Adirondack conservation groups opposing DEC's plan to allow Colton camp owners to keep property
Friday, October 12, 2018 - 11:30 am

Adirondack conservation organizations oppose development on Colton easement

COLTON – Adirondack conservation organizations oppose a proposal by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to amend an existing agreement and permit more than a dozen private camps on Adirondack Park timberlands.

The Adirondack Council says the public owns recreational rights and has already paid for the conservation of open spaces and undeveloped forests.

The lands are part of the 18,950-acre Long Pond Conservation Easement in southern St. Lawrence County. The state paid both for future public recreational rights and the conservation of these lands so they would not be developed, a release from the council says.

“The public has a right to expect that the recreational rights it purchases won’t be bought out from under them after the contract has been in place for almost a generation,” said Neil Woodworth, Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director. “The public was just about to gain access to these areas after faithfully paying for the conservation easement for almost 20 years. Now we are being told the users of 21 cabins will have superior access and that there will be heavy ATV use because the land is already spoken for. That’s not what the current contract says.”

“The taxpayers bought these development rights in 1999, expecting the camps would be removed by 2015,” said William C. Janeway, Adirondack Council Executive Director. “The clock ran out long ago. Now the public is being asked to forget about that agreement and swallow wholesale changes in how much development is allowed in exchange for a small amount of land protection outside the Park.”

“Under the DEC’s proposed modifications the public is being asked to accept 15 permanent residential camps on these lands beyond the six allowed by deed, which will fragment the forests, degrade the environmental quality, and seriously diminish public recreational opportunities throughout this tract,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. “In 1999, the State of New York purchased permanent environmental protections and blanket public recreational rights across these 19,000 acres. This was a purchase with public monies for a public good. Environmental protections and public recreation rights should not be traded away.”

Adirondack Wilderness Advocates also signed the letter to the DEC.

Recent studies by the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Adirondack Park showed that buildings in otherwise-undeveloped locations can impact up to 30 acres of the landscape around them, chasing out or killing wildlife that can’t survive next to people. Habitat for wilderness species is rare.

The organizations noted that there are more than one million acres of commercial timberlands inside the Adirondack Park, most of which provide private, leased hunting camp options that would not diminish an existing conservation agreement.

Under a $1.7-million agreement signed in 1999, all but six of 36 private hunting camps were due to be removed from the Long Pond Conservation Easement by current owner Danzer Forestlands by Feb. 15, 2015. The state also agreed to pay a portion of the local property taxes in compensation for the development and recreational rights it purchased.

Danzer bought the Long Pond tract in 2005 from Wagner Forest Management (a.k.a. Wagner Woodlands) for $3.5 million.

The agreement gave camp owners 15 years to find another place to rent. Instead, they contacted a state legislator and a deal appears to have been negotiated with DEC and the landowner in favor of the camp owners who wanted to stay. The DEC in September proposed to allow 15 camps to remain on the conservation easement tract.

By way of compensation to the public, the DEC has proposed purchasing 300 acres of new public forest outside of the Adirondack Park.

The conservation organizations sent a letter to the DEC on Oct. 11 expressing their concerns. It read in part:

“Pursuant to 6 NYCRR Part 592 of the Department’s regulations, any modification to a conservation easement must result in a “net conservation benefit” to the State of New York. We oppose this modification of the Long Pond CE because as proposed it fails to result in a net conservation benefit.

“(DEC) failed to analyze the severe impact of the perpetual use of motor vehicles, ATVs, and UTVs by the camp lessees on the Long Pond CE. The severe detrimental impact of ATV use on the environment of forest lands is well documented in the Department’s Strategic Plan for the Management of State Forests.

“Beyond the intensive motor vehicle use of the Long Pond CE for the leaseholders there are also the long-term negative impacts of 15 camps being retained in perpetuity. These camps are widely disbursed throughout the property, which fragments the forest resources. Human habitations cause significant changes to forest health and ecosystem functions. The environmental values of the CE require that long-term forest health should be protected not diminished.

“…Given that these and other concerns exist, the proposed modification to the Long Pond Conservation Easement should be withdrawn and the 15 hunting camps should be removed before the end of 2018.”