Thursday, February 2, 2017

Judge Orders Trial In Forest Preserve Snowmobile Trail Case

A State Supreme Court justice has ruled that Protect the Adirondacks’ lawsuit against the state over the legality of “community-connector” snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve should go to trial.

In a decision signed January 25, Justice Gerald Connolly denied motions to decide the case without a trial, saying there are factual disputes that must be sorted out through a trial.

Protect the Adirondacks contends that the community-connector trails – which are nine feet wide (or 12 feet on curves) and often graded – violate Article 14, the clause in the state constitution mandating that the Forest Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.”

Protect says tens of thousands of trees will be cut for the trails and this number exceeds the threshold set in earlier court decisions, most notably Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks v. MacDonald, which the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal, issued in 1930. The state contends Protect’s numbers are inflated, partly because the two sides disagree over the definition of a tree.

Click here to read my article on the Almanack explaining the court case.

Protect is suing the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is creating the snowmobile trails, and the Adirondack Park Agency, which authorized them.

Both Protect and the state attorney general’s office, which is representing the agencies, filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that no trial was needed to decide the dispute.

Connolly’s decision denying summary judgment cited, among other cases, Friends of Thayer Lake, LLC v. Brown. In that case, the plaintiffs sued me for trespass after I paddled through their property. Lower courts granted summary judgment and ruled in my favor, but last year the Court of Appeals ordered a trial in the matter. It is still pending.

Peter Bauer, Protect’s executive director, issued a news release today about Connolly’s ruling: “This decision shows the seriousness and merits of our arguments. The court refused the state’s demand to dismiss our case.”

Connolly’s 26-page decision can be read here.

Photo by Mike Lynch: Peter Bauer examines a stump on a community-connector trail.


Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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28 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    This is why I support Protect. Fight the good fight! Save the trees.

  2. Steve says:

    Nice job Protect!

  3. Treeman says:

    We have become way too soft in our treatments of brush. The enviromental’s would have us believe, that pro life efforts should extend to pests like mosquito/black fly larvae and nuisance brush.
    It sure seems like overkill to have a trial to avoid some brush kill for clearance.

    Of course, hindsight says, DEC should have put a cutter in there to do that in one day. Or two.

  4. Bruce says:

    This case seems to hinge on the definition of a tree. Apparently, Defend’s definition and the state’s definition differ. Since the SLMP’s Forest Preserve rules allows for snowmobile trails and doesn’t say anything about what size trees can’t be cut to make them, this whole argument borders on the esoteric.

    I wonder what Defend’s position on creating 8′ wide ski trails is. There was a picture in the Almanack some time ago that showed a ski trail which was at least 8′ wide.

  5. Boreasfisher says:

    Call ’em brush…call ’em porcupines. They fix CO2. Save the trees, please.

  6. Paul says:

    Gotta read the decision. Can’t imagine why it would cite a case regarding navigability in fact on private land, wonder what it has to do with a case on cutting on state land?

    It seems like the real question should revolve around the definition of timber rather than trees since that is what is protected under article 14. But I guess this old case they cite brings in the “tree” question.

  7. Tim-Brunswick says:

    This entire “save the trees” rant is really getting old. It’s a fact that opening up the forest canopy from 9′ to 12′ will actually increase the diversity of that area. Further, with increased sunlight penetrating the width of the trail throughout its length it will promote growth of grasses, sedges, berries and new growth young trees/shrubs, all food to the creatures that inhabit the forest.

    Literally snowmobile season is only about four months out of twelve. During the other eight months Ruffed Grouse, Varying Hares, squirrels, chipmunks, rodents, deer, moose and a host of other critters will use it for sun-promoted sustenance. Lest we forget, hikers, hunters, anglers and other nature lovers will also use it during the “off-season”. Who are we kidding….would you rather leap-frog fallen trees and crawl through undergrowth as opposed to take a nice trail from April through November??

    I “presume” the estimate of the number of trees that may be lost to this trail are accurate, however, the drama promoted by the loss of these trees borders the ridiculous. It’s time to start looking at the benefits….. Stop to think of how much real negative impact a 9 to 12 foot trail over 36 miles will cause the forest….Really!

    What about the increased tourism dollars for the Communities/Towns affected by this trail system isn’t that supposed to be important? Very predictably no matter how this turns out the attorneys for both sides will be laughing all the way to the bank, appeal, after appeal ad infinitum!

    • Jim S. says:

      Any hikers I know will not venture anywhere on a snowmobile superhighway . The idea of hiking is about getting away from civilization. There is nothing as disheartening as stumbling onto one of those ridiculous highways while trying to feel closer to nature.

      • Bruce says:

        “Getting away from civilization.” Does keggers in the high peaks ring a bell? What disheartens me is coming on a hiking trail in a wilderness area and finding toilet paper, poop, granola wrappers, and other trash left by hikers who were “looking for solitude.”

        Don’t go into forest areas where there might be perfectly legal snowmobile trails and you won’t encounter them.

        • Boreas says:

          The HPW certainly isn’t a place I would go to get away from civilization. Nor are snowmobile connector trails.

        • Jim S. says:

          I have encountered very small amounts of trash in the HPW and have carried it out with me. Poop and toilet paper are common unfortunately, although they disappear a lot quicker than an unnatural canyon carved out of a lovely forest. I do avoid areas that allow snowmobile trails but there are so many of them already I don’t see the need to make more of them. The snowmobile community seems to be shrinking at a rapid pace. Trying to feed a dinosaur won’t bring it back to life.

          • Bruce says:

            Snowmobile trails are not supposed to be in Wilderness areas. Isn’t there enough Wilderness (about 500,000 acres) for you to use?

            • Jim S. says:

              I disagree with cutting down trees anywhere in the forest preserve.

              • Bruce says:

                Jim,

                Maybe so, but you were talking about snowmobilers having enough trails. They could say with equal truth that you have enough trees. Is it really for one user to say another user has enough? It’s a selfish view either way.

                • Jim S. says:

                  Bruce,
                  It seems to me you don’t understand the definition of forest preserve. It defies logic to cut down trees in an area set aside to preserve . I don’t advocate cutting trees for hiking trails. Walk around them.

                  • Bruce says:

                    Jim,

                    To just see the words “Forest Preserve” and little else is short sighted and does not square with everything else written into the DEC website or SLMP.

                    However I do agree to some degree about the damage from cutting trails which many in the “preservation” community don’t seem to have a problem with.

                    Except in heavily used areas where control of people is much more important, I believe bushwhacking, which I define as moving naturally through the landscape like deer, and not cutting anything should be the recommended method of travel in the woods.

                    • Boreas says:

                      Bruce,

                      I was thinking about the bushwhacking idea, but came across a practical problem with it. People get lost hiking on marked trails. I would think DEC would need to weigh in on how S&R manpower would be accomplished if more bushwhacking were encouraged.

                      While I can not deny its benefits for very low usage areas, we should also look at the potential negative aspects of bushwhacking.

                • Jim S. says:

                  Enough trees? To oversimplify, climate change is caused by releasing too much carbon into earth’s atmosphere. Trees are one of the best vehicles for nature to store carbon. We need more.

                  • Tom Payne says:

                    Your argument has no merit. There are countless numbers of trees on the planet. Both in and outside the Park. All are taking CO2 and converting it to oxygen. This does not just happen within the blue line. And the wonder is they grow back.

                    • Boreas says:

                      Ever read about deforestation in the Amazon and other mature forests around the world? It’s not a myth. Regardless, they only grow back if “countless numbers” of humans give them a chance.

      • kathy says:

        In southern Lewis county there is a snowmobile trail on my road that is 12 feet wide in winter and shrinks to 4 feet wide in the other 3 seasons and I could not recognise it for the same trail. (Not that I favor them but brush fill in can narrow them from super highways to a wide path.

  8. Charlie S says:

    Tim Brunswick says: “This entire “save the trees” rant is really getting old.”

    “Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.”
    Henry David Thoreau

    I don’t expect you’d understand the above two lines Tim. You have a narrow view of the natural world evidently which you shouldn’t take too personally as you are the norm for this society. I would also wager that you have a narrow view of all things with real meaning in life Tim. It only make sense. People with your kind of thinking come a dime a dozen. I couldn’t imagine living in your head…i’d rather be dead. That rhymes! Of course the only reason why I would say such a thing is because I have a conscience and I do mean it!

    I have come across and know too many people who think like you,people who are dead from the neck up. Frigid people with vacuous souls whose only purpose in life is to merely exist in their wee worlds screw every body and thing else. Which is okay except for the direct and indirect damage that comes from your way of thinking.

    And there you go with your ‘tourism dollars’ narrow view as stated above.Dollar amounts before all things else hey Tim? There’s no getting through to your kind i’m sorry to say.

    I am kindred in spirit to Edna St. Vincent Millay when she says:
    I will be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
    I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

    I don’t expect you’ll relate to that one neither. May you find piece Tim I sincerely mean that!

  9. Charlie S says:

    Treeman says: “The enviromental’s would have us believe that pro life efforts should extend to pests like mosquito/black fly larvae and nuisance brush.”

    The anti-enviromental’s would have us believe all life (except for the human fetus which,once born,is forgotten) on planet earth is expendable because, well… because they lack that life force that only latches on to superior beings…soul.

  10. Todd Eastman says:

    Looks like Protect is right…

    … clear violation in the cutting of the trees…

    … judge seems to think there is something to Protects facts.

    • Boreas says:

      Todd,

      I agree. At some point these legal technicalities and definitions will need to be figured out and clarified. May as well be sooner than later. It is just going to keep coming up – as in the proposed connector trail through Boreas Ponds and any other future trail construction of any type.

      • Bruce says:

        Boreas,

        Yes, people get lost on marked trails, but based on what I’ve read here, and on the DEC website, the DEC’s stand is if one is going into the backcountry, be prepared which includes the ability to navigate, whether one is on a marked trail or not. I don’t believe saving money in SAR activities is a valid reason for building trails in lightly used areas, because not building and maintaining a trail is a money saver in itself.

        I’ll give you an example: last fall a couple hunters (whom I assume weren’t staying on marked trails) were rescued, not because they were lost, but because they were late returning to base, causing someone else to call SAR who had to go out until they found whom they were looking for discovered they were otherwise safe.

        In fact, when the article came out, I remarked on the fact these hunters could have better managed their time, or allowed themselves more time before saying when they would be back.

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