Dan Plumley and David Gibson
Dan Plumley Partner, Adirondack Wild
David Gibson Partner, Adirondack Wild
Boreas Ponds Photograph courtesy Carl Heilman II
Lying at the very heart and core of the wild Adirondack Park, the Finch Pruyn woodlands within or near the Upper Hudson River watershed represent one of the most compelling conservation targets in the eastern United States. On the market with 161,000 acres in 2007 and facing subdivision, the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), aided by the Open Space Institute, purchased the entire landownership of Finch, Pruyn in June of that year.
The 2008 conservation plan called for 89,000 acres of the Finch lands to be protected as working forest, managed for paper, forest products, and recreation under state held conservation easements. That part of the plan was completed successfully in December 2010 as one of the final actions of Gov. David Paterson. Hailed by local governments, snowmobile organizations, forest product interests and environmentalists, the easement was the first part of a two-part conservation project. A second critical component was a commitment by the state to purchase 65,000 acres of the 161,000 acres for the publicly-owned, “forever wild” Forest Preserve, which would add an incredible arc of wild land in the heart of the Adirondack Park.
Local Support: Under the leadership of its Executive Director Michael Carr, Adirondack Nature Conservancy sponsored many local meetings about ways that the plan could benefit each town, beyond the taxes that would be paid on the land and the easements. The Region 5 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee also discussed the plan at length. That led to agreements to proceed on the easements and Forest Preserve acquisitions in all 27 affected towns. The towns could have vetoed the ability of the state to acquire these resources through the Environmental Protection Fund. They chose not to. The Adirondack Local Government Review Board and the Association of Adirondack Towns and Villages now claim, in 2011, that local governments were forced into backing the 2008 conservation plan “under duress.” That claim has no basis in reality.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens: Fortunately, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens is having none of what the LGRB and AATV are trying to sell. Before hundreds of people attending the Adirondack Research Consortium (ARC) conference in May in Lake Placid, the commissioner made it unequivocally clear that the State of New York “remains fully commited” to completing the Finch land deal. Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve met with Commissioner Martens 10 days prior to the ARC conference to press home the “stay the course” message on this, arguing it is among the most important wild land conservation projects in the history of the Adirondack Park, with important regional and global benefits.
Science informs the need to secure these remaining 65,000 acres of the TNC Finch Pruyn lands as wild lands protected by the aegis of the Forever Wild clause of the NY State Constitution (Article 14). In 2007, Nature Conservancy employed a team of scientists to intensively survey the lands, rivers and lakes. The ecological assessment lasted over 18 months, and made clear why 65,000 acres should be conserved as wild lands for New York given their ecological, watershed, wild life and community values and benefits. This acreage lacked the significant forest product potential found on the other 89,000 acres to be protected through conservation easement.
Nature Conservancy staff describe these lands as tremendously rich from a landscape perspective, an “ecological marvel” which includes 144 miles of rivers (and the northern headwaters of the Hudson), 70 lakes and ponds and over 80 mountains which few foresters and hunters have seen in 150 years. The Finch tracts included unmatched natural and physical features like the Blue Ledges of the Hudson River Gorge, OK Slip Falls (especially valued by Friends of the Forest Preserve founder Paul Schaefer), the incredibly scenic and pristine Boreas Ponds, and the Essex Chain of Lakes with stunning views from the south of the Adirondack High Peaks region. Naturalists and conservation leaders have dreamed of seeing these lands and waters protected for many decades.
Michael Carr was clear from the start that the Adirondack Nature Conservancy “would be driven not by concerns about recreational opportunities, or economic development, but by science,” adding that, “we have no intention of making everyone happy.” Given the history of difficult negotiations over land acquisition policies in DEC Regions 5 and 6 that eventually ensured “willing buyer - willing seller” acquisitions, and diminished local concerns over the possibility of eminent domain, the LGRB and AATV ought to support this plan between willing sellers and willing buyers. This is especially so given the unanimous support from the public open space planning committees, which include local government interests.
Conservation Pays: The LGRB argues NYS should not spend scarce public resources on land conservation, ignoring the fact that conservation pays back in the long run far more than the public spends. Adirondack recreational tourism depends upon a system of wild public lands where the public will not encounter chainsaws, skidders and logging trucks. Recreational spending in the Park exceeds $1 billion annually, and supports 20,000 jobs, or nearly 20% of all Park employment. Furthermore, Forest Preserve pays taxes for all purposes to Adirondack communities, amounting to more than $70 million annually.
Furthermore, ecosystem, or nature-based services on the Forest Preserve from the watersheds it conserves, the wildlife it harbors, to the atmospheric carbon it absorbs are enormous. The Forest Preserve was set aside in the first place to preserve New York’s rivers and watersheds. Given today’s environmental pressures, wild watersheds are more vital today than in 1885. If these were polluted or impaired, public water supply and treatment costs could rise by the billions of dollars.
Positive Balance: What was recognized by all parties to the 2008 Finch agreement was the positive balance between conservation and preservation. With the tremendous size and scope of the Finch Pruyn lands, there did not have to be an unwelcome choice between sustainable forestry and wild land conservation – both could be accommodated. It is time to complete the Finch conservation plan by providing the funds to purchase of 65,000 acres for the Forest Preserve. This expenditure will more than pay for itself in the decades ahead.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, like his DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, should recognize that 65,000 acres of wildness at the park’s core will have a significant, positive economic, ecological and wild land benefit. These lands will boost local tourism and sustainable business development while benefiting all of the state through the preservation of the Hudson’s northern watershed lands, wildlife and forests.
Public Obligations: Citizens of New York recognize a public duty to conserve this great landscape, whether from a scientific, ecological, recreational, economic or spiritual perspective, or all of them combined. From the silver waters of the Opalescent to the Boreas, from Hanging Spear Falls to the Essex Chain and beyond, these lands, mountains, lakes and rivers must be secured now as our wild heritage.
Paul Schaefer’s Legacy: Paul Schaefer knew that these lands should be protected within the Forest Preserve since the 1950’s. He urged us to work towards that end beginning in the mid 1980’s through the Friends of the Forest Preserve. He worked to persuade the leaders of Finch Pruyn to feel as he did about the special qualities of these places which should be valued more for their wildness than for short-term gains. His efforts of forty years finally were rewarded eleven years after his death thanks to the stalwart conservation leadership of The Nature Conservancy, Open Space Institute, NYS DEC, and 27 towns spread throughout the central Adirondacks.
Paul was a practical advocate. He knew then, as he would now, that there would be opponents seeking to promote short-term, commercial activity at the expense of the public trust, and conservation gains. He called on us to recognize that “this heritage may be retained and increased for the benefit of posterity only if we correctly interpret our responsibility and direct our energies toward the common objective to sustain these wild forest lands.”
Please see the Action Alert page, take action, and support Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve in our efforts to see the historic Finch conservation plan through to completion. Thank you.
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