WILLSBORO, N.Y. — The Adirondack Land Trust and the Gillilland family today announce the permanent conservation of 294 acres of farmland with more than two miles of natural forest along the Boquet River and associated tributaries. The Boquet River, a major tributary of Lake Champlain that drops 2,700 feet over its 47-mile course from the High Peaks to the lake, provides critical spawning habitat for salmon and other native fish.

This land, now protected by conservation easement, is part of the Ben Wever Farm on Mountain View Drive operated by Shaun and Linda Gillilland, along with their daughter, Chauntel, and her husband, Pierre-Luc Gélineau. In addition to supporting production of USDA-inspected beef, lamb, and poultry from grass-fed cattle, sheep, and chickens, the farm also supports an equestrian business that offers riding lessons.

Through conservation easements acquired by the Adirondack Land Trust for $576,000 with funding provided by The Nature Conservancy, development and other land uses are limited for the purpose of conserving the following:

• habitat for grassland birds
• viable agricultural soil important to the local food system
• pastural lands that contribute to the character of the Champlain Valley
• natural river and streamside forests that help protect freshwater habitat for fish and bolster climate resiliency

The Gillillands continue to own the land; the conservation easement is now and forever part of the deed.

“The conversation about protecting our family farmland started with fish. Over the years, I have supported Atlantic salmon restoration work along the Boquet River in various ways, including the removal of a dam. We are as delighted to help conserve salmon habitat as we are to keep our promise to Ben Wever that the land he sold us would continue as a family farm just as it has been since 1829,” said Shaun Gillilland. Farmers walking from their red barn accompanied by their farm dogs.

Lake Champlain’s land-locked population of Atlantic salmon was decimated in the 1800s. After various attempts since the 1970s to restore this species, naturally reproduced salmon fry were confirmed in 2016 and 2017 in the Boquet River in New York and the Winooski River in Vermont. One year after the Saw Mill Dam in Willsboro was removed in 2015 to restore upstream Boquet River habitat, salmon nests, called redds, were found upstream above the confluence of the river’s main stem and north branch, near the newly conserved property.

A Nature Conservancy analysis ranks the Boquet River watershed as having high potential for climate resiliency. The science-based nonprofit has in recent years improved habitat for coldwater fish like brook trout and salmon by removing a dam and improving culverts. As further investment in this watershed, The Nature Conservancy has provided funding to the Adirondack Land Trust for this project, in part through a grant award by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

“The Boquet features some of the best existing and potential spawning habitat for Atlantic salmon. We are thrilled to partner with the Adirondack Land Trust to help protect water quality and habitat along the river and its tributaries,” said Peg Olsen, Adirondack Director of The Nature Conservancy in New York.

“This project honors the region’s bucolic landscape and way-of-life while also providing a lifeline for salmon between the lake and river,” said Adirondack Land Trust Executive Director Mike Carr. “We are thrilled to partner with the Gillilland family and grateful for The Nature Conservancy’s funding to protect this incredible resource.”

According to David Minkoff, a Fish Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lake Champlain Field office, “The Service is delighted by this announcement from the Adirondack Land Trust and the Gilliland Family. The Boquet River features critical spawning habitat for native brook trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon. This significant conservation easement will help facilitate our continuing efforts to restore riparian and wetland habitats in the watershed and re-establish river connectivity for migratory fish.”

Top image: Aerial view of intact forests along the North Branch of the Boquet River on the Ben Wever Farm property. © Adirondack Land Trust/Becca Halter. Next image: From left to right: Chauntel Gillilland, Pierre-Luc Gélineau, Shaun Gillilland and Linda Gillilland at their Ben Wever Farm in Willsboro. © Nancie Battaglia