The preservation of wild open spaces – forests, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands – is one of the best things that our civilization does. Wildlands serve us in many ways. They protect our water and air and provide us places of peace and beauty in which to meditate or play. Yet the acreage of wild lands in the U.S. grows smaller each year. Hence the importance of protecting what remains.

Soon after Governor Cuomo announced plans to purchase 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands owned by The Nature Conservancy, the state’s purchase of new “forever wild” Forest Preserve came under attack. The attack is being led by the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB). The LGRB claims that buying lands for the Forest Preserve that have been managed for timber, such as the Finch lands, violates state policy and kills jobs. Both claims are false.

The LGRB says the state purchase violates a “recommendation” (p. 7, number 11) in the State Land Master Plan (SLMP). The LGRB asks rhetorically “Isn’t it time for New York State to follow its own Master Plan, especially since two courts have held that it has the force of law?”

Recommendation #11 to which the LGRB refers uses the word “normally” in suggesting that the state should not purchase lands outright when land can be protected through conservation easement. The term “normally” conveys the idea that exceptions are justified under appropriate circumstances. It is most unlikely that a recommendation containing the term could be violated so long as a suitable justification is provided.

More importantly, PROTECT is baffled as to why the LGRB thinks that a “recommendation” in the SLMP is the official authoritative land acquisition policy of the State of New York. It’s not.

In fact, it is the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan, which is official legal policy for buying land by the state. It is recognized in state law and guides state spending. It has been revised five times through exhaustive statewide public hearings, the most recent in 2009. It’s the product of regional advisory committees that include local government officials. The Open Space Conservation Plan clearly details the importance of protecting the Finch lands in question. The Plan says about them:

“The property …includes notable natural features such as OK Slip Falls, Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, and portions of Snowy, Panther and Buell Mountains. These extensive lands are remarkable for their ecological diversity, astounding beauty, productive timberlands and location in the heart of the Adirondack Park. Much of the land adjoins the Forest Preserve and contains intact large expanses of ecologically and economically important forests, the benefits of which range from mitigating the impacts of climate change to enhancing the Adirondack Park’s draw as a world-class tourist destination.” (P. 91)

To reference any other document other than the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan as constituting the law on this issue is not accurate.

The argument of the LGRB also neglects the context of the Finch deal. Conservation easements were purchased two years ago by Governor David Paterson on another 95,000 acres of former Finch lands that had the highest timberland values. These lands will remain in timber production in perpetuity.

Since the state organized the Open Space Conservation Plan process in the early 1990s, the state has principally purchased conservation easements in the Adirondack Park and has limited Forest Preserve buys to the most spectacular recreations lands (Madawaska Bog, Round Lake, Little Tupper, the South Branch of the Grasse, Clear Pond, and Mud Pond, among many others). Since the early 1990s, 87% of lands protected in the Adirondack Park were done so by conservation easements.

The 69,000 acres of new Forest Preserve lands include ecologic and recreational gems that are clearly noted in the Open Space Conservation Plan. They include such treasures as 12 miles of the Hudson River, a network of a dozen lakes and ponds in the Essex Chain Lakes, Boreas Ponds, the 1,000 Acre Swamp, the Ice Meadows, Blue Ledges, five miles of the Cedar River, and OK Slip Falls. These lands abound in new outdoor recreational opportunities that will be cherished by generations. That these gems are included provides ample justification for the Finch purchase. One wonders what part of “ecological gem” the LGRB doesn’t get.

In short, read together, the SLMP and the Open Space Conservation Plan indicate that it is state policy to protect those areas with the most spectacular scenery and most recreational potential through purchase in fee as well as to protect the working forest through conservation easements. This is what the state has done in this case. It is fully legal and fully justified, and it is a good deal for all concerned.

The LGRB also claims that this purchase will cost jobs.

We heard these same claims after Governor Pataki’s purchase of Little Tupper Lake in 1996. We heard them again with the Champion Lands purchased in 1997. It’s been a refrain from local government leaders ever since.

However, as is often the case when “job loss” is blamed on state land purchases, these claims will not withstand close examination. (Note that PROTECT addressed these issues in the It’s Debatable guest editorial in the November-December 2012 Adirondack Explorer.)

The LGRB states:

“More than 300 jobs will be lost. A report prepared by New York State’s own Division of Land and Forests found that every 1,000 acres of working forestland directly supports three forest-based manufacturing, forestry or logging jobs. In addition, it is projected that each of these jobs supports another 1.8 jobs in other industries. Together, this means the loss of more than 300 jobs, virtually all of them in small, rural communities with few other opportunities and, not surprisingly, little voting power.”

Let’s look at the 69,000 acres in question. It’s important to note that of the 69,000 acres the state is buying for the Forest Preserve just 40,000 were actively logged by Finch/TNC. 29,000 acres are wetland, lake, lakeshore, slope, or inaccessible. As mentioned earlier, the most productive forest management lands went into conservation easement. The remaining are the high ecological value lands and high recreational value lands.

Nevertheless, 40,000 acres of productive forest will be lost. Perhaps we are only looking at 175 lost jobs, according to the LGRB’s math. But, in fact, it is unlikely that any jobs will be lost.

The claim that there will be any jobs lost assumes that alternative supplies of timber are not available. It assumes that the loggers currently working on the 69,000 acres will not move to other sites. They will just lose their jobs. And the forest products industries will not find alternative suppliers, they will just cut back or close.

But none of this is true. In fact, prior to the sale Finch moved to “replace” the lost acreage for its fiber supply by creating Finch Family Forests, an excellent program for small landowners of 50 acres or more who wish to improve their land management. This program now tops 10,000 acres. Finch also worked with larger landowners to secure another 20,000 acres in long-term contracts. Both programs will grow in the future and both programs came from a local stock of lands that had generally not been actively managed previously. So, Finch Paper has moved to “replace” the “lost” acreage for its local fiber supply. There is no reason to believe that the sale of these 69,000 acres will lead to any reduction in the supply of timber or will deprive any down-the-supply-chain user of an adequate supply of wood. The LGRB provides no evidence to the contrary.

The claim that 300 jobs will be lost because of the sale of these 69,000 acres depends on a simplistic reading of the relationship between productive forest and jobs. It is one thing to say that, on the average, a certain number of jobs are related to 1000 acres of forest land. It is quite another to say that there are three jobs attached to each 1000 acre parcel.

The LGRB claims of jobs loss is based on a misreading of a North East Forester’s Association (NEFA) report (that’s the report that the LGRB credits to “New York’s own Division of Lands and Forests”) that says “Each 1,000 acres of forest land in the four-state region supports 1.9 forest-based manufacturing, forestry and logging jobs and 1.3 forest-related tourism and recreation jobs.” The NEFA study compares New York with Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine as to how well these states get value from their forestlands. Interestingly, New York gets more jobs than our eastern neighbors with 3.0 jobs estimated per 1,000 acres of forestlands whereas in Vermont it’s 1.4, New Hampshire is 2.0, and Maine is 1.2.

In New York, NEFA states that there are 18,464,222 acres of forestlands. This number includes over 3 million acres of Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills. These lands, NEFA states, supported over 55,000 jobs in the woods and in the mills in New York in 2005. Of these jobs (roughly), 23,000 were in furniture manufacturing, 17,000 in pulp and paper manufacturing, 10,500 in wood products, and about 5,000 worked in the woods as loggers, truck drivers or foresters. This is where the estimate of 3 jobs per 1,000 acres of forestlands is derived.

It should be noted that most of these “forest jobs” are likely to be located outside the boundary of the Adirondack Park. The largest forest products manufacturing facilities inside the Park are the IP plant in Ticonderoga and Tupper Lake Hardwoods mill in Tupper Lake. They support less than 400 total jobs, and they buy wood from far and wide. The Finch Paper mill in Glens Falls buys paper from Ohio to Maine. Thus many of the logging jobs that support Adirondack saw mills will be outside of the Park. Moreover, most of the jobs that are viewed as forest dependent are in manufacturing. In 2005, over half were in furniture making. Most of these jobs are not inside the Blue Line. Thus the LGRB’s use of the 3 jobs per 1000 acres to estimate the loss of 300 jobs is implausible. That Finch has taken steps to replace the wood lost from the sale suggests that no jobs down the supply chain will be lost. Even if productivity in the Adirondacks declines, it is unlikely that manufacturers will be unable to replace their supplies. In fact, it is far more likely that decreases or increases in the production of wood in the Adirondacks will depend of the price of wood from here in comparison to the price from alternative sources – as has always been the case.

The NEFA study also reports that the state’s forestlands support .8 tourism jobs per 1,000 acres. In contrast to forest industry jobs, these are jobs that we know are near forestlands, and, as we also know, there are clearly many tourism jobs within the boundary of the Adirondack Park. PROTECT submits that the tourism value of 1,000 acres of Forest Preserve lands in the Adirondack Park is clearly going to be a lot higher than (let’s say) a 1,000 acres of privately managed forest in Seneca County in central New York. Thus the NEFA estimate of .8 tourism and recreation jobs (on average) per 1000 acres of land surely underestimates the forest dependent tourism jobs in the Adirondacks. If we apply the NEFA formula of .8 tourism jobs per 1000 acres to the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, we get 4,800 jobs. We all know that this is a serious undercount for tourism jobs in the Park. While NEFA calculates a statewide tourism jobs number of around 15,000 that are supported by the state’s forests, these are overwhelmingly in the two forest tourism centers of New York – the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

A Trust for Public Lands report found that “active tourism” – biking, hiking, and canoeing – supported 130,000 jobs across New York. An old statistic from the Department of Labor showed tourism supported 17% of total jobs in the Park and over 20% in Essex, Hamilton and Warren Counties. This supports the point that tourism jobs, unlike a lot of forestry jobs, are heavily located within the boundary of the Adirondack Park and are underestimated by applying the .8 jobs per 1000 acres formula.

It is also important to note that while the estimates of jobs lost by the LGRB are abstract – based on statewide averages, not on specifics about local conditions, we already know that many Adirondack tourist based businesses will benefit from the Finch purchase.

One example is whitewater rafting. The 69,000 acre Forest Preserve purchase marks a critical investment in the long-term protection and enhancement of the Indian and Hudson River whitewater rafting industry, a widely popular, highly successful, and truly sustainable economic activity. If you’ve never done this trip you should because it’s incredible. By protecting a full 22 miles of the Hudson from Newcomb to North River, this deal not only protects this wild river through the Hudson Gorge for hundreds of thousands to enjoy in the decades ahead, but also enhances the overall experience by facilitating better river access, camping and day use. It also makes the river available to less adventuresome or less skilled paddlers. Nothing illustrates better that the Finch purchase is an investment in the economy and environment of the Adirondack Park than how this deal will strengthen the many real businesses, real people, and real jobs that are part of the Hudson River rafting industry.

Lets look at the charge that local towns will lose “recreational revenue” due to the loss of hunting clubs that had leased these lands from Finch, Pruyn and then TNC. Here’s what the LGRB has been saying:

“The recently acquired forests have for many years been leased for recreational purposes by sportsmen’s clubs made up of people from across the northeast. Not only do these people spend large amounts of time on these lands, they spend their money in local communities, providing much-needed revenue for merchants and sales tax for local governments. With the incorporation of these lands into the Forest Preserve, these leases and the revenue they generate will go away forever. Two hundred camps on the leased land will be destroyed.”

Here’s what actually happened. At the time of the purchase over the entire 165,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) there were around 350 totals hunting camps (actual buildings) that had exclusive recreational leases on the Finch lands. A hunting club may have several buildings or more, or it may just lease the lands with no buildings. TNC kept these leases in place during the transition.

With the two sales of the Finch lands for conservation easements and now Forest Preserve, what has become of these leased camps? There were about 350 camps across the entire 165,000 acres in 2006. On the easement lands there remains 350 or the opportunity to locate a camp there. Clubs on the 69,000 acres to be sold for Forest Preserve can remain until the end of 2017. Some will relocate, others will disband. The overwhelming majority of clubs on the Finch/TNC lands have already relocated to easement lands.

Since the actual loss of hunting clubs is minimal, the economic impact will be correspondingly minimal. PROTECT contends that the increased tourism from opening the Hudson Gorge, Boreas Ponds, Essex Chain Lakes, as well as among other sites, to public recreation will more than offset the economic impact from the minimal loss of hunting camps.

The LGRB contends that the purchase of the 69,000 acres will place an undue burden on forest products companies in the Adirondacks for obtaining the necessary wood for their businesses. Here’s what the LGRB said:

“Forest products companies will face greater challenges. Every time working forestland is removed from responsible wood production and incorporated into the Forest Preserve, forest products companies in the Adirondack Region — from small, family owned sawmills to high-employment paper mills — must obtain their primary raw material from more distant forests, driving up their costs and further eroding their ability to remain in business.”

There is nothing in the NEFA report or provided by the LGRB to support this claim. Above, we already showed that the “lost” acreage was replaced by Finch Paper. Clearly, one local business – Finch Paper – worked expeditiously to ensure that it has the supply necessary for its business. There is no way to know whether replacement sources will be more distant or will have a significant impact on prices without knowing where they are and where the companies they supply are. The LGRB argument is unsubstantiated conjecture.
The last LGRB claim is that this purchase will undermine any decision to locate a biomass plant in the Adirondacks. The LGRB states:

“New biomass businesses will be discouraged from locating here. There is increasing interest in and demand for the use of wood and plant material — biomass — as an alternative to fossil fuels for energy production. But, understandably, biomass operators require some assurance that they’ll have a long-term, stable supply of wood available to them before making the sizable investment necessary to site and build their facilities. New York’s continuing infatuation with forestland acquisition is far from reassuring.”

The state’s conservation easement program stands at over 800,000 acres across the state. State Forests, separate from the Forest Preserve, stand at 700,00 acres of managed lands that the state is obligated to log. Then there remains over 13 million acres of privately owned forestlands. Any company is free to compete for access to this pool of lands. The LGRB provides no analysis that shows that these acres would be inadequate to supply the needed biomass.

In summary, the LGRB’s arguments misrepresent the legal status of the Finch purchase, fail to recognize the intrinsic importance of protecting wild lands, and create a speculative analysis concerning job loss that depends on unwarranted presuppositions rather than facts on the ground and that underestimates the value of wild lands to the tourism economy of the Adirondacks. The LGRB also ignores that fact that the Finch purchase which protected land of inestimable ecological, scenic, and recreational value is part of a larger package deal that secured 95,900 acres of working forest and the jobs that depend on these acres in perpetuity. This is a great deal for the Adirondackers and for all New Yorkers.