Monday, August 6, 2012

New State Lands: Wilderness or Wild Forest?

The state’s newly signed contract to buy sixty-nine thousand acres of former Finch Paper lands won’t end the controversy over the future of these forests, lakes, and rivers. The next battle will be over their classification: Wilderness or Wild Forest?

Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed Sunday that the state will acquire the land over the next five years, adding it to the Forest Preserve and paying the Adirondack Nature Conservancy a total of $49.8 million.

The governor’s announcement in Lake Placid put to rest any doubts about the state’s intentions. Some political leaders in the Adirondack Park had been lobbying the state to protect the land with conservation easements rather than add it to the Forest Preserve. This option would have allowed logging to continue and hunting clubs to remain as leaseholders.

Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said the loss of forestry jobs and income from the clubs will hurt the local economy. “I’m saddened, disturbed, and angry about it,” he said of the governor’s announcement.

Joe Martens, the state’s environmental conservation commissioner, pointed out that most of the Finch Paper lands acquired by the conservancy—some ninety-two thousand acres—were in fact protected by easements rather than purchased for the Preserve. The lands to be added to the Preserve, he said, will attract paddlers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, giving a boost to the economy.

“We looked at the project as a whole, and these parcels have high recreational value,” Martens told the Adirondack Explorer today.

Environmentalists would like to see most of the Forest Preserve acreage classified as Wilderness where motorized access would be forbidden or severely restricted.

But Monroe contends that most of the land should be classified as Wild Forest to allow people to drive into the interior on existing dirt roads. “It’s important to the economy,” he said. “Sportsmen need access. It’s also a question of fundamental fairness. The land should be shared.”

The central battle may very well be over the first parcels the state plans to buy: the Essex Chain Tract and the smaller Outer Gooley Tract, which includes the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers. The state Department of Environmental Conservation hopes to acquire these lands in the fall.

The larger tract encompasses the Essex Chain of Lakes, a long stretch of the Hudson River, and parts of the Cedar and Rock rivers, among other natural attractions. Members of the Gooley Club, which leases both tracts, drive to their camps on dirt roads that would be closed if the state classifies the tract as Wilderness. That could mean a long carry for canoeists and kayakers who want to put their boats in the Essex Chain. Ditto for those who put in the Hudson at Newcomb and travel downriver to a takeout near the Indian River confluence.

Martens expects the more remote of the sixty-nine thousand acres to be classified as Wilderness, though it’s too soon to say which ones. He said the department will listen to all sides before making recommendations on classifying any of the lands. Ultimately, the Adirondack Park Agency will decide on the classifications.

Although DEC hopes to acquire the Essex Chain Tract this fall, the public will have to wait a year or so before it has access to the land. That’s because the Gooley Club’s annual lease grants it exclusive use of the tract until next fall. After that lease expires, the Gooley Club will have exclusive use only of its buildings and the land in the immediate vicinity. After 2018, Martens said, the club will have to vacate the land entirely.

DEC says it’s possible that the Hudson River takeout will be available for public use sooner, perhaps late this year or early next year.

The Hudson takeout will enable paddlers to enjoy a twelve-mile canoe trip, consisting of flat water and mild rapids, from Newcomb to the Indian River. Currently, without a public takeout, paddlers must continue through the heavy whitewater of the Hudson Gorge, which is beyond the capability of most paddlers.

Martens said DEC won’t open the road to the takeout when the takeout becomes available for public use. That decision will come later. Thus, judging from maps of the area, paddlers will have to carry their boats nearly a mile to reach the nearest public road.

Once the Essex Chain of Lakes is open, paddlers will have an even longer carry if the roads are closed—at least three miles, judging from maps.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he’d like to see some roads kept open to shorten the carries, if not eliminate them. His idea is to classify the Essex Chain region as a Canoe Area with limited vehicular access.

There is only one Forest Preserve tract in the Adirondacks managed primarily with paddling in mind: the St. Regis Canoe Area. The regulations for the Canoe Area are similar to those for Wilderness Areas in that motorized use is forbidden. But the state could classify certain roads separately as Primitive to permit motorized access. This could be done whether the rest of the land is Canoe or Wilderness.

The Essex Chain tract is at the heart of a 72,480-acre region that the Adirondack Council would like to see become the Wild Rivers Wilderness Area. With the purchase of the former Finch lands, the great majority of the proposed Wilderness Area will be owned by the state. Spokesman John Sheehan said the council would not necessarily oppose keeping some roads open within Primitive corridors.

Sheehan said the council believes that large Finch tracts near the High Peaks Wilderness, including the Boreas Ponds, also should be classified Wilderness.

The Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres of the Finch lands for $110,000 million in 2007. It sold ninety-two thousand acres to a Danish pension fund for nearly $33 million. In 2010, the state paid $30 million to purchase easements on those lands, which are still being logged.  With the sale of the sixty-nine thousand acres to the state, the conservancy will get back what it paid. But the conservancy had to raise $35 million to cover its debt and other expenses, according to spokeswoman Connie Prickett.

“This is a really exciting project for New York State, and it’s good for the North Country,” Prickett said. “We have these working forests, and now we will have these new public lands.”

Photo of former Finch, Pruyn lands by Carl Heilman II.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.

48 Responses

  1. TiSentinel65 says:

    On the one hand I like the fact that some of the environmental groups see the value in creating access to the river and trying to eliminate some of the portages. This could mitigate the loss of the hunting clubs which I consider a sad day for the Adirondacks. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good ride in canoe or kayak. I definately am going to make the run from Newcomb down. However when I go hunting and shoot a buck miles from the road, I am not afforded the luxury of backing my vehicle up, loading up the animal and driving off. I have to drag it out of the woods. A real chore when hunting by yourself. I kind of find it ironic that these groups are always railing against roads and access, unless it is access for their favored sport. The land should be classified wild forest because that is what it is. The roads should remain open for people to use.

  2. Paul says:

    They should look at all factors. One important reason they wanted to add this land to the FP was that would have a positive economic impact. Which classification allows for that to happen? Does Wilderness or WF land generate more income for local communities? If it is land that is supposed to be excellent new public hunting land then if it is only accessible on foot and only with longer carries than it will not be well used by hunters. It just isnt practical.

  3. George says:

    The real unfortunate part of this acquistion was that the whole Finch-Pruyn parcel was long considered the best managed forest land in the Adirondacks. Finch-Pruyn practiced sustainable forest decades before it become fashionable to insure a wood supply for their mill in Glens Falls. Now 69,000 acres are gone forever from that forest base.

    • julius parleaius says:

      Market factors, ie., the digital age, have caused a plummeting demand for Forest Products. What do want them to do?

    • John Warren says:


      The Finch SOLD this land to the Nature Conservancy. If Finch needed it they would have kept it for themselves. The Nature Conservancy could have just said, this is our land, we own it, we’re making it ALL wilderness, instead they turned it over to the state and will let the state (ie. in the long run that’s people like you and I) decide how it’s managed. Your argument holds no water. There is plenty of commercially available timberland in the Adirondacks to meet what little demand there is for it. At least Finch Paper apparently thinks so.

      • Paul says:

        John, His argument really does hold some water. The current situation in the timber markets is just that “the current situation”. That can, and usually does, change over time. This land will never again be available for that use. That is not an argument but a valid point of fact. But you are also correct that Finch Paper did do what was probably in the best short term interest of their stock holders with this sale. When you talk about adding land to the Forest Preserve it only moves in one direction.

        • julius parleaius says:

          Not really short term in the business world. I dont work direct in industry but only from investment stand point. You have to have a very very long term approach (from human standpoint) to invest in timberlands now. Ask the Danes. I advise against. Let the market decide. This is a great deal for New Yorkers. Don’t worry about losing timberlands. Requires innovative thinking now more than ever. Look at what Ward Lumber is doing.

          • Paul says:

            Julius, I agree entirely with your comment regarding what kind of outlook you need to have to for timberland investments. The best way to protect that type of land is in smaller private parcels, a “gentleman’s forest” of sorts. There you can put land into a private conservation easement where the owner can limit public access and keep the land well protected (similar to how these lands were managed over the years by Finch but on a smaller scale). The land could be used for the same type of recreation we are describing here but as a business that would bring more economic benefit to the surrounding towns. It doesn’t allow for the free-for-all that is being described here in these comments made by the DEC commissioner describing one of the more sensitive parcels a few days ago: ” “Martens said. “Also, it was a very attractive parcel from a public use point of view. So the quicker we can make that available for public use, the better.””

        • John Warren says:

          “The current situation in the timber markets is just that “the current situation”. That can, and usually does, change over time.”

          Yeah Paul, now admit that it’s constantly and inevitably changed for the WORSE.

          The major mill in this region has spoken on this topic – they sold their lands to the Nature Conservancy for sale to the State. That deal reserved what timber they needed for the long term – not short term! These are foresters who know their job far better than you or I. Your implication that Finch foresters are only seeking the bottom line suggests you’ve never met or spoke with any of them.

          DEC Region 5 alone has over 3 million acres of commercially viable timberland. Not to mention that far more abandon pasture has returned to timber over the past 100 years, than this measly 69,000 acres. Put in perspective this is a blip on the radar with almost no meaning for Adirondack anything, save protection of important upper hudson watershed lands and species and more opportunities for locals and tourists to enjoy these lands. Most of the rest of the nay-saying is the repetition of tired and incorrect talking points from a very few people with inordinate access to the media.

          And no, it doesn’t only go one way. This comment space could not hold the list of abrogations of the Forest Preserve in the last 100 years.

          • Paul says:

            John, I understand what the longer term trend has been. It does not mean that it can’t change. Here is an example today in the ADE.


            This Biofuel company talks about considering Tupper Lake due to its access to a good supply of wood. To think that taking 70,000 acres of well managed timber out of production maybe significant at some point in the future. So I just would not dismiss George’s comment as quickly as you do.

            As far as Finch’s plans since they signed only a 20 year fiber contract on the land they put into easement it seems like maybe they don’t have a very long term plan. But they may have something planned for after that.

            I was saying that land does not go from the Forest Preserve into private holdings. Why don’t you just give me one single example of where this has happened (short of the state giving some FP land to the state to build a few Olympic venues). If you think 70,000 acres is miniscule than those transactions are microscopic. So just one example of FP to private, thanks.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Why does everthing have to be a battle up here?
    I am bored by the “battles.”

  5. julius parleaius says:

    There is both in this purchase.

  6. Solidago says:

    Amen, Pete. Even in this post it sounds like there is a great deal of common ground on what to do next, yet it is framed as a battle. It’d be nice if the local media, which I think does the most to set the tone, would start fostering and covering cooperation, rather than division and “battles”.

  7. Paul says:

    I would like to see some work to try and manage this area as a place for sportsmen (as well as other users). That is going to cost more money since maintaining roads is more expensive than not. But sportsmen (sports people) are usually willing to pay for these kinds of things. Also, why tear down all the buildings? That is ridiculous. Why not classify some areas where you can have something like a John’s Brook Lodge of sorts. It can be used by paddlers, hikers, hunters, fishermen, skiers.

  8. Snowshoe steve says:

    Johns Brook Lodge is a private facility. There are lots of camps adjacent to the new purchase. If the free market dictates that will be profitable it will happen with out gov’t intervention. Extensive roads. Some should be closed.

  9. Snowshoe steve says:

    I don’t disagree with your premis Paul, but I would rather see an ADK Loj rather than interior facility. Imagine if the the Loj was fed by a rail line? They would line up. That is now possible at the southern end of the High Peaks. Newcomb may be a boon town again! Or the town of Adirondack. Great potential here. This is not an all or nothing. Some wilderness, yes, will draw in the greeny hikers. Some wildforest, yes! Will draw in the motorheads.

  10. Snowshoe steve says:

    I seem to be in the minority in pushing back some of our access points. Why does everbody have to drive right up to things? What makes an area remote and wild is the distance it takes to get to it.

    • Paul says:

      This is very true when I am hiking and just out paddling. But when you have a 200 pound buck that you just shot 5 miles back in the woods you have a problem. If we want to open the area up as new public hunting grounds (as it was sold to us) then you have to make concessions like that. It sounds like even ADK on board with the concept. I hope that remains the case when it is their turn to comment on the classification. BTW, I will never hunt in this area so it doesn’t affect me personally.

      • julius parleaius says:

        I don’t see why you “have to make concessions like that.” There are hunters at all fitness levels just as there are skiers at all fitness levels. Those who ski Gore using the lifts are not the same as those who ski the slides on Colden. Just as the hunters doing a drive a 100 yards off the Powley rd are not the same who will be hunting these wild lands. No body is making them hunt there. Your argument is weak and counter intuitive.

        • Paul says:

          Not really. Like I said if they want the area to be a well used public hunting area there will need to be access. There are not very many hunters that want to carry a big deer out on their back. Basically none. So if you want it to be what they have said it should be then you need good access. If not then they should just pretent they never made such a concession in the negotiations going in.

          • julius parleaius says:

            Not Really what?

            What did they say they want it to be?

            No one carrys a deer on their back unless they want to get shot.

            Hunting and especially trapping are greatly declining. The area will now be there for these activities, but as Casey Stengel. “If the fans don’t want to come out to the ballpark no one is going to stop them.”

            There was hunting long before ATVs, give it a try.

          • Paul says:


            Not really counter intuitive if you think about it.

            I have never used an ATV for hunting. I maybe rode one a few decades ago for a few minutes. If they want the land to be used for public hunting as they have described they have to have ways for folks to get big game animals out of the woods. You have to be able to drive your car or truck (ATVs are not allowed on FP land) to within some reasonable proximity to where you are hunting. One reason (there are many) that these activities are on the decline is the loss of access.

            • John Warren says:

              The most remote place in the Adirondacks is within 5.3 miles of a road, within about 1/2 mile of a trail. The overwhelming majority of the Adirondacks is easily accessible to anyone. There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that hunting is in decline in Adirondacks due to reduced access – in fact public access to hunting has grown by leaps and bounds with the acquisition of formerly closed private lands (like these!) by the state.

          • julius parleaius says:

            What “access” is it your looking for? With the DEC implementing all these UMPS they have been building trails or (authorizing them)and access points every where.

            Give me an example of another “well used” hunting area on Forest Preserve. I am having a hard time understanding your vision.

          • julius parleaius says:

            How to get a Deer out of the woods? It’s called a rope. Start dragging, same as every where else on the Forest Preserve. What is it you are looking for or think they promised?

          • Paul says:

            Julius, can you imagine what a deer would look like if dragged 5 miles over snowless ground. Like I said it doesn’t matter to me I don’t plan to hunt the area. Just saying, like many others, if they close the roads in there it will not attract many hunters as promised. It depends how they set it up. If you can still get to the spots the clubs have been able to access by roads for over 100 years it will work out well for hunters and the town will see a good deal of activity that time of year (hopefully we will see). Cheers.

  11. Pete Nelson says:

    Battles, indeed. It would be nice to think that all parties affected by this decision would see it as a tremendously fortunate circumstance, to realize that lands like this are incredibly precious and that to be able to debate over their use is a privilege hardly any communities in the world get to have.

    I think of what I wrote in my second-ever Dispatch, months ago: when we drive from lovely Wisconsin to the border of the magnificent Adirondack park, we go through 900 miles of civilization, passing through lands and communities totaling tens of millions of people with nary a wild spot available to any of them. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Buffalo: live or work in these places a while, then perhaps it would be easier to see.

    I think sometimes people living in the Adirondacks, for all the hardship that can entail, do not necessarily see what the comparison to living elsewhere is really like.

    I for one cheer this acquisition and cannot wait to hike to OK Slip falls and stare in joy at them. I trust that a healthy discussion will lead to a sensible division between Wild Forest, Primitive and Wilderness designations.

  12. julius parleaius says:

    Well said Pete. I moved out of NYC to Westchester 3 years ago and purchased a camp on Great Sacandaga to go to the ADKS. For the money I have made it is nature I seek. I spend it in the ADKS. I just feel like my opinion is dismissed by local Adirondackers. I am view as a carpetbagger. My tax dollars go to these land purchases same as every one else. I want more Forest Preserve!

  13. julius parleaius says:

    Fred Monroe was also concerned some lands will be classified wilderness and not be accessible to motorized vehicles. Plus, some 200 hunting camps will have to be removed from the lands. Monroe, who belongs to a hunting club that owns one of those camps, said that will be a “blow to the economy.

    “It’s going to be devastating for those people; it’s destruction of a culture,” he said. “They’ve gone there all their lives, and now they’re not able-bodied enough to walk in or canoe in.”

    Mr Monroe, it’s called getting old. When I was junior in college my roomate and I took a semester off and hiked the Appalachian trail. I am 63 now and can’t do it. The last thing I want is to drive an ATV in there. Memories, and the joy in just knowing it is there!

  14. Phil Brown says:

    Solidago, I didn’t create this debate. It has been around for years. Read Fred Monroe’s quote. He is angry about the decision. If he said he was happy with the decision, that’s what I would have reported, and the article may indeed have had a different “tone.”

    • Solidago says:

      Debate is a healthy process in which people of differing view points discuss their differences and respectfully work towards arriving at a mutually agreeable outcome.

      Battles are all about destroying some opponent you feel is morally inferior and “winning” as much as possible for your morally superior camp.

      I think media coverage has a lot of influence over whether something remains a healthy and constructive debate, or devolves into a destructive battle. What happens next doesn’t have to be the latter, but I’m sure it could be made into one if too much emphasis is given to the extremes.

      • Paul says:

        recently Phil blogged at AE about an internet “petition” (a loose term as we all know). It was one that was put up to “answer” one that was posted by a Gooley club member that had an opposing petItion (I also say that “loosely”). Devolution in my opinion. As a journalist I am sure that Phil knows that an Internet petition has zero credibility. I am not sure why this was blogged on?

  15. Phil Brown says:

    If your point is that “battle” sounds more bellicose than “debate,” I will concede you’re right.

  16. julius parleaius says:

    I have a minor in English lit, and had to look up the definition of bellicose.

  17. Phil Brown says:

    It’s a fighting word.

  18. Phil Brown says:

    I revised the post to reflect that DEC is now saying that the Outer Gooley Tract also will be acquired in the first stage of acquisitions. This parcel includes the Hudson River takeout near the confluence with the Indian.

  19. Tom Mc says:

    What information do you have on OK Slip Fall and the surrounding area now occupied by the Northern Frontier Camp?

  20. Phil Brown says:

    Tom, OK Slip Falls will not be acquired in the first stage of acquisitions. It’s unknown which lands will be acquired in the second stage.

  21. Phil Brown says:

    I revised the post for a correction: DEC recommends classifications for the Forest Preserve, but the Adirondack Park Agency makes the final decision.

    • Paul says:

      Phil, This is where I think a change is in order. The DEC should make the classification. let them deal witt state owned land and let the APA deal with zoning on private land. That would help them alleviate some of the grief they have to deal with.

  22. Paul says:

    It is really only a “battle” of words. One side always prevails in the battle on the ground. Land is only slowly (or quickly in this case) added to the Forest Preserve. How many acres have been removed from the Forest Preserve over the last century?

  23. julius parleaius says:

    Why would you expect subtraction and addition to be equal? Requires a constitutional amendment to remove.

    The fact that people actually live in our Park as oppossed to National ones is only probalamtic in areas were there is little tourism. Areas like North St. Lawrence county, Fulton and Souther Herkimer. These areas the household incomes are lagging. The lakes, rivers and mountain areas, statistically, avg income is above national rural norms. Many communities, from Long Lake to Lake Placid have to import workers, at least seasonally, from eastern europe just to keep up with demand. The summer unemployment rate in these area is what we call “perpetual”. No matter what the employment oppurtunities it is unlikely to fall below a a given threshold. Some people are just unable and/or unwilling to hold down a job.

    • Paul says:

      “unwilling”, interesting comment. Like I said it is only added. You get my point.

    • Paul says:

      The intersecting thing about this comment is that this addition of Forest Preserve land is aimed specifically at adding the type of tourism related jobs that will magnify the problem that you describe.

  24. TiSentinel65 says:

    John, the remaing paper companies that still need fiber to operate, only rid themselves of the land for tax reasons only. You have stated here before that they must not have wanted it otherwise they would still own it. Wall street dictated this. They demanded they turn the land over to an RIT or TIMO. This in turn helped them realise greater revenue potential without tax liability. The two remaining paper mills that use adirondack wood for fiber are in the Uncoated Freesheet buisness, or UFS. This is Finch and International Paper. This market is in secullar decline of about two percent a year. This means capacity will have to be reduced otherwise there would be oversupply. If analyst’s numbers hold true,this could continue for the next ten years. This means mill closures. Who closes first is based upon cost structure. The weak do not survive. This has already played out with Domtars lands in the northern Dacks. These lands supplied their Cornwall Ontario mill, just a stones throw away from the Adirondacks with fiber. This mill had a very high cost structure so it had to go. In steps the state to buy said lands. IP’s Ti mill and Finches in Glens Falls have more competative cost structures. Therefore they survive. The demand for fiber goes up every year. It is just not going up to produce paper. Fiber for packaging and consumer food products increases every year. But the potential big Ace in the hole could be as Paul said cellulosic ethanol from wood. Everybody must admit that corn ethanol is a terrible waste of resources. The energy used to produce it gives us only a flash in the pan effect. Ethanol is big in Brazil, but only because they can tap into the huge amounts of waste sugar cane from the sugar industry. Gas production in Brazil is matched almost gallon for gallon by ethanol. North America is rich in timber. If cellulosic ethanol is perfected ,the demand for wood would go up substantially. This is a much cleaner and renewable resource. All of a sudden this land that many people feel should be locked up,or converted to forest preserve, may contain the key to actually saving our environment from what some people say could be the biggest threat to the land itself…. that’s climate change. All of a sudden, this land is way more valuable. Maybe Priceless?

    • Paul says:

      Ti, the main point I make is that we don’t know what the future holds but once land is added to the FP it cannot be removed so you are out of options at that point. Hindsight is 20/20.

  25. Andy says:

    How many miles does the DEC have in the road land bank under APSLMP? I suspect that will be defining answer to what roads remain open in the new lands.

    “4. Public use of motor vehicles will
    not be encouraged and there will not be any
    material increase in the mileage of roads and
    snowmobile trails open to motorized use by
    the public in wild forest areas that
    conformed to the master plan at the time of
    its original adoption in 1972.”

    There was an estimated 740 miles of roads and snowmobile trails in forest preserve as of 1972, although the DEC interpretes “no material increase” to be a ceiling of 848.88 miles, per DEC Forest Preserve Policy ONR-2 (which is subject to legal challenge by PROTECT!). There currently are roughly 760 miles of roads and snowmobile trails through forest preserve.

    I see no interest in state government to repeal the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, especially not the language prohibiting a net increase of mileage of roads in forest preserve, in 1972. Does it suck? Of course. But it’s political reality we live with in NY State. Maybe someday we can repeal the APSLMP and go back to sensible public lands management.

  26. Peter H says:

    Andy, so you think the roads will be closed entirely?