Photo: Bill Hecht

NY State’s Largest Wildlife Management Area Expands Through Partnership

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Finger Lakes Land Trust recently completed the acquisition of an 86-acre addition to Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area in the town of Catharine, Schuyler County.

Connecticut Hill encompasses more than 11,500 acres of undeveloped land southwest of Ithaca and is the largest wildlife management area in the state. Federal Sportfish and Wildlife Restoration (WSFR) Funds were used to purchase the additional land.

Photo: Stefanie Delaney

Photo: Stefanie Delaney

“I applaud our partners in the Finger Lakes Land Trust for helping New York State to secure this unique parcel that will bolster and link together existing conservation areas,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “This addition will not only protect this vital habitat, it will ensure that visitors have even more opportunities for outstanding recreational enjoyment.”

The Land Trust acquired the property in 2015 and held it until sufficient funds were available to allow for purchase of the land by DEC. The parcel was identified as a priority for protection because of its value as wildlife habitat as well as the fact that it features 1,000 feet of level road frontage. Addition of this land to the wildlife management area greatly enhances public access while securing open meadows and mature hardwood forests of beech, oak, maple, and hickory with scattered pines and hemlocks.

With elevations reaching 2,000 feet, Connecticut Hill is a popular destination for hunting, hiking, birding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. In total, Connecticut Hill contains approximately nine miles of designated hiking trails, and many more miles of dirt roads and access lanes. Recognized as one of the state’s Important Bird Areas­, Connecticut Hill is host to a wide variety of songbirds, as well as wide ranging mammals such as fishers and black bear.

Connecticut Hill is also an important component of the Emerald Necklace, a proposed greenbelt linking 50,000 acres of existing conservation land in an arc around Ithaca, from the Finger Lakes National Forest in the west to the Hammond Hill State Forest in the east. The Emerald Necklace is recognized as a priority project within New York State’s Open Space Plan and is a conservation priority for the Land Trust.

“This acquisition helps ensure the integrity of one of our region’s largest intact forests and also enhances public access for outdoor recreation,” said Land Trust Executive Director Andrew Zepp. “The public will now benefit from much easier access to thousands of acres of conservation land.”

This is the fourth time the Land Trust has partnered with DEC to expand the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area. In 2014, the Land Trust purchased a 16-acre tract about two miles south of this recent acquisition that is surrounded on three sides by Connecticut Hill and has frontage on a perennial stream that flows into nearby Cayuta Lake.  The organization also provided assistance to the state with two earlier acquisitions.