By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed allowing 15 more hunting camps to remain in perpetuity in the Long Pond Conservation Easement of the northwestern Adirondacks.
DEC would buy 300 acres for the state Forest Preserve just outside the Adirondack Park, for what it calls “a net conservation benefit to the state.”
Five conservation groups are opposed, saying the proposal fails to account for the environmental impact of the perpetual use of motor vehicles, especially ATVs, at the camps scattered around the 18,950-acre forestland in southern St. Lawrence County.
The original 1999 easement, for which the state paid $1.7 million, allowed six hunting camps in perpetuity, requiring removal of 30 others from the tract in Colton within 15 years. That deadline fell three years ago.
The public comment period on DEC’s proposal, with 300 acres proposed to be added to the Whiskey Flats State Forest in Hopkinton, closes Friday. The 15 hunting camps would retain a one-acre “envelope” around them, land they can post against trespassing. Camps couldn’t be significantly expanded.
The Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild and Adirondack Wilderness Advocates signed the opposition letter to the DEC. They say the state bought both present and future public recreational rights to the tract, as well as the development rights so they would not be used.
“Human habitations cause significant changes to forest health and ecosystem functions,” they wrote. “The environmental values of the conservation easement require that long-term forest health should be protected not diminished.”
The current owner of the tract is Danzer Forestlands, which bought it in 2005 from Wagner Forest Management for $3.5 million.
In its proposal, the DEC said Danzer appraised the full market value of the camps and one-acre envelopes, collected that amount from each of the 15 lease holders and put the money in escrow. The department would use it to buy the 300 acres.
“This new acreage will protect wetland and wildlife habitats while also providing additional public recreational opportunities such as hunting, trapping and hiking,” the DEC said.
Since the 1970s New York has spent $95 million on conservation easements to protect private lands in the Adirondacks.
Department correspondence shows talks over the issue between Danzer and the DEC began six years ago.
State Sen. Patty Ritchie in October 2015 wrote to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos urging him to find a way the hunters could keep using the camps while negotiations continued. She has supported the deal.
The North Country Republican said the tract was getting little public use with its few scenic vistas and roads in poor condition. Danzer has been a good steward of the land, not cutting timber before it matures, she wrote.
The proposed easement change has been posted online.
The DEC plans to address all the public comments it receives in a summary after the comment period closes, spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said Wednesday. Under conservation easements, hunting camps are designed for occasional occupancy and septic systems are prohibited. Lease holders on the Long Pond tract have been able to continue using camps, she said.