200 Years and Counting

Bob on a tractor

A remarkable man conserves his family’s land

“Our family came to this area in 1800, just after the Town of Norway was formed. My great, great, great, great grandfather served in the French & Indian and Revolutionary Wars and purchased the farm with pension money, or possibly in lieu of pension money,” explained Bob Burt.

The 431-acre farm is fairly flat, with long views towards the southern Adirondacks. In fact, it’s directly adjacent to the Adirondack Park and serves as an important part of the wildlife corridor from the Adirondacks to Tug Hill and to the Mohawk Valley. Because of its proximity to West Canada Creek, it’s part of an area that has long been a conservation priority due to the river, wildlife, history, and agricultural lands.

The farm’s legacy

Over the years the farm was primarily a dairy operation.

Now, Bob, the last in the Burt family lineage to farm here, plants primarily oats and soybeans, and hays the fields. He also manages about 400 maple taps and produces maple syrup the traditional way, collecting sap with buckets with a crew of volunteer friends and neighbors. Long hours outside, in all kinds of weather, has made Bob a fan of watching wildlife and sharing what happens in the region.

farmhouse

“People get excited about a ‘Century Farm’, but this is way more than that,” reflected Burt. “This land has been home to five generations of Burt’s, and we all were involved in farming, to some degree. We see this farm as part of the community, which is why it’s so important to conserve it. There just aren’t farms like this much anymore.”

solar powered

In November 2015 he agreed to host a weather station on the north end of the farm to provide data for The New York State (NYS) Mesonet Early Warning Weather Detection System (#32 of the 126 sites across NYS). Bob’s goal, after 83 years of being connected to this place, is that the farm will remain intact for future generations to farm and enjoy.

“This is a magical place. The thought of losing it to development is too much to bear. When you’re at the farm, you notice things. You notice the seasons and the passing of time. Early spring is when the sap starts flowing and the migrating geese stop in the fields.

“In the summer, you can hear fox and coyotes calling. Then, in the fall, with the changing colors of the maples and oaks, the skyline comes ablaze against the blue sky. Finally, in winter, as the wind whips over the land, the snow stacks up against the barns and sparkles in the sun. It’s no wonder my family has called this place home for over 200 years.” Bob pauses and looks around the farm.

“I’m so thankful that I’m now able to conserve this land. I’ve never taken it for granted—and neither did my ancestors. I think they would be proud of what I am doing.”

New public conservation area in the works

duck standing on a rock in the wetland

Partnerships take flight

If you’re looking for a place to immerse yourself in nature, surrounded by birds who depend on healthy grasslands, wet meadows, and forested wetlands, you’ll soon find a beautiful place to walk in West Turin, Lewis County.

Thanks to a partnership with Ducks Unlimited (DU), the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will soon own an 85-acre parcel of restored wetland habitat that will be managed by DU for the next 10 years.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s State Wildlife Action Plan notes a number
of important birds live in or migrate through the area. These birds need quality habitat to flourish, including the endangered blue-winged teal; the threatened eastern meadowlark, bobolink, and scarlet tanager; and the American kestrel, northern harrier, ruffed grouse, and American woodcock (a species of special concern).

Those sightings don’t factor in numerous other birds and wildlife that are increasingly facing a loss of wetland and grassland habitat in the region.

To help address this challenge, DU has spent several years restoring the land for wetland-dependent wildlife, including planting hundreds of trees. The restoration will also help slow down climate change by storing carbon in the roots of trees and wetland plants and soils.

This summer and fall we will be working to raise $25,000 to initiate the first phase of establishing trails and related signage.

We hope to install at least one bird watching platform and benches (funding permitting) this year, as well. Because of the generosity of people like you, this special place will become a haven for wildlife as well as people of all ages to enjoy wetland birds and their habitat.

beautiful wetland field
Ducks Unlimited

 

Thanks to a partnership with Ducks Unlimited (DU), the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will soon own an 85-acre parcel of restored wetland habitat that will be managed by DU for the next ten years.

 


Impact of climate change and habitat loss on birds

Research by National Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy, and others has documented that we have lost over three billion birds in the last 50 years. That’s over 20% of the North American bird population due to loss of habitat, pesticides, and climate change stress.

National Audubon’s research, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, reveals that of the remaining birds, as much as 67% are at increased risk of extinction due to climate change stress. Protecting critical habitat and transitioning to compatible renewables to slow down climate change is instrumental for the survival of these birds.

You can read the study on Audubon’s website: www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees.

 

bobolink on blade of grass
Mirceax
Laurie Frykholm

Can a backpack save the day?

reading in the woods

Did you know that kids spend more time on their phones and electronic devices than ever before?

According to a study by the nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media, as reported by the New York Times, screen use went up among tweens (ages 8 to 12) to, on average, five hours a day between 2019 and 2021.

This increase of 17% is likely due, in part, to the pandemic as families grappled with lack of childcare, remote schooling, and the challenges of isolation and reduced in-person interaction.

Yet, as noted by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, it’s a trend that’s been on the rise for a while. It’s not all bad. Yet more and more studies are raising childhood psychologists’ concerns that this level of screen time may be altering the brain… and not in a good way.

books and more included in the packEnter nature. And Nature Backpacks.

Thanks to a new partnership with local libraries in Poland, Westernville, and Remsen, with initial funding by the Casimir S. Butnoris Fund of the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Inc., the Nature Backpacks pilot program will provide nature backpacks for loan starting this summer.

Nature, curiosity, and partnerships

The backpacks are designed to inspire nature exploration and curiosity — and provide an alternative to screen time inside.

“Our community members will put these to good use in our wonderful outdoor spaces we are so fortunate to have in our area,” explained Mary Jo Miller, the librarian at the Western Town Library. “We appreciate the land trust’s partnership and continued effort to provide meaningful resources for our patrons. So many families are looking for opportunities to engage kids in new ways outdoors.”

Each backpack contains equipment, activities, and local trail information for their use specific to each theme beginning with Animal Tracks and Signs, and Birds. The activities are designed for all ages and will suit any family.

Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will present demonstration programs, and work with the libraries to maintain and replenish the backpacks, ensuring they are in good condition and fully supplied.

It costs approximately $110 per backpack, fully loaded. If you’d like to sponsor a backpack and expand the program, let us know. While kids are more “plugged in” than ever, this is a tool to help empower parents and caregivers to bring the joy of nature to life.

It’s all about the trees

forest photo

New forest conservation program announced

There’s good news for New York’s forests. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York office of the Land Trust Alliance (the Alliance) recently announced they will provide conservation funding
to forest owners.

The 2022 Forest Conservation Easements for Land Trusts Program offers competitive matching grants of up to $350,000 to fund the acquisition of conservation easements on forestland in New York State (NYS). The grants will be awarded to qualified New York land trusts, to partner with landowners and communities to increase the pace of forested land conservation to combat climate change.

The program is funded through the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and will be administered by the Alliance, a national conservation organization that supports land trusts across the country with conservation policy initiatives, technical assistance, trainings, and best practices.

The grant program comes at an opportune time given the importance of local forestlands.

Forest and woodlands are widely recognized as key players in helping to:

  • Reduce flooding from extreme weather.
  • Provide critical habitat for woodland-based species like bobcat, red fox, and great-horned owls.
  • Slowly release water through dry periods into neighboring streams and rivers —critical components to the health of our region’s waterways.

According to the 2020 NYS Forest Action Plan, privately owned forestlands cover 13.62 million acres and represent 74 percent of New York’s forests. Over 10 million acres are family-owned or non-corporate forests. Nearly 700,000 private forest landowners provide the public with the benefits of clean air and water, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and a forest-based economy.

The program is similar to the current state farmland protection program: landowners are compensated when they permanently conserve their woodlands based on a conservation easement appraisal.

Our land trust is working with several local landowners to apply for grant funding in 2022, and we hope to work with more in 2023 should funding be allocated again as part of the Environmental Protection Fund.

For more information please visit the Land Trust Alliance website under the Forest Conservation Easement Program for Land Trusts in the New York program area >>

 

See Four Quick Facts About Conservation Easement >>

Critical habitat is protected thanks to a team effort

protecting critical habitat

An unexpected special place helps save threatened and endangered bats

If you were driving down Route 11, you might be hard-pressed to know that you were almost within walking distance of a rare, and special, conservation area.

Tucked behind Walmart, Candlewood Suites, and Taco Bell, and not far from Fort Drum, in Jefferson County, there lies over a hundred acres of woodlands — home to a variety of wildlife, including the threatened Indiana and northern long-eared bats.

Now, 101 acres of at-risk lands have been conserved thanks to a partnership between the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and Fort Drum — through the Army Compatible Use Buffer program (ACUB) — as well as Ducks Unlimited. The land is connected to an additional 15 acres of important bat habitat, owned and protected by the Ontario Bays Initiative.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that these bats typically roost under the bark or in crevasses of trees three inches or more in diameter. The area currently has little in the way of public conservation lands.

With Fort Drum housing not far away, this new conservation area will provide a place for families to go to enjoy the sounds and sights of birds like turkey, owls, and hawks, like the northern harrier.

map of bat habitat
The new conservation area will be managed for endangered bats (shown above with yellow dots) and other pollinators like the fritillary butterfly.

 

butterfly on milkweed
Fritillary Butterfly by Laurie Frykholm

Bats play an important role in the overall health of the ecosystem, including eating hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes every year. Yet bats, as a species, have had a challenging time of late.

Due to habitat loss, increased stress from white-nose disease and a changing climate, all bats have plummeted in population. Studies have reported over a 90% decline of the Indiana and northern long-eared bat species in the northeast. The protection of this area will help provide a secure place for bats to find food and roost, while also protecting habitat for other wildlife, like the pileated woodpecker.

Conservation of these lands also provides for important water absorption areas. Northern New York is experiencing greater intensity of rainfall, with that pattern expected to increase over the next several decades.

This is particularly true in this area near Ft. Drum, where development and paved surfaces are expanding.

Yet for some, it’s the proximity of having a nice place to visit nature that has the strongest allure. “So many people are scared of bats,” commented Leslie DiStefano, who lives near Fort Drum. “But I know they eat thousands of mosquitoes, and they won’t hurt you. Personally, I love seeing the bats. I can’t wait to bring my family out here.”

Bats are also pollinators for local farms and are important to overall success in agriculture. There are a number of protected farms within five miles of this new conservation area, creating a block of conservation lands that provide habitat to a variety of wildlife, produce local food, and support a network of agriculture-related businesses.

Over the coming year, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will be working with project partners to secure approximately $35,000 in funding needed to establish the first phase of trails in the new conservation area. Improvements will include a parking area and the design and installation of educational and  related signage. If you’d like to donate to this project, please contact Emily Males at emales@tughilltomorrow.org.

 


David S. Smith Public Conservation Area

A tribute to NYS DEC Region 6, Regional Forester

hiking by Pleasant Bay David Smith spent his 40-year career at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation helping others care for the forestlands and waters they loved.

He had a gift for listening to local landowners, industry leaders, and community officials — and helping make decisions that benefited land and people. David was an inspiration to many throughout Tug Hill. Sadly, he passed away last December after battling pancreatic cancer.

This new conservation area is now dedicated in his honor.

On April 22, 2022, a small gathering of family, friends, and colleagues celebrated his life and all he has done for conservation with the dedication of the nature area. It was a perfect way to commemorate his talent for looking out for both the lands and people of the North Country. He is dearly missed, but his legacy will carry on.

Four Quick Facts About Conservation Easements

fox kit

Are you interested in exploring if land conservation might be right for you, or for someone you know? Here are some quick facts that might be helpful.

 

1. What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a land protection tool, written in the form of a deed that runs with the land for generations. Landowners conserve their land for a variety of reasons using a conservation easement including the love of the land, leaving a conservation legacy, and helping to transfer the land to the next generation.

2. Voluntary

All landowners who decide to conserve their land with a conservation easement do so voluntarily. Some donate the development rights and can receive an income tax benefit. Others are compensated for their easement through grant programs like the new Forest Conservation Easement Program and NYS’s farmland protection program.

3. Ownership Retained

When you conserve your land with a conservation easement you continue to own the property. You can lease, sell, bequeath or give away your land. The conservation easement remains in effect, giving you peace of mind.

4. They Don’t Prohibit All Development

Depending on what you and our land trust are working to conserve, an easement often allows for limited development that is compatible with the conservation goals. Working lands, including forestry and farming, are often part of a conservation project. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and other forms of recreation are usually allowed. Public access is at the discretion of the landowner unless specifically part of the project.

“We want to leave a peaceful place for generations to come”

moose walking through the property

Julia Rubenstein’s dad, Stan Wiater, loved wildlife. Growing up in the 1940’s, he learned about hard work and respecting nature during the long days at camp in the town of Forestport, Oneida County.

As a young boy, Stan learned much from his mentor, Larry Frey, who had purchased their original 100 acres through the government veteran’s program when he returned from WWII.

Larry took Stan under his wing, and on weekends they would drive up from Utica together to visit the camp in Forestport. Stan learned the arts of forestry, trapping, hunting, and taxidermy, which he then shared with his younger brother Ed.

When Stan returned from the Army, and became a skilled mason, Larry and Stan purchased abutting land. Over the next 20 years they planted thousands of trees and built a spillway on Gulf Creek to create a pond for fishing and wildlife.

protecting the land he loves
“I come up here as much as I can and find that time in the woods renews me.” – Ed Sajdzikowski

Ed (Julie’s uncle), still owns and enjoys the abutting parcel of land Larry and Stan gave him as a wedding gift in 1974. “I come up here as much as I can and find that time in the woods renews me,” explains Ed, who, until Stan’s passing in 2019, had seldom missed a weekend on the property since 1957.

A tribute to family and nature

Julie and her husband Jeff, are now conserving this land as a tribute to the men in her life who toiled to care for it, learned from it, and loved it. “My dad would be so pleased that we have protected this place that he loved so much, and was such a large part of the wonderful, generous, strong man he became.”

The Rubenstein’s will continue to own the property, pay property taxes, and manage it subject to the long-term conservation agreement.

Both critical and timely

This region is a central part of the Wildlife Connectivity project area; a partnership between local, state and national conservation groups to create a conservation corridor extending from the southern Appalachians up into Canada.

At stake are numerous wildlife like moose and black bear who find the changing climate necessitates increased movement for food, cover, and raising their young.

For the Rubenstein’s, conserving their land is important to protect significant habitat—and share the healing powers of nature. “We want to pass this love of nature on to others, too,” said Julie. “We hope to partner with area nonprofits to provide a place for young people from disadvantaged situations to find themselves, like my dad and I did, to find inner peace, and hopefully find a lifelong love of nature.”

Restoring the American Chestnut

restoring the American chestnut

According to the American Chestnut Foundation, nearly four billion American chestnut trees once flourished in
the eastern U.S. Sadly, in the early part of the 1900’s, a fungus was unknowingly imported, wiping out the majority of these magnificent trees and destroying a central part of North America’s ecology.

But there’s good news.

A team of researchers at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the American Chestnut Foundation have developed a disease-tolerant and genetically diverse American chestnut tree.

This summer, our land trust in partnership with the Zoo NY, based in Watertown, will be planting the new variety of chestnut trees as part of an educational program to demonstrate how devastated species, like the Chestnut, and their ecosystems, can be restored using genetic engineering.

It’s our hope that someday you too may be able to plant them on your property.

Tug Hill’s forests identified as critical

critical forests to protect

It’s not truly wilderness, though the term “Lesser Wilderness” is sometimes used to compare the Heart of Tug Hill to the vaster wilderness of the nearby Adirondacks. The area consists of “core forest” with over 170,000 acres of unbroken forest land, wetlands, ponds, and headwater streams. Not only is this landscape vital to a multi-state wildlife corridor, but it also supports our regional traditions of forestry, hunting and hunt camps, fishing, hiking, bird watching, and snowmobiling.

trail map
See an enlarger version of the above map. The proposed trail, including the portion that is roughed-in, runs through a mix of lands owned by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (tan, light pink and dark green), Timber Investment Management organization (brown and light green), and The Nature Conservancy (dark pink and olive green). Find out more >>

Numerous rivers, whose headwaters are located in the Heart of Tug Hill rely on the forest’s health and resilience to sustain their flows throughout the summer, as well as absorbing heavy rainfalls. Much of Tug Hill revolves around these amazing landscapes and include the Salmon, Mad, and Deer Rivers, as well as the Sandy Creeks and the East and West Branches of Fish Creek.

Recent research has once again documented the importance of forestlands and their associated wildlife habitat. In 2019, the Tug Hill Chapter of Trout Unlimited found unique strains of brook trout in portions of some Tug Hill headwaters streams. These brook trout are genetically distinct, showing little evidence of introduction of non-native or hatchery-raised stock.

During the same period, research by The Nature Conservancy concluded that the Heart of Tug Hill faces development pressure that could fragment and disrupt the ecological health of the region. In short, it’s an area with an urgent need for thoughtful, accelerated and long-term conservation efforts.

There’s reason for guarded optimism, however. Landowners are asking for our assistance and funding may become available thanks to ongoing discussions at the state and federal levels to voluntarily conserve 30% of the U.S. land base and waters by 2030 (termed 30 x 30).

The 30 x 30 initiative recognizes that land conservation is not keeping pace with growing threats to our lands, waters, wildlife, and ways of life across the country. The Land Trust Alliance (the national conservation organization that provides technical assistance to local land trusts) has stressed the critical nature of this voluntary effort.

National Audubon notes its importance, too. North America has lost three billion birds due to climate change and habitat loss—29% of its bird population—since 1970.

Perfect Timing

The majority of landowners in the Heart of Tug Hill are elderly and many face the choice of selling their land, ideally protected, or passing it on to the next generation. Because of this, when combined with development pressure, the next ten years will define what Tug Hill looks and feels like.

Our task, therefore, is to make sure we have the capacity to seize opportunities presented like the 30 x 30 initiative and assist these families when they ask for help. That’s one of the reasons we launched the Tug Hill FOR Tomorrow Campaign. A huge thanks to so many of you who have already contributed.

Together, we can support our region’s desire to balance future development with the protection of the farms, forests, waters, and wildlife habitats that define us.

“It’s so peaceful out there. I love that we are working together to create a trail that is unique to Tug Hill.”

— Nancy Grisham


WANT TO HELP MAKE HISTORY?

Come join us and create the Tug Hill Traverse Trail

fall view of a Tug Hill region riverThis summer and fall, we have a number of community trail workdays planned to continue work on the 20-mile long Traverse Trail, in forested portions of the towns of Osceola, West Turin, and Montague (lands we call the Heart of Tug Hill).

They’re a fun way to spend some time with family, friends, and co-workers; get outside; hear some birds; and get your hands dirty. Trail work consists of pruning branches and shrubs, building stream crossings, and putting up trail markers.

You’ll want to wear sturdy shoes and appropriate clothing for working in the woods, and bring pruners if you have them. We will provide snacks and water and recommend you bring a sack lunch.

List of trail workdays and register >>

Community jump-starts French Settlement Road Public Conservation Area

Public Conservation Area

The importance of accessible open space for recreation, physical and mental health, and connecting and learning about nature has become very apparent during the pandemic.

Providing a variety of places to explore and enjoy nature “close to home”—meaning within a 15 to 20-minute drive—is now recognized by social scientists as central to inspiring a lasting connection to wildlife, as well as improving public health. Because of this, one of our strategic initiatives is to establish at least one new conservation area per county over the next five years in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and Oneida Counties.

Late last year, Dr. Marvin Reimer generously donated 121 acres to establish our newest public conservation area on French Settlement Road, in the town of Lorraine, in southernmost Jefferson County, NY.

The conservation area is comprised of a mix of northern hardwood forests with several large beaver ponds, wetland areas, and important habitat to resident and migrating birds. It also contains foundations from two historic farmstead sites.

Getting the place ready for the community took a giant step forward recently, thanks to a gift from Pure Water for Life (PWfL). This lead gift of $30,000 will help create a parking area, trails, signage, and educational programming.

“We thought it would be years before we could improve the public access—and then came this amazing gift from PWfL,” explained Linda Garrett, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust’s Executive Director.

The vision includes creating a parking area large enough for a school bus and several cars; non-motorized trails that meander throughout the property; and benches and resting areas. Funding permitting, we hope to create wildlife viewing areas and an accessible trail.

Additional grants and community donations will supplement the grant from PWfL. Once the parking area and trail improvements are complete, we will host guided nature walks and other educational programs for the public, youth groups, and schools.

Linda notes that the timing couldn’t be better. “It’s our hope that the next $15,000 needed for phase two of the trail and habitat improvements will be contributed by members of our community over the summer to keep progress going. This is such a special place. We can’t wait for people to see it.”