OPEN SPACE INSTITUTE PLEDGES $12 MILLION TO RESCUE LAND
First Grants are for The Nature Conservancy in the Adirondacks and Trust for Public Land in New Hampshire
New York State's deal with The Nature Conservancy to acquire 26,000 acres from International Paper Company in the northern Adirondacks seemed to be standing still. Governor George E. Pataki ceremoniously announced the deal in January 2001 in his State of the State Address. During early fall, he pronounced the State's consummation of the "an historic agreement" to preserve the lands, which are primarily in the town of Long Lake in Hamilton County. But nothing happened. It seems that after September 11, funds are not being appropriated for major land acquisitions. But on December 22, the Open Space Institute, a wealthy New York environmental organization that itself acts as a land trust, announced that it plans to spend $12 million to buy up forests in northern New York and New England by giving grants to land trusts.
In his State of the State Address in January 2002, Gov. Pataki made the amazing announcement that the State will acquire one million acres of additional land for environmental preservation, but environmentalists are nervous that the funds to pay for this promise will not be forthcoming. It appears that Open Space Institute's $12 million will tide the land trusts over for their holding costs until either state or federal government funds are actually appropriated,
In the first stage of the Open Space Institute's largess, it will use $1.4 million to help three land trusts buy 62,824 acres of land for the government. Deals being arranged by several land trusts are in various stages to preserve lands in the area encompassed by what the environmental preservationists began campaigning nationally in 1990 to preserve as the "Northern Forests." The New York acquisition project, in the central Adirondacks, involves ultimately splitting the property owned by International Paper Corporation property into two categories, those along rivers to generally become 100 percent government owned, and the remainder to be further split in title so that the government owns a conservation easement worth about 85 to 90 percent of the full title, while the residual title is held by a timber investment company.
The Nature Conservancy spent $10.5 million for the International Paper properties. Its third party intermediary acquisition of these lands is reminiscent of the Conservation Fund's acquisition of 139,000 acres from Champion International Corporation and its disposition in 1999, where 29,000 acres went to the State in fee simple and 110,000 acres were split into two forms of title, conservation easements held by the State and the residual title held by a forest investment group. This acquisition was by far New York State's largest acquisition in history to the almost three million acres of land it already owns in the Adirondacks.
None of these acquisitions are open to public scrutiny beforehand and participation is limited to the pre-selected land trusts with whom the Department of Environmental has ongoing relationships. Afterwards, the complex accounting for these transactions is difficult to review, and is subject to only lax standards of auditing by the State Comptroller.
One issue in question is the disposition of the hunting camps on the International Paper lands. The State has dictated that 298 hunting camps on the Champion International tracts be demolished over several years. The Property Rights Foundation of America is currently engaged in litigation challenging the acquisition.
The land trusts claim that they are working to preserve the forestland for wildlife habitat, public access, and "working forests." Joe Martens, the president of the Open Space Institute, was quoted in the New York Times (Dec. 29, 2001), saying, "This is a one-time opportunity. The land is for sale now and a lot of these transactions are going to determine the fate of the Northern Forest for a long time to come."
The press seems to be unaware that the study of land transfers commissioned by the Northern Forest Council, a temporary study commission set in place during the early Nineties by the federal government, found that "land conversions" from forest use to residential development were not taking place except for instances along lake shores. The study found that the only conversions of significant acreage were from privately owned forests to ownership by government and environmental groups for conservation purposes.
The claim that the land is vulnerable because it is up for sale and that the situation is a "one-time opportunity" has no basis. There is no one to buy subdivided small tracts of the land for development in these isolated, inhospitable areas, and without government acquisition, the land would remain in large forested tracts anyway. However, the threat of vulnerability of the land because of closing of local mills is a great way to raise funds for the environmental groups, who are "saving" the land.
The promise of additional public access is also deceptive. Woods roads into the Champion International lands are already being closed. Hunters cannot carry out game without roads to reach into these vast tracts. In addition, without their camps as a base for hunting, many hunters will not continue to be involved so deeply in use of the lands with their families during the four seasons.
When the Champion acquisition was announced in December 1998, the Department of Environmental Conservation said that it would "open up hundreds of miles of roads and trails for use by motor vehicles, including snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles." But ATV clubs have been unable to get any woods roads at all committed for their use. The promise of snowmobile trails into the International Paper lands, however, has played a role in quieting potential opposition by local officials toward that acquisition.
The Nature Conservancy will receive a $400,000 grant from the Open Space Institute to help pay for the borrowing costs to acquire the land. The Trust for Public Land will receive another $400,000 for 13,910 acres in New Hampshire connecting two areas of the White Mountains National Forest. The Trust for Public Land customarily flips land it acquires to federal government agencies, such as the National Forest Service. The Open Space Institute announced a total of $1.4 million in specific grants for land acquisitions in the so-called Northern Forest.
The wealthy environmental granting organizations, which do mutual planning particularly through the Environmental Grantmakers Association, themselves began the "Northern Forest" campaign, according to Ron Arnold in Undue Influence, (Merril Press, 1999). Many of the giant old-wealth foundations, such as Pew Charitable Trusts, funneled money to the Northern Forest Alliance, a well-funded coalition which mysteriously appeared. Much of the expenditures were channeled through the Appalachian Mountain Club, however. Thus began one of the biggest environmental campaigns in history, which continues to be backed by this immense wealth.
The Open Space Institute has access to one of the largest fortunes amassed in history, the legacy of the Wallaces, who founded The Reader's Digest.
Local communities and even state governments have no comprehension of the financial influences arrayed against the future of private land ownership in this vast swath of land.
The "Northern Forest" spans 26 million acres from northern New York just east of Lake Ontario, through Vermont, New Hampshire and across Maine. Acquisitions by The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land have been proceeding rapidly in Maine and New Hampshire. These two organizations announced in January that were acquiring 171.500 acres near the northern border of New Hampshire.
At the same time that the Conservation Fund and New York's Department of Environmental Conservation announced the Champion deal in New York, they pointed to lands of Champion International in Vermont that were to be simultaneously acquired.
Bulletin: "Governor Announces Acquisition of over 26,000 acres of International Paper Company land in Adirondacks" (PRFA - Oct. 6, 2001)