Earlier this month, in a split decision, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division 3rd Department, ruled that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) must halt planned construction of a trail intended for snowmobile and hiker use.
"This ruling is a severe setback to the people of New York State, and interferes with those who choose to enjoy the stated purpose of the great state park: outdoor recreation and forest preservation in harmony," said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC).
On behalf of its Adirondack Counties, NYSAC today stated their support for the goals of this DEC trail program, and urged the Governor, the State Attorney General, and the DEC to appeal the decision.
By statutory and constitutional authority, the DEC designs, constructs, and maintains all trails in Adirondack Forest Preserve. The DEC creates trails with two main principles in mind: maintaining the integrity of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and allowing for sustainable access into the preserve for the public to enjoy. In 2014, in keeping with this tradition, the DEC began construction of a 27-mile trail to be used by snowmobiles in the winter and by hikers in the other seasons. DEC's goal was to protect the Forest Preserve by minimizing existing environmental concerns and overuse on unofficial trails. Accordingly, this project would move existing snowmobile trails to the edge of the Forest Preserve and away from areas that are more susceptible to damage.
The NYS Constitution's forever wild protection provisions regarding the land within the Adirondack Park states "...nor shall timber be sold, removed or destroyed." This recent decision redefines "timber" to include tiny trees and brush, less than three inches in diameter - which had been the usual and customary standard of timber.
NYSAC agrees with the dissenting opinion, which defines this project to be reasonable under the Constitution because the trail is limited in its small tree removal and "[w]hatever the advantages may be of having wild forest lands preserved in their natural state, the advantages are for everyone within the [s]tate and for the use of the people of the [s]tate."
"Ultimately, the new trail would promote and maintain the integrity of the Adirondack Forest Preserve by promoting access along a carefully constructed, sustainable trail, planned through environmental forestry management principles by expert staff at the DEC. These professional forestry principles would minimize the environmental impact while also stewarding and preserving public lands for the public to enjoy. We urge the state to appeal to a higher level of authority," said Acquario.