Safeguarding an Adirondack Wildlife Corridor, for Wildlife and People
By Jon Leibowitz, Executive Director of Northeast Wilderness Trust
There is a place on the western shore of Lake Champlain where forest still dominates the landscape and bobcats, bear, otters, and mink can still wander from the lake to the high peaks of the Adirondacks through rocky hills and along river corridors.
Stemming from Split Rock Wild Forest, the largest expanse of protected and undeveloped Lake Champlain shoreline in New York, Split Rock Wildway follows the waterways and forests of the West Champlain Hills that lie between and alongside rich farmland in the Champlain Valley. It sneaks tenuously under and across Interstate Highway 87 and slips quietly past scattered development. The Wildway links two critical ecosystems—the fertile lowlands of the Champlain Valley with the rugged High Peaks to the west—to provide a natural pathway for both wildlife and people.
The vision to fully protect Split Rock Wildway involves securing a roughly 15-mile corridor and within that distance, the permanent protection of about 15,000 acres. To date, at least, 7000 acres have been secured by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Northeast Wilderness Trust and our partners at the Eddy Foundation, Open Space Institute, Adirondack Land Trust, and Champlain Area Trails. Acre-by-acre and property-by-property, this number continues to grow.
The idea of connecting Lake Champlain to the interior of the Adirondacks is part of a global conservation trend in recognizing the threat of fragmentation, as confirmed by studies of island biogeography, along with the counter opportunity of focusing on connectivity and wildlife corridors. Likewise, out of the original idea of Split Rock Wildway, a larger effort to connect the lake to the mountains has taken hold in New York.
A key part of the broader lake to peaks link is the proposed Eagle Mountain Preserve. At over 2400 acres, and sitting between two large conservation blocks, the property is quintessential Adirondack wildland. This strategically located parcel represents an opportunity to conserve landscape-scale wilderness in an area underrepresented by conserved lands within the Adirondack Park. Conifer-fringed ponds dot the landscape, peregrine falcons nest on its cliffs, and mother bears raise their young among the rapidly rewilding forests. This densely forested property consists primarily of northern hardwood and conifer forests, with patches of cliff & talus, miles of clear running brooks, and many vernal pools and seepage wetlands. Seepage wetlands thaw first in the spring and provide some of the earliest browse for energy strapped wildlife (such as bear, moose, and deer – all present on the property) at the end of a long winter.
With the reality of anthropogenic climate change, climate resiliency is now recognized as being critically important to conservation strategies. For land to act as a long-term corridor, the property must also be able to withstand the worst of climate change. On this front, Eagle Mountain ranks as ‘Far Above Average’ for its climate resiliency, according to The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Resilient and Connected Landscape’ dataset.’ Resilient sites like Eagle Mountain are defined as having “sufficient variability and microclimate options to enable species and ecosystems to persist in the face of climate change and which will maintain this ability over time.” This means that long into the future, Eagle Mountain Preserve, if protected, will serve wildlife well.
Like much of New York and New England, Eagle Mountain has seen its share of logging. However, also like much of the Northern Forest, the property has shown a tenacious ability to rebound and rewild. You can help the Northeast Wilderness Trust purchase this land and protect it as forever-wild, for the benefit of wildlife and people. We have just 9 months to secure the necessary funding. (Please see Eagle Mountain link below.)
The Northeast Wilderness Trust was founded in 2002 by a group of conservationists to fill an open niche in the regional conservation community. At the time, many local land trusts focused on open space protection, and some regional groups effectively conserved farmlands and managed timberlands, but no regional land trust focused exclusively on protecting wilderness areas. With a committed board, professional staff, and clear mission, the Northeast Wilderness Trust has been remarkably effective for a small organization filling a unique niche, conserving more than 10,000 acres in its first ten years. The trust now protects over 26,000 acres of wilderness in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Connecticut.
Click here for more information about Eagle Mountain
Jon Leibowitz joined Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2017 to serve as Executive Director. Prior to joining our team, he served as the Executive Director of the Montezuma Land Conservancy in the Four Corners region of Colorado. During his time at Montezuma Land Conservancy, he completed 23 conservation easement transactions that protected over 13,000 acres and also lead the organization in expanding its mission through the implementation of outdoor-focused educational programming. Joining NWT is a return to New England for Jon and his family. He earned a Masters in Environmental Law and Policy and a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School. In his spare time, Jon enjoys hiking and long distance backpacking and has completed the Long Trail. Upon trading the dry desert canyon country of the Four Corners for New England, he looks forward to many years of exploring the Northern Forest’s wild areas.
The Rewilding Institute (TRI) mission is to explore and share tactics and strategies to advance continental-scale conservation and restoration in North America and beyond. We focus on the need for large carnivores and protected wildways for their movement; and we offer a bold, scientifically credible, practically achievable, and hopeful vision for the future of wild Nature and human civilization on planet Earth.