Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach to Become State's Newest Natural Heritage Area

Friday, 12 October 2007
A 17-mile stretch that encompasses one of the largest inland dune systems in the eastern Great Lakes would become New York's latest Natural Heritage Area under a proposal announced today by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis.
ALBANY, NY (10/12/2007; 1132)(readMedia)-- A 17-mile stretch that encompasses one of the largest inland dune systems in the eastern Great Lakes would become New York's latest Natural Heritage Area under a proposal announced today by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis.

Grannis proposed designating the Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach and Wetland Complex as a Natural Heritage Area, providing heightened protection to the 5,800-acre site. This designation applies to all state-owned land on the Lake Ontario shore between the mouths of Stony Creek in Jefferson County to the north and the Salmon River in Oswego County to the south. It includes the Black Pond Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Southwick Beach State Park, Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area, Lakeview Marsh WMA and the Deer Creek WMA. This would become the state's second Natural Heritage Area.

"This designation is an important step in making the continued protection and restoration of rare plants, fauna and natural habitats a priority for this site," Grannis said. "As climate change and other factors impact the Great Lakes, these barrier beaches and wetlands will continue to provide the ecological diversity that our current generation enjoys and future generations are entitled to experience."

"This designation is an important step in protecting the unique natural resources of eastern Lake Ontario," said Carol Ash, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "We look forward to a continued partnership with DEC in preserving our state's diverse ecosystems, while providing appropriate recreational opportunities for the public."

The New York Natural Heritage Areas Program was established by law in 2002 and directs state managers on lands and waters so designated to highlight and ensure the protection of rare animals, rare plants, and significant natural communities. It also means biodiversity features will be given priority when management decisions are being made. Last month, the Tivoli Bays Wildlife Management Area on the Hudson River was named New York's first Natural Heritage Area.

The Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach and Wetland Complex is made up of multiple barrier beaches, bays, dunes and wetlands. The area has been recognized in many ways - the state of New York has designated it "Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat" and a "Bird Conservation Area" and the Audubon Society has named it an "Important Bird Area."

Surveys and inventories have indicated that there are 11 endangered and 10 threatened plant species, four endangered and four threatened animals and eight significant ecological communities in the designated area.

Further, the area supports a diversity of rare or at-risk breeding bird species such as the least bittern (Ixobrychus exilis), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), common tern (Sterna hirundo) and the black tern (Chlidonias niger). Other bird species use the area for staging and foraging, like the common tern, Caspian tern (Sterna caspia), various shorebirds and numerous species of waterfowl and the federally endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodius) nested in the complex as recently as 1984. Significant ecological communities in the complex are Great Lakes dunes, medium fens, shallow emergent marshes, pristine silver maple-ash swamps, red maple-hardwood swamps, red maple-tamarack peatlands, calcareous pavement barrens and calcareous shoreline outcrops. Endangered plant species, the state endangered bogbean buckmoth (Hemileuca sp.) and other "Species of Greatest Conservation Need" are found in the complex.

The public lands along Lake Ontario provide a variety of recreational opportunities, including boat launch and canoe/kayak access sites, hiking trails, wildlife viewing sites and diverse hunting, fishing, and trapping opportunities, in addition to camping, picnicking, and life-guarded swimming on Southwick Beach State Park.

The protection of dunes and other significant ecological communities and habitats has been enhanced substantially by the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewardship Program. This program was developed by partners such as the DEC, The Nature Conservancy, Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation and New York Sea Grant. The program employs a number of dune stewards who educate the public about the area's natural communities and sensitive habitats and encourage public appreciation and environmentally sound recreational enjoyment of the area. The program provides public walks and programs as well as other interaction with visitors who tour the area.

Lands adjacent to the Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach and Wetland Complex are also protected and therefore serve as a buffer to the sensitive habitats present within the complex. The El Dorado Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy, is located adjacent to and north of the complex. Selkirk Shores State Park is at the southern end.

"Here along the eastern shores of Lake Ontario we are fortunate to be able to enjoy the many types of rare birds, plants and animals that live in the dunes, beaches and wetlands of this area," said Senator Jim Wright. "By designating this stretch of land as a Natural Heritage Area, we are providing important enhanced protection for the wildlife that makes up this habitat to ensure its vitality and diversity for centuries to come."

"I applaud the Commissioner and Administration for their proactive approach and for their efforts in identifying this as a Natural Heritage Area," Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine said. "This designation of these public lands will strengthen protection efforts of the natural environment and is consistent with our long-term strategy for the continued use of public land."

"We live in a region that is rich in visual beauty. Maintaining natural resources is vital in preserving, protecting and promoting ecological diversity in our region," said Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.

For more information about this designation, visit "Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach and Wetland Area: Proposed Natural Heritage Area Designation" on the DEC Web site (www.dec.ny.gov/animals/279.html).

The DEC will accept comments on the proposed Eastern Lake Ontario Barrier Beach and Wetland Complex NHA until October 25. Comments should be addressed to Angelena M. Ross, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, 317 Washington St., Watertown NY 13601. Or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to send comments.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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