Finger Lakes receives permanent protection
Tue, Nov 09 2010 at 4:04 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
On June 29, 2010, the only remaining undeveloped Finger Lakes were acquired from the city of Rochester by the state of New York for permanent protection.
Close to 7,000 acres of unfragmented forest, including the entire shorelines of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes, will now be managed by the NYS DEC as the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest.
“This is without a doubt the most important land acquisition project the state has undertaken outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks in more than a generation,” says DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “The watershed will be forever preserved, keeping it in its natural, forested state, and providing a continuous source of clean drinking water and recreational opportunities for residents of Rochester and surrounding communities. It’s one of those win-win-win situations.”
The permanent protection of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes is a “win-win-win” not only for the local community but the natural community as well. The watershed of Hemlock and Candice Lakes is pristine and undisturbed forest habitat. An example of the quality of the habitat is the persistence of the bald eagle. In the mid-1970s, when bald eagles had been virtually wiped out in New York state due to DDT, a pair still nested at Hemlock Lake.
Suppliers of drinking water
Hemlock and Canadice owe their unfragmented state to the city of Rochester. The two lakes have supplied drinking water to the city since 1876. The lakes are only 30 miles from Rochester, and even more important, they are uphill. Water flows naturally toward the thirsty city, avoiding the need for expensive pumps.
However, in the late 19th century, Rochester residents flocked to Hemlock and Canadice Lakes for recreation. At one time, as many as 80 homes and five hotels stood on the shoreline of Hemlock Lake. In 1896, the city, fearing contamination from runoff and pollution, began buying the land around the lake and planting trees to restore it. Eventually the city secured the entire shorelines of both lakes and a significant portion of the hillsides surrounding them. The forest, left undisturbed, filtered the water flowing into the lakes and secured the Rochester water supply for over 100 years.
When a water filtration plant was built at the north end of Hemlock Lake in 1994, suddenly the shorelines no longer needed to be pristine for clean water to reach city residents. The concern was that, some day, the city’s 7,000 acres around Hemlock and Canadice could be deemed surplus land that could be sold for development. No longer would we have two undeveloped Finger Lakes.
A save during hard times
For nearly 15 years, the Central & Western New York chapter of Nature Conservancy worked closely with the city and NYS DEC to ensure the two lakes stay the way they are. After over a century of stewardship, the city wanted the land to stay conserved, but had to face financial realities. The best-case scenario was purchase of the city’s lands by the State of New York, which offered permanent protection of the lakes and watershed, outdoor recreational use, and of course continued drinking water for Rochesterians. The chapter kept negotiations going between the city and state through multiple governors and mayoral administrations, with the ultimate goal of permanent conservation for the lakes.
When the economic downturn struck New York, it looked as if the state might not be able to deliver. The Nature Conservancy offered to step in, planning to purchase the lakes and keep them undeveloped until the state could take ownership. Thankfully, the state was able to meet the city’s needs and complete the purchase.
“The state’s ability to find resources for this project in a very constrained budget year illustrates the level of support for protecting these two lakes,” says Jim Howe, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Central & Western New York chapter. “The entire team at NYS DEC deserves tremendous credit for making this happen. All of us at The Nature Conservancy also salute the city for having the vision to protect these two lakes, and also for making sure they found an outcome that kept them conserved.”
The new Hemlock-Canadice State Forest will continue to protect the Rochester water supply, and offer recreational opportunities like canoeing, fishing and hiking. The valuable habitat will remain undisturbed under the stewardship of the NYS DEC. As Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy states, “This is a legacy for future generations of New Yorkers that will ensure that the pristine lakes and lands surrounding them remain undeveloped, protecting Rochester’s public water supply and guaranteeing that this jewel is preserved forever wild for the enjoyment of visitors and residents.”
Some of the species that benefit from the permanent protection of Hemlock and Canadice lakes include:
Black bear. Large, unbroken tracts of forest are necessary for black bear to thrive. Close to 80 percent of a bear’s diet is woody vegetation, and if bears can’t get enough to eat, they will often stray into human habitations searching for food. At least one den is located in the Hemlock-Canadice watershed.
Woodland salamanders. Herpetoids (amphibians and reptiles) are particularly threatened species worldwide. The south ends of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes host large, healthy wetland systems, perfect for amphibians like woodland salamanders. In the spring, thousands of spotted salamanders migrate from the forested hillsides to the wetlands to spawn.
Songbirds. The new State Forest provides great birdwatching opportunities. The bald eagles aren’t the only birds that build nests in the forest around the lakes — the watershed is a haven for breeding birds of all kinds. Thousands of migrating songbirds also depend on the wooded shorelines as a safe stopover site on their travels. The lakes and their shorelines are stopover points for waterfowl, shorebirds, and loons.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.