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Forest lands harvested for more than a century will soon be "forever wild."  Photo: Brian Mann
Forest lands harvested for more than a century will soon be "forever wild." Photo: Brian Mann

Do big Adirondack conservation deals hurt loggers?

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Governor Andrew Cuomo says the big Finch conservation deal in the Adirondacks will open new lands to snowmobilers, hikers, hunters, and anglers. State officials and green groups say that could mean a major boost for the North Country's tourism industry.

But critics say the $50 million deal will hurt the timber industry, making it harder for struggling loggers and mill operators. Some industry leaders say they worry about the loss of productive timberlands that have been harvested for more than a century.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Within the Park, it's never going to be easy to replace 69,000 acres of commercial productive forest land.
A couple of weeks ago, on a rain swept fall day, I paddled on Boreas Pond with the Nature  Conservancy's Mike Carr.

"Black spruce, tamarack, hardwood hills in full color," Carr said.  "I think we're here at peak, the maples are on fire."

Mike Carr
Mike Carr
For more than a century this land was managed and logged by Finch Pruyn, a paper company based in Glens Falls.

But under a $50 million deal orchestrated by Carr and signed this summer by Governor Andrew Cuomo, these forests — 69,000 acres in all — will be added to the Park's forest preserve.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signs contract with Nature Conservancy in Lake Placid. Photo: Brian Mann
Governor Andrew Cuomo signs contract with Nature Conservancy in Lake Placid. Photo: Brian Mann
Carr hopes scenic places like Boreas Ponds will be a magnet for paddlers and anglers.

But critics like Fred Monroe, head of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, say the deal will do serious harm to the region's timber industry.

"We're very dependent in the forest products products industry in the region where much of this land is.  And we think that's going to harm that forest products economy.  That's going to cause the loss of jobs in the forest products industry and in related service businesses."

Monroe appeared on YNN television, and other media outlets around New York state, arguing  that as many as 300 jobs could be lost through the Finch Pruyn deal alone.  

He also claimed the state land master plan for the Park specifically prohibits large-scale purchase of productive and economically valuable timber lands. 

"And yet we're buying [new forest preserve land] in violation of that," Monroe noted.

Big land deals have reshaped the Park over the last quarter century but not everyone thinks they making it harder for loggers to operate.  

"I don't think there's going to be an impact on timber jobs," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.  

Martens points out that the Finch deal left most of the paper company's former lands — roughly 90,000 acres — in private hands. 

Under a conservation easement deal, timber harvesting on those forests will continue. 

"We looked at which ones were the most highly productive from a forestry standpoint and pulled those out of the fee acquisition part of the transaction and put them in conservation easement," Martens said.

Mike Carr, with the Nature Conservancy, agrees.  When I called him back to ask about Monroe's claims, he said they were inflated and far-fetched.

"I don't think there'll be any job losses, frankly.  The way the industry works, the labor force is really mobile.  It's highly mechanized now and not tied to a single property or ownership.  So as long as there are commercial working forests here in the Park and there are lots of them as you know, and market demand for fiber, those jobs will stay here."

So who's right?  Do land conservation deals cost timber industry jobs or not?

To try to sort this out, I turned to industry experts, starting with Eric Carlson, who's head of the Empire State Forest Product Association.

"Well there's been a very serious decline in all aspects of the industry in terms of the consumption of the materials and the employment factor, just because the economy has change dramatically," Carlson said.

The last couple of decades, mills have closed from Corinth to Lyons Falls to Newton Falls. 

Furniture makers have gone out of business.  Loggers are employing fewer crews out in the woods.

Like a lot of people in the timber industry, Carlson thinks placing more land in the forest preserve is making it harder for companies that want to to invest and operate here.

"It's not the deciding factor, but it's certainly a factor that impacts large capital investment decisions," he said.

That view is shared by Len Cronin, head of Finch Forest Management. 

Over the last decade, he has overseen logging operations on the Finch lands that will now be added to the forest preserve.

"Well within the Park, it's never going to be easy to replace 69,000 acres of commercial productive forest land," Cronin acknowledged.

Some companies say they already have to look outside the Park for much of the timber they need to make their products.

Greg Mayes is the fiber supply manager at International Paper's mill in Ticonderoga.

"It has caused us to have to go further away to get the same volume of wood.  Whenever land gets purchased by the state and put into the forest preserve, it means that you can't touch it.  So even though we're the only paper mill that's located within the park and we have  a world of timber around the mill, most of it you can't touch."

So people in the industry — even executives and foresters who've taken part in big land deals in the past— generally agree with Monroe that conservation projects are posing new challenges for loggers and mill operators.  

But they also say that the vast majority of job losses and closures in the Adirondacks in recent years have nothing to do with New York state or the Nature Conservancy.

Most of the industry's decline, says Eric Carlson, has been caused by the sour economy and dwindling demand.

"We have less demand for news print, we have foreign competition from coated papers brought into the region, and we have a declining market [for paper] because of electronic communications."  

Industry leaders are also convinced that most of the big paper companies — Finch Pruyn, Domtar, Champion, International Paper — would have sold off much of their Adirondack timberland regardless of the Nature Conservancy's involvement.

Without those big conservation deals, Carlson says it's possible that much of the land would have been sold as real state.

That could mean the timber industry losing access to even more harvstable land.

"Certainly the largest threat to the forest products industry is the complete turnover of land and the parcelization of land," Carlson noted.

"Putting it into building lots and second homes and permanent homes...makes it extraordinarily difficult to operate.  So the conservation easements have certainly been an avenue to continue to have some wood supply available."

One final note about Fred Monroe's claim that 300 jobs could be lost because of the Finch conservation deal. 

That number was calculated using a standard industry multiplier, a kind of rough formula created by the Northeast State Forester's Association.

The formula is meant to provide a general estimate for how working timber lands in the region shape local economies. 

It doesn't reflect  the specifics or complexities of this vast chunk of land in the Adirondacks. 

During extensive interviews, NCPR couldn't find any individuals or companies that expected job cuts or lay-offs to occur as a result of the Finch conservation deal.

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