Nestled in the ‘North Country’ between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks, Tug Hill is a region of unbroken northern hardwood forests and pristine wetlands drained by a vast network of coldwater streams. As one of the three largest, intact forests in New York State, Tug Hill harbors seven rare plant species, four rare animal species and fourteen different natural communities.
This vast 150,000-acre forest protects habitat for wide-ranging mammals (such as bobcat, pine marten and black bear) and woodland birds (such as blackburnian warblers, three-toed woodpeckers and goshawks).
Tug Hill also safeguards the water quality of more than 4,000 miles of rivers and streams that flow from the top of Tug Hill through numerous steep gorges (locally known as “gulfs”). These high-quality streams and their associated wetlands create exceptional aquatic habitats that support eastern pearlshell mussels, native brook trout and other freshwater species.
Tug Hill is famous for its heavy snowfall. As frigid winds blow over Lake Ontario, they pick up moisture and deposit lake-effect snow on Tug Hill’s 2,000-foot plateau. Over 200 inches of snow falls each year, and it is not uncommon to see second-floor entries on the area's oldest cabins.
Threats to Tug Hill include:
The following goals will be accomplished through land acquisition, conservation easements, education and outreach:
The Nature Conservancy recently began an extensive inventory of invasive species and will produce a set of best management practices for landowners and highway departments.
The Conservancy and SUNY-ESF (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry) examined the impacts of atmospheric deposition (acid rain) on the forests and streams in Tug Hill and will soon release findings.
We are also studying the movements of mammals, including black bear, moose, and river otter that roam over wide-ranging areas from Tug Hill to the Adirondacks so that we may better understand their habitat and connectivity requirements.
The Nature Conservancy began focusing on Tug Hill in 1998. Four years later the Conservancy purchased a 45,000-acre property that comprises fully one-third of Tug Hill’s core forest; at the time, this was the Conservancy’s largest-ever acquisition in New York. The acquisition of this tract also was groundbreaking in that it was supported by the local community. The Conservancy, the Tug Hill Commission and the East Branch of Fish Creek Working Group, a local group of stakeholders, worked together to ensure that conservation priorities were integrated with local desires.
Our 45,000-acre acquisition permanently protected important natural areas, provided new public access opportunities while continuing traditional recreational activities, and required sustainable forestry practices that safeguard Tug Hill’s natural resources and guarantee a steady flow of timber products off the majority of the property. The 45,000-acre transaction had three components:
Tug Hill communities are some of the least populous in the state, and tax-exempt ownership could mean cuts in municipal services or large increases in property taxes for other landowners. The Nature Conservancy has worked closely with local taxing jurisdictions and the Tug Hill Commission to develop a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement in order to provide funding to local communities. We’ve also taken steps to target the Conservancy’s PILOT payments towards those taxing jurisdictions that feel the greatest fiscal impact of our ownership.
Our partners in conservation include: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Tug Hill Commission, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, Northern Forest Protection Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tug Hill Resources Investment for Tomorrow, St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, NYS Department of State, John Ben Snow Foundation, East Branch of Fish Creek Working Group, Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Foundation, NYS Department of Transportation, NY Rivers United, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, SUNY ESF, Land Trust Alliance, Cornell University, Adirondack Land Trust and Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, local town supervisors and highway departments.