Where the Bears Wander
Fortunately for the bears, birds, and trout, geology has afforded habitat connections from the High Peaks to Lake Champlain. Among such critical natural links are rivers, particularly the Boquet, AuSable, and Saranac, and a section of the West Champlain Hills that conservationists know as Split Rock Wildway.
This wildlife corridor runs southwest through the Split Rock Range on Lake Champlain, west over Coon Mountain, northwest over Sprig and Cob Hills and Boquet Mountain, then west to Poko-Moonshine, the Jay Range, and the High Peaks. It runs from habitat of Lake Sturgeon, River Otter, and Bald Eagle to that of stunted spruce, American Marten, and Bicknell’s Thrush, with Brook Trout plying the waters between, and our bruin friends moving up and down on land and by water with the seasons.
Split Rock Wild Forest anchors the Wildway on the east; Jay Mountain Wilderness anchors it on the west. Related habitat connections extend southward through the Westport Woods (partially protected by state-held easement), stretching south almost to Port Henry; and north (less continuously) over other West Champlain Hills, such as Rattlesnake, Sugarloaf, and Skagerack; and west of there to the Taylor Pond/Silver Lake area.
Split Rock Wildway roughly corresponds with an arm of mountain bedrock, anorthosite, reaching from the High Peaks through the Champlain Valley in a wide band of rocky hills. This swath of rugged ground remained largely forested, while fertile valley soils to the north and south were converted to agriculture.
All this is set within New York’s Adirondack Park, which at 6 million acres in size is the largest park in the Lower 48 United States. It is an unusual park, though, in that it is more than half private lands. About 2.8 of the 6 million acres are state-owned Forest Preserve, guaranteed “Forever Wild” protection by the New York State Constitution: some of the strongest land protection in the world, most of all for the 1.1 million of those 2.8 million acres given the additional layer of Wilderness protection.
Adirondack Park is set within the even larger Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve, an honorary (not regulatory) designation bestowed upon the Champlain Valley in both Vermont and the Adirondacks as well as the Adirondack Mountains, and adding up to more than 9 million acres, making it one of the largest Biosphere Reserves in the world.
Incentives for Protecting Wildlife Habitat on Private Lands
Habitat connections (or linkages or wildlife corridors or wildways …) within the Adirondack Park and between the Park and outside wildlands have been recognized by Wildlands Network, Keeping Track, Wildlife Conservation Society, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Nature Conservancy & Land Trust, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Open Space Institute, Eddy Foundation, Two Countries One Forest, Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, Champlain Area Trails, and other conservation groups as regionally important.
Groups involved in wildways protection agree: private lands conservation is an urgent need, but will not proceed far without better incentives for landowners to be good stewards. An impetus for conservation groups exploring the possibility of selling carbon credits is (together with finding an income source to help cover stewardship costs) to further programs that would reward landowners for doing the right thing: pay them to leave their trees standing and their lands intact.
Continue reading this series:
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Serpentine Splendors: Snakes of Split Rock Wildway (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Split Rock Wildway: Creating and Protecting a Wildlife Corridor (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Restore the Adirondack Wolf (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Split Rock Wildway: A Critical Wildlife Corridor (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)