DU leads $4 million, 4,700-acre New York initiative

Ducks Unlimited and partners to improve water quality and public recreation

Wetlands conservation effort in Oswego County, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Wetlands conservation effort in Oswego County, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

WATERTOWN, New York – Feb. 23, 2022 – A coalition of 10 organizations and several private landowners are partnering to launch an ambitious conservation effort in upstate New York that will protect, enhance or restore more than 4,700 acres of wetland and grassland habitat across four counties.

Ducks Unlimited (DU) will lead the partnership, with a total of $4.1 million invested over the next three years on project sites along the St. Lawrence River Valley area in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and St. Lawrence Counties. This partnership will protect 13 tracts of land totaling 2,193 acres, enhance 2,516 acres of wetlands and restore 11 acres of wetlands.

New York has lost more than 60% of its historic wetlands. These habitats are crucial for filtering pollutants from rainwater runoff, and this new program will improve water quality along the Thousand Islands region and Lake Ontario coastal watershed.

“These coastal waterways are highly valued for their development potential, and this large effort will keep the landscape in a natural state,” said Ed Farley, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist in New York. “Not only will these 4,700 acres benefit wildlife, but much of the newly protected land will be available for public recreational use. This effort is an example of true cooperation among numerous stakeholders to achieve landscape-level improvements.”

Partners include the Thousand Islands Land Trust, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, U.S. Army Fort Drum and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Funding comes from a $1.3 million federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant and $2.8 million in partner matched funds.

This is the third phase of targeted NAWCA conservation efforts in the St. Lawrence region. The first two phases conserved 4,800 acres.

“For generations, the wetlands water and wildlife of the Thousand Islands and St. Lawrence River Valley have provided us a quality of life that is spiritual and transforming,” said Jake Tibbles, Thousand Islands Land Trust executive director. “This long-standing partnership continues to ensure the protection of some of the area’s most important natural resources – natural resources that form the very foundation of our local economies and way of life.”

The program’s focus area contains extensive native and agricultural grasslands interspersed with abundant freshwater wetlands, vernal pools, glaciated potholes, lakes, rivers and forested corridors. The St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Ontario Coastal Watershed is recognized as one of the most important areas for waterfowl and grassland birds in the Eastern United States, including wildlife management areas targeted in this grant program.

“The DEC applauds Ducks Unlimited and their partners for leading this effort to conserve more than 4,700 acres of wetland and grassland habitat across four Upstate New York counties. The DEC’s Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area wetlands are among the most extensive in St. Lawrence County, providing important habitat for marsh birds, waterfowl and aquatic furbearers. Located on a migratory route between eastern Canada and the Atlantic Coast, the improvements to the water control infrastructure announced today support the DEC’s ongoing efforts to manage water levels for the benefit of area wildlife and visitors,” said Randall C. Young, DEC Regional Director, Region 6.

Crucial to protecting habitat are numerous private landowners who partnered on the grant effort. Jeremy Foltz’s family has owned land on Grindstone Island in the St. Lawrence River since the mid-1970s. The Foltz family is working with the Thousand Islands Land Trust to place a conservation easement on the property, ensuring the landscape remains natural in perpetuity.

 “Our land is one of the few underdeveloped areas in the Thousand Islands. Many of our neighbors have easements too,” Foltz said. “The idea is to make sure it’s never wall-to-wall houses and it maintains its wild character. That is something that is not just visually appealing, but it’s also good for wildlife.”

Additional coalition partners include: Indian River Lakes Conservancy, St. Lawrence Land Trust, Central NY Land Trust, Clarkson University and the Helen and Ritter Shumway Foundation.

Program highlights:

Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area, St. Lawrence County
Ducks Unlimited and the DEC are refurbishing water-control infrastructure on this 8,800-acre public land complex. These enhancements will give the state the ability to improve habitat conditions on 2,516 acres of land.

Adirondack to Algonquin (A2A) Wildway expansion, St. Lawrence County
The Thousand Islands Land Trust will acquire a 400-acre mosaic of dense, mature forest interspersed with emergent wetlands that create the headwaters of the Crooked Creek. The property straddles TILT’s 2,200-acre Crooked Creek Preserve and Ciliberti/Charlebois properties, bolstering local and regional connectivity. The site will be open to public recreation.

Oswego Marsh Protection and Restoration Project, Oswego County
DU and the Central New York Land Trust will protect and restore a former agriculture muck field to an emergent marsh that will provide habitat for numerous species of wildlife. The muck lands on the sites were once wetlands, and now they are providing none of the ecological services that wetlands traditionally provide. Nutrients and silt/sediment from storm runoff used to flow into tributaries of Lake Ontario. Restoring the property will eliminate nutrient run-off from this site.

Jefferson County land protection
The Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will acquire a 121-acre property adjacent to Jefferson County Parks land that is managed by the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District. Conserving this property is essential for preserving important and healthy wetland, swamp forest, and upland forested habitat.

Fort Drum protection project, Jefferson County
DU, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, are protecting 320 acres of habitat through the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program. The property is a mix of forested wetlands and upland forest, near Lake Bonaparte. The ACUB program establishes buffer areas to limit development around Army installations. Over 30 families protected more than 8,200 acres adjacent to Ft. Drum in the last decade thanks to the Fort Drum ACUB Program.