The Department of Environmental Conservation has recently announced a grandiose plan to acquire more private timberland in the North Country. This bodes ill for public policy, the taxpayers, and the local communities. The new Administration should reject this new scheme and allow the property to continue in private hands.
This well-managed forestland has been used since 1865 to provide wood for the Finch, Pruyn mill in Glens Falls. The plan is to implement the DEC's privately negotiated agreement with The Nature Conservancy to buy up 57,699 acres for "forever wild" Adirondack Forest Preserve and to buy conservation easements on an additional 73,627 acres, the bulk of the remaining Finch, Pruyn land. Conservation easements are a step toward "forever wild" status.
It is just plain wrong that, without public input, the DEC negotiated this huge expenditure with only The Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and a tiny group of selectively benefited, kow-towing officials. The Nature Conservancy, a private interest group, is reputedly the most well heeled environmental group in the world. The public interest is not served by the State bailing out a wealthy interest group's $110 million purchase of productive lands or making secret deals to buy land from the group.
In addition, considering the current State deficit and the general economy, the State can hardly afford to dump taxpayers' money into the dead end purpose of adding to the three million acres of unproductive, mostly deliberately inaccessible Adirondack Forest Preserve and the State's nearly 700,000 additional acres of conservation easement land in the Adirondacks. Not only would the slated expenditure be an immediate waste of taxpayer funds, it also would expand the State's tax burden and significantly reduce tax revenue-generating pursuits because the lands would be off limits from forestry for the fee simple acquisitions and from other significant economic activity (such as home building) for the conservation easements.
Finally, it is time to reverse the failure of previous State Administrations to execute their repeatedly proclaimed intentions to revive the economy of the North Country. Local people in the Adirondacks are subject to a two-way squeeze from the State. The State has continued to acquire land for the Forest Preserve and conservation easements, leaving ever less land for private uses such as productive forestry from which people earn their livings and for home building. At the same time, the State imposes extreme land use restrictions on the remaining private land, such as the 42 acres per house rule for nearly half the private land, which extends over twelve counties. As a result, the land is becoming off limits to local people, because only the wealthy, the retired, and second home owners can afford to bid in this market of limited supply. Young people continue to move out. School closings cut into the heart of communities.
For these reasons, I urge that the Governor halt all land acquisition and that the Legislature hold public hearings about the impact of State land acquisition and land use regulation on the economy and future of the North Country to determine how the impact can be reduced by real, not feigned, changes that are designed to genuinely restore the capacity of the communities of the North Country to grow and prosper.