GMO Renewable Resources Acquires 72,000
Acres for $25.5 Million
Hancock Tracts in Adirondacks Are Sold Privately
Except for Leases on Earlier Easements, All Hunting Club Leases to be Honored
St. Lawrence County breathed a sign of relief during August, when the 72,000 acres that Hancock Timber Resource Group had put up for bids were privately sold for $25.5 million to GMO Renewable Resources, an international timber firm based in Boston. The 25 hunting clubs on the lands were especially relieved because the tracts in the towns of Clare, Clifton, Colton and Piercefield were coveted by environmentalists for State acquisition.
In an article by Matt Guardino shortly after the closing on August, the Watertown Times reported that the new owner of the lands said that the hunting clubs are "an asset to the property and not a liability."
The Associated Press had reported on March 6 that the environmental lobbying group, the Adirondack Council, had pointed out that the Hancock properties were priority parcels on the State's Open Space Plan. Associated Press had reported that the Adirondack Council spokesman, John Sheehan, had argued that the "extremely canoeable waters and highly sought after river corridors" were the subject of their efforts for the State to buy the land since the late 1980's. A spokesman for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Peter Constantakes, had told the Associated Press that the State will consider the opportunity to acquire the property. At the time, ironically, the State's multibillion dollar deficit was a big item of discussion.
The prospect that Hancock would dispose of its vast lands in St. Lawrence County had been a source of great concern to the local officials. The County Legislature had commissioned its planning department to conduct an impact study of the potential sale of the Hancock lands, which were formerly owned by Draper and Yorkshire. Concerns had intensified after the State acquired the 139,000-acre Champion International lands in 1999, of which 29,000 were bought in fee simple and 110,000 as conservation easements. At that time, the State and the Conservation Fund (a non-profit land trust that purchased the lands from Champion and resold them at a $5 million markup to the State and a timber investment group) had announced that all 298 hunting camps on the land would have to be torn down. Concern existed that a land trust intermediary would purchase the Hancock land and hold it for the day when the State would acquire it, and that timber harvesting would decline or terminate, and the hunting leases be cancelled.
As part of its study, the St. Lawrence County planning department had concluded on April 17, "It is in the long-term best interest of St. Lawrence County to keep large forested tracts available for providing sustainable timber harvesting, leases to hunting clubs, public recreational access, reasonable property taxes and wildlife habitat and water quality protection."
The Watertown Times article quoted county Legislator Lloyd E. Moore of Clare, who was somewhat skeptical that the preservationists wouldn't "let those rivers get away from them," although pleased that the lands were still in the hands of the timber industry.
The offering of the Hancock lands for sale this year had precipitated the formation of a new Adirondack organization, announced by Colton Supervisor Henry R. "Hank" Ford at a meeting called by the Legislature to discuss the land offering at the Stillwater Club deep in the woods of St. Lawrence County in the town of Clare this April, when the county planner's report was presented.
Over the past few years, local residents and officials have joined the club members in recognizing the importance of preserving the hunting club culture.
"We want to continue to be able to do what we are now able. We are starting in northern Franklin County and St. Lawrence County," Hank Ford declared on April 17, inviting the people packed into the club dining hall to a meeting of the new "Adirondack Citizens Council" the following week at the Colton High School. "We hope to become statewide and perhaps nationwide." The organization has continued to hold monthly meetings and has received wider attention.
The lands acquired by GMO Renewable Resources will be managed by a local forestry management company, according to a local hunting club official, John R. Woods of Canton. According to the Watertown Times, Robert S. Gaul, the director of North American Acquisitions for GMO, said that the company intends to hold unto the Adirondack property for about 10 years as working timberland. They do not intend to sell any conservation easements in the land, he said. State-owned easements already encumber 20,000 acres, which contain 8 hunting clubs, all of which are scheduled to be closed in 2004 because of the easement, according to the St. Lawrence County study.