Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Linking Forests Across the Champlain Valley

The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy gets a lot of attention when it completes a landscape-scale protection deal like the 161,000-acre Finch Pruyn purchase, or when it buys a place with a hallowed name like Follensby Pond.

But for decades it has also been working among the little farms and forests of the Champlain Valley with a larger picture in mind.

“The goal is to provide safe passage for species—a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert,” Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said in a press release Monday. “Where are the most important habitat linkages and how do we work do we protect them? To date, we’ve raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort.”

The press release announced that the Conservancy’s Champlain Valley work is one of six projects to benefit from a $1 million U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grant to a multistate collaboration of groups working in the Northern Forest, which spans northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The Champlain Valley is the Adirondack Park’s most agrarian landscape and it’s also the place where many northern and southern ranges meet, making it the most diverse area of the park in terms of plant and animal species. The Conservancy has been working with landowners and partners there since its inception 40 years ago, negotiating conservation easements on farms and forests as well as buying some ecologically sensitive and riparian properties outright. Much of this work was done by the Adirondack Land Trust, a partner organization that shares staff with the Conservancy. The effort got a boost in the late 1990s from Tom Butler, of the Wildlands Project, and Champlain Valley residents Jamie Philips, of the Eddy Foundation, and John Davis, who was then working for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. The trio took a special interest in linking the Split Rock Wild Forest on the shore of Lake Champlain to the Jay Mountain Wilderness in the park interior. They continue to support the effort to this day.

An anecdote that wide-ranging mammals appear to be using those corridors came from Lewis a few weeks ago. State wildlife officials helped Meadowmount School of Music, where no one had seen a black bear for decades, install electric fencing around its dumpster to deter the suddenly present bears.

The latest habitat connectivity initiatives “use computer modeling and field research and will help agencies like the Department of Transportation get the most out of routine road maintenance by knowing where important wildlife crossings are (or where there is potential to reconnect fragmented habitat) and prioritizing their work around those areas,” Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett said in an e-mail.

Photograph: The view from Coon Mountain, an Adirondack Land Trust preserve in the Champlain Valley. Roads and fields intersect forests that link the mountain to the Adirondack Park interior.

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Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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