New York state buys easement rights to 89,000 acres in Adirondacks

Environmental groups are praising the state of New York for its decision to buy conservation and recreation easements on nearly 90,000 acres of timberland in the Adirondacks.

The deal – involving lands once owned by the Finch Pruyn paper company — was brokered by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.

According to a statement issued yesterday, New York state will pay 30 million dollars to protect the land and buy recreation access.

The money will come from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Bill Ulfelder, director of the Nature Conservancy in New York, called yesterday’s news “a great day for all New Yorkers.”

The deal also drew praise from George Canon, town supervisor in the town of Newcomb.

“This easement is a step toward making Newcomb a central hub for snowmobiling and winter recreation,” Canon said, in a statement.

Much of the land will continue to be harvested for timber, which will go to supply the Finch, Pruyn mill in Glens Falls.

The Nature Conservancy still holds title to more than sixty thousand acres of land once owned by Finch Pruyn.

The green group hopes that land will eventually be added to the Adirondack forest preserve.

Here's the full release, with tons of quotes from various interested parties, released by TNC:

KEENE VALLEY, NY (December 30, 2010) – The Nature Conservancy announced a historic land agreement with New York State that supports timber industry jobs, boosts the State’s recreation and tourism economy and, at the same time, preserves 89,000 forested acres concentrated in the geographic heart of the Adirondacks. The agreement transfers a conservation easement of commercial working forest in the Adirondacks once owned by paper manufacturer Finch, Pruyn to New York State.

“This is a great day for all New Yorkers – it’s about finding a healthy balance between nature and people,” said Bill Ulfelder, state director of The Nature Conservancy in New York.  “This historic agreement will secure public access to lands, lakes and waterways, many for the first time, creating new recreational opportunities for the public and, at the same time, supporting the economy of the Adirondack region and the entire state. This agreement protects some of the region’s largest intact and biologically diverse lands from commercial and private land development.”

The state’s acquisition of the easement will have a major positive impact on both state and local economies. Protecting this natural land, owned by ATP Timberland Invest, provides a boost to the economy by helping to keep the forest products industry–an industry that supports more than 50,000 jobs and injects $9 billion into the state’s economy every year—both competitive and viable. A related “fiber supply agreement” tied to these lands helps to maintain the century-old link between the property and local manufacturing jobs at the Finch Paper mill, a Glens Falls, NY-based employer of more than 750 workers.

Additionally, protecting this Adirondack property adds immeasurable value to the region as a major travel and recreation destination.  Ten million people visit the Adirondack Park annually, supporting one out of every five jobs in the area, and visitors spend more than $1 billion at local inns, restaurants, convenience stores and outdoor outfitters. The easement has the additional benefit of attracting new visitors to the park by securing new public access to lands and waterways, including permanent snowmobile trails widely viewed by local communities as economic lifelines during long winter seasons.

New York State paid $30 million for the conservation easement, which includes specific recreation rights to the land, with money allocated for this purpose in last year’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).  The local communities (27 towns) where the properties lie have all approved this purchase.

“Forests are a true multi-purpose resource,” said Roger Dziengeleski, Vice President and Senior Forester for Finch Paper LLC, who also serves on the boards of the Society of American Foresters and the Empire State Forest Products Association.  “This agreement ensures that these forests will continue to provide wood for paper and lumber, homes for a wide diversity of wildlife, four-season recreational opportunities for people and clean air and water.”

“The Adirondacks are repeatedly picked by AAA as New York’s number one destination for leaf peeping,” says Jim McKenna, a representative of the Adirondack Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. “Many of the lands protected by this agreement are the very places people travel here to see in all of their autumn splendor—helping to increase economic activity to our communities.”

The agreement also protects outdoor traditions such as hunting, fishing and snowmobiling which are important parts of Adirondack culture. According to New York State Snowmobilers’ Association (NYSSA) executive director Dave Perkins, “Snowmobiling generates $800 million in spending per year in New York State. If you look at a statewide map of the trail system, there’s a hole in Essex County, which means we’ve been missing out on a share of that money as a result. The trails we can now use because of this conservation easement are helping to fill that gap in a big way.”

“This easement is a step toward making Newcomb a central hub for snowmobiling and winter recreation. It’s pretty great to get some real economic benefit from it,” said Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon, who also noted that the trails from Newcomb to Long Lake and to Indian Lake will be open this season and links to the east are in the works.

“Indian Lake has been paying to lease snowmobile trails on an annual basis,” said Indian Lake Supervisor Barry Hutchens.  “Now, with the uncertainty associated with year-to-year leasing erased, we see these trails as permanent and valuable assets that can help our struggling winter economy and our town budget appropriations.”

Just as important as the economic benefits of this historic agreement are the environmental benefits of New York’s investment, which include clean air and water. Protecting forests maximizes nature’s filtration capacity, making the water in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes that run through them safer to drink and less costly to treat.  More than 270 miles of rivers and streams concentrated near the uppermost reaches of the Hudson River will continue to flow through intact forests as a result of this conservation effort. Forests also filter and clean our air, removing harmful pollutants and providing oxygen.

Conserving the former Finch, Pruyn Forestlands

In recognition of their extraordinary ecological and economic value, the Conservancy purchased 161,000 acres of the Finch forestland in the Adirondacks for $110 million in 2007.  The overall conservation plan for the future of the property was developed by the Conservancy and New York State after extensive consultation with local government officials and other stakeholders. The final historic agreement balances economic development, recreational needs, and ecological protections. Key elements of the plan call for more than 90,000 acres to be protected through a working forest conservation easement , 65,000 acres to be transferred over the coming years to New York as new public lands, and 1,100 acres to be set aside for community purposes in Newcomb, Long Lake and Indian Lake. Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in moving the overall plan forward.

“The Adirondack Park is one of the state’s proudest legacies and most notable tourism destinations,” said Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “In developing some of the conservation easement provisions, we followed the lead of local officials who linked the properties with quality of life, business and tourism opportunities. This project illustrates how ecological conservation and economic activity are mutually reinforcing.”

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy was founded in 1951 and is the leading conservation organization in the world, working to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.  The organization, which operates in 50 states and more than 30 countries, has protected 120 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.  For more than half a century, the Conservancy in New York has successfully worked to protect and preserve over 1 million acres of priceless land.  At the same time, the Conservancy in New York has sustained a productive public-private partnership with individual and corporate landowners while supporting the state’s vision to preserve its lands and waters as a legacy for current residents as well as future generations.  For additional information about The Nature Conservancy and the conservation plan for the former Finch lands, please visit www.nature.org/newyork.

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21 Responses to “New York state buys easement rights to 89,000 acres in Adirondacks”

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  1. Bret4207 says:

    There's $30 million gone that could have been spent (or not spent!) on something useful like HEAP, elder care, infrastructure, debt.

    There's simply no hope left in me.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    Sorry, Bret,
    But this is great news for Long Lake, Indian Lake and Newcomb.
    Once we get some snow, snowmobilers and the towns will reap the benefits and money will be saved by the towns who will no longer need to pay to lease trails.
    Happy New Year!

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  3. Myown says:

    I consider it an investment in the Adirondacks. It is an easement that continues forestry and logging jobs and opens many new recreational opportunities. It was approved by all 27 towns in the area.

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  4. Bret4207 says:

    It's still $30 million dollars that could have been spent elsewhere. Yes, it's great that it might help the affected Towns, but what else might help those Towns year round? And lets face it, if the State didn't have a stick up their butt about snowmobiles in the first place this wouldn't be such an issue. Also since this allows the use of private lands, couldn't a reduced tax bill have obtained those leases for a lot less than $30 million?

    I truly hope it works out for my friends in Long Lake, Indian Lake and Newcomb. It just seems incredibly excessive when there's talk about leaving the elderly without their pensions, HEAP, etc.

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  5. Paul says:

    Why is news? Isn't this an old deal? I guess this is just a closing of sorts.

    The pulp contract "saves" the mill for 20 years. By then the Dutch pension fund that owns the underlying land will probably be ready to divest the asset with few buyers, Maybe one – NYS. The towns may have approved this for a few snowmobile trails but that seems like a shortsighted way of looking at it. All the development potential, and the tax base with it, are all gone. TNC is a smart bunch.

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  6. Pete Klein says:

    Dreaming of development potential for working forest timber land is a dream.
    If by development you mean more second homes, the cost to put in roads and electricity would make it too expensive even for most of the pretend to be rich crowd.
    It is what it is and the Adirondacks is what it is.

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  7. Paul says:

    Pete,

    I lived in Colorado for 8 years. When I first got there we had places in the mountains (and by mountains I mean sick steep mountains spots above 10,000 feet) where we said there was no way anyone would ever develop that. Way too high, way to rugged, the weather is way too cold with almost no summer. Less than a decade later we were eating our hats. You just need the right conditions economically and anything is possible.

    Pete, maybe not in our lifetime, but you never know. But this deal ends that possibility.

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  8. Bret4207 says:

    Pauls right, that's the problem with the State buying more and more land. It's removed from any chance of ever being used, at least until the State decides they want to use it. I'm sure there are plenty of smart lawyers who can sidestep any laws involved if the State gives them the go ahead.

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  9. Paul says:

    Even in poor economic times the markets have ended 2010 with double digit gains. That means that investments that provide single digit returns such as timberland will probably be put up on the chopping block soon. The institutional investors that have purchased many of these lands encumbered with easements will be pressured by their clients to get the money back into markets that provide better returns. The guys at TNC like CEO Mark Tercek with a strong background in how the markets work (Tercek was a managing partner with Goldman Sachs) have made these deals in a way that will maximize environmental protection and minimize any chance that there will be any development on the lands. That is the TNC's mission. It is not to keep the land in sustainable forestry as many keep saying. If this is necessary in the short term to maker the deal plausible to the towns and others than so be it. But as Brian says in his blog "The green group hopes that land will eventually be added to the Adirondack forest preserve."

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  10. Pete Klein says:

    One thing you need to keep in mind about the stock market, Wall Street, is how we have a world wide economy. The large corporations (500's) really don't need the USA to make a profit. As they expand into Asia, China and India, and manufacture and sell their products in those and other countries, they can do very well while cutting back on employment in this country. We have become superflous to their bottom line.
    They need us less and less each and every day.

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  11. Paul says:

    Pete,

    Exactly. And the TNC fully understands that. They understand that these "pulp contracts" and sustainable logging aspects of the deal are only temporary provisions that helped to silence a few critics and get the towns on board. Like you say the people who support this type of thing get their money from somewhere else.

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  12. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Good discussion, folks……I'm inclined to fall in line with Bret and others on this deal. While it's structured in such a way as to include easements for continued logging, tourism, etc., (which I think is a good thing) it nonetheless comes at at time when NYS can't afford it. And keep in mind the long term implications of the increased tax burden to the state. When it can't afford to pay the tax on land it already owns, why is it purchasing more?

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  13. Paul says:

    I see that Joe Marten's from the OSI and ORDA is being considered for DEC commissioner. Although perhaps not a bad choice I remember an interesting quote from him in an NCPR interview. He acknowledged the fact that NYS can't afford to continue with these type of purchases, but in the next breath he said that NYS should go through with the TNC deal. You can't have it both ways. Given his background in supporting this type of strategy for land protection I think that maybe the DEC needs a new direction.

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  14. Banovic says:

    This land deal is a joke. How can a state that is 10 billion dollars in debt justify buying land? Does the state need to pay taxes on this newly gained property? How about the 900 state workers who are getting laid off, I bet their familes could use some of the 30 million. Or maybe New York state does not have enough state land, try 700,000 acres. What about people who ride atvs, you will not be able to do so on this state land. What kind of joke is it to title your company a conservancy of nature, when you stlll allow logging?

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  15. Bret4207 says:

    I'd like to see the State stop paying taxes on it's State land. Mind you, I grew up in the central Adks, lives and worked in Newcomb, Tupper, Long Lake, North Creek. I know what that income means. But that to me seems at least as good an idea as continuing to purchase land, cutting off pensions to the elderly, firing state employees, continuing to let the granola and gore tex crowd use State lands for free, etc. Spread the hurt around, ya know? Get that misery index rising for everyone uniformly.

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  16. Pete Klein says:

    Paul, I did not say, "the people who support this type of thing get their money from somewhere else."
    I rather doubt the Fortune 500 crowd is much in tune with anything in the Adirondacks.
    If anything, the demand for wood from the Adirondacks (and every place else) will increase, not diminish.
    Bret, do you really believe that if the state stopped paying taxes on the land it owns in the Adirondacks the money not coming here won't go down state? Or maybe you think the state would lower income taxes by what? Maybe 50 cents or a dollar? If that!
    The money paid by the state in taxes may be a big deal up here but means nothing in terms of the state budget.
    Wasn't it Sen. Everet Dirkson who said, "A few billion here, a few billion there and eventually you're talking real money."

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  17. Bret4207 says:

    No Pete, what I mean is that if the State stopped paying the taxes, or even proposed it, there would be a twofold response-

    First the Towns affected would scream bloody murder! I think this would actually be so loud as to alert people in NYC that there is actually life north of the Tappan Zee.

    Second I think NYS taxpayers would get an idea of the asinine concept of the State owning sooooo much land, agreeing to pay taxes on it and then taxing NYS residents to pay the taxes! NYS, like any gov't, has no money of it's own. Their sole income source is taxation, permits and fees. People don't realize or consider that at all. It would be an eye opening event for many people.

    Don't worry Pete, it'll never happen, the granola crowd will never have to buy land use permits, quality of life will continue it's downward spiral and NYs rural areas will continue to be the red headed step children of NYC.

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  18. Paul says:

    "Paul, I did not say, "the people who support this type of thing get their money from somewhere else."

    Pete, sorry, my point was that the folks that support these decisions (like unnecessarily protecting yet another 89,000 acres of Adirondack forest) are folks that don't have any skin in the game. Maybe they have a second home or like to hike, or feel bad because their back yard is all poorly developed, but chances are their income comes from one of two places; somewhere else like you describe, or from working and lobbying to "save" the great forest!

    It doesn't really matter even if I am wrong above. This deal was bad, it was unnecessary, and the state could not afford it. Yet, all I have seen for this in the press is praise. It is ridiculous, it is like we are living in some imaginary world.

    On not paying property tax on state land, I wonder if the towns that sold out for some cheap snowmobile trails would have made the same decision if they knew that the state might pull the plug. It is a very real possibility. For preservationists it would be the holy grail, the final nail in the coffin for the people who live in the Adirondacks.

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  19. Pete Klein says:

    Paul, if by preservationist you mean someone who doesn't want anyone to live in the Adirondacks, I doubt such a species exists.
    I have no doubt there are many people who don't want to see any real development in the Adirondacks but many who fall into that category are people who now own or want to own a second home in the Adirondacks. They do exist in fairly large numbers and are often of the mindset known as "I got mine but I don't want anyone else to get theirs."
    The odd thing here is that most year round residents welcome second home owners because they do add to the economy, such as it is. They employ people to build their homes, cut their grass, plow their driveways and purchase some other goods and services, plus pay taxes. Yet while they contribute to the economy, many (not all) would prefer to not see more future development. Truth be told, many year round residents who depend upon the part timers and the vacationers feel the same way.
    It's an odd mix we have up here. Sometimes people act as though they want to cut off their nose to spite their face and have a hard time accepting which side of their bread is buttered. An example could be Bret's idea for the state not to pay taxes on the land it owns.
    As a year round resident I fully support the idea that the state shouldn't buy any more land but do in general support conservation easements because they expand recreational opportunities while keeping the forest in wood/pulp production.
    On the state paying taxes on the land it owns, I see it much the same way as I see tax dollars going to maintain roads and bridges. Everyone in the state pays taxes to maintain roads and bridges even if they never use the roads or bridges. Same goes for their share of the taxes the state pays on the land it owns up here.
    We pay taxes on many things we never use. And by the way, what about all the people who pay into Social Security but never collect because they die before they are old enough to collect? What about all the people who pay for health insurance but never go to the doctor. There are some who pay for health insurance and die before they ever have a claim! Same goes for any insurance including insurance on a car. Not everyone has an accident.
    Shall we go on? What about all the TV programs you never watch but help pay for with your payments to Dish, Direct TV, cable or whatever? We all pay for many things we seldom if ever use.

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  20. Paul says:

    Pete, I would define a Preservationist as someone who would prefer to see as few full time residents (like yourself) as possible living in the Adirondacks. And many of them are opposed to second home development, they are quite happy to rent a camp or sleep in a tent. They also can be folks that are full time residents and don't want any neighbors. Or they can be the second home owner you describe that do not want others to have the same opportunity that they have.

    These easements are simply a temporary hold till the state can add this land to the Forest Preserve (probably through default). Timber rights are not enough to hold this type of land long term, unless they get substantial tax breaks from the state, who then needs to pick up the tab. This is a flawed model as I see it.

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  21. Paul says:

    The reason the timber companies are dumping this land is they can't make a good enough return. The only way to "save" these parcels is to allow them to be sub-divided into parcels that relatively wealthy folks can afford. Even the Rockefeller's can' t afford the holding costs on 100,000 acres, no matter how much they cut it over each year. You need the "gentleman's farm" approach they are using with ranch land out west. You need folks that can afford the holding costs with other income they have. Or let the state buy it all up like we are doing and we pick up the tab for the purchase price and the taxes. But to make it work we have to give up the insatiable appetite for recreational land.

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