region, and a new population was documented in Wellesley Island State Park in 2001. At Coles Creek State Park, a SUNY Potsdam biologist is using radio telemetry to gain insights into the movement patterns of this highly mobile turtle.

Whetstone Gulf State Park supports the state's only known population of green spleenwort. his delicate rock fern spans the globe at northern latitudes but is nonetheless rare in the United States and Canada. In North America, its typical distribution ranges from the upper Great Lakes region to the southern tip of Greenland. Populations outside of this range are considered to be disjunct, such as the one at Whetstone Gulf which grows on the steep limestone shale cliffs that line the gorge.

Southwick Beach State Park harbors globally rare Champlain beachgrass. Scientists are still evaluating whether this plant is endemic only to the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario and the shores of Lake Champlain, or whether it is the same species that grows elsewhere around the Great Lakes. Either way it is a rare species that survives only in small numbers on fragile sand dune ecosystems.

Robert Moses State Park, located on an island in the St. Lawrence River, holds some of the state's best populations of three rare plants - water plantain, lesser fringed gentian, and white camas. Populations of all three species are close to the river, especially on the ice scoured terraces near the island's shoreline.



John Boyd Thacher State Park protects more than two miles of the Helderberg Escarpment, one of the most prominent landscape features in Albany County. Stretching nearly seven miles and averaging about 100 feet in height, the calcareous cliff community on the Helderberg Escarpment is the second largest of 21 calcareous cliff communities documented in New York. Plant diversity within Thacher State Park is outstanding due to the assortment of habitat types and local climatic conditions found in rocky forest and woodland communities, cliff edge environments, and sinkhole and cave features. The state park's cave habitat is utilized by at least two rare animal species, small-footed bat and the federally endangered Indiana bat, for over-wintering.

Schodack Island State Park. The Hudson River is important to the global protection of several rare species, including two plants: the estuary beggar tick and the state-threatened heartleaf plantain. The vast majority of the world's populations of these two plants grow within the tidal portions of the Hudson River. New populations of both species were discovered at Schodack Island State Park along with the world's northern-most population of the state-threatened golden club.


Sterling Forest®, Harriman, and Bear Mountain State Parks together boast the largest tract of chestnut oak forest documented within New York State. This high-quality forest type spans nearly 50,000 acres.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, along with the neighboring Sam's Point Preserve, harbors New York's only dwarf pine ridges ecosystem, a globally-rare natural community. The Palmaghatt Kill ravine in Minnewaska contains 200 acres of old-growth forest. Tree core data from this forest put the oldest overstory trees at 300-500 years old.

Hook Mountain State Park and High Tor State Park. Through the inventory, the globally rare, state-endangered basil mountain-mint was rediscovered in New York. This plant was last observed in the state nearly 100 years ago and was thought to be extirpated. It was rediscovered at Hook Mountain State Park during field surveys in 2000, then a second population was found at High Tor State Park. Further survey work at High Tor also led to the discovery of Torrey's mountain mint, another globally rare, state-endangered wildflower.

Palisades State Park. NY Natural Heritage zoologists collaborating with local experts found a population of the Allegheny woodrat in the New York portion of Palisades State Park, a notable find because this elusive animal had last been seen in New York in 1987. These woodrats represent the northern extent of a population that is centered in New Jersey.


Hudson Highlands State Park. There are only five existing populations of fence lizard in New York, making this the rarest of New York's three lizard species. All of these populations are within state parks and three are in Hudson Highlands State Park. Fence lizards are at the northern extent of their range in New York and are listed as state threatened.

Hudson Highlands State Park and Clarence Fahnestock State Park together comprise more than 21,000 acres of open space within an hour drive of New York City, and contain numerous significant natural communities, imperiled animals, and rare plants. Constitution Marsh in Hudson Highlands State Park, for example, supports five rare plant populations and is a breeding site for the least bittern.

Taconic State Park harbors one of the largest and healthiest forest blocks in southern New England and eastern New York, hosting wide-ranging wildlife such as black bears and bobcats, as well as vibrant populations of birds that only nest in interior forests.



Four state parks within the Long Island Park Region - Hither Hills, Jones Beach, Napeague, and Connetquot River - rank in the top 10 for all state parks with the greatest numbers of rare species. Connetquot River State Park has more rare plant species (19 species) than any other state park.

The world's largest population of Roland's sea-blite, a globally rare plant was discovered in Hither Hills State Park, and in 2003 another population was found in Napeague State Park.

Jones Beach, Gilgo Beach, and Robert Moses State Parks collectively protect one of the best global populations of the federally threatened and globally rare seabeach amaranth. This species disappeared from New York in 1950, but was rediscovered in 1990 at several sites, including Robert Moses State Park.

New York's best examples of several natural community types are found in Long Island state parks:

- Caumsett State Park harbors more than 500 acres of oak-tulip tree forest.
- Orient Beach State Park has 69 acres of maritime red cedar forest.
- Montauk Downs State Park includes one of New York's only examples of the globally rare maritime grassland.
- Cold Spring Harbor and Hither Hills State Parks boast New York's only known coastal oak-laurel forests.


Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, the southern-most state park in New York State, has a distinctive flora. New York's only native population of the state-endangered shortleaf pine, a southern pine species, grows here, as does the state-endangered dwarf hawthorn, another predominately southern plant. Dwarf hawthorn was believed to be absent from New York for nearly 90 years before its rediscovery in Clay Pit Ponds State Park by a local botanist during the course of this biodiversity inventory. Data collected by NY Natural Heritage ecologists during this project identified a new natural community type - post oak-blackjack oak barrens - which is known in New York only on Staten Island.