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.
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.