Overall Rating Platinum
Overall Score 86.33
Liaison Lisa Kilgore
Submission Date March 1, 2024

STARS v2.2

Cornell University
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Leslie Schill
University Planner
Capital Projects and Planning
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution own or manage land that includes or is adjacent to legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, or regions of conservation importance?:

A brief description of the legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance:
Cornell University owns and manages 660 acres of lands in a natural areas preserve system, covered under IUCN Catagory IV legally protected lands, where the primary goal is the long-term conservation of native biodiversity, natural communities, and ecological processes. These holdings are protected and actively managed for conservation purposes by Cornell Botanic Gardens. Part of these holdings are also legally designated by New York State Statute as a Recreational River. In 1986 New York State passed the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act to prevent “Improvident development and use of these rivers and their immediate environs…” N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. Tit. 27, §. tit. 27, § 666.1 (1986). Applicants can submit rivers or portions of rivers for protection under the Act to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and in 1990 the City of Ithaca submitted such a request. As a Recreational River Fall Creek, from the West side of the Triphammer Footbridge to the Cayuga Lake inlet, is now protected from alterations of flow, reductions in water quality, impingement on historic use patterns and preserved for its ecological, hydrologic, geologic and socio-cultural qualities. Agents found guilty of violating these protections are subject to remedies and penalties outlined in New York State’s Environmental Conservation Law. A description of Recreational Rivers, taken from the WSRRA, is, "Recreational rivers are generally readily accessible, and may have a significant amount of development in their river areas and may have been impounded or diverted in the past. Management of recreational river areas will be directed to preserving and restoring their natural, cultural, scenic and recreational qualities, except in areas delineated by the Department as communities, which will be managed to avoid adverse environmental impacts and loss of existing river corridor values. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation webpage containing the listing of Fall Creek can be found at: http://https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/58478.html. https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/78661.html

Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify endangered and vulnerable species (including migratory species) with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution?:

A list of endangered and vulnerable species with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution, by level of extinction risk:
Pinguicula vulgaris (butterwort), State Threatened Primula mistassinica (bird’s eye primrose, State Threatened Acipenser fulvescens (lake sturgeon), State Threatened

Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution?:

A brief description of areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution:
The managed natural areas present within the Cornell campus includes 660 total acres. This preserve system encompasses 32 distinct natural and anthropogenic plant community types. Specifically, this includes: Successional old field A meadow on sites cleared, plowed, and then abandoned. The ragweed type occurs on fields 1 to 3 years after last cultivation; ragweed, daisy, Queen Anne's lace, crab grass, golden foxtail, and chickweed are common. The goldenrod subtype occurs 3 - 15 years after last cultivation. Dominant species are perennial composites: goldenrods and asters. Other herbs include timothy, orchard grass, smooth brome, bluegrasses, quackgrass, sweet vernal grass, evening primrose, old-field cinquefoil, wild strawberry, and hawkweeds. Shrubs and trees represent less than 50% cover but include gray dogwood, arrowwood, raspberries, blackberries, sumac, red maple and white pine. Mixed oak forest A forest dominated by oaks found on steep south and west facing slopes. Soils may have calcareous materials at depth. Dominants are red, black, and white oak, and white pine. Black oak is an indicator of this ecological community type. Pignut hickory and red maple are usually present. Flowering dogwood and choke cherry are often abundant in the understory. Shale cliff and talus community A community with sparse vegetation that occurs on nearly vertical exposures of shale bedrock, ledges, and talus. The talus is unstable, there is little soil. Characteristic species include blunt-lobed woodsia, rusty woodsia, hairy penstemon, herb-Robert, panic grass, Carex pensylvanica, and eastern red cedar. Shale talus slope woodland An open to closed canopy woodland that occurs on talus slopes composed of shale. Slopes are unstable and very well drained. Soils are shallow and dry. Canopy cover is less than 50%. Characteristics trees include chestnut oak, pignut hickory, red oak, white oak, white pine, white ash, and eastern white cedar. Characteristic shrubs include smooth sumac, poison ivy, hairy penstemon, everlasting, and Pennsylvania sedge. Cliff and talus communities on shale Open communities with less than 25% trees on a shale substrate. The Shale cliff and talus community and Shale talus slope woodland communities are often found together. The woodland community is structurally intermediate between forests and open canopy upland of the cliff and talus community. Rocky headwater stream The aquatic community of a small to moderate sized rocky stream with a moderate to steep gradient that lacks persistent emergent vegetation. The cold water stream flows over eroded bedrock near the stream origin and contains alternating riffle and pool sections. These streams typically have mosses and algae present, but few larger rooted plants. Beech-maple mesic forest A hardwood forest with sugar maple and beech co-dominant. Found on moist, well-drained soils, on north and east facing slopes, and on gently sloping hilltops of any aspect, this ecological community type rarely occurs in ravines. Common associates are basswood, American elm, white ash, yellow birch, hop hornbeam, and red maple. Characteristic species in the sub-canopy are musclewood, striped maple, witch hazel, hobblebush, and alternate-leaved dogwood. There typically are few herbs and shrubs, but tree seedlings may be abundant. There are many spring ephemerals. Hemlock-northern hardwood forest A forest that typically occurs on lower slopes of ravines, on cool, mid-elevation slopes, and at the edges of drainage divide swamps. Hemlock is a co-dominant species with one to three others: beech, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, white pine, yellow birch, black birch, red oak, and basswood. Shrubs have low abundance, but striped maple may be present. Herbs characteristic of northern and montane areas are common. Oak-beech-hickory-pine type A forest usually found on hilltops and south to west facing slopes. Soils are acidic and well to moderately well drained, but usually have restricted rooting depth due to fragipan or bedrock. Beech, pine, or aspen may be among the dominant trees and trees of cool microclimates such as birch, hemlock, and striped and mountain maples are abundant in this ecological community type. Shrubs and herbs are abundant and moderately diverse. Midreach stream The aquatic community of a stream that has a well-defined pattern of alternating pool, riffle, and run sections. Waterfalls and springs may be present. Typical aquatic macrophytes include waterweed and pondweeds. Persistent emergent vegetation is lacking. Reservoir/artificial impoundment The aquatic community of an artificial lake created by the impoundment of a river, pond or swamp (Beebe Lake, Lake Treman). Appalachian oak-hickory forest A hardwood forest with more than 60% canopy cover of trees that occurs on well-drained sites, usually on flat hilltops, upper slopes, or south and west facing slopes. Dominant trees include one or more of red oak, white oak, and black oak. Mixed with oaks, are one or more of pignut, shagbark, and sweet pignut hickory. Common associates are white ash, red maple, and hop hornbeam. Small trees include flowering dogwood, witch hazel, shadbush, and choke cherry. Shrubs and groundlayer flora are diverse. Shrubs include maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries, red raspberry, gray dogwood, and beaked hazelnut. Emergent marshes Marsh communities occur on mineral soils or fine-grained organic soils that are permanently saturated. They are often found near the Finger Lakes or in wetlands near a drainage divide. Because water levels may fluctuate, exposing substrate and aerating the soil, there is little or no accumulation of peat. Characteristic vegetation in deeper marshes includes emergent aquatics such as yellow pond lily, cattails, bulrushes, and arrow arum. Disturbed marshes may have purple loosestrife, reedgrass, or reed canary grass. Characteristic plants in shallower marshes include bluejoint grass, cutgrass, bulrushes, and water smartweed. Farm pond/artificial pond The aquatic community of a small pond constructed on agricultural or residential property. These ponds are often eutrophic and may be stocked with fish. Perched swamp white oak swamp A swamp on mineral soils that occurs in a shallow depression on a forested hilltop where there is a perched water table. The sites are shallow to bedrock with an impermeable clay layer. The swamp may be flooded in spring and dry by late summer. The dominant tree is swamp white oak, which may form a nearly pure, but open canopy stand. In better-drained areas, the canopy may include scarlet oak, white oak, red maple, white pine, and pitch pine. Scattered ericaceous shrubs are present in the open understory and include black huckleberry, highbush blueberry, lowbush blueberry, and maleberry. Hummocks around bases of trees and shrubs often have Sphagnum mosses. The ground cover may be sparse (South Hill, Bull pasture ponds). Red maple-hardwood swamp A swamp that occurs in poorly drained upland depressions usually on acidic muck over clay. The bedrock is usually shale. Red maple or silver maple may dominate alone or with yellow birch. Black ash, white pine and hemlock may also be present. The shrub layer is quite dense and includes spicebush, winterberry, black chokeberry, highbush blueberry, red-osier dogwood, arrowwood, and nannyberry. The herb layer is often dominated by cinnamon fern. Herbs include skunk cabbage, jewelweed, and sedges. Shrub swamp A shrub-dominated wetland that occurs along a lake or river, in a wet depression, or as a transition between wetland and upland communities. The substrate is usually mineral soil or muck. Alder, willows, or red-osier and silky dogwoods are common dominant species. Other characteristic shrub species include gray dogwoods, meadowsweet, highbush blueberry, winterberry, spicebush, viburnums, and buttonbush. A few red maple trees may be present. The herb layer is lush and diverse, and typically includes species found in sedge-grass meadows. Successional shrubland Shrubland with at least 50% cover of shrubs that occurs on agricultural fields 10 - 25 years after abandonment, following other disturbance, and especially on sites with restricted drainage. Characteristic shrubs include gray dogwood, raspberries, hawthorn, serviceberries, chokecherry, sumac, nannyberry, arrowwood, and buckthorn. Herbs are those of old-fields. Seedlings of white pine, red maple, and white ash are usually present. Wetland headwater stream The aquatic community of a small, swampy brook with a low gradient, slow flow rate, and cool to cold water that flows through a fen, swamp or marsh near the stream origin. Springs may be present. The substrate is clay, gravel or sand, with silt, muck, peat, or marl deposits along the shore. Characteristic plants include watercress, Chara. Persistent emergent vegetation is lacking. Floodplain forest A hardwood forest found on alluvial gravels on low terraces of floodplains of larger creeks and creek deltas. Characteristic trees include sycamore, cottonwood, box elder, silver and red maple, butternut, crack, and white willow. American elm was once present. Characteristic vines and shrubs are Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and spicebush. Characteristic herbs are white snakeroot, green dragon, jewelweed, ostrich fern, and jumpseed. Riverside sand/gravel bar A meadow community that occurs on sand and gravel bars deposited within, or adjacent to, a river channel. The community may be very sparsely vegetated, depending on the rates of deposition and erosion of the sand or gravel. Characteristic species include sandbar willow (Salix exigua), sand-cherry (Prunus pumila), dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Sedge meadow A wet meadow with permanently saturated and seasonally flooded organic soils in wetlands that receive mineral nutrients via groundwater or streams. There is usually little peat accumulation and floating mats are not formed. Sedge meadows typically occur along streams and near the inlet and outlets of lakes and ponds. The dominant species is a tussock-sedge, Carex stricta, usually with about 50% cover. Other characteristic herbs include sedges (C. lacustris and C. rostrata), bluejoint grass, sweetflag, joe-pye weed, tall meadow rue, and bulrushes. Successional northern hardwoods A forest with more than 60% canopy cover of trees that occurs on sites that have been cleared or otherwise disturbed. Dominant trees are usually two or more of the following: red maple, white pine, white ash, gray birch, quaking aspen, big-tooth aspen, and, less frequently, sugar maple and white ash. Tree seedlings and saplings may be of more shade tolerant species. Shrubs and ground cover species may be those of old-fields. In abandoned pasturelands apples and hawthorns may be present in the understory. Erosional slope/bluff A sparsely vegetated community that occurs on vertical exposures of unconsolidated material, such as small stone, gravel, sand and clay, that is exposed to erosional sources, such as water, ice, or wind. Intermittent stream The aquatic community of a small ephemeral streambed with a moderate to steep gradient where the water flows only during the spring or after a heavy rain. The streambed may be covered with mosses such as Bryhnia novae-angliae. Conifer plantation A planted stand of commercial trees species, usually for timber purposes. Usually a monoculture, but they may be mixed stands with two or more species. Species typically planted include white pine, red pine, Scotch pine, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, European larch, and Japanese larch. Rich graminoid fen Here the substrate is a graminoid peat which may be underlain by marl. The dominant species are sedges (Carex flava, C. hystericina, C. sterilis), with grasses and rushes. Sphagnum is restricted to a few species, but other mosses may be abundant. Other species are cattails, sundew, pitcher plant, cranberry, and grass-of-parnassus. Trees and shrubs have less than 50% cover but include red-osier and gray dogwoods, shrubby cinquefoil, and swamp buckthorn. Rich fens are fed by water from highly calcareous springs or seepage rich in minerals with high pH, (6.5 to 8). They are underlain by glacial gravels with peat deposits. This community is often found with other fen communities which may form a mosaic on one site. Mowed areas Land in which the groundcover is dominated by clipped grasses and forbs. The ecological community type with trees has more than 30% cover of trees. The type also includes narrow strips of mowed pathway, such as a roadside or utility corridor. Deep emergent marsh Deep marshes have a water depth ranging from 15 cm to 2 m. The substrate is almost always wet and there is usually standing water in autumn. Characteristic vegetation includes emergent aquatics such as yellow pond lily, white waterlily, cattails, bulrushes, burred, and arrow arum. Disturbed marshes may have purple loosestrife, reedgrass, or reed canary grass. Marsh communities occur on mineral soils or fine-grained organic soils that are permanently saturated. They are often found near the Finger Lakes or in wetlands near a drainage divide. Because water levels may fluctuate, exposing substrate and aerating the soil, there is little or no accumulation of peat. Hickory-white ash-oak type The forest occurs on flat uplands and gentle to moderate slopes. Soil is of moderate pH and well to moderately well drained. Shagbark hickory as a dominant is an indicator of this ecological community type. Mesophytes of fertile soils such as white ash, basswood, tulip poplar, sugar and red maples are among the dominant species or abundant as a group in this type. Shrubs and herbs often have a weedy component. Flower/herb garden Residential, commercial, or horticultural land cultivated for the production of ornamental herbs and shrubs. This community includes gardens cultivated for the production of culinary herbs. Characteristic birds include American robin (Turdus migratorius) and mourning dove (Zenaida macroura). Eutrophic pond The aquatic community of a shallow, nutrient-rich pond. The water is usually green with algae and the bottom is mucky. Aquatic vegetation is abundant. Characteristic plants include coontail, duckweeds, waterweed, and pondweeds, water starwort, algae, yellow pond lily and white waterlily. The preserve system also includes locally recognized old-growth forest stands of Hemlock-northern hardwoods, Appalachian oak-hickory types, and Maple-beech mesic forest. Additionally, the Mitchell Street Hawthorn Thicket is recognized as a preserve that attracts an unusually high assemblage of migratory songbirds, including 35+ species of warblers (Blue-winged Warbler, Brewster's Warbler, Lawrence's Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Canada Warbler). More than 100 species of birds have been observed at this site, including other important passerines, such as hermit and wood thrushes, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Lastly, the 660 acres of managed natural areas present within the Cornell campus also include numerous threatened or endangered species or species of conservation concern. The following lists species by common name, scientific name, New York State Legal Status, and NatureServe Ranking. Specifically, this includes four Dragonflies and damselflies: Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea), Unlisted but Critically Imperiled (S1) in New York State; Spine-crowned Clubtail (Gomphus abbreviatus), unlisted but Critically Imperiled (S1); Rapids Clubtail (Gomphus quadricolor), unlisted but Critically Imperiled (S1); and Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi), Special Concern and Imperiled (S2). This also includes three vascular plants: Bird’s-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinaca),Threatened and Imperiled (S2); Drummond’s Rockcress (Boechera stricta), Threatened and Imperiled (S2); and Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), Threatened and Imperiled (S2).

The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or areas of biodiversity importance and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:
There are a number of assessment methodologies that we use: Tompkins County Unique Natural Areas Inventory. This began as a masters-thesis project completed in 1976. It has been enlarged and continued and is now overseen by Tompkins County Planning Department and Tompkins County Environmental Management Council. Various collaborations with Cornell Botanic Gardens Natural Areas Program staff have occurred over the years and have contributed important expertise and guidance. It now includes the 194 most important natural areas in the county. Field visits were made to sites to document the biota and ecological communities present, as well as, conservation status, physical characteristics, geological importance, and aesthetic, scenic or cultural qualities. Periodic updates have occurred at approximately 10-year intervals. Evaluation of Natural Areas process. Periodically we have produced internal studies evaluating the relative importance,degree and kind of use of our various holdings. This is done to help prioritize our actions and justify what we do within the priorities of the university. We make periodic visits to all of our sites. Several preserves include biotic inventories, which are updated as new occurrences are identified. Monitoring or census counts are conducted for rare species occurrences, and these are observed sometimes as often as several times a year. This monitoring is conducted to identify declines or other conservation challenges, which inform management actions. For example, all unfenced portions of our natural areas holdings are experiencing a significant impact to the understory vegetation and associated fauna by excessive deer browse. To gauge the impact and track the efficacy of our lethal and non- lethal deer management program, a vegetation monitoring regime has been implemented to assess population levels and vegetation impact. This is combined with harvest information and mark/recapture deer census work using infrared cameras to track population changes.

A brief description of the scope of the assessment(s):
Assessment areas include only the 660 acres of University owned natural areas within the main campus. All remaining acreage is excluded.

A brief description of the plans or programs in place to protect or positively affect identified species, habitats, and/or ecosystems:
Cornell University protects and manages the campus as natural areas, wildlife habitats, and naturalistic landscaped areas in support of wildlife biodiversity. These lands include two gorges, 70,425 feet of streams and riparian habitats, mature and successional forests, marsh, wet meadow, and old field habitats, as well as botanic gardens and the F.R. Newman Arboretum. These areas, which comprise 32% of the campus, are actively protected and managed to support the educational mission of the University. Management activities include but are not limited to monitoring, habitat establishment, natural areas restoration, naturalization, invasive species control, and deer over-population management. Several of these habitats are recognized for their regional significance, including the Mitchell Street Hawthorn Thicket Natural Area, which is recognized as a "migrant trap" for neo-tropical migrating birds, and the Bull Pasture Ponds, which supports a very high diversity and abundance of amphibians. Cornell University also supports a deer research and management program to reduce negative impacts of deer overpopulation on and near campus. Discussions and actions regarding deer damage management reflect the University's goal to maintain the integrity of Cornell lands, while being cognizant of related neighborhood impacts. The project is being implemented for the primary purposes of supporting the research, teaching, and outreach functions of Cornell University. For the 660 acres that are managed by Cornell Botanic Gardens, these preserves have management plans that characterize the purpose, site description, regional landscape context, geology, ecological communities, property history, soils, hydrology, cultural amenities, historic management regimes, challenges to management and threats to ecology, maps, plant communities, common plant and animal species, plant and animal species of conservation concern, and invasive species threats. Plans also include related management, monitoring, and research goals and actions.

Estimated percentage of areas of biodiversity importance that are also protected areas :

Website URL where information about the institution’s biodiversity initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.