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Friday, November 20, 2009

How big is the Forest Preserve?

Local officials in the Adirondack Park have long complained about the amount of land owned by the state in the Park. The state constitution decrees that this land, the Forest Preserve, “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” In other words, no development.

The critics see this as bad for the region’s economy. Environmentalists, however, argue that the Preserve attracts tourists and boosts the economy. This debate shows no signs of letting up.

The ligh-green and bluish regions are Forest Preserve.

The light-green and bluish regions are Forest Preserve.

During the Pataki administration, the state started saving vast tracts of timberlands not by acquiring them for the Preserve, but by purchasing conservation easements. Such easements prohibit development but allow logging and usually permit at least some public recreation.

As a result, the local officials have added a new phrase to their vocabulary: “owns or controls.” For example, Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, recently wrote an op-ed piece asserting that the state “owns or controls” 75 percent of the land in the Park.

Keith McKeever, the spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, sent out a lengthy rebuttal, calling Monroe’s figure “grossly inaccurate.” But McKeever’s figures can be questioned, too. He says the Forest Preserve encompasses 2.5 million acres and 43 percent of the Park. But those figures don’t include water, much of which lies within the Forest Preserve.

So just how much land does the state own and how much does it control?

First we need to correct the oft-heard claim that the Park comprises 6 million acres of private and public land. Actually, it’s 5,821,257 acres, according to the APA website. If you’re rounding, make it 5.8 million acres.

David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the Forest Preserve totals 2,732,975 acres. This works out to 47 percent of the Park (up 5 percent since 1973).

In addition, the state holds conservation easements on 664,443 acres, according to Winchell. This works out to 11 percent of the Park.

Ergo, the state “owns or controls” about 3,397,418 acres, or 58 percent of the Park. This will rise to 61 percent if and when the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the state complete deals in the works to save the former Finch, Pruyn lands and Follensby Pond.

All this assumes, of course, that DEC’s figures (and my math) are accurate.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for providing accurate information on the acreage of state lands and conservation easements.

    I note for the record that my comment stated that “The state now owns or controls (through the most restrictive classification available) 75 percent of ALL of the land in the Adirondacks, public and private.”

    I clearly referred to both public and private lands. The most restrictive land classification of private land requires 42.7 acres for one home. That classification is imposed on 1,518,735 acres or 26% of the Park.

    The public lands and conservation easements total 58% and the most restrictively classified private lands total 26% for a grand total of 84% of all lands, public and private owned or restrictively controlled by the state.

  2. Charles C. Morrison says:

    In the early 1890s, David McClure, the man who proposed the “forever wild” provision at the 1894 Constitutional Convention, and others, felt that the entire Adirondack Park, created in 1892, should become Forest Preserve, so bad were the abuses of the forests. The Park as of 1892 was 2.8 million acres. If it had never been expanded and if it had remained that size to this day, McClure’s desire for 100% of the Park to be Preserve would have been realized. Alas, McCLure’s dream has been derailed by the approximate doubling in size the Park has undergone since its inception. Park expansion on the one hand has been welcomed by conservationists, but at the same time the goal of an all-encompassing Forest Preserve has receded.

    Not to worry. There is still some land in the Park that qualifies for acquisition as Forest Preserve under present criteria and, if Park boundaries were to remain as they are at present, it is not difficult to envision an increase to 55 or 60 percent of the Park becoming Forest Preserve over the next 100 years.

    In the future the big question will be that of what will happen to the lands that now do not qualify for the Forest Preserve, but rather are being encumbered with conservation easements for timber harvesting. Within the next couple of decades the present 664,443 acres of easement lands may grow to nearly a million. Will these timber lands be successfully managed on a sustained yield basis in the face of increasing threats from insects and disease, diminishing markets, foreign and domestic competition,absentee owners selling off the land, local mills closing?

    If Adirondack timber harvesting slides much further, the easement lands may start to go on the market – and the State has always been the buyer of last resort in the Adirondacks. Fred Monroe’s reservations notwithstanding, In the interests of a balanced economy I, for one, believe that would be a disaster, the straw that breaks the back of many small communities that are just hanging on. Adirondackers had better hope, if this sell-off happens, that the State will be in a position to purchase this kind of land as Forest Preserve and make payments in lieu of property taxes because it is not the kind of land, for the most part, that would be desirable for development.

    All things considered, Fred Monroe’s guesstimate of 75% Forest Preserve may not be that far off – not right now, but over the next 50 to 100 years.

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