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PROPERTY RIGHTS FOUNDATION OF AMERICA, INC.
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December 27, 2009

Transmitted by e-mail to: HFF3DEIS@gw.dec.state.ny.us

Robert K. Davies, Director
Lands and Forests
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-4255

Re: In Support of Revised Conservation Easement Allowing Hunting Camps

Dear Mr. Davies:

It was indeed a happy occasion to read that DEC has issued revised conservation easements to allow the 220 hunting camps to remain on the historic leases on the 110,000 acres of former Champion International lands where the camps were originally slated in 1999 for removal after fifteen years.

Please accept my appreciation to you and others at DEC and Heartland Forestland Fund for these many years of legal work and negotiations to implement the announcement that former Governor Pataki made in October 2006 to change the policy that doomed the camps.

Back in 1999, when I started the work to save the Champion camps, almost everyone thought that the idea was far-fetched, to say the least. But the help of Jim Morgan and Shiela Galvin, Howard Aubin, the late Lloyd Moore and the St. Lawrence County Legislature, a number of the hunting camp owners, and many other people gave our lawsuit momentum. Ultimately, as you undoubtedly must know, we never got over the bar of a time limit on service, so our suit was never heard; but the hunting camps were publicly recognized both for their personal significance to the men and women and their families who enjoy this multigenerational way of life and for the significance of their tradition of hunting to the culture and economy of the local communities. It was gratifying to see state policy change as other large blocks of conservation easements were acquired and especially satisfying to see that others took up the cause so that ultimately Governor Pataki announced that the camps on the Champion easements back would be saved.

I particularly appreciated one of your statements that was quoted in the New York Outdoor News on November 27: "Requiring the camps to be removed really didn't make sense for a lot of reasons…And frankly, it was a mistake. We've had good relations with the camp owners, they've provided eyes and ears on the ground and really assist us in our management. And it was a very unpopular decision to remove the camps."

Also, I appreciated your remark, "The primary recreational use of these lands is for hunting, and without the camps—which are in pretty remote locations—the public isn't recreating on them. Having the camps there is what's going to continue the tradition of hunting on these lands."

When Lloyd Moore drove me around on the Champion leases to see many of these camps, the remoteness was quite apparent. We never met a soul except for the particular individuals that Lloyd had arranged for us to meet to be escorted into the camps.

One the things that I have learned as a city person who moved here in 1973 goes contrary to the perception that I had gotten from the environmental organizations with which I was familiar. That is, I became impressed with the love that hunters have for the natural world, and with their sensitivity toward the very animals that they hunt. I think that the rugged little camps enjoyed by the majority of the hunters are emblematic of their immersion in the simplicity of their involvement with nature. So, when you said that the hunters are the eyes and ears on the ground that help in the management of the lands, it was so logical, considering the reverence and closeness to this remote nature that I learned to respect so much in these man and women.

In looking over the summary of the conservation easement revisions, I'd like to commend the benefits that are summarized.

I find it difficult to write about this topic, because I find myself reading from DEC almost my own words of a decade ago that were in opposition to DEC policy. It is very moving. The first benefit that is written in your summary, and which was at the heart of my work, is:

"Continuation of the long-standing cultural and social tradition of allowing people to participate in and enjoy local hunting and fishing clubs and recreation camps in the Adirondack region, where such camps are an accepted historical use of large, privately owned and managed forest properties."

Where you comment on significant environmental impacts, this particular statement means a lot to me:

"Additionally, hunting clubs and families have leased the camps on these properties for decades and hold a personal knowledge of, and investment in, the Easement lands. This personal attachment to the lands benefits DEC by helping staff meet stewardship responsibilities on such extensive and remote lands. Camp lessees generally respect the land and the lease terms that they are invested in, following all necessary rules and regulations so that they do not jeopardize their leases, and they also act as the eyes and ears on the properties for DEC and the Landowner."

This statement bridges the human side of the benefit to the hunters, touching on their reverence for the land, and the practical benefit that this brings the landholder and the state, the holder of the covenant to protect the land. The short statement closes with those same words you used at the meeting where the New York Outdoor News took notes. As a property owner, I feel the same way about the hunters that we allow to return to use our relatively small holdings.

I do not want to make an unduly long comment, but would also like to selectively commend the practical economic analysis that is included, where real estate tax payments to localities are summarized.

Finally, I'd like to express my support for the spirit and specifics of the first clause of your summary of the proposed action, especially the perpetuity clause:

"The Landowner's right to enter into exclusive private posting lease agreements on the Easement lands until June 30, 2014 will be terminated, and replaced with the perpetual right of the Landowner to lease no more than 220 traditional hunting and fishing camps, each with a one (1) acre surrounding area of land referred to as a 'Recreation Camp Envelope' or 'Camp Envelope,' which envelope will contain all camp buildings and other improvements (such as outhouses and sheds)."

Not to detract from my wholehearted support for the achievement of the revised conservation easement to allow the 220 camps to remain on the leases, I must express opposition to the proposal to deed the remainder of title or fee title of an additional 2,500 acres of land to the state of New York, of which 2,000 acres will become "forever wild" Forest Preserve. There is no environmental or public policy justification for the transfer of the remaining title of any land under conservation easements to increase the size of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which presently approaches three million acres. In addition, I oppose the DEC acquisition of 500 acres of private land outside of the Adirondack Park to become State Forest, considering that problems are continuing to develop in allowing sustainable use of State Forest lands. It is a ironic that the appraised value of the hunting camps buildings could be the determining factor in the amount of land that is being conveyed to the state; the lands along the Deer River should continue to be privately owned in split title, and logged sustainably. If hunting camps are located on these lands, they, also, should be preserved under the new conservation easement provisions. This diminishment of privately owned land may be the result of negotiations with environmental organizations to reach agreement with all parties for the splendid achievement of issuing the revised conservation easement, and, in that respect, one can respect this aspect of negotiations and hope that approval of the meticulously planned revised conservation easements to give a permanent reprieve for the hunting camps will be swift.

Please accept my congratulations and appreciation for the achievement of issuing the revised conservation easement and for the analysis that so sensitively weighs the combination of human and economic considerations and environmental factors, demonstrating the important benefits of this fine plan to allow the camps to permanently remain on their leases.

Sincerely,

Carol W. LaGrasse
President
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.

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