The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is seeking public input regarding public recreation on the 39,579-acre Perkin’s Clearing – Speculator Tree Farm Conservation Easement Tract in the towns of Arietta, Lake Pleasant, and Wells in Hamilton County.
The area shares boundaries with the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, Jessup River Wild Forest, and West Canada Lake Wilderness.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released the Final Kushaqua Tract Conservation Easement Lands Recreational Management Plan (RMP) for motorized recreational use of snowmobiles, ATVs, and motor vehicles on the approximately 18,000-acre easement in the northern Adirondacks.
The Kushaqua Tract Conservation Easement Lands are located in the towns of Franklin and Brighton in Franklin County formerly owned by International Paper Corporation. DEC purchased a conservation easement on the lands in 2004 which included development rights and logging requirements. The easement also includes public access to the property and more than 100 miles of existing roads. » Continue Reading.
In its latest Recreational Management Plan for 19,000 acres near Rainbow Lake, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation appears disinterested in biological information, much less in taking actions protective of sensitive biological resources.
The Kushaqua Conservation Easement is 19,000 acres of managed private timberland, formerly International Paper Lands, now Lyme Timber lands, located in the Towns of Brighton and Franklin. The tract lies north of Rainbow Lake and Buck Pond Campground, west of Loon Lake, east of Meacham Lake, and much of the tract is surrounded by Forest Preserve in the form of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest. Kushaqua was placed under a conservation easement acquired by the State in 2004. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Department of Conservation is seeking comments on their Recreational Management Plan (RMP) for the Kushaqua Tract Conservation Easement Lands in the northern Adirondack Park. The plan includes extensive development for motor vehicles, including more than 100 miles of roads to be used by cars and trucks, snowmobiles, and ATVs, and six new parking lots.
Molpus Woodlands Group has purchased the 112,238-acre holdings of The Forestland Group. A price was not disclosed. The purchase makes Molpus, of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner at more than 273,000 acres. [Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Molpus is in fact the largest private landowner – in recent years Lyme Timber Company has sold 121,000 acres and now owns 239,500].
The lands are in Lewis, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, and include frontage on several northern-flowing rivers, including the St. Regis and the Grasse. Prior to The Forestland Group, the lands were owned by Champion International. Molpus had owned only 30,000 acres (near Saranac Lake) until its January 2014 purchase of nearly 131,000 acres in St. Lawrence, Clinton, Franklin and Lewis counties from Rayonier Forest Resources. » Continue Reading.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released a proposed resource management plan for The Kushaqua Tract Conservation Easement Lands in the northern Adirondacks and is seeking public comments.
The Kushaqua Tract Easement is approximately 19,000 acres of land in the towns of Franklin and Brighton in Franklin County formerly owned by International Paper Corporation. DEC purchased a working forest conservation easement on the lands in 2004 which includes development rights and sustainable forestry requirements. The easement also includes public access to more than 18,000 acres of the property and many miles of the existing road system. » Continue Reading.
Over the past two decades, the state has purchased conservation easements on some 750,000 acres in the Adirondack Park. These timberlands are protected from development, and many of them are open to the public for recreation.
In theory, at least. In reality, most visitors to the Adirondacks seldom, if ever, set foot on easement lands. Partly, that’s because they don’t know where they can go or what they can do. The cliffs on Silver Lake Mountain are an exception.
The state purchased easements on the cliffs as part of a massive deal with International Paper in 2004 that preserved some 260,000 acres. Now owned by Lyme Timber, the cliffs were opened to the public—i.e., rock climbers—in 2009. » Continue Reading.
Definition: “A conservation easement typically consists of permanently enforceable rights held by a land trust or government agency by which the landowner promises to use property only in ways permitted by the easement. The landowner retains ownership and may convey it like any other property, subject to the easement’s restrictions. Conservation easements have been made possible by enabling legislation in virtually every state” (from Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform by Jeff Pidot, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2005).
Society has many expectations for large tracts of forest under conservation easement. The list often includes some form of public recreation on private ownership, sustainably harvested timber and pulp, biological diversity including diverse watchable and huntable wildlife, recreational leases, drivable roads, protected streams, ponds and wetlands, shared taxes, timely enforcement of the rules. If that list is not long enough, some believe that these protected private lands can be managed to help slow or mitigate a changing climate that is likely to continue to warm for centuries, even if Homo sapiens cut emissions dramatically in order to maintain current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which we are not.
During a winter 2009 workshop about Adirondack conservation easements, it was reported that there were 737,000 acres under some form of state conservation easement in all of New York State, with 98% occurring in the Adirondack region. An additional 100,000 acres were being negotiated. According to Regional Forester Tom Martin, in DEC Region 5 (two-thirds of the Adirondack Park) there were 365,000 acres under conservation easement with 113 different landowners in 2009. 340,000 of those acres were certified by third-party certification systems such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
During the workshop, Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society offered his opinion that easements in the Northern Forest have achieved a basic goal to conserve biodiversity. Jenkins’ report Conservation Easements and Biodiversity in the Northern Forest Region (2008 by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Open Space Institute) provides important background and recommendations. As Jenkins stated at the workshop, conservation easements negotiated in the future should also address the issue of carbon emissions, which have global consequences.
If conservation easements are to address climate issues, landowners must be provided with the information and spectrum of management options. Forestry management plans which utilize low grade trees as biomass feedstock are on the “front lines.” To satisfy the Chicago Climate Exchange, forests need to be FSC certified.
Certification provides the standards and incentives to capture this low carbon energy source and the practice of low carbon forestry. Would easement lands qualify for carbon offset markets? Jenkins noted that the dollar value to landowners may not come solely or even primarily from carbon offsets, but from the avoidance cost of replacing fossil fuels as primary heat source in the northeast. As Jerry Jenkins put it, “how much money can we save the local school board by putting in a wood chip boiler in place of the old oil burner? How can those savings be translated into financial benefits for the landowner?”
In September, 2010, the Adirondack Park Agency sponsored a field visit with the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner and manager of lands under conservation easement, Lyme Timber. Lyme’s land manager Sean Ross led the APA to lands they have harvested north of Tupper Lake. Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley and I went along. These foresters manage blocks as large as 15,000 acres. Lyme owns 250,000-acres in the Adirondack Park.
In general, Lyme views the conservation easement positively, as well as the rigorous certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Ross made the case that the Adirondack Park’s protected status, including laws and publicly-owned Forest Preserve, were strong incentives to engage in easements and certification. Lyme’s field operations must be audited each year by the FSC or one of its third party certifiers. As Sean told us, FSC certification is an expected cost of doing business these days.
Why is Lyme in this forest land business? Trees are adding diameter and value yearly. This steady return on investment jumps when a large cherry or maple grows into a larger diameter class. Lyme’s markets are wherever they can find them – the Ticonderoga mill, nearby biomass plants, Canada and the world.
If he had the power to do so, what would he change about the conservation easement? Sean Ross said that he might take small parts of a given parcel out of the easement, and put other areas in it. Other than this, he saw no need for change. In answer to other questions, Sean Ross noted that fragmentation of land ownerships across the Northern Forest is making it challenging to manage lands for forestry. Asked if Ross could estimate Lyme’s minimum viable tract size, Ross stated it was around 10,000 acres.
Were there any collaborative efforts to conduct ecosystem-based, wild land planning for wildlife and ecosystem integrity on these lands, such as wildlife corridors? In response, Ross noted that Lyme was able to get a grant through DEC to hire a wildlife biologist that is exploring these issues for their Adirondack lands. He noted collaboration with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon New York.
Lyme also participated in the 2009 workshop. During that meeting, its representative noted the time pressures to complete contracts, and to assess what’s important to conserve in a conservation easement. On the other hand, biologists at the workshop felt that on large forested tracts several field seasons were required to survey and document rare or unique ecological communities.
The 2009 workshop concluded by identifying the following needs and tasks: • Studies to indicate whether easements in the Adirondacks are truly meeting stated ecological, economic and social objectives. • Studies of how easement lands respond to climate change. • Methods for compensating landowners for achieving easement objectives • Funding for baseline documentation and monitoring programs for both land and aquatic resources. • Completing a conservation easement registry program, already required by law.
Photo: Sean Ross of Lyme Timber addresses questions during APA-sponsored field visit in September. Photo by Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild.
This weekend I paddled the West Branch of the St. Regis for the first time. Until a few years ago, nearly all of the West Branch inside the Adirondack Park was closed to the public.
As a result of a conservation-easement deal with Lyme Timber, fishermen and paddlers now have access to about eight miles of the West Branch northeast of Carry Falls Reservoir.
However, the public is allowed in only from May 1 through September 30, so Thursday is the last day you’ll be able to enjoy the river this year. But don’t fret too much: the river will still be there next spring. Given the looming deadline, I was motivated to paddle the river this past Saturday. Much of the eight miles contains rapids, but there is a 3.5-mile stretch that will delight flat-water paddlers. Here is a description of the trip.
The opening of the West Branch is just one example of the public benefits of conservation easements. Under easement deals, the landowners agree not to develop their land. In return, the state picks up a portion of the property taxes. Most deals allow public recreation, though the degree of access differs.
In the case of the West Branch, the public has the right to fish and canoe. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has opened four parking areas along the timber company’s Main Haul Road, with carry trails leading to the river. Camping is permitted only at designated campsites.
We all should be grateful that at least part of this beautiful river is now open to the public.
But I do have a complaint.
From the put-in, you paddle upstream through marshland for 1.6 miles. Rounding a bend, you can see the buildings of the Weller Mountain Fish and Game Preserve, a hunting club whose main lodge sits at the confluence of the river and Long Pond Outlet. At this point, you must exit the river and portage 0.3 miles through a spruce forest and put back in upstream of the lodge. You can canoe another mile and a half upriver before reaching rapids.
The river near the hunting club is perfectly navigable flat water. It’s just that the members don’t want the public paddling past their piece of paradise, which is leased from the landowner (Woodwise Land Company bought the property from Lyme Timber this summer).
OK, I understand the club desires privacy, but my portage around flat water struck me as unnecessary. Would the members (if any were there) have had their day ruined by a lone canoeist quietly paddling past their camp? They would have had to endure the sight of me for at most a few minutes.
I sometimes hear people complain that paddlers are “elitists”—because paddlers advocate banning motorboats from some waterways. But paddlers are not elitists. And certainly not in this case. If anybody is elitist, it’s the members of the hunting club who object to the public paddling by their lodge.
Some readers might wonder how the landower can keep the public off this short stretch of the West Branch. If the river is navigable, isn’t it open to the public under the common law? Unlike other rivers I’ve written about, such as the Beaver and Shingle Shanty Brook, the public must cross private land to reach the water. Thus, the landowner has the right to set conditions for access to and use of the river.
But the law doesn’t always square with common sense, not to mention common courtesy. It just seems mean to force the public to portage past the hunting club. And the portage may discourage, if not prevent, the elderly, disabled, and less-than-fit from continuing their trip and enjoying the river upstream from the lodge.
DEC should negotiate a better deal for the public. After all, we do pay taxes on this land. Ideally, this condition would be scotched. At the very least, it ought to be modified to allow the public to paddle past the club during those times of year or days of the week when the club is little used. Requiring people to portage past the club when no one is there is the height of absurdity.
I do respect the club’s wish for privacy, but that needs to be balanced with the public’s recreational claim on this stretch of river. Let canoeists paddle past the lodge, but forbid them to fish, picnic, or otherwise linger in the vicinity. And instruct paddlers to keep quiet while traveling by. This strikes me as the basis of a reasonable compromise.
George Fowler, Weller Mountain’s secretary/treasurer, told me that he will raise the public-access issue at a meeting of the club. I hope some good comes out of it.
In the end, though, if the only way we can enjoy the West Branch is by putting up with the portage, so be it. Those who can do it will be amply rewarded.
Photo by Phil Brown: West Branch of the St. Regis River.
The DEC has announced the opening of limited public access for recreation to three parcels of conservation easement land formerly owned by International Paper Company and currently owned by Lyme Timber. The public will be able to access the lands for non-motorized recreation now; motorized access will be allowed in the future. The three parcels are the 17,125-acre Black Brook Tract in the Town of Black Brook, Clinton County; the 7,870-acre Altamont Tract in the Town of Tupper Lake, Franklin County; and the 19,000-acre Kushaqua Tract in the Towns of Brighton and Franklin, Franklin County. The parcels are part of one of New York State’s largest land conservation projects – 256,649 acres of land – which was announced on Earth Day in 2004.
The Black Brook, Altamont and Kushaqua Tracts had a five year waiting period before the properties could be opened to the public, which expired on April 22. The three tracts are open to public access for non-motorized recreation only- on foot, mountain bike, on horse, or canoe/kayak. According to the DEC “The full array of recreation rights purchased will not be available at this time due to lack of resources.” Currently permitted recreational activities include hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing and canoeing/kayaking. Camping and campfires are also prohibited until camp sites are designated.
Parking lots, trails, and trailheads, have not been buit and there is no signage yet. Trails for motorized recreation will be developed in the future following a planning process. Access to the property is by adjoining public highways and the DEC has asked that users avoid blocking any gates or obstructing traffic when parking.
These lands are privately owned and actively managed for timber. The landowner also leases private recreation camps. Lessees have the exclusive right to use one acre of land surrounding their camp which are not open to ANY public use or access. The one-acre camp parcels, however, may not block public access to or use of main access roads, trails, streams or ponds.
Visitors to these lands may encounter logging and construction equipment used in forest management and motorized vehicles, including ATVs, belonging to the landowner, their employees or camp lessees. The DEC asks that the public respect the rights of the landowner, camp lessees and their guests when using the property.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to Almanack founder and editor John Warren.To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.