Tug of War in Adirondack Park

Article excerpt

Forever Wild--those two words have tong governed New York's approach to protecting its forested lands in Adirondack Park. That phrase, written into the state's constitution, is more than just a simple guideline to forestry; it is a barrier to prevent anyone from removing even a single tree from state-owned land in the park. The Adirondacks, a six-million-acre park made up of public and private lands, is as big as the state of Vermont, and the protections given to its woods are some of the most stringent in the world. Yet some believe the time has come to tweak those rules.

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In the ongoing push and pull between the protection of wilderness and the need to create s sustainable economy in the park, some are tooking to togging to help propel future growth. A New York State senator has proposed a bill to open up togging on a tract of land in Adirondack Park that the state plans to purchase from The Nature Conservancy; land that the nonprofit acquired from a large paper manufacturer

New York already allows togging in state forests outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. The bill, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Little of the 45th District, would also allow togging on future state land purchases. It would not apply to the state's current 2.5-million-acre landholdings in Adirondack Park.

Senator Little, a Republican who represents much of the Adirondack area, does not want the state to buy any more private land within the Adirondack boundary, believing New York's land-holdings are large enough. Adding more land to state control, she says, would hurt the timber industry at a time when communities in the region need good, paying jobs.

However, should the state acquire any more land. Little said she wants to make sure that togging is allowed in every purchase. She believes that a better philosophy for New York to follow is to obtain conservation easements from private property owners; under such easements, timber harvesting would still tie allowed, and land would remain in private control.

According to Little, communities in the region are graying, with census numbers showing that the concentration of seniors within the Adirondacks is comparable to some communities in Florida. What the Adirondacks need are family-sustaining jobs, and togging has been a base of employment for generations. Little argues: "What we are seeing is the inability to sustain a grocery store, to continue having volunteer firefighters, and we are seeing declining enrollment in our schools."

Bringing togging to new state forest lands will be no small task. Two sessions of the New York State Legislature must approve the change, and then voters must approve amending the stale constitution, according to John Sheehan. spokesman with the Adirondack Council, an environmental group that opposes the legislation. "Its chances of passage are unrealistic," he says.

STRONG HISTORY

New York's stringent approach to forest protection did not happen by accident. It was the culmination of a pressing need to defend a rapidly declining forest resource that protects the water supply for downstream cities. In the late 1800s, the Adirondacks were a hefty source of lumber for growing American cities. At times, lumber companies were clear-cutting vast reserves of forest and then letting the land go back for tax sale, costing communities valuable revenue, Sheehan notes. Plus, the Adirondacks are the headwaters for a number of rivers, including the Hudson, and more than a dozen cities use Adirondack water as their drinking source

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In 1892, the stale created Adirondack Park, a bold move that predated the creation of many national parks. It was not a park in the traditional sense. State officials drew a blue line on a map encircling the region and set about on a course to buy properties within that boundary. Since then, there has been a mixture of public and private lands within Adirondack Park. …