Easements will ensure the farm is not subdivided as residential development spreads south along Skaneateles Lake

The Finger Lakes Land Trust announced Thursday it has permanently protected 628 acres of pastures, crop fields, and woodland in the Skaneateles Lake watershed. The acreage is Birdsall Farm, a beef cattle operation in both Cortland and Onondaga counties owned by Heather and Dennis Birdsall of Homer.

The Land Trust completed two conservation easement agreements, one for each county, preserving the farm known for its scenic beauty. The easements will ensure the farm is not subdivided as residential development spreads south along Skaneateles Lake.

Surrounded by steep hills and deep valleys above southern Skaneateles Lake’s eastern shore, the farm has the headwaters of Grout Brook, a principal tributary to the lake, flowing through it.

Given the sensitive nature of the watershed, the Birdsalls invested heavily in farming practices that meet water quality protection requirements, noted the land trust. In recognition, the Birdsalls received the 2015 Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agriculture Program Environmental Steward of the Year award.

Heather and Dennis Birdsall are first-generation farmers who bought their original 143 acres in 2002 and continue to purchase neighboring parcels to grow their farm. Their beef products can be found at local restaurants and markets including the Anderson Farmers Market in Homer, Number 5 Restaurant in Binghamton, and Pita Gourmet in Cortland.

The farm is in a priority protection area for the Finger Lakes Land Trust and is within four miles of about 4,000 acres of protected land, which includes the Land Trust’s High Vista Nature Preserve and Hinchcliff Family Preserve, as well as three other properties subject to conservation easements.

“Protection of this farm is particularly important because of its proximity to Skaneateles Lake and a growing network of conservation land,” said Land Trust Executive Director Andrew Zepp. “We’re grateful to the Birdsalls for their commitment to the land and we look forward to working with other farmers in this area to conserve more land.”

Funds for the project came from the state’s Farmland Protection Implementation Program (FPIG), administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The Land Trust will hold and enforce the easements, protecting the land from ever being developed.

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.

By working with landowners and local communities, the Finger Lakes Land Trust has protected more than 23,000 acres of the region’s undeveloped lakeshore, rugged gorges, rolling forest, and scenic farmland. The organization owns and manages a network of over 30 nature preserves that are open to the public and holds perpetual conservation easements on 140 properties that remain in private ownership. The preserves include the Wesley Hill preserve in the Bristol Hills, Grimes Glen in Naples and the Kashong Conservation Area in Geneva.

The Land Trust focuses on protecting critical habitat for fish and wildlife, conserving lands that are important for water quality, connecting existing conservation lands, and keeping prime farmland in agriculture. The organization also provides programs to educate local governments, landowners, and residents about conservation and the region’s unique natural resources.

Learn more at www.fllt.org. Tap into more about recreation in the Finger Lakes at www.gofingerlakes.org, a resource created by the Land Trust to encourage people to get outdoors.