By Peter Bauer
For The Daily Gazette
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) were tried this month for violating the notorious “forever wild” clause of New York’s constitution.
Neither agency was able to find a meaningful answer.
The damaged lands of the public forest reserve must be restored, official state policies that have degraded the state constitution must be reformed, and plans for a network of motorized trails that have forever violated wilderness must be rescinded.
Yet neither the DEC nor the APA have achieved a coherent and thoughtful response that recognizes their violations and takes responsibility for their mismanagement.
In a landmark decision of New York’s highest court, the notorious “forever wild” protection, enshrined in New York’s constitution since 1894, was upheld for the 3 million acre public forest reserve in Adirondack Park. and Catskill Park.
The Court of Appeal ruled this month in favor of Protect the Adirondacks which cuts more than 25,000 trees and clears over 27 acres of forest on the forest reserve in the Adirondacks to build 27 miles of known wide snowmobile trails under the name of “Class II Community Connector” trails, violated the state constitution.
Article 14, section 1 of the constitution protects the public forest reserve.
In all respects, it is the land of the people.
They belong to everyone and are open to everyone.
The clause states that the forest reserve “shall be forever preserved as wild forest land.
“They must not be rented, sold or traded, nor be taken by any company, public or private, and the timber in them must not be sold, removed or destroyed.”
Not a single word has changed in over 125 years.
The court ruled against the DEC and the APA, which had approved plans to build hundreds of kilometers of wide Class II trails in the forest reserve.
These trails are very different from hiking trails.
They cut a 9- to 20-foot-wide swath through the forest reserve, are leveled with heavy machinery to create a flat corridor, remove all rocks and roots, and cut down nearly 1,000 trees per mile.
The hiking trails are nothing like Class II trails, although many have tried to blur the differences.
Hiking trails are a few feet wide when built and allow cutting a few dozen trees per mile.
The courts have found that Class II trails are very different from hiking trails.
The state’s highest court saw this distinction, writing, “Class II trails require more interference with the natural development of the forest reserve than is necessary to accommodate hikers.
The court wrote that Class II trails “cannot be built like roads for cars or trucks, but neither are they built like typical hiking trails.”
The court concluded that “the door is closed because the planned Class II trails are prohibited by the Constitution”.
There are over 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails in New York City and over 2,000 miles in the Adirondacks.
This decision only stops this new type of trail built totally at odds with the forest reserve.
The Eternal Savage Clause is an alliance between the people and the state.
It was included in the constitution because its writers believed that due to a history of outside influence and corruption, neither the governor, nor lawmakers, nor state agencies, could have the power to ” make major changes to the forest reserve.
This power is reserved for the people.
Section 14 has been amended dozens of times to allow specific actions, but the last step has always been a people’s vote.
The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency now face major challenges in reforming their management of our public forest reserve.
These agencies must work to return to the good side of the forever wilderness and reform a series of policies and regulations and restore forest lands damaged by illegal Class II trails.
They should do so in an open and transparent manner.
They must explain publicly how they will keep our state’s forever wild protections.
Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.
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Categories: Guest column, Opinion