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State’s saving bunnies? …Good luck with that


ANCRAM—How can a rabbit be an endangered species? Don’t they know what they are famous for?

Believe it or not, rabbits, specifically the New England cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis, are currently on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s “special concern” list and are considered “a species of greatest conservation need in New York and a candidate species for the federal listing as threatened or endangered.”

But fear not, these rascally rabbits apparently like living in the Towns of Ancram and neighboring Taghkanic, so the DEC is thinking about buying up a whole bunch of land, up to 1,500 acres in the two towns, to protect them.

At the February 19 Ancram Town Board meeting, Supervisor Art Bassin mentioned that he received a letter from the DEC informing him that the “People of the State of New York” through the DEC “are considering acquiring certain lands” in Ancram “for the establishment of a new Wildlife Management Area.”

The letter, from DEC Natural Resources Supervisor Peter Innes said, the “DEC is interested in protecting and enhancing important habitat for [a] variety of wildlife species, especially the New England cottontail rabbit.”

The letter goes on to say that wildlife management areas “provide for a variety of wildlife dependent public recreation, including hunting, hiking, trapping, bird watching and other wildlife observation opportunities.”

The DEC “may eventually acquire up to 1,500 acres split between” Ancram and Taghkanic “from willing sellers only.”

Wildlife management areas do not pay property taxes, the letter notes. Funding for the project would come from federal wildlife restoration funds.

The property acquisition is “in the planning or theoretical stage, no final decision has been made on whether to proceed with landowner negotiations. The DEC welcomes comment and input from the Town on this proposal,” the letter said.

The area of interest is in the northwest corner of Ancram off Doodletown Road. Mr. Bassin said he had spoken to a property owner there and was told, “If the price is right, he’d be willing to play.”

Mr. Bassin passed the DEC letter along to town Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) Chair Jamie Purinton. The CAC has since written Mr. Innes a letter saying it is “pleased to hear that DEC is considering acquiring lands in the Town of Ancram for the establishment of a new Wildlife Management Area” and would “support your efforts in any way or provide any information about your area of focus in the northwest corner of Ancram.”

The CAC also made Mr. Innes aware of its recently completed Natural Resources Conservation Plan (NRCP) that includes a detailed description of the town’s Western Hills and Forests Conservation Area and an Ecologically Significant Habitats map for the northwest area of Ancram. This conservation area “includes two of the Important Areas for rare animals. It also includes the predominantly forested area in northwestern Ancram that is part of a much larger forest (greater than 6,000 acres) extending north and west into the towns of Copake, Gallatin, and Taghkanic,” according to the NRCP.

Contacted for further information, DEC Region 4 Public Information Officer Rick Georgeson emailed in response, “We are still very early in the process for this potential land acquisition and no decisions have been made yet. Due to the sensitive nature of real estate contract transactions, we don’t provide any details of the transactions until after an agreement has been reached will all the parties involved.”

In other business at the February meeting, the board approved a proposal from Town Assessor Ken Leggett to do an “in house revaluation.” While other towns are struggling to get their equalization rate up to 100%, Ancram’s has been climbing. Despite Mr. Leggett’s best efforts, it currently stands at 111%. The town’s last full-scale revaluation was done about seven years ago by an outside firm and involved the physical inspection of all properties at a cost of $100,000 to the town.

In recent years a problem has arisen in the sales data used by the state to determine the rate. Low end properties have been selling for less than their assessed value and high end properties have been selling for higher than their assessed value. Market values used by the state for equalization rate calculations are typically about a year old.

To remedy the situation, Mr. Leggett has been working with a valuation specialist at the county Real Property Tax Office and proposed that the town board engage the services of the county “to help us do a reval.” To start, Assessor Leggett will send out data mailers to all property owners to do an inventory to upgrade assessments. The cost to the town for this abbreviated reval will be $4,424. Property owners will be asked to review the accuracy of information on file for their properties and make corrections or updates if necessary. The questionnaires will be mailed out in late March and Assessor Leggett stressed how important it is for people to return the mailers in order for the process to work.

The Town Board’s next meeting is March 19, with a public hearing on the proposed unsafe building law at 6:30 p.m.; a public hearing on the proposed five-year renewal of the franchise agreement between Charter Communications Entertainment I, LLC at 6:50 p.m. with the regular meeting to start at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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