Forests of the Catskills: An Overview

Maple-dominated forests are predominant in the Catskill region, but that beech and birch-dominated forests become more important at higher elevations. Oak-dominated forests are very important along the eastern side of the Catskills, and conifer-dominated forests are largely restricted to mountaintops and stream bottoms. The largely forested Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York are subject to high rates of atmospheric deposition of pollutants and nutrients due to their high elevation and proximity to sources of urban and industrial pollution in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard.

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The Catskill Mountains occupy a large area in southeastern New York State that includes significant portions of Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. The boundary of the Catskill Park, a preserve occupying 2817 km that is embedded in four of these counties. About 40% of the land within the Catskill Park is part of the New York State Forest Preserve and the rest is privately owned. Forest Preserve lands are protected from logging, road-building, and other kinds of local human disturbance, but most of the Catskill area has been altered by logging, agriculture, and fire since the time of human settlement in the region). Despite these disturbances, some significant tracts of first-growth forest remain.

The climate of the Catskills includes cool summers and cold winters, both of which contribute to the popularity of the area for resorts and tourism. Elevations in the park range from 51 to 1219m, reflecting the rugged character of the Catskills that produces a range of climate conditions across the area. The Slide Mountain weather station (808 m elevation) in the central Catskills reports a mean annual temperature of 4.3 °C, and annual precipitation of 153 cm with about 20% falling as winter snow. Both temperature and precipitation vary substantially with elevation in the Catskills.

Forests in the Catskills are dominated by mixed oaks at lower elevations ( 1 100 m), balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) Miller) or red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.), sometimes mixed with paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), often dominate.. While the forest types described above are typical, other mixtures of deciduous tree species are not uncommon.

Catskills vegetation is dominated by deciduous tree species, although non-forest and conifer species are a significant component of the landscape. Specifically, non-forest types (including open water) collectively occupy 12.7% of the Catskill Park. Deciduous cover types occupy 71.6% and include maple-dominated types (43.5%), beech-dominated types (10.4%), oak-dominated types (9.4%), and other types (3.6%). Evergreen-dominated types occur in 4.3% of the area and include hemlock (3.6%) and spruce-fir dominated types (0.7%). Mixtures of conifers and deciduous species cover 11.5% of the area.

In general, maple species dominate over much of the Catskills Park. Oak species occupy significant areas in the east, and beech types are prevalent in the south-central portion of the park west of Slide Mountain. Evergreen coniferous trees occur in scattered patches throughout the Catskills, particularly along riparian corridors and at high elevations.


A Vegetation Map for the Catskill Park, NY, Derived from Multi-temporal Landsat Imagery and GIS Data

Northeastern Naturalist,  2004 by Driese, Kenneth L,  Reiners, William A,  Lovett, Gary M,  Simkin, Samuel M


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