A New York appellate court on Wednesday ruled that the state’s tree-cutting for “community connector” snowmobile trails is excessive and violates the state constitution’s protections for the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Protect the Adirondacks sued the Department of Environmental Conservation in 2013 over 27 miles of snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Park, claiming the trails required removal of about 1,000 trees per mile and violated the constitution’s “forever wild” protections in the preserve. The state had a lower tree count because it only considered those that were 3 inches or larger in diameter at breast height. A Supreme Court judge in December 2017 ruled for the state, saying the connector trails were not out of character with other park trails, such as hiking trails.
The Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial District overturned that ruling with a 4-1 decision on Wednesday. The case hinged on the interpretation of the word “timber,” with the court ruling that it means trees as opposed to trees of a “merchantable” size.
The majority said that although tree size can be a factor in determining cutting’s effects, Protect “presented expert testimony debunking the assumption that smaller trees are necessarily young or immature; some forest tress measuring less then three inches (diameter) can be more than 100 years old, and smaller mature trees play an important role in the continuing ecology of the forest.”
The dissenting judge wrote that the trails are “a reasoned balance” between forest protections and year-round recreational access.
Protect the Adirondacks called the ruling “a great day for the public forever wild” forest preserve, and Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a news release that he hopes it will slow down the Cuomo administration’s drive to increase motorized recreation in the Adirondacks.
— Brandon Loomis