Skip Navigation
Regional News
A clear cut near Speculator managed by Lyme Timber.  Sometimes a woodlot that looks heavily logged is being managed well, while a parcel with lots of trees can be made of "junk" timber. Photo used by permission
A clear cut near Speculator managed by Lyme Timber. Sometimes a woodlot that looks heavily logged is being managed well, while a parcel with lots of trees can be made of "junk" timber. Photo used by permission

A million acres of Adk timberland becoming "junk"?

Listen to this story
In recent weeks, the Adirondack Park has become embroiled in a new debate over clearcut logging.

But a growing coalition of environmentalists, industry leaders, government officials and academics agree on one thing.

More than a million acres of the Park's privately-owned timber land is deteriorating -- turning into what some critics describe as "junk" forest.

That trend threatens the long-term environmental health of the Adirondacks, as well as the health of the North Country's logging industry.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Story location

News near this location

Ross Whaley, former APA chair and now with the Adirondack Landowners Association, has become a leading voice calling for reform. Photo: APA
Ross Whaley, former APA chair and now with the Adirondack Landowners Association, has become a leading voice calling for reform. Photo: APA
"All you have to do is look at the stands throughout the park and you find that poor genetic stock was left [and] you have a reduction in maple," said Ross Whaley, former APA chairman and the former head of the SUNY college of environmental science and forestry, who now represents the Adirondack Landowners Association.

"So if you look at that history, it looks to me like we've been practicing bad forest management here."

It looks to me like we've been practicing bad forest management here.
That view is painful, but not particularly controversial. It's shared over a wide spectrum.

"If you see a 'for sale' sign on a log landing, that forest most of the time has been high-graded and they've cut the value out and left a low quality forest," said Sean Ross, director of forestry operations with Lyme Timber, which owns a quarter million acres of commercial forest in the park.

It's not just poor harvesting strategies hurting the park's commercial timber stands.

Eric Carlson, with an industry group called the Empire State Forest Products Association, says privately-owned forests are getting hit hard from all sides.

"A number of factors that are impacting the way forests are managed, invasive species, climate change, acid rain, there's been so many environmental factors – in many ways, human impacted and human caused."

High deer populations in some areas have also hurt forest growth, as the animals browse on valuable maple seedlings.

Critics say the erosion of forest quality has been accelerated by rapid changes in the ownership patterns of big stands of Adirondack forest and in the global markets for logs from the park.

The old stable timber companies are gone, replaced by big investment firms that hold private timberland as an asset.

Peter Bauer, with the group Protect the Adirondacks, says in some cases those changes have led to more aggressive harvesting in an effort to maximize short-term revenue.

"One of the things we heard at the meetings, is the large landowners say, 'Look, we're stuck with a forest that has been hit hard and hit continuously for the last 150 years'" Bauer said.

"And frankly in the words of the foresters they're left with 'junk' forests and they just need to start over."

The stakes here are high. The million acres of privately owned timberland makes up a vital piece of the overall Adirondack Park – providing crucial habitat, preserving valuable open space.

If managed sustainably, those forests will also sustain an important industry, said Carlson with the Empire State Forest Products Association.

"You know our forests in the Adirondacks generate really good paying jobs. That has been the tradition in the Adirondacks. But unfortunately a lot of things have changed."

All sides agree that the park's private timberlands are deteriorating, but no one agrees on what to do about it.

APA commissioners, lead by chairwoman Lani Ulrich, face big questions over how to regulate the region's changing timber industry. NCPR file photo
APA commissioners, lead by chairwoman Lani Ulrich, face big questions over how to regulate the region's changing timber industry. NCPR file photo
The APA has floated a new plan that would allow loggers and landowners lot more flexibility and a more streamlined permitting structure, if they agree to develop sustainable forestry plans certified and audited by non-profit watchdog groups.

"Certifications will result in healthier forests and longer-term investments in the region's forest products industry. That's a win-win for the Adirondack Park," said APA spokesman Keith McKeever.

That approach is supported by industry groups, who say it will give large landowners more flexibility to manage sustainable harvests.

But environmentalists hate this approach. More than a dozen green groups lined up to oppose it and a vote scheduled for this week was tabled.

Activists like Peter Bauer say the APA needs to revamp its entire regulatory structure, putting rules in place that encourage sustainable harvesting.

"They clearly could play a powerful role. Their rules and reg[ulation]s are outdated now. We think they should embark on the task of updating their rules and regs," Bauer argued.

One of the most controversial parts of APA regulation is a rule that allows loggers to clear-cut up to 24 acres of land at a time with no oversight at all.

Groups like Protect the Adirondacks say the pattern of clear-cutting in the Park raises questions about state regulations. Photo:  Protect the Adirondacks from Bing maps
Groups like Protect the Adirondacks say the pattern of clear-cutting in the Park raises questions about state regulations. Photo: Protect the Adirondacks from Bing maps
Green groups have been publishing maps and photographs showing forests in the northern Adirondacks that appear to be reduced to patchwork quilts of clear-cuts.

State officials acknowledge that they have no idea how many clear-cuts are taking place or how many acres are being clear-cut harvested every year.

John Sheehan with the group Adirondack Council says that needs to change. "It's caused us to want to go back 10 or 15 years and take a look at what's happened on the landscape," he said.

But industry groups and many forestry experts say the focus of this debate shouldn't be on clear-cutting, but on a larger reform to the way we think about management of private forests.

The goal, says Ross Whaley, shouldn't be to measure what's harvested. The goal should be to make sure the right kinds of healthy forests grow back once a timber stand is cut.

"You can measure the number of stems of preferred species [that are growing back] and that would do it," Whaley said.

In other words, regulators would score a forest management plan not on what it looks like after the harvest or how many trees have been cut down, but on how well loggers and foresters manage the second growth that comes in.

Some environmentalists, like Mike Berger with the Audubon Society, agree that commercial timberlands need to be regulated using different yard sticks.

"You know it's probably fair to say that the regulations of the Adirondack Park Agency right now, they're a little outdated. And I think it's time to bring the regulations more in line with forest management in the 21st century."

But here again, many of the park's green activists are leery. Peter Bauer, with Protect the Adirondacks, says he's skeptical that a management approach based on healthy forest regeneration is workable.

"In the Adirondacks it's always been very difficult to control regeneration," Bauer said.

"We don't see how without incredible, expensive implementation to go in there to try and control the trees that come back with putting people on the ground to do that or really high level of chemical use, we don't see how they can control regeneration, control the trees that come back."

APA commissioners plan to discuss the state of the Park's timberlands at their meeting Thursday in Ray Brook.

But the Agency hasn't reformed its timber regulations in decades. And it's an open question whether the region's factions can come together on a plan to improve management of the Park's million acres of private forest land.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.