A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Environmental Conservation’s construction of “community connector” snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve.
Protect the Adirondacks argued that the trails—up to twelve feet wide on curves and graded smooth—violated Article 14 of the state constitution, which declares that the Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.”
Protect contended that the snowmobile trails detracted from the wild-forest character of the Preserve and required the cutting of an unconstitutional number of trees.
In a decision dated December 1, acting State Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. Connolly disagreed with both arguments.
The community-connector trails, he wrote, “are no more out of harmony with forest lands in their wild state than the foot, horse and bicycle trails throughout the Preserve.”
Connolly also found that the amount of trees to be cut for the trails did not violate the standard set forth in earlier court decisions.
DEC considers only trees greater than three inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) when estimating the number of trees to be cut for a trail. Protect contended that smaller trees are ecologically important and should be counted as well—which would greatly inflate the number.
Connolly, however, said DEC’s method of counting trees is “not improper” and is in keeping with earlier court cases.
Peter Bauer, the executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he was disappointed with the decision but doesn’t know whether the organization will appeal it.
“We put on a case that showed there were around a thousand trees cut down for each mile of snowmobile trail constructed and that intact forest areas were turned into grass lawns,” Bauer said in an email. “We thought that this was proof that these lands were not forever kept as wild forest lands and that tree cutting exceeded past precedents for what was allowable. The judge disagreed.”
DEC plans to build a number of community-connector trails throughout the Adirondack Park to facilitate snowmobile travel between hamlets.
Click here to read an earlier article from the Adirondack Explorer on the court case.
Click the link below to read Connolly’s decision.