Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent commitment to acquire 69,000 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands for the publicly-owned NYS Forest Preserve over the next several years completes a 161,000-acre conservation project of national and global importance.
Conservation of the paper company’s lands was a topic fifty years ago this summer when Paul Schaefer had an interesting conversation with then Finch Pruyn Company President Lyman Beeman. Both were members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources then studying Adirondack forests.
According to a story Paul told us, they walked into a forest tract owned by Finch Pruyn in 1962 and held a debate about the appearance and future of the forest. Paul saw all kinds of opportunities by allowing that forest to develop the craggy characteristics of an older, unmanaged woods available for hunting large, trophy white-tailed bucks, or for fishing remote backcountry streams and ponds, or for satisfying a basic human quest to find recreation, solitude, peace and tranquility in a wilderness setting.
From his vantage point, Mr. Beeman urged Paul to consider the aesthetic beauty of a managed, selectively-logged woodlot, with well-spaced trees, lots of new saplings, foresters at work and paper machines humming in the Finch Pruyn mill at Glens Falls.
Paul’s respectful debate with the company continued off and on for another 25 years. In the mid-1990s, Paul sent lengthy letters and enclosures to Finch Pruyn’s President, arguing that it was in the company’s interest to donate some of its most scenic landscapes, such as OK Slip Falls, to the NYS Forest Preserve.
A decade later, economic conditions within a global pulp and paper industry had altered in ways that our founder could not have envisioned. In 2007, Finch Pruyn’s woods went up for sale and The Nature Conservancy purchased all 161,000-acres of some of the finest, best managed, mixed-hardwood forest in all of North America. The Adirondack Nature Conservancy’s Mike Carr began a lengthy process of careful assessment of the land while paying taxes on it, leasing it, logging it lightly, and having the kind of candid conversation with local governments that Schaefer and Beeman would have admired. The project received support from all the affected towns thanks to Mike Carr’s rigorous local consultation.
The result was a carefully negotiated arrangement by which nearly 100,000-acres of the most productive forests would be sold to allow continued forest harvest with a state-held conservation easement that prohibited intensive development, consummated in late 2010. Affected towns reserved several thousands of acres for their particular local recreational and economic development needs. Due to their ecological, hydrological and public recreational attributes which far outweighed the timber potential, the remaining 65,000+-acres were reserved for future Forest Preserve ownership.
Simultaneous to Governor Cuomo’s announcement, Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Local Government Review Board and his allies re-started a stale misinformation campaign, claiming that Forest Preserve acquisition would be costly, kill jobs, threaten to end tax payments, and even close local schools. None of this is true. Forest Preserve adds job opportunities in wilderness tourism, recreation and guiding. The Governor is not about to end or cap state tax payments. Some small rural schools are closing for many other reasons unrelated to Forest Preserve ownership. The Nature Conservancy raised $35 million of private money to make the deal work and to cover their costs of owning the land since 2007.
As a Finch Forest Manager said this week to the Almanack’s John Warren, a lot of study and thought was put into which lands were put under conservation easement and available for commercial harvesting, and which land should go into the Forest Preserve. We conclude that Fred Monroe is speaking less for the forest industry and more for lease club members who have enjoyed exclusive access to and use of these lands, but who will no longer once the state acquires the land, and use reservations expire later in this decade.
We believe the Forest Preserve additions will enhance ecological integrity at the very heart of the Adirondack Park. Their long-term conservation increases the chance that many migratory birds, as well as the marten and the moose can be sustained in the face of climate change. They add eco-tourism values at the core of the Park where industrial decline has been a sore point for many years.
The Essex Chain of Lakes, Upper Hudson Stillwater and the Boreas Ponds will add diversity to the surprisingly limited number of existing wild canoe or kayak waters. If carefully managed from both a recreational and ecological standpoint, the lands in their entirety will open opportunities for tourism including guiding, fishing, hunting, camping, skiing and snowmobiling, and support ecological research, education, arts and healing. Newcomb’s local and international students and other schools will have chances to interact with a variety of programs that take advantage of these landscapes. New state-private partnerships can be envisioned with the Adirondack Interpretive Center, Adirondack Ecological Center, Adirondack Architectural Heritage, among others.
The waterways re-establish routes that harken back to the Mohawk peoples, and the early days of hunters, trappers and explorers. People from all over the world will benefit from these new lands and opportunities that have a deep connection to our cultural past, while their dollars will be spent in local communities.
At a cost of less than $700 per acre, the project is a well-balanced acquisition benefiting the Park’s environment, human communities and needed economic enhancement, and was recognized as such not just by the Governor, but also by local Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward.
In conclusion, the Governor and his DEC Commissioner seized an opportunity this summer to add something very new and exciting to the central Adirondacks – an unparalleled arc of public wild lands and waters to explore at the very center of the Park, a historically well-managed landscape of interconnected wild lands and waterways available nowhere else in the northeast but the Adirondack Park. The entire Finch conservation project enhances the global reach of the Adirondack Park as a leading and working conservation model and success story.
Photo: OK Slip Falls, part of the new state land purchase.