New York

Central & Western: Alvar Barrens and Grasslands

Shallow soils, barren limestone bedrock and austere, windswept vegetation characterize the Alvar Barrens and Grasslands of Jefferson County. A globally imperiled habitat, the barrens support several rare plants and animals. The sites in New York are part of a group of North American alvars that arc across the Great Lakes basin from New York, through Ontario, all the way to northern Lake Huron. 

Download an Alvar Range map.

Why We Work Here

In New York, alvars occur as a mosaic of exposed rocky outcrops, deep fissures and rubbly moss gardens intermingled with patches of woods, open grasslands and shrub savanna. Rare plants—such as prairie smoke, wood lily, yellow lady's slipper, wild columbine, harebell and several prairie grasses—thrive in the shallow, windswept soils.

Bobcats and porcupines roam the barrens along with birds such as ruffed grouse, upland sandpiper, whip-poor-will, golden-winged warbler, prairie warbler, black-and-white warbler and scarlet tanager.

Working through the International Alvar Conservation Initiative, The Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Program coordinates a multi-partner effort to preserve these fragile communities. 

  • Disrupted hydrology caused by culverts, impoundments, and pavement
  • Pale swallow-wort, a dangerously aggressive alien plant that invades limestone-based soils throughout the central and western New York area
  • Buckthorn and shrubby honeysuckle, which are choking out the native grassland and plant communities unique to this landscape 
Conservation Actions

Every year we team up with private landowners and public agencies like Cornell Cooperative Extension and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to treat hundreds of acres of lands infested with swallow-wort, an invasive plant that threatens to overwhelm the alvar landscape.

In 2002, we acquired three key tracts of land on this site: 285 acres adjacent to our Chaumont Barrens Preserve, 103 acres of grasslands, and 97 acres at our Three Mile Creek Barrens, expanding our total alvar holdings to nearly 4,000 acres. 


Private landowners, St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), Jefferson County Soil & Water Conservation District, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cornell Cooperative Extension, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Northern New York Community Foundation, Jefferson County, Towns of Lyme, Clayton, and Cape Vincent.


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