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Monday, January 14, 2019

Legislation introduced to shrink threshold for APA clearcut permits

Bills re-introduced at the start of the New York Legislature’s 2019 session would require Adirondack Park Agency permits for clearcutting more than five acres of privately owned timberland.

The current threshold is 25 acres. Smaller clearcuts don’t require an agency permit.

The legislation was offered again by Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat, and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, at the request of conservationists. The same bills were introduced a year ago but didn’t advance from either chamber’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

Conservationists have predicted improved prospects for legislation they back with both houses now controlled by Democratic majorities.

The legislation is intended to enhance APA jurisdiction over clearcuts and further protect the Adirondack Park, said Matt Barron, a legislative assistant to Breslin.

“The Adirondack Park Agency, established in the 1970s, was born out of a need to protect the Park from modernized threats of development, motorization, and resource extraction,” Glick wrote in her sponsor’s memo last year. “Their mandate is intended to reflect the state’s long-vested interest in preserving clean water and air, wildlife, and a park-like aesthetic.”

The Empire State Forest Products Association, which represents landowners, loggers and other businesses, has opposed the legislation before, saying it is “likely to generate consequences of regulatory avoidance which will far outweigh any perceived gains in the management of private forest lands.” That’s been shown in other Northeastern states, the association said. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial agenda for conservation and environmental protection this year calls for speeding up New York’s transition from burning fossil fuels to using renewable energy to produce electricity, more beverage container recycling and banning single-use plastic bags. 

The Democratic, starting his third term, is scheduled to further describe his priorities in a state-of-the-state and budget address to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Since 2013, the APA has issued 24 clearcut permits to timber companies, most within large tracts subject to state conservation agreements. The easements basically provide land owners with some upfront money then tax breaks, permit some public recreation access and prohibit cutting more timber than grows within the affected tracts.  

Those landowners, largely timber management organizations, use third-party industry organizations to certify compliance, which is subject to state oversight.

The Adirondack Council and other environmental groups have questioned whether there has been increased clearcutting, citing some deforested stands seen on plane flights, including one in St. Lawrence County’s Hopkinton.

Council Executive Director Willie Janeway recently called on the APA to update its regulations and perform “a cumulative-impact analysis of such cutting on the wild forest character of the Adirondack Park so it can determine and set limits.”

The APA says it remains interested in continuing dialogue with all stakeholders on proposed revisions “that promote modern sustainable forestry practices, incentivize sound forest management, support the forest products industry, and strengthen protections for the natural resources of the Adirondack Park.”

However, the agency noted that most of the easement lands have been working forests for more than a century “and alongside the three million acres of maturing forest (older growth) within the Adirondack Forest Preserve help to create a healthy mosaic of different age forest stands and a diverse variety of habitat types which increases biodiversity of flora and fauna.”

According to the APA, the 24 permits represent about 6,500 acres or less than one percent of some 785,000 acres governed by easements.

The six-month legislative session is scheduled to end in June.

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Michael Virtanen

Michael Virtanen joined the Adirondack Explorer staff in March, asked to take an in-depth look at certain places, issues and unanswered questions in the Adirondack Park. He worked previously as a correspondent for the Associated Press in Morgantown, West Virginia, and at the Capitol in Albany for the wire service and for daily newspapers in Albany, Utica and Amsterdam, N.Y. He had been an occasional free-lance contributor to the Explorer and went on some outings with then-Editor Phil Brown, who once led him up the popular rock climb Pete’s Farewell on Pitchoff Chimney Cliff overlooking the Cascade lakes and Route 73 outside Lake Placid.

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