TULLY, NY – Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland celebrated a unique settlement agreement as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Program that will return more than 1,000 acres of ancestral land to the Onondaga Nation, one of the largest returns of land to an Indigenous nation by a state.
The agreement is a result of the March 2018 NRDAR settlement between the Natural Resource Trustees and Honeywell International, Inc. regarding the Onondaga Lake NPL, and will convey the title and full ownership of Honeywell’s land to the Onondaga Nation to restore and steward the property.
As Natural Resource Trustees for the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) signed a resolution that directs Honeywell to transfer the title to more than 1,000 acres of open space in Central New York’s Tully Valley to the Onondaga Nation.
“This historic agreement represents a unique opportunity to return traditional homelands back to Indigenous people to steward for the benefit of their community,” said Secretary Haaland. “We look forward to drawing upon the Onondaga Nation’s expertise and Indigenous knowledge in helping manage the area’s valuable wildlife and habitat. Consistent with the President’s America the Beautiful initiative, all of us have a role to play in this administration’s work to ensure our conservation efforts are locally led and support communities’ health and well-being.”
“Today is a historic day for New York State, the Biden administration, and our many partners in respecting and recognizing the Onondaga Nation as the original stewards of these lands and waters,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “This scenic location in the Tully Valley will be owned by the Nation and its people to continue their legacy of conservation that will protect these cultural and ecological resources for the benefit of Nation citizens and all New Yorkers for generations to come.”
“It is with great joy that the Onondaga Nation welcomes the return of the first substantial acreage of its ancestral homelands,” said Onondaga Nation Chief Tadodaho Sidney Hill. “The Nation can now renew its stewardship obligations to restore these lands and waters and to preserve them for the future generations yet to come. The Nation hopes that this cooperative, government-to-government effort will be another step in healing between themselves and all others who live in this region, which has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the dawn of time.”
The Tully Valley property includes the headwaters of Onondaga Creek, more than 45 acres of wetland and floodplains, and approximately 980 acres of forest and successional fields. The cold waters of Onondaga Creek support a small population of brook trout, a population which may be fully restored with proper stewardship. The wetlands, floodplains, forests and fields are home to wildlife such as great blue heron, songbirds, waterfowl, hawks, bald eagles, frogs, bats, and other mammals including white-tailed deer.
The federal-nation-state partnership that led to the return of this property to the Onondaga people will include a conservation easement with DEC. The easement will prohibit commercial development, provide for the protection and restoration of natural areas, including fish and wildlife habitat, in accordance with traditional ecological knowledge, and allow compatible outdoor recreational and educational uses, including public access to Fellows Falls.
The Onondaga Nation will develop a management plan in consultation with the trustees to determine the type and extent of recreational and public use compatible with the Nation’s re-establishment of culturally and ecologically significant native vegetation and habitats.
Honeywell International is required by the settlement to implement 18 restoration projects, including the Tully Valley land transfer announced, and pay more than $5 million for the trustees’ implementation of additional restoration projects in and around the Onondaga Lake Watershed.
Honeywell has completed, or is in the process of, completing the restoration projects including: 100 acres of grassland restoration; preservation of more than 200 hundred acres of wetland habitat; preservation and restoration of an additional 850 acres of habitat within the Onondaga Lake watershed; a public boat ramp along the Seneca River; enhanced habitat and fishing opportunities along the shores of Onondaga Lake and in Ninemile Creek; an extension of the Empire State Trail from Camillus to Harbor Brook; and the transfer of the Honeywell Visitor Center to the state.
The consent decree and Restoration Plan will be modified and subject to public comment and Court review, as necessary.