Editor's Note: The following is an abridged version of an essay on New York's "Forever Wild" clause.
I live and work in the Adirondack Park. A lot of the six million acres that make up this park is state-owned land under the control of the "Forever Wild" clause in New York State law. The issue of "Forever Wild" property retention by the state is now threatening our most important resource, healthy forests and their ecosystems. Times have changed and man's demand on resources is at a high. Right now, we have options for resource usage, but years down the road the options will become limited.
The "Forever Wild" idea was a very intelligent choice at the time when the careless destruction of forests was part of land use management practices in this vast northern area of the state during the 19th century. The forests had been clearcut for lumber, charcoal production, and agricultural purposes.
The watershed of the Hudson River, and thus New York City, was in danger of being destroyed by the haphazard logging practices. The "Forever Wild" ruling has kept development from happening, it allowed the reestablishment of vegetation for critical habitat areas, and it protected our fragile waterways and wetlands.
As much as not cutting trees sounds great to all, my education and experience in forestry has taught me that by doing nothing we our risking the very important resource we are trying to save. With abnormal weather patterns and the buildup of fuel on the forest floor, we could have a severe forest fire. There are no access roads since logging roads have been abandoned. There is no means of counteracting invasive species.
The poor past practices of high grading and clearcutting that were commonplace before the law was enacted, have left us with forests that grew back, but grew back unhealthy. We now have lots of trees, but the quality, species distribution, and health of the Adirondack forests has been lost. The "Forever Wild" law prohibits vegetation cutting and removal on all lands that fall within its bounds.
The current health of the "Forever Wild" lands is not ecologically well. These forests are not producing new trees as they should. Forests that are managed and periodically harvested in an ecologically viable way produces a forest of mixed aged trees with the best genetics out competing the less hardy trees. This means you always have young, growing trees and lots of species diversity.
This diversity is not limited to trees. If you can produce a forest with different levels and ages of trees, you create habitats for multitudes of different animal species and a growing habitat for different plant species. Healthy, growing forests convert more carbon dioxide into oxygen and tie up more carbon than stagnant, weak forests do. Healthy forests protect our waterways and water quality by acting as a buffer for runoff, sedimentation, and flood control. Healthy forests also create long-term revenue and lasting jobs for local communities.
We are heading into an energy crisis and one of our most important renewable resources is being overlooked and neglected. Wood can heat our homes, it can produce our electricity, and it can help offset petroleum by becoming a primary source of ethanol. All of these products will not only boost the local economy by easing fuel and heating costs, but they have the potential to produce large amounts of jobs.
People could find lifetime employment in proper management of the "Forever Wild" lands, not only through direct harvesting and logging jobs, but through new wood pellet factories, wood fired power plants, log truck companies, and ethanol production facilities. Our forests are local, thus transportation costs and transportation fuel demand to support these growing industries could be kept low. Between wood, wind, solar, and water power the Adirondack Park could become forever self-sustaining.
What I propose is we first concentrate protection on higher elevation ecosystems, shorelines, wetlands, and critical habitat areas. Next, determine where our new products can be utilized and create new demand for these products. I feel that the current focus should be concentrated on renewable energy production.
For example, the town of Tupper Lake would benefit from an electric cogeneration plant. Trees could be harvested from the surrounding "Forever Wild" state lands and be used to produce energy for the town. Every part of the equation is already in Tupper Lake, except for the plant. Local businesses and residents may also gain the benefit of steam for heat from the plant. Schools in Vermont are currently heating with wood chips produced locally, why aren't ours? This could be one way to teach responsibility to the next generations.
The final step in the process would be to come up with a unique forest management system that will upgrade our forest's health, species composition, and the ecosystems that make up the forests. More jobs, cleaner air, healthier forest ecosystems, and continuing revenue could and should happen through the careful harvesting of "Forever Wild" state land.
I consider myself an environmentalist and I also cut trees for a living. There is probably some sawdust in my blood as the saying goes. I know that when done properly, forestry has many positive outcomes. Many people are trained to think that cutting trees is a bad practice. In reality, proper forestry harvests the natural mortality. The trees that are harvested as part of forest management are the sick, dying, dead, and overmature trees that are going to fall down and rot on the forest floor naturally. Gasses like carbon dioxide are given off into the atmosphere through the decomposition process, so by using this wood instead of leaving it to rot we can harvest usable energy.
The next tree(s) that grows in its place ties up the carbon that we released through the energy making process. Please consider my plea to properly manage and harvest "Forever Wild" lands for the benefit of our future and to give our community lasting jobs, financial stability, and some pride in spending our hard earned money locally. It is the correct choice and the time is now.
Tom Bartiss Jr. is owner of Woods-Edge Forestry in Vermontville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org