Property Rights Foundation of America®

Hunting Impact of Land Acquisition

By Susan Allen
Publisher & Editor
Adirondack Park Agency Reporter, Keene Valley, N.Y.

Thirteenth Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights
October 17, 2009
Holiday Inn Turf Lake George, Lake George, N.Y.

Thank you, Carol. My name is Susan Allen and I am in my 18th year of writing the independent newsletter the "Adirondack Park Agency Reporter," to use Mr. Marwell's words I "bird-dog" that state agency that has so much power over the Adirondack people. Of course, there are many backroom deals and APA staff decisions that I am not privy to, but I do the best I can. I also attend many meetings of the Department of Environmental Conservation and submit written comments whenever I can.

I am also a small business owner, my husband and I own "Adirondack Maps," which publishes recreational maps of different areas of the Adirondacks. I travel extensively around the Adirondacks, selling our maps to retail stores. Our maps are purchased not just by hikers but by all outdoor sports enthusiasts.

My topic today is on hunting. I'm not a hunter myself and I don't come from a hunting family, although my father did get a deer once — he got it with a Volkswagen! That was the end of that car. What I do is document what the state agencies are doing that impacts those who hunt and fish, and in turn what that does to the local economy where I have some direct experience.

I'm also not an attorney, but speakers today and in past conferences have referred to the fact that our laws come from the "common law" in England. In rural England of the 19th century, large landownerships were held by the upper classes, and cottages on the land were rented out to tenant farmers and other local people. In the novel "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," the British author Thomas Hardy describes an annual event, the movement of people to farms that offered better working conditions. But as time went on, more families moved away entirely, when use of the land changed from small farms to very large ones, to almost an industrial type of farming.

Mr. Hardy eloquently writes: "All the mutations so increasingly discernible in village life did not originate entirely in agricultural unrest. A depopulation was also going on. The village had formerly contained, side by side with the agricultural laborers, an interesting class including the carpenter, the smith, the shoemaker, together with nondescript workers other than farm-laborers, a set of people who owed a certain stability of aim and conduct to the fact of their being long-time leaseholders. But as the long holdings fell in, they were seldom again let to similar tenants, and were mostly pulled down. Cottagers who were not directly employed on the land were looked upon with disfavor, and the banishment of some starved the trade of others, who were thus obliged to follow. These families, who had formed the backbone of village life, who were the depositories of the village traditions, had to seek refuge in the large centers; the process humorously designated by statisticians as 'the tendency of the rural population toward the large towns' being really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery."

Obviously the Adirondacks are not being taken over by large farms, but it is the same downward spiral that Hardy saw, as land is gobbled up by the state for Forest Preserve. It's what is happening in the Adirondacks as a whole, like other speakers have mentioned from the Adirondack Association of Towns report, as school and year-round populations decline, and it certainly starves the trade of many businesses here, including mine. Over the past two years at least eight businesses that cater to hunters and campers have closed, and a number of towns now have no outlet for our maps. Other businesses have changed to cater to hikers and canoeists, but after Columbus Day it's the hunters who are really the only visitors and contributors to the Adirondack economy. Go into Lake George Village today and you'll see that hardly any businesses are open.

Carol had asked me to make the list of acquisitions over the last 20 years, which shows that about a quarter of a million acres have been acquired in fee and another three-quarters of a million in conservation easements. I thought the list would be easy, but it was pretty difficult to find all the information in one place, and I'm sure there's more I haven't listed.

Carol had mentioned the defeat of the Bond Act in 1990, but what most people don't know is that a vestige of that legislation survives in the form of New York's "Open Space Conservation Plan." This is just a wish list of land that the environmental advocacy groups want the state to purchase, and the list keeps on growing. Local government representatives participate on the "Open Space Committees" that were set up, but they always end up acquiescing to proposals to acquire land in their own towns and counties.

Of course, the Biosphere Reserve that Peter LaGrasse covered so well is still lurking in the background. There's also the "Northern Forest Lands" that came out with its own report in 1990, also advocating for conservation easements or land acquisitions, that program is still out there and re-surfaces from time to time.

When land is acquired by New York State in fee, it drives out the hunting camps because no structures are allowed on lands that are "Forever Wild." My list counts more than 400 camps that have to be demolished or removed, although some of the Champion camps got a reprieve, for reasons that I do not know. Forest Preserve acquisition also means closure of access roads, and prohibits or severely limits most motorized access. Besides the loss of accessibility, the land becomes less conducive to hunting because of habitat decline when no timber harvesting is allowed.

Added to the acquisitions are the other actions taken by the DEC, and ratified by the APA through Unit Management Plans, or in some nebulous policy or by way of a lawsuit brought by an environmental advocacy group: prohibition of all terrain vehicles, capping snowmobile trail mileage, destruction of locally important historic structures such as bridges and fire towers, and closing accessible campsites along roads, even in Wild Forest areas. Now you can park a vehicle at the site, but you have to walk at least 150' down a path to the tent area. I saw this myself in the Shelving Rock area on Lake George, also where two large camping areas have been closed off with boulders, as I believe was done in the Hudson River Recreation Area. Hunters and local people who have used sites like these for years are for all practical purposes barred, while more and more wilderness is acquired for the benefit of other user groups. In the new acquisition of Finch Pruyn lands, there are at least 200 miles of roads, but what is going to happen to those? It really is a mean-spirited agenda, as another speaker has called it.

There are still outstanding a number of Unit Management Plans in Forest Preserve that will undoubtedly call for more road and campsite closures, even in popular and accessible Wild Forest areas such as Saranac Lakes, Hammond Pond, Debar, Wilcox Lake and in this area in Lake George Wild Forest. Some of us keep on submitting our comments in opposition to these plans, which are supposed to follow the State Environmental Quality Review Act [SEQRA] process. As Mr. Marwell said, SEQRA hearings are supposed to be the way to get all comments addressed, but there doesn't seem to be any way to get at the fact that our issues are routinely ignored, short of filing an Article 78 lawsuit.

As Carol and Mr. Morgan and several other speakers have said, one of the more insidious things to happen over the past 20 years has been the acquisition of conservation easements, because they are touted as a "win-win" situation for everybody, for the Towns, for the timber industry and for the hunters and other recreationists. The problem is that each easement is individually negotiated prior to sale, so the public doesn't know what is going to be allowed and what is going to be prohibited. But even with conservation easements that might allow some hunting camps to remain, the loss of large parcels of leased land has very likely affected membership in those hunting clubs. When the timber companies leased the lands to clubs, as they used to do, a club could post the acreage and control its use, now many easements allow public access with only a small amount of acreage around a camp that can be posted. Though I'm not a hunter, I can see that this arrangement would not be very satisfactory, and the public access defeats the whole purpose of paying for a club membership. I've also heard that some leases are now very tenuous, granted year to year where they used to be virtually perpetual, and I was also told that one timber company is raising the cost of leasing a camp, probably driving more and more hunting parties out of those particular woods.

Another thing I heard recently, from three different sources in three different areas of the Adirondacks, is something that harks back to the late 1800's when logging got so destructive that the Forest Preserve was created in counter-balance. If in fact the timber companies are now logging the heck out of the land on which they hold the timber rights, are these cases of "cut and run"? To leave the taxes unpaid so the land reverts to Forest Preserve? This is a suspicion which many of us believed was the intent of conservation easements all along, recently proven by one advocacy group that now chastises former Governor George Pataki because he only acquired easements and not fee title.

A real sleeper issue is that when conservation easements are acquired, there is the additional requirement to develop "Recreation Management Plans." These can restrict even more activities, and nobody knows what is going to be in them. I don't know what authority DEC has to do these, or what approval authority the APA has. This goes back to the fact that there are no regulations for conservation easements in the first place. There is supposedly an interim recreation plan for one of the Champion acquisitions in Santa Clara but I haven't had a chance to do a Freedom of Information law [FOIL] request yet. FOIL requests are really important, so that is something that ordinary citizens can do. In essence, there's a whole lot of questions without answers on conservation easements and Recreation Management Plans.

As Dennis Phillips alluded to in his presentation on the new APA regulations, what is happening is that whenever the APA interprets its definitions or regulations, they always interpret them on the side of the more restrictive, rather than interpretations that would be more beneficial to residents and landowners. The new APA regulation for hunting cabins seems to be a little less restrictive, in that it doesn't count a sleeping loft as part of the square footage. But it may be taking that advantage back by measuring the outside perimeter of the cabin rather than the interior, as there are different thresholds of APA jurisdiction depending on its size and what land use classification it's in. But it is a definite disadvantage that the use factor was kept in the regulation. It can only be used for hunting and fishing, despite the pleading of user groups to only regulate the building itself, and not whether the occupant is doing some nefarious activity other than hunting, like snowmobiling or bird-watching. How it's going to be enforced is another matter, but it's another chipping away at hunting activities.

Looking through my records, I saw that the APA has issued about 15 permits for hunting camp projects in the last two years, which is an upsurge from previous years when there were hardly any. I thought that maybe people would be getting a permit rather than risk enforcement, or maybe they're building hunting cabins instead of more elaborate camps, or maybe it goes back to loss of club leases which means they're opting for privately owned lots. Dennis Phillips pointed out to me that the APA is now reviewing most hunting cabins as single family dwellings, so it could well be that the APA is now asserting jurisdiction over what used to be an unregulated activity to build rustic structures back in the woods for hunting and other outdoor pursuits. Also, the outcome of Moose Ponds Club's litigation over APA jurisdiction is still unknown, and the restrictions on Diamond Sportsmans Club are still in place, including the prohibition against putting a sign on the road advertising for club members. There haven't been any recent big hunting club projects like those that I'm aware of.

Contemplating this speech got me thinking, what if there were no Nature Conservancy, no Conservation Fund, no Open Space Institute? The timber companies would have kept the land the way they used to, getting income from the hunting leases, maybe selling off some pieces here and there, maybe we wouldn't have such an affordable housing crisis or a decline in forestry jobs or the starvation of hunting-related businesses. But it's too late, the land trusts have become an occupying force.

I only met Tony D'Elia about a year before he died, but I remember his comment that the sportsmen of the Adirondacks were a "sleeping giant" that would come to the rescue of the Adirondack way of life. From what I've seen of the sportsmens groups, I really haven't seen this. They should be much more involved. A bright spot is that some of the outdoor writers have been covering much more of these kinds of issues, rather than strictly hunting-related topics. Dan Ladd in the Glens Falls Chronicle, John Gereau and Joe Hackett in the Denton papers, and Dennis Aprill in the Press-Republican have had some good articles, and there also have been some favorable editorials lately in the Hamilton County News, Glens Falls Post-Star and Watertown Daily Times. So it would be worthwhile to keep in touch with the local writers.

The three fellows who follow me as speakers have certainly not been sleeping, they have done monumental work on the ground. Ted Galusha's work to open up land to disabled people is so admirable, Jim McCulley's lawsuits to take back roads from Forest Preserve should have far-reaching positive impacts on all Adirondack towns, and Howard Aubin's efforts in the Town of Black Brook to defy state acquisition of land is something every Town should have supported. All I can do is continue to document what is going on, and hope it continues to be valuable. Thank you.

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