LAKE PLACID - The state Department of Environmental Conservation is committed to purchasing roughly 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. forestland from the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, according to the DEC's leader.
"A lot has changed since TNC has acquired the Finch property, and the state's commitment to protecting this land hasn't," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "With the fiscal constraints, it's obviously going to take more time to complete this project than we originally thought. But we're absolutely committed to it."
Martens made those comments on Wednesday during a lunchtime speech to an audience at the Adirondack Research Consortium's 18th annual Conference on the Adirondacks, held at the High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid.
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens speaks at the Adirondack Research Consortium’s 18th annual Conference on the Adirondacks Thursday at the High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
The Conservancy is still holding 65,000 acres of former Finch land in the central Adirondacks, plus the 14,600-acre Follensby Park outside Tupper Lake, with the intention of selling it all to the state for inclusion in the Forest Preserve. The Conservancy bought Follensby Park in September 2008 and the former Finch lands in July 2007. The former Finch lands were part of a larger deal that included 161,000 acres. In December, the state spent $30 million to buy a conservation easement on 89,000 acres of that land which the Conservancy had sold to ATP Timberland Invest, a Danish pension fund.
Martens went on to say he believes the state should continue to buy land beyond the former Finch, Pruyn tracts.
"How much is enough?" Martens said. "(Hamilton County Supervisor) Bill Farber and I and others have had this conversation before. I still think there are lands out there once we get beyond Finch, Pruyn. There's places that don't have good public access, so I think we're getting into the stage of just rounding out the acquisitions in the Park.
"I don't see great big landscapes like Finch, Pruyn that are out there on the horizon. There's a few tracts. But mostly it's rounding out the Park, providing better public access so that we can manage the lands better. Maybe some connective tissue between areas for management and things like connectivity. But I don't see the big picture changing for that. That's my personal opinion, but there's probably 100 different opinions in this room."
Martens also talked about the state's current land ownership in the Park. He noted the state owns 2.7 million acres of Forest Preserve and that in the last 15 years, the DEC has acquired 96,460 acres of Forest Preserve lands and 664,000 acres of conservation easements.
"So about 85 percent of the acquisitions in the last 15 years have been conservation easements," Martens noted.
Martens did maintain he will work closely with local governments when working on the purchase of the lands, something he's been praised for doing in the past. He also went out his way to compliment Farber several times during his speech.
"In the end, it's going to be through dialogue, about what's out there and what's important," Martens said about the state buying land. "I also think it's a legitimate question to say, in every case, 'How does it impact the local government?' I keep being reminded that the state owns 70 percent of land in some places. That has hurt local governments. I think that is a legitimate point and one that we shouldn't run away from."
Martens also addressed the issue of classifying state lands, specifically the former Finch, Pruyn ones. State lands that are classified as wilderness are often criticized by sportsmen's groups and local governments for being too restrictive because wilderness lands do not allow for motorized access.
"I've heard lots of legitimate concerns about how this land will ultimately be classified and managed, and I'm committed to an active dialogue to address those concerns," Martens said. "People shouldn't have to wonder about how people are going to get to those lakes and those resources. People should be involved with those problems and help decide. These are the assets that are widely used and a big benefit for the North Country."
(Editor's note: This article was corrected to note that Martens did not specifically mention the state's interest in buying Follensby Park, currently owned by The Nature Conservancy. He only referred to the former Finch, Pruyn lands when talking about property the state is pursuing.)