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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Politics and preservation

The Cedar River flows through land earmarked for the Forest Preserve. Photo by Carl Heilman II

The Cedar River flows through land earmarked for the Forest Preserve. Photo by Carl Heilman II

A coalition of environmental groups has issued a list of policy recommendations to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. Among them is beefing up the Environmental Protection Fund, the primary mechanism for funding land preservation, water-quality protection, and other green objectives.

The coalition—which includes the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Nature Conservancy—notes that the EPF has been reduced from $255 million to $134 million since 2008. In addition, the state over the years has diverted about $500 million in EPF monies to the state’s general fund.

In “Green Memos to the Governor and State Legislature,” the environmental groups say the diversion of EPF monies has caused a backlog of projects that have been stalled for want of funding, including some $85 million in land-acquisition and farmland-protection projects.

Alison Jenkins, a fiscal analyst for Environmental Advocates, described the $85 million sum as “a very, very conservative estimate” that doesn’t include many other conservation projects in the works. However, she conceded that the figures were added up before the state announced a few weeks ago that it spent $30 million on easements on eighty-nine thousand acres in the Adirondacks formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co. Thus, the backlog has been reduced by at least $30 million.

But the $85 million figure does not include two pending land deals in the Adirondacks: the purchase of another sixty-five thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co. and of Follensby Pond and surrounding land (in all, about 14,600 acres). In both cases, the state would buy the lands from the Nature Conservancy for inclusion in the public Forest Preserve.

Some people question whether the state should follow through on promises to buy the Finch, Pruyn land. Among other things, they argue that the state cannot afford it now. Click here to read George Earl’s story in the Explorer about a hunting club that wants to modify the deal so the land it leases will not be added to the Forest Preserve. The story generated a lively debate on Adirondack Almanack.

No one disputes that the state has fallen on hard times. It faces a deficit of up to $9.3 billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year. But one reason the state established the EPF back in the early nineties was to ensure that there would be money for land preservation and other environmental projects even in lean times.

The debate should focus on the intrinsic merits of these deals, not on the state’s fiscal bind, which, however severe, is temporary. Besides, the money spent on land preservation is a drop in the bucket. The state budget, including monies received from the federal government, is expected to total $135.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, according to Erik Kriss, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget. (If you subtract the federal contribution, the budget is $79.2 billion.)

Let’s do a little math. The Nature Conservancy paid $110 million for 161,000 acres of Finch, Pruyn land in 2007. That works out to $683 an acre. If the state were to pay the same price for the sixty-five thousand acres in question, that would come to $44 million. And that’s a mere 0.03 percent of the state’s total budget. Even if the state pays a higher price, we’re still talking about a minute fraction of the budget.

If the state goes broke, it won’t be because it spent money on preserving Adirondack forests.

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.

11 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Phil,

    The state IS broke. Fair enough, you want the state to buy more land. You should not leave out the discussion on where the money will come from for the purchases, what other programs will be cut? Cuomo has pledged no tax increases so that is off the table. Like you say there is not sufficient money in the EPF. By the way this fund is not only for buying more Forest Preserve land in the Adirondacks. You should not leave the rest of NYS out of your discussion.

    More importantly where will the money come from to pay for the taxes, and where will the money come from to pay for the maintenance and management of the land? Anyone who owns real estate knows that the purchase price is just the tip of the iceberg.

  2. Phil says:

    Paul, the Finch, Pruyn and Follensby lands offer historic opportunities for expanding the Forest Preserve. I think you will concede that these are magnificent lands with marvelous potential for recreation. It’s too easy to say the state can’t afford them now. It can, even in these hard times. So the debate should be over what’s the best use of these lands in the long term.

  3. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    Paul, I get a feeling that underneath your “the state can’t afford it so the answer is no” lies an ulterior motive. Come clean, why do you REALLY not want the stste to purchase this land?

    This is a no brainer. This is the type of land you add to the forest preserve.

    And the federal money that the state receives for this type a thing should NULLIFY the fact that the state itself is having budget problems. They’ve raided the environmental fund jar for general revenue for years now – this one counts – it’s time to put that money where it belongs and buy these properties for addition to the forest preserve.

    How much is enough?

    When there is no longer any forest covered land available from willing sellers inside the Adirondack Park.

    But DEFINITELY these particular areas.

  4. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    Paul, I get a feeling that underneath your “the state can’t afford it so the answer is no” lies an ulterior motive. Come clean, why do you REALLY not want the state to purchase this land?

    This is a no brainer. This is the type of land you add to the forest preserve.

    And the federal money that the state receives for this type of thing should NULLIFY any argument that the state itself is having budget problems. They’ve raided the environmental fund jar for general revenue for years now – this one counts – it’s time to put that money where it belongs and buy these properties for addition to the forest preserve.

    How much is enough?

    When there is no longer any forest covered land available from willing sellers inside the Adirondack Park.

    But DEFINITELY these particular areas. It would be a disgrace to not make these particular areas – Follensby Pond, Boreas Ponds, Essex Chain Lakes – part of the forever wild forest preserve.

  5. Paul says:

    Phil,

    I understand that you would like to see these lands added to the Forest Preserve. That does not allow any of us to avoid the real questions of how they will be paid for now and in the future. Please don’t avoid the question and give us your answer.

    Tim,

    There isn’t sufficient money in the EPF to pay for the purchase, and there certainly isn’t money there for the long term maintenance and property tax payments. So your answer is not sufficient.

    I will come as “clean” as I can. The state should not purchase this land because it simply does not need any of it. The fact they they can not afford it is just one of the many reasons, I am not trying to hide anything here. The land is under no threat, and if it is all placed under a private easement allowing only a small number of individuals access then it will be paid for by someone other than the NYS taxpayer and be much better protected from potential damage that could come from the eventual overuse that will come when other areas of the Adirondacks become overused like in the High Peaks.

    Tim, I am sure that you think that I must have some other secret motive, like I am some private club member or wealthy land speculator that might somehow benefit from the transaction that I describe. But I am not, it just may be difficult for you to grasp that some folks can advocate for a solution that protects the land and does not at the same time allow them any chance to recreate on the property, but that is how it goes.

  6. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    Paul, BESIDES the fact that the state supposedly doesn’t have the money for this and the environmental protection fund is supposedly not enough to purchase this land AND pay the taxes on it, WHAT OTHER reasons would you give to NOT purchase this ideal / priceless piece of land for the forest preserve?

    For every regressive teabagger that DOESN’T think the state ought to be purchasing these lands when they come available, there are sharp people who believe we need to find a way to get this done.

    THIS, if any has ever been, is land that OUGHT to be wilderness in the forest preserve – it’s intact, unfragmented forest covered backcountry land WITHIN the Adirondack Park.

    If there are SPECIFIC funds given to the state for this VERY reason, there is no legitimate argument to be made against it.

    Let the ‘baggers cry. Let them find cost savings in something that is truly outrageous. This isn’t – THIS is the right thing to do.

  7. Paul says:

    Tim, With all your crazy name calling you are forgetting to read what I wrote. I will ignore your childish comments, on the others:

    “WHAT OTHER reasons would you give to NOT purchase this ideal / priceless piece of land for the forest preserve?”

    What I said already:

    “The land is under no threat, and if it is all placed under a private easement allowing only a small number of individuals access then it will be paid for by someone other than the NYS taxpayer and be much better protected from potential damage that could come from the eventual overuse that will come when other areas of the Adirondacks become overused like in the High Peaks.”

    Better protection. Lower cost now and in the future. What other reasons do you need?

    Like you I want to see this land protected, I don’t see why you keep missing that?

    I just don’t think that it needs to be added to part of the state funded Adirondack playground.

    You say it is all about protection, so why do you insist on only one solution?

  8. Peter says:

    The land is under no threat, is well protected, and generates a lot of revenue for the local economies. It should not be added to the Forest Preserve.

    The state should purchase recreational easements so the public can use the river corridors.

  9. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    I’ll stop referring to backwards can’t-do people as teabaggers when you stop referring to the forest preserve as a playground.

    I believe continued logging would do more damage to these forests potential than a few canoe portages, privys and hiking trails would do.

    I, as well as countless other people, disagree with the opinion that this land would be better protected under the conditions that you suggest.

    The compromise has been made and the deal-making appears to be done.

    89,000 acres went to what you believe to be the better option.

    I would imagine that the Nature Conservancy sold such a large amount of it to ATP so that they could justify doing as they see fit with the 59,000 priceless acres that they withheld. No valid argument can be made to keep the Nature Conservancy from selling this land to the state after so much of it was NOT sold to the state. And they are making no secret of what their intentions are for this land.

    I would also imagine that most environmentalists are only content with the deal because of the assurances that this remaining land will see it’s way into the forest preserve – and very likely as wilderness.

    So, in summary, I would imagine, most people who are paying attention to this DON’T see this land being better protected in private hands, DON’T see the state being too broke to acquire this land (and THIS land ESPECIALLY) and DON’T think it would be a good idea to NOT do it because a couple of dozen or a couple of hundred people want to continue to have exclusive rights to the land.

    WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE POINT for the Nature Conservancy to have purchased all of this land to begin with if NONE of it was to be given the highest level of protection?

    It’s nice that no houses will be built on 89,000 acres, but a tree farm is not that good either.

    RECOGNIZE the compromise that has ALREADY taken place.

  10. Paul says:

    “I believe continued logging would do more damage to these forests potential than a few canoe portages, privys and hiking trails would do.”

    Tim this is an absurd statement. You yourself continue to call this land that has been logged for over 150 years as “priceless”. How can logging be a threat if it has gone on for over a century and helped produce this “priceless” landscape?

    “DON’T think it would be a good idea to NOT do it because a couple of dozen or a couple of hundred people want to continue to have exclusive rights to the land”

    Again, it is clear that one of your main interests here is recreational use of the land. I don’t consider the Adirondacks a “playground” but folks that feel the way you do obviously do see it as some type of “playground”.

    But I think we can agree to disagree. Thanks for the discussion.

  11. Timothy Dannenhoffer says:

    These areas ARE beautiful.

    I’m not saying that they clearcut it multiple times and it is a mess.

    I’m saying that over time after logging stops it can be better.

    And I’m not denying that backcountry recreation isn’t a secondary benefit of this becoming wilderness in the forest preserve.

    If you’re one of the few who have had exclusive access to these areas in the past I sympathize with you – but not to the point that I would want to see it kept from becoming forest preserve with others locked out.

    I think and hope you’ll be able to love these areas almost as much under a different set of conditions.

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