Nature Conservancy Working for Us

(This column was first published in the March 26, 2001 Buffalo News.)

A few weeks ago four of us spent a weekend in the North Country scouting out birds of the boreal forests, only a few of which are found in New York during the summer. These birds retreat to southern Ontario and the Adirondacks in years when food is scarce farther to the north.

Our first stop was Amherst Island, in Lake Ontario about twenty miles west of Kingston, Ontario. Some consider it the first of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River. We reached the island by ferry and drove directly to the "owl woods." The name is certainly well chosen because we found there many long-eared and short-eared owls as well as single saw-whet and boreal owls, the last a life bird for me. We had a close-up view of this tan little owl, scarcely bigger than the open palm of your hand. It graciously blinked at us.

Later on our way back to the ferry we found a snowy owl.

We returned to New York State and the Adirondacks the next day where we met by appointment two of our state's finest natural history guides: Brian McAllister and Rich MacDonald. Together they showed us still another owl, a hawk owl, a perfectly named bird for it acts much like a hawk. Unlike its relatives it perches in the open on treetops. We also listed common raven, gray jay, white-winged crossbill, boreal chickadee and two of the notoriously difficult to find black-backed woodpeckers. Brian located them by their soft tapping -- sounds well beyond my ever-diminishing hearing.

Our timing on this trip was perfect because Nature Conservancy staff members were celebrating purchase a few days earlier of extensive tracts of land from the International Paper Corporation. They will make the Adirondacks, according to one observer, "the premier canoeing and kayaking area in the East." Rich, who is a Nature Conservancy representative in the Adirondacks, was especially pleased because he is an avid kayaker. He also introduced us to another Conservancy employee with a Buffalo connection, Mary Thill. Mary's dad, Joe Thill, is one of the Niagara Frontier's finest ornithologists and myrmecologists. (Most readers will recognize ornithology as the study of birds but I suspect far fewer will know myrmecology as the study of ants.) Both Rich and Mary are working on follow-up activities related to the International Paper land acquisition.

This new addition to the public lands of the Adirondacks comprises 42 square miles -- equal to the area of the entire City of Buffalo. Three separate tracts are involved and each will open (in 2002 at the earliest) new lakes and streams for exploration. They tie in very well with recent state acquisitions of the Champion Rivers and Whitney Park areas.

The new purchases lie in a seldom-entered part of the Adirondacks southwest of Tupper Lake mostly in Hamilton County. This whole region bounded by Routes 3, 26, 28 and 30 encompasses one of the largest roadless areas in the eastern United States. Its nearest rival is the more thoroughly explored High Peaks area just to the east.

A great value of Nature Conservancy is its ability to move more rapidly than governmental agencies on land purchases like this one. Some of this acquisition will in time be sold to the state for recreational use and some will be forested under strict timber management controls but a small part will be retained as an ecologically unique preserve. Funds derived from these activities will retire only part of the $10.5 million purchase price.

I salute Nature Conservancy and its enthusiastic staff for their underappreciated work in our behalf.-- Gerry Rising