For the second time in as many months, the state Adirondack Park Agency has postponed action on a controversial proposal that would streamline the review process for certain kinds of clear-cutting on private lands in the Park.
The proposed general permit, called "Silvicultural Treatments for Sustainable Forestry in the Adirondack Park," was slated to come before the APA board today for a decision, but it was pulled from the agenda Wednesday by agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich.
"Lani wanted to postpone it to give the board more opportunity to deliberate," said APA spokesman Keith McKeever. "It's a big and complicated issue, and she wanted to make sure they have enough time to make a decision."
McKeever said staff will deliver an informational presentation today on sustainable forestry and the need to develop more streamlined permit processes. He said the agency is also planning a legislative public hearing on the general permit and will invite forestry experts to speak to the board.
The move came one day after a broad coalition of environmental groups called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the APA to reject or table the proposal.
"The agency has clearly heard the voices of over a dozen organizations and hundreds of citizens across the state who asked the APA to table this general permit, and to include, not exclude, the public in any changes in its review of applications for clear-cut logging in the park," Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve said in a Wednesday email.
The APA had also delayed action on the proposal in January after receiving more than 200 comment letters on it, most opposed to the plan. The agency then made some revisions to the general permit, but it still drew a big backlash from green groups.
Under current rules, any clear-cut of more than 25 acres requires an APA permit and must go through a stringent and lengthy review process that includes a final vote by the agency Board of Commissioners. The agency has only issued three such permits in the last 20 years.
The proposed general permit would expedite the review process for certain kinds of clear-cutting on lots of 25 acres or more, but only for landowners involved in forestry certification programs like those run by two nonprofit groups, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The general permit would shorten the time frame for approval and allow agency staff to issue permits without a vote by the APA board.
APA officials have said their current rules have led to a high number of poorly managed clear-cuts under 25 acres, which the agency generally has no jurisdiction over.
"Until such time as changes to regulations can be made, this general permit would encourage landowners to obtain certification through the FSC and SFI programs, which are the highest forestry standards in the world," reads a question-and-answer sheet about the general permit on the agency website. "This will result in healthier forests and longer term investments in the region's forest products industry."
The APA says it would post notice of applications submitted under the general permit on its website, and accept and consider public comment. The general permit would expire in three years, during which time the agency will evaluate the use of the permit and work with stakeholders to revise its forest management regulations.
The plan has drawn support from some forestry experts and industry groups like the Empire State Forest Products Association. The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board has also endorsed the general permit, saying it will encourage more landowners to use professional forest management practices and lead to healthier forests.
But environmentalists teamed up this week to issue a sharp rebuke of the proposal. The groups - including Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Council and others - said in a joint press release that the general permit "would effectively gut standard practice by the APA and potentially affect as many as 1 million acres of backcountry and industrial timber land holdings."
Environmentalists agree that some kinds of clear-cutting can improve the health of forests, but they don't want the APA to scale down its review of such proposals and pass some of its responsibility to outside groups.
"Limited clear-cutting can play a role in sound forest management," Adirondack Council Acting Executive Director Diane Fish said in the release. "However, it makes no sense to weaken the environmental review, especially inside the Adirondack Park. The public demands and deserves a higher standard here - one that protects both the environment and scenic beauty. This proposal does neither."
"This is simply bad public policy based simply on anecdotes from corporate landowners who want the ability to cut harder and faster," Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said in the release. "The APA brought no data, no research, no science to discussion of the issue."
David Gibson of Adirondack Wild said the agency's regulations pertaining to clear-cutting are three decades out of date.
"As an alternative to this General Permit, we are pleased that the APA will begin to discuss ways to streamline its current Class A regional permit application for clear-cutting, ways to involve the public in discussions about how to improve forestry standards and conditions in the Adirondack Park, and ways to modernize its regulations pertaining to jurisdiction and review of clear-cutting," Gibson said in an email Wednesday.
McKeever said the decision to table the general permit doesn't mean the agency is scrapping it altogether. He also said the move was Ulrich's decision alone and wasn't based on any pressure from the governor's office.