Threats to the watershed

Forest loss

Starting in the 1600s, European colonizers cleared forests for fuel, building, manufacturing, and farming. By 1900, Columbia County lost 80% of its forests. The forest has mostly regrown since. However, it appears New York’s forest cover peaked in the early 2000s, and now it is slowly declining; from 2001-2019, Columbia County had a net loss of about 300 acres of forest.

Forest fragmentation

Forests in Columbia County are becoming more fragmented (broken up by development) over time. From 1990 to 2010, the areas where human development meets undeveloped vegetation in the county increased by more than 20%, indicating that new building is happening in natural areas. Increased development has the potential to change how forests function.

Pests, pathogens, and weeds

Insects like emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid and pathogens like beech bark disease, represent a significant threat to forests. So are non-native plants, which  are tolerant of a wide range of conditions and thrive where soil has been disturbed. With few natural predators, they can grow unchecked, crowding out native plants that provide food and cover to native wildlife. 

Overbrowsing by deer

New York State’s forests are not growing well enough to become healthy, diverse woodlands in the future. In the Hudson Valley, that is because there are too many white-tailed deer that eat most of the forest understory, including tree seedlings, which are essential to the future forest. The New York Forest Owners Association has concluded that deer browsing is the number one problem threatening the future of woodlands in New York.

A changing climate

Climate change will affect all natural and human ecosystems and will exacerbate other threats. Forests have different abilities to adapt to the changes based on forest type and condition. The most common forest types in the Taghkanic Headwaters are expected to have low to moderate vulnerability to these changes overall, with drier oak forests experiencing fewer impacts from climate change than northern hardwood forests. 

Limited legal protections exist

Streamside areas and wetlands are vulnerable to filling, clearing, and grading, as well as influences from activities nearby. A patchwork of local, state, and federal rules applies, which may provide limited protection to these sensitive areas.