Watershed Protection for Adirondack Wetlands: A Demonstration-Level GIS Characterization of Subcatchments of the Oswegatchie/Black River Watershed


Prepared by:

K.M.Roy, R.P.Curran, J.W.Barge and D.M.Spada
New York State Adirondack Park Agency, Ray Brook, New York

D.J.Bogucki and E.B.Allen
State University of New York at Plattsburgh, New York

Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, Ray Brook, New York

State Wetlands Protection Program
U.S.Environmental Protection Agency
Contract No. X-002777-01-0

February 1996


  • List of figures
  • List of tables
  • List of appendices
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Study area
  • Methods
  • Watershed mapping
  • Watershed labelling
  • Wetlands mapping
  • Small wetlands project
  • Critical wetlands
  • Hydrography
  • Metadata

  • List of Figures OB1 Contents

    List of Tables OB1 Contents

    List of Appendices OB1 Contents

    Acknowledgements OB1 Contents

    This project was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Wetlands Protection State Development Grant # X 002777-01-0 in cooperation with the New York State Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

    The authors acknowledge with great appreciation the work done by the cooperative effort of the following teams. At the Adirondacks Lakes Survey Corporation and the New York State Biological Survey, our thanks to Denise Wagner, Jim Gallagher, Linda Branch, Tom Dudones, Dale Bath, Sue Capone, and Rick Constanza. At the Remote Sensing Laboratory at SUNY Plattsburgh, our thanks to Cheryl McCormick, Mark Carrera, Julie Crouse, Tom Litts, Matt Frank, Aaron Bogucki, and Mark Bogucki. And finally, at the Adirondack Park Agency our gratitude is extended to the entire staff, especially to Sue Parker, Judy Smith, Dan Fitts, Ed Hood, John Banta and Judy Ross.

    Although the research described in this report has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement X-002777-01-1 to the New York State Adirondack Park Agency, it has not been subjected to the Environmental Protection Agency's peer and administrative review and therefore may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.



    The Adirondack Ecological Zone, corresponding to the legislatively defined New York State Adirondack Park, comprises a 2.4 million hectare, predominately forested region of northern New York. Nearly 340,000 wetland hectares, including deepwater marshes, rich fens, kettlehole bogs and over 3,000 associated lakes and ponds are situated in the region. Approximately 43% (1 million hectares) of the Park is owned by the State of New York and is constitutionally protected as "forever-wild" Forest Preserve. Private lands devoted principally to forestry, agriculture, and open-space recreation account for 57% of the Park (1.4 million hectares). The Park contains the largest wilderness acreage east of the Mississippi River as well as numerous settlement areas with attendant use conflicts. Because of the biological diversity in wetlands and the range of land uses, the Park is an ideal area in which to undertake a project seeking to characterize the wetland resource on a detailed watershed basis.

    Because the Park is so large and the wetlands mapping staff is small, this is an enormous effort. As of 1992, only about 50% of the Park (the eastern portion) had official maps showing wetland boundaries. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has some wetland covertype data in various forms for most of the Park, but generally it is based on dated, small scale aerial photography. Moreover, none of the data is digitized and therefore quantitative analysis is not possible.

    To date, no systematic, quality-controlled, watershed map of the Adirondack region has been compiled. Several research projects over the last decade have examined small study sites, but these investigations comprise a minor portion of the Adirondack Park, and little, if any, of these data are available in digital form. Existing small scale regional maps (1:500000) are generally unsuitable for watershed analysis (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1981).

    Additionally, there is no nationally accepted method for this type of watershed/wetland characterization that could be utilized at a practical scale. This project developed such a method that we believe has regional, statewide and national applicability.

    The APA has a very limited quantitative regional knowledge of how unique or how common various types of wetlands are within the Adirondack Park or to what extent wetlands are being impacted, for example, from atmospheric deposition. From a policy standpoint, the Park Agency is also in a poor position to assess the impacts of either the 1991 Clean Air Act Amendments or the 1985 New York State Acid Deposition Control Act standards.

    According to Gorham et al. (1984), certain types of wetlands commonly found in the Park, such as fens and bogs, may be highly susceptible to acidic deposition. However, the authors claim that the research is largely incomplete concerning acidic deposition effects on the mobilization of metals, changes in nutrient availability, and on biogeochemical cycling by fauna and microflora in peatlands. Gorham et al. also strongly suggest that the ecological effects from both natural and anthropogenic acidic inputs to these wetlands need to be assessed in relation to surrounding uplands and to the receiving streams and lakes.

    Wetlands are known also to be highly sensitive to atmospheric nitrogen deposition, especially peatlands which are totally dependent on atmospheric nutrients. In Scandinavia, critical loads for nitrogen have been estimated for various types of natural terrestrial and wetland ecosystems, with loads ranging from 5 to 30 kg nitrogen per hectare per year. Ombrotrophic bogs are considered the most sensitive (Tickle 1992). In New York State, 1983 estimates of nitrogen deposition in the Adirondacks ranged from 13 to 15 kilograms wet nitrate per hectare per year at Whiteface Mountain and at Newcomb, respectively (NYSDEC 1989). The areal extent and type of wetlands sensitive to atmospheric nitrogen is unknown for the Adirondack Park.

    The New York State 1975 Freshwater Wetlands Act gave the APA responsibility for implementing the provisions of the Act within the Adirondack Park, approximately 20% of the area of New York State. The Park Agency perceived a deficiency in its ability to detect and monitor watershed level impacts especially in the western Adirondacks, an area widely impacted by acid precipitation. The Oswegatchie and Black River basins (Figure 1) were chosen as a critical region to develop watershed level data as an assessment aid because basic wetland characterization data were lacking, as was the ability to integrate different data types and scales of resolution.

    Figure 1. Adirondack region showing both Adirondack Park and Adirondack ecological zone boundaries. The Oswegatchie-Black River drainage basin is identified as "OB". Taken from: Baker, J.P. et al., 1990. Adirondack Lakes Survey Interpretive Report. Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, Ray Brook, NY.


    To resolve these data limitations the Park Agency proposed a Geographic Information System (GIS) demonstration project to map, digitize, and integrate watershed boundaries of ponded waters, wetland covertypes, wetland water regimes, and Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation water quality data. Both SUNY-Plattsburgh and the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation (ALSC) were cooperators in the research. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Biological Survey Unit which includes the ALSC, has a great interest in using the data and methods developed in this project within its program initiatives.

    The results of this research will be useful to the Park Agency and will strengthen its policy decisions. Presently, the APA has limited quantitative knowledge of the uniqueness of various wetland types. When air pollution impacts to certain types of wetlands are elucidated, the Agency will have the ability to determine the extent or location of sensitive wetlands from the digital watershed, wetlands and water quality data layers. Also, it is anticipated that development of quality baseline information will spur further research and provide the tools by which local governments or lake associations can take a pro-active role in responding to natural resource issues.

    Local governments have shown an increasing interest in understanding the status of the Park's natural resources, particularly lakes and ponds contained within their jurisdictions. Recently, a number of Adirondack Park counties have formed Environmental Management Councils to assist their Boards of Supervisors. One prime concern has been a geographic listing and assessment of waters at risk.

    As a result, a project was proposed to provide the following products:

    Watershed maps. Accurate watershed maps at a scale of 1:24000, depicting watershed and sub-catchments of each permanent waterbody identified on USGS 7.5 minute maps;
    Wetland maps. Accurate wetland maps at a scale of 1:24000, using National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) labeling conventions;
    GIS database. A digital GIS database containing watersheds, wetlands, and other compatible data layers, such as portions of the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation and Oak Ridge National Laboratory data;
    Wetland and watershed properties. Summary tables describing wetland covertypes, acreages, and the correlations with watershed properties (such as watershed size, elevation or aspect);
    Critical wetlands. Thematic maps showing the locations of wetlands and watersheds with critical properties (e.g., poor fens);
    Public forums and regional maps. Graphics and maps developed for particular regional or local government areas, depending on the interest or need expressed during public or outreach functions.

    STUDY AREA OB1 Contents

    The Oswegatchie-Black River drainage basin is located in the southwestern portion of the Adirondack Park. The region may be roughly defined as extending from N 44.4 to N 43.2 and W 75.4 to W 74.5 and is comprised of 398,783 hectares.

    The climate of the Oswegatchie-Black River basin is characterized by long cold winters and short cool summers. Average temperature, rainfall and snowfall vary locally and are affected by differences in elevation, and location relative to mountain ranges, prevailing wind and local bodies of water. Precipitation ranges from 30 to 60 inches per year. The means and extremes of air temperature in the Adirondack Region vary widely with latitude and altitude and are affected locally by proximity to large bodies of water. The range of mean annual temperature in the region is from about 41 F at the southern limits to about 30 F at the northern limits (Sutherland et al. 1990).


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