Hudson River Valley - Conservation Summary

With the help of many partner organizations, the NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program has developed and progressively updated ambitious goals for the Hudson estuary through a series of multi-year action agendas within the context of the program’s mission to:
• Ensure clean water
• Protect and restore fish, wildlife and their habitats
• Provide water recreation and river access
• Adapt to climate change
• Conserve world-famous scenery

Geographic Setting

The Hudson River estuary extends from the Troy dam south to the Verrazano Narrows and the surrounding watershed and is also known as the Hudson River Valley. It includes the 153-mile-long, tidal, main stem of the Hudson River, as well as upper New York harbor, the Hudson’s tributaries and the upland areas of the Hudson Valley, encompassing 5,200 square miles of the river’s overall 13,400-square-mile watershed.

The Hudson River estuary has long been recognized as a valuable state and local resource, as well as an integral part of the North Atlantic coastal environment. The estuary serves as a spawning and nursery ground for important fish and shellfish species, such as striped bass, American shad, Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon and blue crab. More than 200 species of fish are found in the Hudson and its tributaries. The estuary contains the only significant acreage of tidal freshwater wetlands within the state. These wetlands, along with the river's brackish tidal wetlands and stands of submerged aquatic vegetation, provide essential habitat that supports the Hudson's rich and biologically diverse web of life. The Hudson Valley is particularly important globally for its diverse assemblage of turtles. In addition, 20 pairs of bald eagles are nesting and raising their young along the shores of the river. The estuary also serves as an important resting and feeding area for other migratory birds such as osprey and a variety of songbirds and waterfowl.

The Hudson estuary serves one of the most densely populated areas in the country. Its north end is flanked by the cities of Albany and Troy. Numerous smaller communities are located along both banks of the river to the southern Rockland-Westchester lines. From there south, the greater New York Metropolitan area, with its estimated population of 8 million, dominates the landscape. Nearly one-half of the population of New York State lives within the 15 counties bordering the estuary, the largest proportion being located in the New York City area. Part of New Jersey's major metropolitan area, likewise, borders the estuary.
Human use of the estuary dates back 8,000-10,000 years before European settlement. Today, the estuary is used for commercial navigation, recreation (including boating, fishing, swimming and wildlife observation), commercial fishing, municipal drinking water supplies and as a source of inspiration. Several major power generating facilities, manufacturing plants, petroleum terminals, cement and aggregate plants, resource recovery facilities and various mining operations are located along the banks of the estuary.

Looking Ahead

More cleanups are necessary to deal with existing contamination but will not completely eliminate the problem. Having a cleaner river in the future requires prevention—keeping toxic chemicals out of the estuary. Strategies for doing this include altering manufacturing processes, redesigning products, improving industrial maintenance and housekeeping and reusing and recycling potential pollutants. Unfortunately, researchers are finding worrisome new contaminants in the river, among them antibiotics and hormones from birth control pills. Our sewage treatment infrastructure also needs attention. Plants built in the 1970s are nearing the end of their design life, while population growth stresses their capacity. Statewide, over the next 20 years, an investment of $36 billion will be needed to maintain water quality.

Some of the most important decisions about conserving river habitats concern the impacts of climate change. As water levels in the Hudson go up with rising sea levels, plants of shallow water habitats may wind up in deeper water unfavorable to their growth. The plant communities could survive by moving landward into shallower water or newly flooded land if space is set aside to accommodate that migration. Such buffers might also help to protect human communities from flooding. However, in many cases that option is limited by the presence of buildings and other structures, steep natural riverbanks, and shores lined with pilings or riprap.
With the general improvement in the Hudson’s health in recent decades, riverfront lands have become desirable sites for development and for facilities that promote river access. Along with assessing the traffic, density and other impacts of such projects, officials should look at their effect on habitats in the adjacent river. These might include stormwater runoff from development, shade cast by docks and piers or disturbance to plant beds caused by boat propellers. As people are attracted to a cleaner river, it is important to develop in ways that conserve river resources.

The numbers of fish in the Hudson fluctuate naturally and in response to human activity. Loss of habitat, overfishing and water intakes at power plants have taken a toll. Improvements in water quality have had a positive impact, as have conservation initiatives. Thanks to a fishing moratorium, Atlantic sturgeon numbers–which plunged in the 1990s due to overfishing—now seem to be stabilizing. Managing the Hudson fishery is complicated because many of its signature fishes are migratory. American shad, striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon spend most of their lives at sea, moving along the Atlantic coast. Protecting them requires cooperation among many states. Coordinated management of striped bass fisheries led to recovery of striped bass populations along the coast and an increase in the Hudson’s spawning stock in the early 1990s. Striped bass numbers remain high today. However, American shad populations—fairly robust in the 1980s—have declined to historically low levels. Development of a shad recovery plan is a priority for New York fisheries managers.

How you can help the Hudson

• Participate in a clean-up day. Active watershed associations often need volunteers to help remove the debris that accumulates in rivers and along their banks.
• Don’t plant invasive or potentially invasive species. Some may still be available in nurseries—Japanese barberry, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle to name a few. Burning bush may also be invasive.
• Talk to your local officials about your concern for clean water and open space. A few persistent citizens can motivate local officials to do a betterjob of protecting natural resources.
• Come down to the Hudson and enjoy it firsthand. Celebrate progress in cleaning it up! Be inspired to do what’s needed to sustain that progress. For more tips, visit DEC’s Make a Difference webpage.

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