Northern Shawangunk Ridge Fire Management Plan

Title: Northern Shawangunk Ridge Fire Management Plan

Organization: Interagency

Contact: Gabe Chapin, Forest Restoration Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy- NY

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The Shawangunk Mountains—often referred to as the Shawangunk Ridge or simply the Gunks— are a long narrow mountain chain extending roughly from the confluence of the Rondout Creek and Wallkill River in Ulster County, NY to the southwest into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Northern Shawangunks landscape covers approximately 90,000 acres along a 20-mile stretch between the town of Rosendale and Route 52 in the towns of Wawarsing and Shawangunk. This landscape also includes portions of the towns of New Paltz, Gardiner, Rochester and Marbletown, and the village of Ellenville.

Land ownership and management in the Northern Shawangunks is varied. The Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation (NYS OPRHP), Mohonk Preserve and the Open Space Conservancy1 (OSC) own approximately 30,000 acres of land managed as Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sam’s Point Preserve, Mohonk Preserve and Witch’s Hole State Forest. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is responsible for the management of Sam’s Point Preserve under agreement with NYS OPRHP/PIPC and OSC.

Much of the vegetation that exists on the Shawangunk Ridge today is highly flammable and prone to periodic wildfire. Many of the natural communities of plants and animals that now inhabit the ridge ecosystem evolved with fire over thousands of years, and depend on a regular cycle of fire in order to thrive. Over the past 50-100 years, fire has been effectively excluded from most portions of the ridge as fire suppression techniques have improved. This has led to the degradation of significant natural communities, as well as the accumulation of flammable forest debris. This abundant available fuel has now increased the potential for more intense wildfires to occur.

Members of the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership (SRBP)—a group of 12 public agencies and not-for-profit organizations—have long recognized the need to reintroduce fire as a key ecological management tool to support the conservation of the Shawangunk ecosystem. The SRBP’s guiding management document, Protection and Management Guidelines for the Shawangunk Mountains of New York, highlights fire exclusion as a key threat to the ecological integrity of the Shawangunks.

            The Northern Shawangunk Ridge Fire Management Plan has been developed to address the need for a more proactive approach to fire management to protect the ecological integrity and reduce hazardous fuel loads in the highly volatile Shawangunk environment. Accordingly, the purpose of the plan is to a) provide a planning framework for implementing fire management actions in accordance with the policies of the various partner organizations; b) ensure that all fire management activities are science-based and that potential negative impacts to the environment have been assessed and mitigated for as necessary; and c) ensure that fire management is a collaborative effort focused on improving public safety and ecosystem health.