10.17.19

SCHUMER: IN THE WAKE OF 18-DAY FOREST FIRE THAT RAVAGED PICTURESQUE DUTCHESS & PUTNAM COUNTY MOUNTAINS AND NATURAL LAND, FEDS SHOULD STEP IN & LEND A HAND; SENATOR URGES U.S. FOREST SERVICE TO COLLABORATE WITH LOCAL OFFICIALS TO IDENTIFY & SECURE FEDERAL $$$ TO RESTORE HUDSON VALLEY NATURAL BEAUTY

From Sept 20th - Oct 8th, A Forest Fire Rampaged Between Mount Beacon & Breakneck Ridge, Destroying Popular Hiking Trails On Sugarloaf Mountain & 67 Acres Of  Hudson Highlands State Park & Private Land 

To Maintain Sugarloaf’s Status As An Autumn Tourist Attraction, Schumer Urged U.S. Forest Service To Work With NYS And Counties To Identify Federal Funding Through Its Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program

Schumer To Forest Service: Federal Support Needed To Help Sugarloaf—And Hudson Valley Tourist Economy—Recover From Fire

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service to spring into action and work with both New York State (NYS) and Dutchess and Putnam County communities to identify federal funding opportunities through the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program, and USDA disaster assistance programs such as the Emergency Forest Restoration Program or the Emergency Watershed Program to restore Sugarloaf Mountain in the aftermath of a forest fire that rampaged through it. The forest fire raged across 67 acres of land between Mount Beacon and Breakneck Ridge for 18 days between September 20th and October 8th, destroying popular trails for hikers and tourists. Schumer explained that with Breakneck Ridge attracting 100,000 visitors per year because of its breathtaking and renowned trails and accessibility to residents of the New York City area, the need to ensure a full and complete restoration effort is paramount. Therefore, Schumer called on the United States Forest Service to provide any support possible through the its Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program, to ensure that this critical land is restored and that Sugarloaf Mountain remains a prominent attraction for visitors.

 “For 18 days, a fire ravaged Sugarloaf Mountain, leaving a trail of destruction behind it on both breathtaking trails and the Hudson Valley’s outdoor-tourism economy. New York’s boots on the ground admirably controlled the fire and began the recovery process, but still need a federal boost to fully finish up the restoration efforts,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m urging the United States Forest Service to collaborate with New York State and local Dutchess and Putnam County communities to identify potential sources of federal funding, for example, the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program, to help this natural gem, which brings 100,000 people to the Hudson Valley each and every year, recover. I’ll always fight tooth and nail to ensure that New Yorkers and tourists alike can continue to enjoy the state’s spectacular public lands and natural areas for generations to come.”

Schumer explained that when the fire was initially reported, first responders from the NYS Parks Taconic Region, NYS Parks Palisades Region, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and NYS Parks Police diligently fought the blaze. However, the fire continued its rampage throughout the area, going on to destroy over 65 acres of ground vegetation, with about two-thirds of which falling in the NYS-owned Hudson Highlands State Park, and the remaining on private land. Schumer explained that while the fire was contained as of September 26th, the fire was not confirmed as being put out on Sugarloaf Mountain until October 8th. Near the summit of the mountain, the fire created steep, eroded and dangerous conditions, which led to a reroute being established so that hikers could avoid them. Furthermore, Schumer highlighted, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) volunteers are still scouting the fire damage to assess what additional restoration work must be completed.

The United States Forest Service’s Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program provides federal funding, in the form of grants, to help state governments maintain and act as stewards over forests. According to the Forest Service, grants are awarded for projects related to a number of different topics, including reforestation. Schumer pointed to the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Program as a program to help Dutchess and Putnam County communities recover from the 18-day fire and restore destroyed land in the Hudson Highlands State Park. In addition, Senator Schumer is asking USDA work to identify assistance through disaster programs such as the Emergency Forest Restoration Program and Emergency Watershed Program.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the Forest Service appears below.

Dear Chief Christiansen and Chief Lohr,

I write to urge the United States Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to work with both New York State (NYS) and the Dutchess and Putnam county communities to identify funding for restoration efforts through the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Programs and USDA disaster assistance programs in the aftermath of a forest fire on Sugarloaf Mountain that burned for 18 days destroying land spanning over 65 acres.

On Friday September 20th I was alarmed to learn that the heavy flames and smoke illuminated the sky over the ridgeline of the Hudson Highlands State Park between Mount Beacon and Breakneck Ridge. In the Hudson Valley, and especially in the fall season, Breakneck Ridge attracts over 100,000 people each year because of its renowned hiking trails and easy access from the greater New York City area. Locals and travelers alike flock to the scenic trail head, which is accessible on the Metro North Hudson line’s Saturday, Sunday, and Holiday Breakneck Ridge stop, so that hikers can venture up the mountains for a great day outdoors at the scenic spot in the Hudson Valley.

When the fire was first reported, first responders from the NYS Parks Taconic Region, NYS Parks Palisades Region, Department of Environmental Conservation Rangers and NYS Parks Police fought the blaze diligently. However, the fire continued to burn and destroyed over 65 acres of ground vegetation in its path for 18 days, with about two thirds falling within the NYS owned Hudson Highlands State Park and the remaining one third of the damage is on private land. Although the fire was contained as of September 26th, according to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC), the fire on Sugarloaf Mountain continued to burn as of October 4th and was not confirmed to be out until October 8th. Presently, although the Wilkinson Trail, which was closed until October 8th at the intersection with the Notch Trail, as well at the intersection with the Breakneck Bypass Trail, is re-opened, a reroute near the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain remains to avoid steep, eroded, and dangerous conditions. 

All parties must now act immediately to restore this land to NYS, the people of Dutchess and Putnam counties, and the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region. Strides are being made in the right direction, as recent reports by the NYNJTC indicate that Trail Conference volunteers are scouting the fire damage to assess what trail work needs to be done. However, NYS, private landowners, hikers, and wildlife have all been impacted by the destruction of the vegetation in the area and need resources to restore this important land as soon as possible. That is why I am asking the United State Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to work with the state and local community through the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Programs to identify funding that can be used to restore the forested lands and to identify eligible disaster assistance programs.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter, federal assistance is vital for ensuring that communities are able to repair damage, clean up debris, and undertake crucial restoration work.  

Sincerely,

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