Thursday, September 5, 2019

Court Decision on Tree Cutting Threatens Public

A Joint Statement from
Access the Adirondacks
Adirondack Association of Towns & Villages
Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board
If you enjoy hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, camping, horseback riding, boating or any other recreational activity in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, you should be rooting very hard for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in its continuing legal battle with the private environmental advocacy group, Protect The Adirondacks.
 A recent ruling in the advocacy group's favor by a New York State Appellate court not only brought an end to the creation of an eagerly anticipated snowmobile trail in the Preserve, it threatens to undermine virtually every other type of recreational activity.
 Here's what's going on: The New York State Constitution states that "timber" cannot be removed from the Forest Preserve.
 Over the years, New York State courts and DEC have interpreted this to mean that trees of a certain size should not be removed to a "substantial extent" or to any "material degree." Some removal of trees and other vegetation, the courts understood, would always be necessary to create and maintain trails, boat launches and parking areas so that New Yorkers can enjoy this incredible natural resource that belongs to all of us.
 This brings us to the creation of the community connector snowmobile trails, which were designed by the state to bring much-needed winter-time revenues to small Adirondack communities by making it easier for riders to get there.
When DEC began removing the vegetation necessary to create the new trails, they were slapped with a lawsuit by the advocacy group contending that the removal was "substantial" and "material."
To make their claim, the advocacy group counted every "tree" that was removed, regardless of size - seedlings and saplings included.
DEC, on the other hand, had counted only those trees that met the historic definition of "timber" - more than three inches in diameter at breast height - because "timber" removal is what is restricted by the Constitution.
In 2017, an Albany County Supreme Court Justice sided with the state. But this past July, the Appellate Court reversed the decision, agreeing with the advocacy group's claim that the Constitution restricts cutting of "all trees," regardless of size.
In light of this decision - and with no clear guidance on what "substantial" and "material" mean - the threat of legal action against DEC has become so great that the Department has imposed a moratorium on removing trees of any size, pending its appeal.
Just consider the implications.
Without cutting trees: How can new hiking trails be created to help offset the well-documented over-use of the existing trails in the Adirondack High Peaks?
 What happens when existing trails of any sort become over-run with vegetation?
 How can backcountry skiers remove vegetation to open lanes between larger trees?
 How will New York State create new, safer parking areas in the High Peaks, or maintain existing ones?
 The lawsuit even hampers the state from trimming back the tree canopy along roadsides to allow natural ice melt rather than using large volumes of harmful road salt.
 The action taken against DEC continues a decades-long attempt by the advocacy group to restrict people from enjoying the Forest Preserve, and prevents DEC from managing the lands for safe, enjoyable public use. This, despite the fact that the group regularly cites improved public access as justification when encouraging the state to divert more taxpayer dollars to the acquisition of private forests.
The reality is this: The Adirondack Forest Preserve consists of nearly three million acres of taxpayer-owned land and is more than capable of accommodating a mixture of recreational uses.
DEC, the caretaker of these lands, understands that it's possible to protect the environmental health of the Preserve while improving public access and creating important economic benefits for local towns.
New York State courts have long recognized that - with some limits on larger timber - the removal of trees is acceptable in order to facilitate recreation.
We are pleased to see that New York State is appealing the Appellate Court's recent decision and standing up for the public's right to responsibly enjoy these incredible lands and help boost the Adirondack Region's economy.

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