Town of Virgil landowners donate conservation easements to protect land

Aerial shot of the 250 acres of land donated to FLLT by Bill Hecht. (Photo provided by FLLT).

A handful of town of Virgil landowners recently donated three adjacent conservation easements to Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) of Ithaca to protect 250 acres of land in Cortland County.

In a news release by FLLT, it is noted that conservation easements are “voluntary legal agreements that permanently limit future land use in order to protect the land’s conservation value.”

“Lands subject to conservation easements remain in private ownership, on local tax rolls, and available for traditional uses such as farming and hunting,” the release continues.

“I am very pleased that the Finger Lakes Land Trust in working with these property owners were able to secure these conservation easements,” said county legislator and minority leader Beau Harbin (D-LD 2). “I have followed the work of the Land Trust for many years, and they have done an exceptional job in securing critical easements across the Finger Lakes region.”

The land as a whole is close to Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Virgil, within the Susquehanna River watershed, and next to James Kennedy State Forest that is located between the towns of Harford, Lapeer and Virgil.

A diagram that shows the new conservation easement that was donated to FLLT. (Photo provided by FLLT).

The land was granted to FLLT by a group of landowners -- Ed Robinson, Scott and Lisa Snyder, and Jim, Carole, and Dale Lathrop -- who worked together to manage the lands.

“By working together, these neighbors have ensured the future of properties that provide significant habitat for a diversity of wildlife,” said Finger Lakes Land Trust executive director Andrew Zepp. “The easements will provide for traditional hunting and forestry while preventing development that would harm the site’s natural resources.”

The group of landowners who donated the conservation elements have worked with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to manage the property as wildlife habitat, creating vernal pools, forest clearings, and small orchards. They also used the land for maple syrup production, hunting, and recreation.

“From a macro perspective, our world is changing rapidly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Robinson said. “Large expanses of healthy green space are vital and will only become more important in the long-term future.”

With protection of the 250 acres of land, it creates “a buffer to the publicly accessible (James Kennedy) state forest as well as a section of the Finger Lakes Trail which runs to the south,” the release states.

The release also mentions that conservation of the land provides a “forested buffer” for streams on the properties. This includes “source waters” of Owego Creek, which drains into the Susquehanna River, which goes to the Chesapeake Bay.

“Conservation easements can be an important tool to protect lands so they continue to provide vital ecosystem services,” said Amanda Barber, district manager at Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Barber added, “Large blocks of protected lands provide important wildlife habitat. I would expect this (land) to be maintained as a healthy, growing landscape and forest that will continue to sequester and store carbon, and provide habitat for important, sensitive and rare wildlife and plants.”

Harbin believes the easements will aid the county “by continuing to ensure our safe and clean drinking water” in Cortland and as downstream for other communities.

“These easements help preserve the natural beauty of our county and region,” he said.