KEENE VALLEY - Though the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and other major institutions, over 104,000 acres of forestland in the northeastern part of the Adirondack Park have attained special status as protected land.
In December 2004, Domtar Industries sold all of its Adirondack holdings in Clinton and Franklin Counties, a total of 104,000 acres, to the Lyme Timber Company and The Nature Conservancy for a total of $23,730,000. Working in partnership with Lyme, the Conservancy, and local community leaders, New York State had agreed to secure the permanent protection of those properties. Four years later, the efforts have been finalized.
In October, the state purchased the 20,000 acres owned by the Nature Conservancy for over $9.8 million with nearly 17,000 acres becoming "forever wild" as part of the State Forest Preserve. The remaining 3,000 acres in the town of Dannemora are now considered State Forest land.
On Dec. 24, the state purchased a conservation easement to protect the remaining 84,000 acres, owned by Lyme Timber. This "working forest" easement promotes sustainable forest management and timber harvesting, restricts residential development and subdivision, and creates a balance of public recreational access and continued private recreational leasing on the property.
"With both of those transactions now complete, the state continues its exemplary vision and leadership, bolstering the Adirondack Park's impressive standing as a conservation model for the world," said Michael Carr, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter.
"What's more, the state has made another important investment in the forest products industry and the future of the Adirondacks," added Carr. "Without the state's conservation easement program, global market forces may have erased the timber industry from the Adirondack landscape."
In addition to the continuation of sustainable forestry, the conservation easement also includes access to nearly 30,000 acres that have been off-limits to the public for decades, including Sugarloaf Mountain, the Norton and Plumadore Ranges, and Barnes, Grass, Figure Eight, and Fish Hole Ponds. Combined with the 20,000 acres of new state lands, the public now has access to about 50,000 acres in a part of the park that has had limited opportunities for public recreation in the past.
The deal also secures public access to hiking trails on Lyon Mountain, the northeastern-most of the Adirondack's 46 high peaks.
Ecologically, the Sable Highlands includes 220 miles of permanent and seasonal streams, 2,600 acres of wetlands, and 20 lakes and ponds in the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain drainages. The area acts as a watershed for the Saranac, Salmon, and Chazy rivers.
The state appropriated an additional $10 million to purchase the easement, bringing the total state expenditures for the conservation project to roughly $20 million.
The transactions represent budgeted expenses from New York State's Environmental Protection Fund. With money provided primarily from a real estate transfer tax, that fund pays for environmental initiatives ranging from landfill closures to water quality improvement projects, as well as open space protections to zoos and interpretive facilities.
Additionally, private philanthropy played an important role in the success of this project, adding leverage to the state's investments. Over the past four years, generous individuals contributed some $4 million to The Nature Conservancy's Sable Highlands Campaign, helping to offset the overall costs to conserve such a huge swath of land.