Albany, NY – August 20, 2018 – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed S.1672 (Little) / A.6759 (Woerner) into law on August 17, 2018, which will require the State of New York to pay property taxes on State-owned land in the towns of Argyle, Fort Edward, and Kingsbury in Washington County, NY. The Washington County Grasslands provide critical habitat for several threatened and endangered bird species.
Washington County contains the last remaining large, contiguous grasslands in eastern New York, and is home to the Fort Edward Grasslands Important Bird Area (IBA). This 13,000 acre grasslands complex, comprised of working farms and grassland areas, provides important habitat for many bird species, including Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Sedge Wrens, as well as threatened and endangered species such as the Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Upland Sandpiper. The Short-eared Owl and Upland Sandpiper occur in less than 5% of New York State and are primarily threatened by habitat loss. This makes the protection of these grasslands critical, as these species continue to decline despite current conservation efforts.
“We thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important legislation into law,” said Ana Paula Tavares, Executive Director of Audubon New York. “Washington County provides critical habitat for several threatened and endangered bird species, and continued support for public land acquisition, such as the open space and Wildlife Management Areas in Washington County, is needed to preserve these remaining contiguous grasslands and further New York State’s conservation efforts.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "This acquisition adds 180 acres to the Washington County Grasslands Wildlife Management Area, allowing the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect and maintain grassland habitat and provide breeding and foraging grounds for grassland birds, many of which are experiencing steep population declines. These lands will also provide additional wildlife viewing, hunting, and other outdoor recreational opportunities, supporting Governor Cuomo’s Adventure NY Initiative to connect more New Yorkers with nature. We are thankful for our strong partnerships with Audubon New York and the Friends of IBA, whose support for this acquisition helped it become a reality."
“This new law assures a win-win-win,” said Senator Betty Little. “A unique and important habitat for many birds, including some endangered, is protected. Doing so has created a tourist destination, attracting visitors who otherwise might not pass through the county. And, the state’s payment of local taxes on these lands makes this sustainable for the municipalities and local taxpayers. Congratulations to Laurie LaFond and the Friends of the IBA, Audubon New York, the Southern Adirondack Audubon Society, and the towns of Fort Edward, Kingsbury, and Argyle and Washington County Board of Supervisors and others. This collaboration of many and persistence of all helped us get this done.”
“The agricultural lands of Washington County have been identified as a critical component of the State’s efforts to conserve open space and protect wildlife habitats,” said Assemblymember Carrie Woerner. “Audubon New York has identified the Washington County Wildlife Management Area and the Washington County Grasslands as part of a larger migration path, as well as the habitat for multiple threatened bird species. While I strongly support environmental conservation, we must also take into account the effect that these purchases have on the tax base of our small rural towns. This legislation would direct the State to pay property taxes on land purchased for the purpose of conservation in the towns of Argyle, Fort Edward, and Kingsbury.”
“Southern Adirondack Audubon Society is delighted that Governor Cuomo has signed this bill into law,” said John Loz, President of the local chapter of the National Audubon Society. “Over many years, our board members and committee chairs have worked tirelessly to educate the public and speak at town board meetings advocating for the conservation of threatened grassland birds in Washington County. Their grassroots advocacy efforts have not gone unnoticed by NYSDEC, and now by the Governor, and we thank him for his support.”
“This legislation ensures the cost of conserving New York’s endangered and threatened grassland birds is not borne solely by economically depressed rural communities,” said Laurie LaFond, Founder and Executive Director of Friends of the Washington County Grasslands IBA (FIBA). “We’d like to thank Governor Cuomo, Senator Little, Assemblywoman Woerner, Washington County, the towns of Fort Edward, Argyle and Kingsbury, Audubon and all of our partners who supported this legislation.”
FIBA is the only nonprofit acquiring and conserving critical habitat for grassland birds in New York State. The land trust worked for three years to get this legislation passed while assisting NYSDEC on their recent purchase of 180 acres in the Washington County Grasslands.
About Audubon & Partners
As a leading state program of the National Audubon Society, Audubon New York leads a network of 50,000 members, 27 local Audubon Chapters, seven sanctuaries and nature centers and our thousands of annual visitors, volunteers, and partners throughout the state. Audubon achieves its mission to protect birds and their habitats by connecting our vast and powerful network along the migratory flyways of the Americas through science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation programs. Learn more at ny.audubon.org and @audubonny
Southern Adirondack Audubon Society (SAAS) is a certified local chapter of the National Audubon Society. Our primary goal is to protect the environment by preserving natural habitats and promoting environmental education. Over 500 strong, our membership is drawn from Warren, Washington, northern Saratoga and southern Hamilton counties in New York State. Learn more at southernadirondackaudubon.org
FIBA has conserved and manages over 60 acres of grassland at their Alfred Z. Solomon Grassland Bird Viewing Area in Fort Edward, with another 64 acres under contract. The nonprofit land trust is dedicated to protecting critical habitat for state-endangered Short-eared owls and other threatened and at-risk grassland birds across New York State. Their annual Winter Raptor Fest event introduces thousands of people to live owls, hawks, and falcons, and educates them about the habitats they depend on for their survival. Learn more at ibafriends.org.