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Safeguarding an Adirondack Wildlife Corridor

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.

Black and White Warbler photographed on the Eagle Mountain Property.  Photo ©Brendan Wiltse.

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.

Wetland complex on the Eagle Mountain Property.  Photo ©Brendan Wiltse.

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.

One of several pristine ponds on the Eagle Mountain Property. Photo ©Brendan Wiltse.

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.

Click here for more information or to contribute to the forever-wild conservation of Eagle Mountain.

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This article originally appeared on the Rewilding Institute website.  To view the original post or to learn more about the Rewilding Institute please visit their website.

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