By Bernard C. Melewski
In a unanimous vote on Nov. 15, the state agency charged with protecting the natural resources of the Adirondack Park agreed to send out for public comment a new policy to greatly accelerate the clear-cutting of forests in the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park. A decision was expected later this month, but has been postponed.
If adopted, the new general permit will create a fast-track process to allow for large-scale clear-cutting of forests. Hundreds of acres may be cut at a time by large landowners without any review by the commissioners of the Adirondack Park Agency or public notice and comment.
At present, any clear-cut over 25 acres in the Adirondack Park requires an individual permit from the agency. There have been only two applications even submitted in the past 15 years.
Let’s set aside whether allowing the clear-cutting of hundreds of acres in our Adirondack Park without any public review is a sound environmental policy. Why do this now and why do it at all? Good question. What do we know?
• That timber investment management firms now control large holdings in the Adirondacks. Clear-cutting provides more opportunity for these investment firms to improve their rate of return to their clients. A fast-track general permit has long been peddled by the forest industry to state officials under the guise of “cutting red-tape.”
• That local government officials in the Adirondacks have criticized the governor for buying too much private land or placing it under state-held conservation easements, which some contend will reduce forestry jobs. Under the new draft policy, thousands of acres of forest on state-held conservation easement lands will automatically qualify to be clear-cut.
• That Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has three of his agency heads on the agency and he appoints the other eight commissioners. If this new policy is adopted, none of the governor’s appointees will ever have to vote “yes” on the public record to approve the clear-cutting of forests in the Adirondack Park. The general permit only requires staff approval.
It gets worse.
The state of New York holds conservation easements on thousands of acres of private timberlands in the Adirondacks. In exchange for landowners giving up their rights to develop their property (they can continue to conduct forestry), New York State taxpayers pay a sizable portion of the local property tax bill on behalf of the easement landowners. The state’s taxpayers also pay for the right for the public to recreate.
If this new permit is adopted, state taxpayers, in effect, will now be paying taxes to support clear-cutting on public easement lands.
Clear-cutting the Adirondacks. With your tax money. Bad idea.
Bernard C. Melewski is an environmental attorney practicing in Altamont.