The Finger Lakes National Forest is located in the center of New York state.
Where is this Forest?


About the Forest


The 16,212-acre Finger Lakes National Forest lies on a ridge between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York State. Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton are all within a two-hour drive of the Forest, which is easily accessed from 1-90 and 1-81 and State Route 17. We encourage you to come explore and enjoy its history, natural beauty and many resource uses.


The Iroquois Indian Confederacy, later known as the "Six Nations," originated in the Finger Lakes Region. These native Americans were probably the first to use the area now in National Forest. White settlers moved in to farm the land after the Revolutionary War. By 1900, soil depletion and increasing competition from the midwest made farming in the Hector Hills marginal. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government stepped in to buy many farms, and help relocate their residents to better land or other jobs. Between 1938 and 1941, over 100 farms were acquired, and put under Soil Conservation Service administration as the "Hector Land Use Area." Early management emphasized soil stabilization and conversion of cropland to pastures for domestic livestock grazing, The intent was to demonstrate productive land uses that would also conserve the land's long term productivity.

In the late 1950's increasing attention was given to "multiple use" management. Administration of the Hector Land Use Area was turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. The area became a permanent part of the National Forest system in 1983, and in 1985 was renamed the "Hector Ranger District," Finger Lakes National Forest.

The FLNF is unique among public land areas in the State for its long practice of multiple use management. Under this system we consider how all resources and their uses interrelate, and manage them to provide a wide variety of benefits not common on other lands. We strive to do this in a way that will protect the basic life-sustaining capability of the land for future generations. Our management decisions are guided by the Forest Plan and the feedback we get from active, well-informed people like you.

  • Although about 3.2 million acres of New York State is in State Forest Preserves, Wildlife Management Areas, and Forests, there are a few large areas of public land in the Finger Lakes Region. The Finger Lakes National Forest (FLNF) is the only national forest in New York State, and the only public land that has had an explicit philosophy of multiple use.

    When the FLNF was evaluated for sale under the Assets Management Program, it became obvious that people considered the Forest a precious and indispensable asset to their region. This message was strongly reinforced during public involvement on the Draft Forest Plan.
    People have come to rely on the Forest for opportunities to observe and enjoy nature, and to roam around in a large unrestricted land area. They value the wood, forage, and other products that come from the forest. We have been praised for how we demonstrate that multiple uses of land are possible, without destroying long-term productivity.

    For those reasons, we feel strongly committed to the continuation of multiple use management, and the protection of life sustaining capabilities of the land. Although the resource management emphasis will vary from one part of the Forest to another, we will try to consider all resources in our management decisions. We will always be looking for creative ways to balance the production of commodities, such as timber and forage, with important non-economic benefits like high quality recreation, diverse wildlife habitat and rare plants. This will require close teamwork among resource specialists in the Forest Service, and with members of the public who share our commitment to wise management.

    The Forest has a long history of use for demonstration and education. As public land managers, we feel it is part of our role to test new ideas that may be too economically risky for private landowners and share the results. Because we are committed to careful stewardship of the land for present and future generations, we will promote an awareness of natural resource management and a strong conservation ethic.

    Finally, because large areas of public land are rare in the region, we will manage the Forest to provide benefits that private land does not. This includes benefits for which economic or other incentives are lacking on private land, those requiring a large, continuous land area, and benefits requiring a long, stable tenure of ownership.

    The area around the Finger Lakes National Forest was originally inhabited by the Iroquois Indians. Information of their use of the area within the current Forest boundary is sketchy at best. It is thought that at least some hunting activity occurred.

    In 1790, the area was divided into 600 acre military lots and distributed among Revolutionary War veterans as payment for their services. These early settlers cleared the land for production of hay and small grains such as buckwheat. As New York City grew, a strong market for these products developed, encouraging more intensive agriculture. The farmers prospered until the mid nineteenth century, when a series of unfortunate events occurred - the popularity of motorized transportation in urban centers (reducing the number of horses to be fed), gradual depletion of the soil resource, and competition from the midwest.

    Between 1890 and the Great Depression, over a million acres of farmland was abandoned in south central New York State. In the 1930's it was recognized that farmers in many parts of the country could no longer make a living from their exhausted land. Environmental damage was occurring as they cultivated the land more and more intensively to make ends meet. Several pieces of legislation were passed, including the Emergency Relief Act of 1933, and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 to address these problems. One result was the formation of a government agency, the Resettlement Administration, to carry out the new laws. This agency directed the relocation of farmers to better !and or other jobs, and the purchase of marginal farmland by the Federal government.

    Between 1938 and 1941, over 100 farms were purchased in the area now in the National Forest. Because this was done on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis, the resulting Federal ownership resembled a patchwork quilt. This was especially true in the Seneca County end of the Forest, where soils were more productive, and some families elected to stay. This ownership pattern still exists today.

    The newly acquired Federal land, named the Hector Land Use Area (LUA), was initially managed by the Soil Conservation Service. The emphasis was on stabilization of the soil by planting conifers, and development of a grazing program. Previously cultivated fields were converted to improved pastures to demonstrate how less intensive agriculture could still make productive use of the land.

    In 1943, the Hector Cooperative Grazing Association was formed. This organization was issued a long term lease to manage grazing on the (LUA). They coordinated use of the pastures by as many as 120 individual livestock owners within a 100 mile radius of the (LUA).
    By the 1950's, many of the original objectives of the Hector (LUA) had been met. Farmers had been resettled, the eroding soil stabilized, and alternative agriculture uses demonstrated. At the same time, the public was becoming interested in the concept of multiple uses of public land. Management and appropriate ownership of the Hector LUA was reevaluated. The decision was made in 1954 to transfer administrative responsibilities to the U.S. Forest Service, which already had a fairly long history of multiple use management. Initially this was carried out by the Regional Office in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. When this region was later consolidated within the Forest Service's Northeast Region, Hector became an administrative unit of the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont.

    In 1982, the Federal land management agencies were directed to identify isolated parcels of federal land that could be sold without significantly affecting the resource base or public service. The intent was to dispose of lands that were inefficient to manage, and to generate revenue. The Hector Land Use Area was one parcel studied for possible disposal under this "Assets Management" program.

    When public meetings were held to evaluate this idea, there was strong local support for continued federal ownership. Local and regional citizens had come to depend on Hector for wood products, forage, recreation, and other benefits. Because of this public support, Congress enacted legislation to make it a permanent part of the National Forest System. The Hector Ranger District, Green Mountain National Forest, had been created.
    Local citizens asked the Forest Service to change the name to Hector Ranger District, Finger Lakes National Forest, so it would be less confusing to visitors, and promote local  pride about the area. This change was made in October of 1985.

    Although the Finger Lakes National Forest is still an administrative unit of the Green Mountain National Forest, we strive to be sensitive to local concerns and resource capabilities. It is truly New York's National Forest.