Peter O’Shea has spent 35 years living in the Adirondacks and observing closely the wonderful wildlife and wild lands there. He has authored several guides on hiking in the Adirondacks and The Great South Woods: Rambles of an Adirondack Naturalist (Volumes 1 and 2). For twenty years, Peter has been a guest naturalist for the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers at Paul Smith’s and Newcomb. Peter is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks, and been a member of the Region 6 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee since its inception.
Conservation Easements (CE) were devised as an innovative way of protecting the Adirondack landscape, while at the same time providing for the continuation of commercial foresting as an economic engine in the Adirondack Park. Acquisition of large scale easements began in the purchase of the old Diamond – Lassiter lands in the late 1980’s. Since that time purchases have continued unabated until today with upwards of 800,000 acres protected under CE’s in the Park.
These timber harvested lands have the potential to become the perfect complement to the “forever wild” Forest Preserve. They are an ideal buffer for both Wilderness and Wild Forest. They serve as critical wild life corridors for both plant and animals and will become even more important if the direst projected impacts of global climate change come to fruition. In addition, certain types of outdoor recreation not deemed suitable for Forest Preserve may prove to be quite compatible with Conservation Easement lands. Whether or not these Conservation Easements achieve their potential depends to a large degree on both monitoring and management policies of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
As far as wildlife is concerned particularly the proximity of Forest Preserve and Conservation Easement lands to each other provides for perhaps the maximum in biological diversity. It is literally the best of both worlds. The early succession forests that thrive on Conservation Easement lands are ideal for deer, grouse, moose and others that thrive on the low lying browse so prevalent on timbered lands. The constitutionally protected, more mature woodlands of the Forest Preserve provide excellent habitat for American Marten, Canada Lynx and Northern Flying Squirrel also for many of the distinctive birds that help define the Adirondack Park. Black bear, Bobcat and a host of other species use both Forest Preserve and Conservation Easement lands as a component of their habitat depending on whether they are feeding or seeking shelter at that time.
Some wildlife opportunities appear currently not to be exercised to their fullest by the DEC to take full advantage of the opportunities now presented. I feel that a DEC biologist should be assigned solely to the Conservation Easement lands in the Adirondack Park. Winter deer yards will have to be surveyed thoroughly on the Conservation Easement lands and an effort should be undertaken to protect standing dead hollow trees “snags” which furnish sites for raptors nests and mammal dens. These controlled access Easement lands also provide a golden opportunity for wildlife and ecosystem studies and perhaps for future restoration projects in the Park. DEC should avail itself of these unique opportunities it has been presented with for the enhancement of Adirondack wildlife.
There are, however, several potential problems inherent in the Conservation Easement’s that will require astute management on the part of the DEC to prevent negative side effects from developing. Primary here is the potential for the “traditional hunting camps” present on many Conservation Easement lands to morph into de-facto second homes now that these lands have achieved something of a permanent status. In several areas already there are numerous of these camp structures being extended beyond the 500 square foot size allotted by law and generator being installed as the camps adapt to year round family use. DEC will have to designate someone specifically to monitor here and insure these violations do not occur. The same individual will also have to monitor closely the logging performed on the Conservation Easement to make sure it conforms to the management guidelines prescribed by the terms of the easement. Additionally, Recreation Plans will have to be implemented in a more timely fashion to make certain the public receives the full benefit of the recreation rights purchased at public expense. At present, the public is being denied access to the Raquette River and to the branch of the Grass River where such northerly access was acquired by the terms of the International Paper and John Hancock easements, respectively.
The novel Easement approach to land protection has the potential to be a dynamic complement to the Forest Preserve. The devil, however, will definitely be in the details. Professional and timely management and monitoring by DEC will be mandatory if Conservation Easements are to achieve their potential and become truly a win-win situation in the Adirondack Park.
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