American Forests

Autumn 2011

Home/Tug of War in Adirondack Park

Tug of War in Adirondack Park

By Darrin Youker

Adirondack Park, New York. Credit: Carl Heilman

Forever Wild — those two words have long governed New York’s approach to protecting its forested lands in Adirondack Park. That phrase, written into the state’s constitution, is more than just a simple guideline to forestry; it is a barrier to prevent anyone from removing even a single tree from state-owned land in the park. The Adirondacks, a six-million-acre park made up of public and private lands, is as big as the state of Vermont, and the protections given to its woods are some of the most stringent in the world. Yet some believe the time has come to tweak those rules.

In the ongoing push and pull between the protection of wilderness and the need to create a sustainable economy in the park, some are looking to logging to help propel future growth. A New York State senator has proposed a bill to open up logging on a tract of land in Adirondack Park that the state plans to purchase from The Nature Conservancy; land that the nonprofit acquired from a large paper manufacturer.

New York already allows logging in state forests outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. The bill, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Little of the 45th District, would also allow logging on future state land purchases. It would not apply to the state’s current 2.5-million-acre landholdings in Adirondack Park.

Senator Little, a Republican who represents much of the Adirondack area, does not want the state to buy any more private land within the Adirondack boundary, believing New York’s landholdings are large enough. Adding more land to state control, she says, would hurt the timber industry at a time when communities in the region need good, paying jobs.

However, should the state acquire any more land, Little said she wants to make sure that logging is allowed in every purchase. She believes that a better philosophy for New York to follow is to obtain conservation easements from private property owners; under such easements, timber harvesting would still be allowed, and land would remain in private control.

According to Little, communities in the region are graying, with census numbers showing that the concentration of seniors within the Adirondacks is comparable to some communities in Florida. What the Adirondacks need are family-sustaining jobs, and logging has been a base of employment for generations, Little argues: “What we are seeing is the inability to sustain a grocery store, to continue having volunteer firefighters, and we are seeing declining enrollment in our schools.”

Bringing logging to new state forest lands will be no small task. Two sessions of the New York State Legislature must approve the change, and then voters must approve amending the state constitution, according to John Sheehan, spokesman with the Adirondack Council, an environmental group that opposes the legislation. “Its chances of passage are unrealistic,” he says.


New York has a history of job creation through logging, but a lack of regulations led to a deforested landscape. Credit: New York State Archives

New York’s stringent approach to forest protection did not happen by accident. It was the culmination of a pressing need to defend a rapidly declining forest resource that protects the water supply for downstream cities. In the late 1800s, the Adirondacks were a hefty source of lumber for growing American cities. At times, lumber companies were clear-cutting vast reserves of forest and then letting the land go back for tax sale, costing communities valuable revenue, Sheehan notes. Plus, the Adirondacks are the headwaters for a number of rivers, including the Hudson, and more than a dozen cities use Adirondack water as their drinking source.

In 1892, the state created Adirondack Park, a bold move that predated the creation of many national parks. It was not a park in the traditional sense. State officials drew a blue line on a map encircling the region and set about on a course to buy properties within that boundary. Since then, there has been a mixture of public and private lands within Adirondack Park.

During the park’s early days, clear-cutting was rampant. “They were leaving behind a devastated landscape,” Sheehan says. That led to the creation of a state constitutional amendment in 1895 that banned logging outright on state lands, requiring that they remain “forever wild.”

“It is still the strongest and strictest forest protection in the world,” Sheehan claims, adding that many New Yorkers do not want to see it tampered with. “We believe there is a lot of support for the ‘forever wild’ clause.”

Sheehan believes that opening up newly acquired state forest lands could cause a drop in timber prices. Some of the land that New York wants to add to its forest system also contains some of the last old-growth woods in the park, and that habitat should be maintained.

Little believes that logging is essential to the Adirondacks, along with the support it provides to paper mills within or near the park boundary. Although environmental groups believe the state forest systemis healthy, the senator also asserts that the inability to remove downed wood or harvest old timber chokes out new growth. She believes that opening the lands to logging would encourage not only the forest but also the local economy to grow.

“Government is probably the biggest employer in the park,” Little says. “What we need is more private-sector growth. You will not get that when you make more timber lands into state lands.”

Little’s bill proposes that any logging done on state forest lands would be supervised by the Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure that the forest is managed sustainably.

For the better part of a century, the Finch Pruyn paper company was an economic engine in Glens Falls, a small city on the Hudson River just outside the park boundary. At one time, the timber giant was the second-largest private landowner in the state. But in 2007, Finch Pruyn was looking to divest some of its landholdings.

Scenic byways and other recreational opportunities bring in tourists to generate income for the local economy. Credit: Courtesy of

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) stepped in, purchasing 161,000 acres of lands untouched by development in the heart of the Adirondack wilderness. Those lands contain vast tracts of forest, the highest waterfall in the park, and scenic vistas of gorges along the Hudson River. It was an acquisition heralded by environmentalists and recreation enthusiasts, thrilled that so much previously closed wilderness would be open to the public.

The TNC staff had worked with foresters at Finch Pruyn on a number of forestry conservation issues, says Michael Carr, executive director of the Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. That close relationship helped TNC step in on this once-in-alifetime opportunity.

The $110-million purchase gave TNC a landholding the size of 11 Manhattan Islands, spread across six different counties. The properties adjoin state lands in many places and were often devoid of any roads. A large band of marble runs across the center of the landholding, creating a rich soil that grows a number of rare plants.

“When you look at timber data on the Finch lands, it reveals that these lands are very well stocked and well managed,” Carr says. “They connect a lot of water courses and contain the headwaters of many, many rivers.”

After the land acquisition, TNC went through an 18-month process to analyze the property’s ecological value and devise a plan for how to use the resources. Working with local and state government officials, scientists, and other environmental organizations, TNC decided to sell 92,000 acres to a timber investment firm, from which state officials later acquired a conservation easement. That opened up areas for snowmobile trails, a vital economic resource for the park during the long winter months.

Of the remaining land, the consensus among those various groups was to set aside 65,000 acres of forest that represented a rich ecological resource and open up new areas for public recreation. The state has agreed to buy those lands, but the decline in the economy has delayed the purchase, Carr says. Since then, some local government leaders like Senator Little have balked at the plan, arguing the state has too much forest land already.

Since the early 1990s, according to Sheehan, the state has eyed the Finch land as a possible addition to its forest holding because it represents such a diverse habitat and provides public access to some of New York’s most scenic areas. Uneven terrain and sensitive ecological sites also make many of the areas inside those 65,000 acres unsuitable for logging. Carr adds that recreation and tourism are major economic drivers in the park, which will only increase with this land purchase. However, if Little’s bill passes, logging activity would seriously limit recreation opportunities across those 65,000 acres, as well as threaten the ecological stability of sensitive areas and fragment the habitats on which local wildlife depend.

“The Adirondacks are the best example in the world of a temperate deciduous forest,” Carr says. “These lands are critical to protecting that habitat.”

Darrin Youker is an environmental reporter from Reading, Pennsylvania, and can be reached at


  1. R Marquez January 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Concerning logging within park boundaries on state owned holdings. Couldn’t a Class system be implemented? i.e. Class “A” – Forever Wild, Class “B” – Limited Logging (trees of X size or larger only), etc. I am from PA and visit the park once or twice a year, and do love seeing the “Forever Wild” areas and have enjoyed them going on 30 years. However, controlled logging shouldn’t be viewed as a negeative as it promotes forest regeneration, provides wildlife with much needed undergrowth/forage, and economic oppurtunities. Each location could be reviewed by the state for potential environmental impacts to address special ecosystems, whether old growth, habitat for T&E plant/animal species, etc. at the time of purchase and provided a classification that cannot be altered, unless it provides greater protection to the resource (i.e. moving a property up in Class towards “Forever Wild”).

  2. Cory October 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    It should remain forever wild if anything we shouldn’t allow logging to take away these ancient trees or new enviroment create jobs that get rid of downed trees and negatives that pervent future growth but don’t let them cut down the forest thriving already

  3. Nick November 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm - Reply


    The problem is the only industry other then the few towns that have tourism is logging, and like the artical stated, these towns are dieing, they have no economy. I like the class system that is a good idea.

  4. Hans Holzschlag July 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Take your logging only to hurricane damaged areas of NY state and salvage log them to protect the PRISITINE Adirondacks!

    • Lynn Galarneau February 4, 2015 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      The problem is that many of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irene are those that are in the designated wilderness areas. Take Giant Mountain Wilderness area for example. The town of Keene lies just outside the boundary and was devastated. Trees are lying down in great numbers, but no one is allowed to do anything about it. I am from a small town within the Blue Line and can tell you that the economy of the area is none existent. Other than season tourism jobs, a couple hospitals, and a few prisons, there are very few jobs. I’m not saying that logging is the answer, but it would provide long term employment to some of the residents. In 2012 downstate was trying to dig out from Hurricane Sandy. However, upstate is still trying to repair the damage from Irene. Betty Little isn’t asking for clear cutting. Many times areas that have been damaged by major storms can’t be cleaned up because they are on “Forever Wild” land.

  5. Hans Holzschlag July 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    As part of the hurricane Sandy (or other hurricane) response plan, the loggers of the Adirondacks should have dropped their work in the Adirondacks to stay in hotels, along the coastline of NY,CT, MA, in order to log and truck logs to Adirondack mills. THERE IS A PARTNERSHIP TO BE MADE BETWEEN THE COASTLINE AND THE ADIRONDACK LOGGING TOWNS. The coastal trees grow much larger and their removal accomplishes both “clean up and restoration of power” and an economic boost to the adirondack loggers without any logging in the Adirondacks. PERFECT SOLUTION. DOWNSTATE ARBORISTS LACK the equipment and skill to bring logs to mills so hurricane sandy wood was BURNED AND WASTED! Check out wald wissen website for German forestry models.

  6. hans holzschlag July 22, 2014 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    We have no sympathy for the dying economies of the Adirondacks if you self-defeatingly censor all suggestions that are econmically and environmentally responsible.

  7. Glenn June 22, 2015 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    While I am sometimes in favor of logging, in certain places, there is a very strong ecological argument to leaving trees where they fall, after a disturbance such as a hurricane.

    As somebody who works on the front lines of backcountry recreation, I find myself making the same argument on a small scale, in defense of campfire bans. People says, “but what if it’s dead and down.” What they don’t consider is that in an ideal, closed-circuit ecosystem, no nutrients are removed from that system. Humans come in, and disturb that closed circuit and remove vital cordage in nutrient content, in what they ignorantly view to be “waste” wood. The fact is that, after a disturbance like the hurricanes, the downed trees often provide habitat for small seed trees, like Hemlocks to grown, as they decompose. Further, they are often called “nurse logs,” since as they decompose, and as vegetation sprouts on those logs, vital nutrients for the regeneration of those plant communities, are taken up in the new root systems. Without leaving some deadfall, that you conveniently call “salvage,” and criticize the state for leaving in place, a healthy forested ecosystem would be inconceivable.

    Now, to me, the real problem is, how do we educate people so they see that the forest they love needs them to leave it alone… Maybe some people should leave the park and search for economic opportunities in places that aren’t ecologically important or sensitive. I know its not easy. I love the Adirondacks, and I hate leaving to find winter work when the conservation season is over, and I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to find permanent work so I can stay here. But, I recognize, that my wants and needs are less important than having a place that people aren’t allowed to destroy. I know people who lived for generations in Hamilton County, where the kids are all moving away, because there is nothing in the park for them. I know that is hard. But, conservation is hard for our very beaver-like instincts.

  8. Gary Jakacky November 16, 2015 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    The Class system is the best idea. To suggest there are NO AREAS in the Adirondacks that cannot be logged is absolutely ridiculous. I live in an area which is a former logging camp/ski area/retreat center and there are vast swatches of the property that can be cleared so that sustained growth of the trees that remain is enhanced. I know dozens of NY residents who heat, cool, cook, and clean with natural gas fired appliances, but of course resolutely oppose fracking. Much the same hypocrisy applies to logging.

Leave A Comment