A justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department, of state Supreme Court issued an order on Friday that halted tree cutting by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on a new 9-12 foot wide snowmobile trail between Newcomb and Minerva in the central Adirondacks.
According to a survey commissioned by Protect the Adirondacks, the DEC cut over 4,000 trees on 2.9 miles of this trail in the fall of 2015, had recently cut thousands of trees on a new 3-mile section in June and July 2016, and was about to cut thousands more trees, including many located in old growth forest habitat.
Protect is currently challenging the legality of these new wide, roadlike snowmobile trails in Supreme Court in Albany. The organization has alleged in court that these trails violate Article 14, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution, the “forever wild” provision, due to the enormous amount of tree cutting. Article 14, Section 1 prohibits destruction of the timber on the Forest Preserve
As part of this lawsuit, Protect the Adirondacks made a motion seeking an injunction in State Supreme Court last week and the court scheduled a hearing on July 25th. Expecting that the DEC would cut thousands more trees before the 25th, Protect the Adirondacks made a separate motion to the Appellate Division, Third Department to halt the tree cutting until then.
Protect the Adirondacks has asked the courts to issue an injunction against any further tree cutting pending a final decision on the constitutionality of the DEC’s tree cutting on the Forest Preserve. A trial in the case is scheduled for early 2017.
Efforts to stop tree cutting on other new 9-12 foot wide class II community connector snowmobile trails in 2014 and 2015 were unsuccessful. For the 14-mile Newcomb to Minerva trail, Protect the Adirondacks had an independent expert count the stumps of cut trees, and estimate the additional trees to be cut, to detail the large numbers of trees being cut.
In its public notifications and planning, DEC only counts trees greater than three inches diameter at breast height (DBH). This spring, DEC estimated it would cut over 1,600 of these large trees over seven miles of new trail. When trees under three inches DBH were added to the tally, Protect the Adirondacks found that over 9,000 trees would be cut on this section. The entire trail from Newcomb to Minerva would require cutting over 17,000 trees according to the estimate provided Protect. Prior cases on the constitutionality of tree cutting on the Forest Preserve tallied both large and small trees. Protect the Adirondacks aged the stumps of a number of trees cut on the Forest Preserve under three inches DBH and found many to be 30, 40 and 50 years old, or older.
“Protect the Adirondacks is grateful that an Appellate Division judge has intervened to stop the cutting of thousands more trees on the Forest Preserve. We believe this level of tree cutting violates the forever wild provision, Article 14, Section 1, of the State Constitution and believe that the Department of Environmental Conservation should be barred by an injunction stopping all further work on these 9-12 foot wide trails until the courts have made a final decision,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks, in a statement sent to the press.
The Appellate Division, Third Department justice’s order enjoined the DEC from “cutting or otherwise destroying trees in the Adirondack Forest Preserve for the construction of Class II Community Connector snowmobile trails and from otherwise clearing, grading, scraping, excavating or filling the land for such trails or otherwise changing the terrain of the so-called Minerva Newcomb North Hudson Class II Community Connector snowmobile trail.”
On July 20, 2016, the Appellate Division, Third Department will decide whether to continue the temporary restraining order until a decision is issued by Supreme Court on the motion for an injunction that will be considered on July 25, 2016.
Unlike other trails built on the Forest Preserve, new “class II community connector snowmobile trails” are excavated with heavy machinery to remove large boulders and stumps, utilize bench cutting along trail sides, grade and flatten a wide trail surface area, remove thousands of trees (often replacing the native understory with a grass mix), open the forest canopy, fracture and chip away bedrock, utilize large bridges often equipped with reflectors, built to handle operation of motor vehicles at high rates of speed.
No other recreational activity in the Forest Preserve, outside of Intensive Use Areas such as ski areas or campgrounds, requires such tree cutting, terrain alteration and destruction of natural resources. Protect the Adirondacks believes that this planned network of hundreds of miles of class II community connector snowmobile trails violates Article XIV, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution.
Photos provided by Protect: Recently cut and graded sections of the Newcomb to Minerva Class II Snowmobile Trail.