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An Adirondack clearcut in the 1920s. Clear-cutting remains controversial a century later. Photo: New York State Archives
An Adirondack clearcut in the 1920s. Clear-cutting remains controversial a century later. Photo: New York State Archives

Clearcut logging plan sparks blistering APA debate

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A plan by the Adirondack Park Agency to streamline permit applications for large-scale clearcut logging sparked fierce debate yesterday.

Supporters of the plan say it will encourage loggers and landowners to adopt better harvesting practices. At the APA's monthly meeting in Ray Brook, some commissioners spoke passionately in favor of the change.

But others expressed deep skepticism about the plan.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The APA hopes to improve timber harvesting in the Adirondacks without revising its fundamental logging regulations. NCPR File photo
The APA hopes to improve timber harvesting in the Adirondacks without revising its fundamental logging regulations. NCPR File photo
The APA announced this week that it wouldn't vote on this proposal. But the debate yesterday was feisty and often tense.

The plan put forward by park staff would apply only to landowners who have sustainable harvesting plans certified by non-profit forestry groups.

They would be eligible to use a streamlined application process to do larger clear-cuts, bigger than 25 acres, with a much shorter review by state regulators and a much shorter public comment period.

At least two APA commissioners expressed deep skepticism about the idea. Dick Booth said that large timber companies and not state regulators bear the blame for the widespread use of poor harvesting practices in the Adirondacks.

APA commissioner Richard Booth opposes the clear-cutting general permit. NCPR file photo
APA commissioner Richard Booth opposes the clear-cutting general permit. NCPR file photo
"If they're using poor management tools to avoid our jurisdiction, that's their problem," Booth said. "They ought not be doing that." (NCPR's story on concerns that the health of commercial forests in the Adirondack Park is eroding.)

Booth also blasted Park Agency staff for proposing this new clear-cutting policy without holding public hearings and without doing a complete environmental review of the policy's possible impacts.

He described their rationale for that decision as "fictitious."

Booth argued that if state regulations are outdated then the APA should undergo a process to reform its timber harvesting rules.

But other commissioners were clearly more comfortable with the idea of bringing outside non-profit groups into the process of monitoring timber harvests in the park.

They suggested that the new general permit would allow loggers more flexibility to use new harvest strategies that are discouraged by existing regulations.

"We're trying to be pro-active for a change rather than reactive, and I feel like you get slammed both ways," said board member Arthur Lussi.

"This is one time when I think we're trying to do something right and good."

That view was echoed by Frank Mezzano, who chairs the park's regulatory programs committee. He said the APA's staff "feels passionately that this is a good improvement over the status quo. I believe that to be true."

All sides agree that current harvesting practices in the Park are producing inferior forests, with the wrong kinds of trees allowed to regrow. The question is what to do about the problem.

This proposal is sure to come back for a vote in coming months and it's sure to remain controversial. Twelve regional and national environmental groups have lined up in opposition to the general permit concept.

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