Farmers on conserved land are managing for a changing climate

Cornfield and windmills under windy sky in Lowville

When Lynn Murray conserved his farm in 2015, in the town of Champion, his goal was to ensure that his kids could take over the farming later in life. Farming for Lynn and most of the farm families in the Tug Hill region is a family effort, and many of those farmers want to conserve their land so the next generation can carry on the family legacy. Yet farming is more than land. It’s a business in an increasingly tricky growing environment. The recent US Agricultural Census elevated this issue when it noted this spring that New York State has lost nearly 2,800 farms between 2017 and 2022, totaling 364,000 acres.

Reflecting on the evolving climate conditions, Lynn, a seasoned farmer, acknowledges the stark shift in weather patterns. “Well, it’s hard to quantify but obviously the weather seems more extreme than it used to be,” he observes. “So, we’ve had to be prepared for colder than normal summers, warmer than normal, or drier than normal. We have not had an average year in the last few years; it’s been more unpredictable.”

Farmers responding to a changing climate

Jon Ostrowski and his family are working on farming resilience, too. Together, they run an organic farm in the town of Champion – conserved in 2013. Jon notes, “We used to mow, rake, and bale it, but now, with the increasingly unpredictable weather, we’ve had to adapt.”

By implementing sustainable farming practices and new technologies, the Ostrowskis are investing in their farmland to withstand sudden droughts followed by heavy rainfall. “The switch to using a tedder to spread out the hay for faster drying has truly changed our approach. With rainy spells becoming more frequent, traditional methods have become nearly impossible during such periods.” “The farming community is poised to do our part, and down the road, we will have better technologies to do more,” emphasizes Lynn. Meanwhile, Jon stresses, “Conserving the land and keeping it green, whether ag or forest—we can’t keep taking over the land with more buildings; we won’t have the land we need to keep the earth healthy.”

The interest in farmland conservation and climate-smart farming is growing in New York. Farmers in Oneida, Herkimer, Oswego, Lewis, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence counties are looking to our land trust to assist them in voluntarily conserving their land as part of their long-term strategy to ensure the next generation has the opportunity to farm, no matter the weather.

Is conservation right for you, or someone you know?

bright healthy farm fields

Would you like to protect your land? Do you know someone who might be interested in protecting their farm, woodlands, or wetlands?

People protect their land for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s a way to ensure their love of the land will remain intact after they leave. For others, it’s a way to honor their parents and grandparents. Sometimes it helps with estate planning or financial management plans.

If you would like to explore if conservation is right for you and your family, contact Emily Antonacci, Land Stewardship and Conservation Manager, 315-779-8240, x12 or email eantonacci@tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org.

All conversations are confidential to provide your family the privacy it needs to make a decision that is right for you.

Nature close to home

mowed trail through tall grasses in the fall
Flicker in fall
Flicker resting on a rock covered with moss by Pamela Underhill Karaz.

With today’s hectic lives full of work, school, sports, and family happenings, we all need easy-to-access public outdoor spaces close to home where we can take a break.

Thanks to growing support from people like you, we are expanding the number of places where people from all walks of life can breathe some fresh air, listen to the sounds of nature, and escape their daily pressures while protecting quality wildlife habitat at the same time.

National research to better understand and connect Americans and nature revealed that time outside spent with friends and family surrounded by nature’s healing power has become a necessity for maintaining perspective and finding joy.

The study also offered an important insight and a wake-up call for local land conservation groups like ours:

Participation in traditional nature-based recreation is stagnant or declining; Americans are spending more time indoors using electronic media more than ever before. At the same time, there is growing evidence that human health and well-being depend on beneficial contact with nature.

Our land trust has been working hard to increase access to nature close to home in partnerships with local families, community organizations, and municipalities.

Community conservation growing in the Tug Hill

The 121-acre French Settlement Road Public Conservation Area, located in the Town of Lorraine and donated to our land trust by Dr. Marvin Reimer, is one place to do just that.

This past summer, a parking area was installed thanks to a generous gift from Pure Water for Life. Public programs began this fall, featuring a morning Flow into Fall yoga series outdoors surrounded by the sounds of birds and flowing water.

This winter, we will be hosting snowshoe and cross-country ski outings. As funding becomes available, we will complete the trail system, including an accessible trail, signage, an information kiosk, and benches, in the coming year.

 

Blue-winged Teal Duck
By Passion 4 Nature

Exploring on the eastern side of Tug Hill

If you’d like to explore another land trust project, the newly dedicated Keller Mohawk Hill Public Conservation Area in the Town of West Turin is a great place to go.

We are working with Ducks Unlimited, volunteers, and community members to make this a haven for wildlife and people. With restored waterfowl wetlands surrounded by open grassland and forested borders, it’s a place of wide open sky and wildlife abundance.

Improvements for wildlife and visitors are planned for the coming year, including an accessible trail system, limited tree plantings, signage, and seating.

Bobolinks and other migratory and grassland birds challenged by habitat loss and climate change now have a safe place to rest and raise their young.

Other special places to explore

There are several other public conservation areas owned and managed by our land trust, including the Joseph Blake Wildlife Sanctuary in the town of Rutland and the upcoming David S. Smith property in the town of Leray.

Each one offers important wildlife habitat and unique opportunities to connect to nature. As we face the need to connect more people to nature close to home to inspire a love of the land, wildlife, and community, these conservation areas are crucial for our overall health and well-being—and as a haven for wildlife.

That only happens because of people like you. Thank you.

An unwavering love of Tug Hill

performing ongoing trail maintenance

If you are looking for folks who walk the conservation walk, you have found them.

Bob and Carol Keller have stood by the land trust year after year, conserving their land, participating in forest conservation efforts, cheering on community programs and the establishment of new public conservation areas, and contributing quietly to strategic initiatives.

Their unwavering support and generosity were recently honored at our fall Annual Meeting with the dedication of Keller Mohawk Hill Public Conservation Area.

Bob and Carol want you to know that this is a team effort. They love working lands, like well-managed forests and farms and treasure unique places for birds and wildlife. The Kellers also recognize that connecting kids to nature is the future of conservation and have embraced our efforts to connect to urban, suburban, and rural areas in and near Tug Hill.

To ensure that the land trust continues to thrive, they have also included Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust in their wills. Throughout the past 15 years, the Kellers’ steadfast efforts, combined with other land trust supporters, have been key to protecting, improving, and expanding the local places where people, like you, and nature, can thrive together.

Thank you, Bob and Carol, for all you have done and all you continue to do. You are an inspiration.

Making outdoor learning fun and easy

Tracks and Signs book and other guides are included in the Backpack

With so many challenges facing families these days, getting outside for fun and learning shouldn’t be one of them. The custom-designed Tug Hill Explorer Backpacks make it easier for kids, teachers, mentors, and parents alike to head outside for adventure.

The initial backpack concept and content design were created with generous support from the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Stewart’s Holiday Match Fund, and community supporters last year.

There are currently two versions: one focusing on birds and another on animal tracking. Each backpack contains books, tools (like binoculars and magnifiers), and activities. A list of suggested locations open to the public for adventures is also included.

To date, eight libraries in the Tug Hill region have received backpacks for community use to borrow and return: Carthage, Lowville, Parish, Poland, Remsen, Turin, Westernville, and Williamstown.

They’re a big hit!

Now we’re working to provide additional backpacks to more libraries in the region. Want to help? Contact Lin Gibbs, Community Programs Manager. Donations toward the backpack program
will make more backpacks available in more places.

Farming with the future in mind

Albert standing next to a field of rolled hale bales

The Desormeaux’s farm isn’t just rolling meadows with cows, vast fields that turn golden in the fall, and picturesque barns. It’s also a demonstration of the love of community built on tradition as a force for the future.

In 1953, Albert Desormeaux bought a farm in the town of Gouverneur from a neighbor who had no heirs, beginning his own life’s venture. Together, he and his wife, Theresa, embarked on a path that would shape the land, their family, and their community.

Stepping into their kitchen you’ll find more than memorabilia. Displayed is a tangible connection to a life fully lived, dedicated to the land and the legacy of farming. “We are incredibly lucky to have purchased the farm when we did, as purchasing farmland becomes increasingly difficult. People now don’t always get this opportunity that my family has,” mused Albert.

That was a big reason why ten years ago, Albert and Theresa decided to conserve their farm. “We wanted to make sure that our kids could inherit this farm and not have it be sold for development,” explained Albert. “We are glad we did. The conservation agreement is farm-friendly. To evolve and thrive, we can do what we need to do as a farm business.”

The farm is home to 200 cattle and grows corn, soybeans, and hay silage alongside pasturelands and woodlands. A small brook meandering through the property provides habitat for migrating songbirds. The family has worked steadily to enhance soil health and water management as part of their long-term sustainability strategy.

Albert, together with his son, manages their woodlot carefully for sustained timber harvest. In 2009, to help reduce energy costs, they installed solar panels on their farm buildings, generating enough power to run the whole farm.

Conserving their farm is an extension of a long list of leadership roles the Desormeaux family has taken over the years.

fields with a barn and silos in distance

As a community leader, Albert served as a director on the board of the Agri-Mark Coop, the farmer-run milk processing plant, and then Cabot Creamery Cooperative after the two merged in 1992.

During his time in the cooperative, Cabot featured Albert’s portrait on its cheese packaging and trucks in recognition of his farm’s production of quality milk and Albert’s dedication to supporting family farms. A true honor for Albert and his family.

“We thought a lot about whether to conserve our farm. We decided it was the right thing to do as the conservation agreement will help ensure that our farm’s legacy can continue on,” explained Albert.

Farmland protection projects like the Desormeaux’s often take years to accomplish. Sometimes it’s through the Army Compatible Use Program (ACUB) in partnership with our land trust and Ducks Unlimited.

Other times farmers apply to the NYS Farmland Protection Program with the assistance of the land trust. After a competitive review process by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, those farms that are selected then work in partnership with our land trust to conserve their farm.

Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is now working with ten additional farm families to achieve their conservation goals. We are working to identify ways to expedite the farmland protection process. With farmland increasingly at risk, these farm families are not only cultivating crops and raising cattle; they’re protecting the region’s farming future.

Inspiring the love of the land

students developing self-esteem and team building

Thanks to partnerships with Verona Beach State Park, Delta Lake State Park, private landowners, Midtown Utica Community Center, and Young Scholars LLP in Utica, more young people than ever are finding joy in the outdoors in the southern part of Tug Hill.

Youth who never knew the scent of fresh forest air have returned to their families and communities with new energy. They’ve started sharing their excitement, pride in newfound abilities, and knowledge with their friends and family members.

Research has documented that time spent outside with others can help reduce feelings of isolation, build self-esteem, relieve stress, and create treasured memories. Whether learning to use a map and compass, paddle a canoe, set up a campsite, or hike safely, these youth are connecting with nature, experiencing a sense of peace and belonging, and feeling accomplished.

Julie Rubenstein, who owns Camp Woodlot in the Town of Forestport, where a lot of the trail work has been happening, explained her passion for kids and nature.

“Too many young people today — especially in urban areas — have little opportunity to experience what the outdoors has to offer. Team building, self-esteem, respect, serenity, science, spirituality, and physical exercise, can all be found in nature,” explained Julie.

As they move forward as future decision-makers for conservation, their connections and knowledge gained now will serve them all well in the years ahead.

Tax-savvy ways to give

reservoir in the fall with branches stretching over the water

When Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” she was thinking about people like you. There are so many ways you can help. 

Become a monthly donor

Make a monthly gift that keeps conservation going all year long. Become one of our sustaining donors whose generosity makes an ongoing difference throughout the year. It’s your monthly gift that allows us to seize opportunities and respond to unexpected challenges. Monthly gifts range in size from $5 to $1,000. All contributions of any size are greatly appreciated.

Gifts of stock

A gift of stock is a great way to help avoid capital gains taxes, receive an income tax deduction, and support local land conservation. If you itemize your deductions, you may be able to take a charitable deduction for the entire donation amount. Your support will make a big difference and help conserve the region’s farms, clean waters, and woodlands while creating new trails and community programs.

Give from your IRA

If you are 70.5 years or older and have a traditional IRA, you can make a donation from your IRA account to support conservation. IRA gifts are generally not recognized as taxable income and may count toward meeting your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). If you must take an RMD this year, giving from your IRA is a strategic way to fulfill it.

Other ways to give

Many people find that they want to include the land trust in their will. Some donate property to create public conservation areas or to resell, once conserved, to boost programs. For other ways to give visit tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org/ways-to-give

 

As always, please consult your tax advisor/attorney for advice on your specific situation.

 

“It gives me peace of mind, and a sense of hope, to contribute towards saving land and preserving our region’s sense of place. I know I’m making a difference.”

– Jonas Kelly, Barneveld, NY

The moose are back! Did you see them?

fall scenery large male moose swimming

That happened this fall when someone posted, “Hey, did you see that photo of the moose swimming across Alder Pond on Facebook?” A flurry of excited chatter followed: “Is it the same one spotted in Westernville/Lee?” “No, that was a younger one.”

It’s a joy for everyone to see a moose — always from a safe distance. What’s even more exhilarating is witnessing more animals like them making use of landscapes between Tug Hill and the Adirondacks during their annual fall migrations.

These open spaces create a haven between Tug Hill and the Adirondack Mountains, full of climate-resilient forests, farms, fields, and wetlands. Large mammals like moose, black bears, and martens find everything they need: space, food, and water.

The timing is more critical than ever when we consider that a moose needs a range of 5 to 50 square miles, and martens can journey 2.5 to 25 miles to find new territories. It emphasizes just how vital expansive landscapes are for their survival.

Thanks to the collective efforts of community members, local towns, conservation organizations, and state agencies, we’ve managed to conserve over 3,500 acres in the past decade.

Much of this land is owned by local families, who have protected their lands using voluntary conservation agreements (called conservation easements). They continue to pay local property taxes, manage the land, and can sell or bequeath the land subject to the conservation agreement.

These lands have created the foundation for what will become a critical corridor for wildlife, allowing wildlife to travel freely between Tug Hill and the Adirondack Mountains.

But our work is far from over.

The threat of haphazard development and road expansion continues to loom over these critical habitats, risking fragmentation and loss of connectivity that could reverse these hard-won successes.

Why prioritize landscape-scale conservation?

While it’s crucial to protect specific sites with unique features, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. The intricate web of habitats, waterways, and migration routes in Tug Hill demands a broader perspective.

Landscape-scale conservation ensures large, interconnected regions remain intact to better serve wildlife, water quality, and working lands.

Facing tomorrow’s challenges

Isolated habitats pose risks. Fragmentation disrupts animal movements and diminishes biodiversity. Add climate change to the mix, which forces many species to migrate, and the stakes get even higher.

It’s not just about the animals, either. These regions act as buffers against natural disasters, absorbing heavy rains and slowing down flooding.

Our goal for the upcoming year is clear: we need to strike a balance between thoughtful development and conservation. Together, with your unwavering support and assistance of the larger community, we can ensure Tug Hill’s beauty and biodiversity endure for future generations.

 

Did you know?

Moose are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for 30 seconds. They also are extremely fast, running at speeds of 35-40 mph. Yet they, like other wildlife in the Tug Hill, face challenges.

Moose are increasingly stressed by overheating, disease, and tick infestation—all tied to climate change and the related warming temperatures. This is true across the United States, from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine; to Minnesota and Michigan; and even Montana.

By conserving habitat, and slowing down climate change, we are all giving moose a chance to thrive.

A new trail is meandering through the heart of Tug Hill

group hiking on trail

The soon-to-be 20-mile Traverse Trail will take another leap forward this summer thanks to the help of volunteers, dedicated board and staff, and long-time partners. Last summer, the northern 10 miles of the trail was completed.

Tug Hill Tomorrow and Adirondack Mountain Club volunteers will work to complete the approximately 10 miles of trail starting from the Michigan Mills Road in the Town of West Turin, south through State Forest Preserve parcels, to its southern endpoint in the Town of Osceola. The trail will be open for non-motorized use once completed.

This is a remarkable volunteer effort, once again demonstrating love for Tug Hill. If you’d like to help out contact Lin Gibbs at 315-779-8240, x14, or email lgibbs@tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org.