The Adirondack Council urged state lawmakers to increase funding for environmental priorities in the FY2013-14 NYS Budget in testimony today at the legislature’s budget hearing. The Council cited the recent loss of a $2.5 million grant secured to aid the purchase of the Follensby Tract as a sign that New York’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) needs an expedited increase in funding.
Adirondack Council Legislative Director Scott Lorey called for an additional $11 million to be added in the EPF and also urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to rebuild the staffing at key regulatory agencies whose budgets have been cut in recent years, including the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency.
The federal Forest Legacy grant was awarded to the DEC to fund a portion of the cost of the Follensby Pond land acquisition. For the past 30 years New York State has sought to acquire the 14,600-acre Follensby Tract, located on the western edge of the High Peaks Wilderness east of Tupper Lake tract. Forest Legacy grants are issued for two years and the Follensby grant initially expired in July, 2012, and was extended through January 31, 2013, a deadline which was not met.
On behalf of the Adirondack Council, Lorey called on the Legislature to examine long-term efforts to increase the size of the EPF in future years and provide an additional $11 million this year above the Governor’s proposal. That would bring the Fund up to $164 million. He suggested that $10 million be added to the open space protection line and $1 million added to fight invasive species.
“If the EPF had remained at 2008 funding levels, both the Finch and Follensby parcels could have been acquired and added to the Forest Preserve by now,” Lorey told the budget panel. “All of these new lands and waters could have been opened to the public already, providing an economic boost to Adirondack hamlets and villages that need the stimulus. It’s a shame New York must return the grant money to the federal government. This is a lost opportunity.”
“Environmental programs are still underfunded across the board, and the signs become more obvious every day. In 2008, the EPF contained $66.5 million for open space protection. This year’s proposal is only $20 million, or about 15 percent more than last year,” Lorey said.
“In addition, there are too few employees at the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the state’s natural resources and tourism investments in the Adirondack Park,” he said. “Enforcement of existing laws is suffering, which means wildlife, water quality and forest health are suffering. The state no longer operates a single visitor-education center in the park. And now, just when it seemed like the acquisition of Follensby Pond was finally within reach with the help of federal monies, it slips away from New York again.”
In 1858, it was the site of “the Philosophers’ Camp,” a meeting of writers, artists and wilderness preservation advocates whose work transformed America’s relationship with nature by encouraging people to see nature and wilderness as something rare and precious, rather than as an obstacle to progress. The gathering included poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell, and painter William James Stillman, as well as scientists, lawyers and doctors.
The property was purchased in 1952 by the McCormick family of Manchester, Vermont. The McCormick’s negotiated a purchase agreement with the state from 1990 through 1992, but the lack of funding in those years made the purchase impossible. The Environmental Protection Fund was created in 1993, partly in response to the loss of the Follensby Pond opportunity.
In 2008, the parcel was acquired from the McCormicks by The Nature Conservancy, which hoped to resell it to the state. The parcel has been a top priority in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan since the plan was first drafted in 1992. The Conservancy is also awaiting state reimbursement for the purchase of nearly 50,000 acres of new Forest Preserve out of the 161,000 acres formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co. That transaction won’t be complete for another four years. According to the Adirondack Council, because of funding limitations, the Follensby purchase must wait until the Finch sale is completed.