Monday, August 20, 2012

Finch Paper On State Land Deal, Company’s Future

Finch Paper’s future is secure, officials said last week during an interview session with the Adirondack Almanack.  In a wide-ranging conversation that touched on Finch’s forestry programs, the market for paper, and the recent State Land purchase,  company spokespeople stressed the need to protect forest lands, and the company’s commitment to playing a role in sustainably managing supplies of wood fiber for their plant in Glens Falls.

“I always stress keeping forest land forest land,” Finch Forest Management Manager Leonard Cronin said, adding that development is the biggest threat to forest lands. “Most paper mills have sold their lands and given up managing their forests,” he explained, saying that Finch chose a different approach. 

Finch Paper invested in its own management of it fiber supply, Cronin said, and the forest management division has grown since the sale of former Finch &  Pruyn Company lands to the Nature Conservancy.  Finch Forest Management contracts with a pool of logging companies he said, some of whom they’ve worked with for 20 years, and currently manages 120,000 acres divided between 13 smaller land owners (those with less than 1,200 acres) and seven large landowners.

“Lands are managed for multiple purposes,” Cronin said, including for fiber, saw timber, and wildlife.  “Fiber supply agreements provide a known market for low grade wood in a depressed economy,” he said, but stressed that it was only one part of what Finch Forest Management is doing.  Erin O’Neil, Family Forest Manager and a wildlife biologist, pointed to several private sporting clubs that the company manages land for to provide wildlife habitat, and a financial return. Finch Forest Management has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

About 15% of Finch Paper’s annual fiber needs came from the  former Finch & Pruyn lands, Cronin said. The company’s fiber supply comes from six surrounding states and Canada, according to Cronin, about half from the entire Adirondack region (which includes club lands and other large landowners). “Even before the sale we were already reaching out way beyond to the region,” he said.  Beth Povie, Finch Paper’s Director of Communications, confirmed that supply was not a problem for the company and the most important factor in the company’s bottom line is the overall downturn in the economy. She said the company has lost jobs at the plant recently due to “restructuring our processes not reduced volume” as a result of the economic downturn.

Turning to the recent sale of 69,000 acres to the state, the forest mangers were proud of the company’s track record over the years in managing the lands headed to the Forest Preserve. “Because these lands were well cared for, people want to go there,” O’Neill said. Cronin noted that generally, allowing for steep slopes, wetlands, and other sensitive areas such as those along water courses, the company can plan on harvesting about 60% of a forest tract, but on the lands sold to the state that number is considerably less. “Is it perfect? No,” he said, “but there was a lot of thought by the Nature Conservancy about what was going to continue to be logged, and what was going to be protected.”

Correction:  The 15% Cronin referred to in our meeting was to Finch, Pruyn & Co. owned lands prior to the 2007 land deal.  The story has been corrected to reflect that.  About 50% of Finch Paper’s pulpwood comes from the whole Adirondack Park, including large landowners such as clubs, Cronin said.

Photos: Above, Finch Paper’s wood yard at their Glens Falls plant; Below, OK Slip Falls, part of the lands being conveyed to New York State.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




25 Responses

  1. Ron Vanselow says:

    Interesting. Considering that on Friday, August 17th, the Warren County Board of Supervisors passed yet another resolution condemning the upcoming purchase of 69,000 acres of land from the Nature Conservancy, and using Finch’s lack of pulp resources as one supporting argument against the acquisition.
    Of course, considering that the original resolution referred to the entire parcel, including the Gorge and O-K Slip Falls as “productive” forest, ready to be logged, it’s not surprising that other specious arguments were used.
    The resolution passed 19-1. Guess who voted “no”.

  2. Mick says:

    I saw a Forest Productivity Report that indicated that of the 65,000 acres, 60,000 had been logged previously, so 93% of the land is considered “productive” forestland.

    I keep reading that DEC has stated that every acre of productive forestland annually contributes just over $450.00 to the state’s gross domestic product, and if that is true, then taking 60,000 acres of productive land out of production will cause a lost opportunity cost of $27 million per year.

    My problem is that Forest Preserve land can’t be protected against invasive species with normal forest protection control prescriptions.

    DEC refuses to discuss these two issues.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Mick,

      According to Cronin estimate of less than 60%, your argument that 93% of the 69,000 acres could be logged does not seem remotely creditable. If you are going to contradict the guy responsible for the forestry on these lands, how about providing a source?

      And also, you keep citing this $450 number, do you have a source for that?

      • Ron Vanselow says:

        Also, John… Just because an area was “logged previously”, doesn’t mean it was ever “productive forest land”. There was a ton of inappropriate (by today’s standards) logging that occurred in the past. Eventually, those bad practices helped lead to the creation of the forest preserve in the first place.

  3. Mick says:

    John, here is DEC’s information on the value of working forests:

    http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/economic.pdf

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Mick,

      Your source is not a DEC document, it’s by the Northeast State Foresters Association and is not peer-reviewed. The data is almost entirely from 2005, (before the economic downturn of 2008).

      It does not claim $450 per acre per year, it claims as “an annual revenue from New York’s forests” from “Forest-based manufacturing value of shipments” of $374 per acre (in 2005). The actual value added is less than half that: “The two [pulp and paper] mills in New York [Finch and IP] along with many other paper mills (stand-alone paper plants with no pulp mills on site) provide total value added for pulp and paper manufacturing at $2.34 billion while the value of shipments was $4.93 billion.”

      You’ve provided no evidence for your 93% claim, so I’ll take the experience and knowledge of the actual forester on these lands and assume it’s less than 60%.

      About three times that number has been preserved from development as working forests in the entire Nature Conservancy deal affecting 166,000 acres. You would think you’d be happy about that trade off, considering you’re not the only interest to be served in the Adirondacks.

      I am, as I’ve said before, a firm supporter of the forest products industry – it’s local and renewable, and it has an important place in Adirondack cultural history which we should celebrate.

      But claiming the less than 35,000 acres that could be logged-off these lands as some great loss suggest you’re more tied to your politics on this issue than the facts. We’ve probably gained as much forest land from abandoned Washington County farms alone in the last 30 years. All of it closer, and so more economical, to both IP and Finch.

      For perspective on the actual impact consider this part of the report: “New York is currently 61% forested, just 80 years ago the state contained only half this area of forest.” That’s not a loss of timberland by any stretch of the imagination.

      Nor, according to the report you cite, is this small ecologically significant parcel anything more than a tiny percent of timberlands owned by government: “The majority of timberland in New York is privately owned (14.0 million acres or 90.2%) by business concerns or family forest owners. Local, State and Federal government owns just under 10% or 1.68 million acres of New York’s timberland.”

      • Paul says:

        John, I think there is a big difference between “forested” and “timberland”. Many of the current owners have no interest in logging the land. That is their right. This is an interesting story. Thanks.

        • John Warren John Warren says:

          Yeah Paul, and there is an even bigger difference between 69,000 acres of this sale and the 14 MILLION acres of private forest lands in this state.

          • Paul says:

            Yes, I think the main difference is that this is 69,000 acres of contiguous land and much of the other 14 million acres is broken into smaller parcels that may not be that practical for timber production. I would imagine that is part of the “development” threat that is discussed in the article.

      • Paul says:

        John, Doesn’t NYS own 2.7 million acres of land in the Adirondacks alone? Where do you get this 1.68 number from?

      • Paul says:

        John, I saw that Mr. Cronin said this:

        “Is it perfect? No,”

        Did you ask him what he sees as the perfect deal?

  4. Mick says:

    John, in a map prepared by Warren County GIS, a study of the land was done. Between Warren, Essex, and Hamilton counties, there is a total of 141,000 acres of Finch Land (Nature Conservancy Land). 9.68% are APA wetland, 5.5% are Steep Slope, and 8.5% are High Elevation, for a total of 21% of the land being non-productive. Finch Pruyn’s former COO assembled the data. I have a copy of the PDF, and I think I pulled it from an article on your site. It is entitled Forest Productivity of Former Finch and Follensby Lands. Of course, the water bodies are not included in the forested land.

    The DEC Document was signed by Rob Davies, so I can only assume that it is accurate. It states the total economic benefit in annual GDP terms from New York Forests is $477.30 per year . Even if you were to scale that back to $374.00 per acre, then the lost economic benefit from the Finch land on 60,000 acres amounts to $22.44 million PER YEAR (loss to the taxpayers).

    Have you got any information on forest protection policies on Forest Preserve lands? I think not. You and I have discussed that before. Forest Preserve land is vulnerable to invasive species and customary prescribed management protocol is prohibited under state law.

  5. Mick says:

    John, I just reread the DEC document. It pertains to all productive forests in New York, 90% of which is privately held. It does address the fact the some of the data is old, and uses an aggregated multiplier to extrapolate current data.

    So since there is $102.00 per acre per year from private forests, adjusted at 1.25 to make the figure current that figure comes out to $127.50. Multiply that by the number of acres of Finch Land (65,000), and the estimated LOST REVENUE FROM PRIVATE RECREATION IS WELL OVER $8 MILLION PER YEAR. According to statistics from your publication, 80% of public land users come from within a 50 mile radius, so let’s consider that Newcomb, Indian Lake, and Minerva. Considering the demographics of those towns (aged, low income) please tell me how many people you think will actually spend tourism dollars on the visiting the Finch Land, and will that make up the $ million per year loss to the taxpayers.

    It’s a bad deal for everyone. Balanced? No way.

    • Paul Hai Off Track says:

      I’m not sure how this revenue is lost to the tax payer when NYS pays taxes on hte land. And seeing as this land is not going to be in 480a anymore, I think the tax payment to Newcomb will actually increase.

  6. Mick says:

    OffTrack, this is all in ADDITION to property taxes. Taxes are around $26.00 per acre and they are not factored into the lost economic opportunity costs at all.

  7. Paul Hai Off Track says:

    Thank you for the distinction. Another question, while everyone seems to bemoan the loss of working forest, has anyone spoken with the Finch or IP about how much working forest (and fiber supply) they need?

    It’s my understanding, having done so, that if we increased harvesting, we would obvioulsy increase supply drive down price, negatively impacting the forest workers, often just barely hanging on, and struggling to make big payments on expensive equipment. So I think the conversation about the current forest products industry is really not informed by the “loss of working forest lands”.

    I am interested however, in looking at how a potential future working forest – say feed stocks for bio-fuels, chip plants, pellets, etc. – might be limited by the continuing shift of land from industrial to preserved.

    It is conceivable that with increases in technology (i.e. improved efficiency) that the same amount of land would be some degree more productive. Who knows, but in the same way I’m sure timbermen in previous generations lamented the loss of timberlands and yet the industry always maintained a sufficient woodshed in the Adks.

    I suspect it will continue so.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Off Track,

      Half of Finch’s fiber supply comes from the Adirondack region and they have no fear for the future of their supply. They use about 700,000 tons per year, they have growing availability in places like Washington and Saratoga County and directly manage 120,000 acres themselves on behalf of landowners.

      Also, it is not fair to say that there is a “continuing shift of land from industrial to preserved”. This 69,000 acre sale is the largest such sale in 100 years and it’s a drop in the bucket of available forest lands.

      More importantly, the trend over the past 20 years has been far and away to preserve working forests, not the other way around as folks like Mick and the Local Government Review Board would have us all believe.

  8. Mick says:

    OffTrack, I think the article said that Finch had to source wood fiber from as far away as canada and Maine!? Sounds like a large Carbon Footprint to me!

    The State Purchase, AKS a Public Taking, will put a lot of pressure on the remaining private land owners to fill the gap. Prices will go up, and landowners will probably make decisions based on market pressures, rather than sustainable forest management decisions (a Finch forester told me that, and no John, I won’t name the forester).

    No one has answered the question about Forest Protection yet.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Mick,

      Despite your claims that state land purchases drive up prices, prices have fallen not risen – the main driver of prices is the overall economy – we have plenty of commercially available timber.

      Your question about the “Forest Protection” which for you means logging it all (as if that would be a solution), has been answered a number of times. The DEC’s has been combating the spread of invasives as much as possible through regulations, inspections and monitoring (all of which they have been actively doing). In an event of an infestation which will begin small, they have more than enough authority to selectively cut affected trees along roadways and public campgrounds, where studies have shown invasives begin their spread.

  9. Mick says:

    The map INCLUDES the 69,000 acres. The map was developed to indicate the acreage of PRODUCTIVE forestlands, previously owned by Finch & Pruyn Paper Company and is compiled from verifiable records. It is accurate. This land was managed to the highest levels of sustainable forest management, and earned a number of certifications for extraordinary stewardship, including the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification, which is renown globally.

  10. Paul says:

    Would the company prefer to purchase more wood from the Adirondacks if it were available? I am curious why they are sourcing from out of state when there is probably wood available closer? Is it a quality issue? Maybe there isn’t enough softwood available.

  11. Mick says:

    Paul, don’t you think it costs more to freight wood from longer distances?

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