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DEC and TNC Announce Agreement to Conserve Former Finch, Pruyn Lands: Careful Balance Ensures Protection of Critical Ecosystems, New Community Enhancements, and Economic Benefits

New York, NY - February 14, 2008 -  The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have reached a conceptual agreement to protect lands formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn and Co. in the Adirondack Park. The agreement will secure the future of these lands by expanding the state Forest Preserve, ensuring the continuation of timber harvesting, setting aside land for community housing and other local needs, and bolstering snowmobile trail networks.  Most significantly, the agreement was developed after extensive consultation with local government officials, and is designed to achieve a balance between the environmental benefits of preserving this extraordinary land and local economic development and recreational needs.

The former Finch, Pruyn lands, called by some the “jewel in the Adirondack crown,” are remarkable for their ecological diversity, astounding beauty and location in the heart of the Adirondack Park.  Much of the land adjoins the protected Forest Preserve and the agreement will keep intact large expanses of ecologically and economically important forests, the benefits of which range from mitigating the impacts of climate change to enhancing the Adirondack Park’s draw as a world-class tourist destination. 

The focus of today’s announcement is on the future of the northern holdings - 134,140 acres concentrated within the central lake and tourist region of the Adirondack Park in the towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson, Minerva, and Long Lake. Some of the most sensitive and unique ecosystems are found on those parcels. 

In developing the agreement for the future of the southern holdings - 27,000 acres - DEC and TNC will continue outreach efforts with other communities that have smaller parcels involved in the transaction, as well as with other stakeholder groups.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure the conservation of a critical area of Adirondack backcountry while supporting the people who live there,” said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “This agreement strikes a balance among environmental, economic and outdoor recreation needs. It incorporates what local communities told us was important to them. And, in the center of the Park, it adds to the acreage of lands to be kept ‘Forever Wild.’”

“The scale of this massive project allows for a variety of compatible uses,” said Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “It has been gratifying to roll up my sleeves and work with community leaders and other stakeholders to figure out where we can come together toward mutually agreeable outcomes. Most of all, it is exciting to see this globally important forest landscape protected.”
    
“The agreement between DEC and TNC is history in the making,” said Open Space Institute (OSI) President Joe Martens. OSI provided a $25 million loan to TNC to help it acquire the property from Finch, Pruyn.  “It is based on sound ecological principals, common sense and open dialogue. It will ensure the protection of a vast and increasingly important biological landscape, boost local economies and maintain many traditional uses of the properties,” Martens said. 

The former Finch holdings contain some of the wildest land remaining in the Adirondacks and, accordingly, are home to some of the state’s most impressive plant and animal diversity. A biological survey conducted in 2001 found 95 significant plant species, 37 of which are rare in New York and 30 rare or uncommon in the Adirondacks. From the imperiled Bicknell’s thrush to the striking scarlet tanager, many of the birds present need large swaths of contiguous forest to thrive.

Large and intact landscapes can respond and adapt to disturbances like wind and ice storms and provide better flood control. They also provide safe havens for species to move upslope and northward in response to a changing climate, and can better withstand invasions of damaging non-native plants, pests, and pathogens. The Finch lands protect critical gradient areas and link them to already protected high elevation areas of the Forest Preserve. 

DEC will now conduct an appraisal to determine the value of the Forest Preserve and easement lands in order to make a formal contract offer to TNC.

Key components of the agreement include:

Forest Preserve Additions: (57,699 acres or 43 percent of northern holdings) These parcels will be added to the lands kept “Forever Wild” in the Adirondacks—and off limits to development or forest management—while protecting the Upper Hudson River watershed and wildlife habitat. The area includes the Boreas Ponds, Essex Chain of Lakes, Hudson Gorge and Opalescent River headwaters. In the future, the public would gain access to these special places. 

Working Forest/Conservation Easement Lands: (73,627 acres or 54 percent of northern holdings)  The state will acquire conservation easements on these lands that will permit continued recreational leasing and open some new lands to the public for hiking, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities. TNC will ultimately sell these lands to a private forest products or investment company which means that more than half the property will remain available for timber production. The property is currently managed to the highest sustainable forestry standards and those practices will continue under the easement and future ownership.  A 20-year fiber supply agreement maintains the link between the property and the mill in Glens Falls. 

Property Taxes: During its interim ownership, The Nature Conservancy is paying property taxes. Upon completion of the acquisition process, the state will pay property taxes on Forest Preserve additions, as well as its share of the value on easement lands. Significantly, because of a tax abatement program that had substantially limited some of the property-tax assessments under Finch, Pruyn’s ownership, it is likely that some local property tax payments on these parcels would increase under the conceptual agreement. 

A Balance of Traditional Recreation with New Opportunities: At least two-thirds of the hunting clubs on these parcels, which occupy the land under year-to-year leases, will likely see no changes or can be readily accommodated because some or all of their lands fall under conservation easement.  The clubs with leases on lands that would become Forest Preserve would be granted a 10-year transition period. The agreement allows those clubs to retain exclusive use of the property for three years, followed by two years of exclusive use during the hunting and fishing seasons and then five years of camp use with shared public recreation. After that, the camps would be removed. Where possible, TNC has pledged to help relocate clubs being displaced.

The agreement also addresses the local communities’ desire to link snowmobile trails.  The agreement contemplates a network of trails linking North Hudson, Newcomb, Long Lake, Minerva, and Indian Lake.  

Jim Jennings, Executive Director of the New York State Snowmobile Association said, “We’ve consulted with Conservancy staff and think the proposed network will be a boon to the winter economy.” 

The agreement also strengthens the Adirondacks as a tourist destination through the expansion of hiking, hunting, fishing and paddling opportunities to both local residents and visitors. DEC also will work to designate some of the lakes and ponds on the Finch lands for float plane use. 

Community Enhancement:  Under the agreement, up to 1,098 acres of the northern holdings will be dedicated to a variety of community uses, such as public recreation facilities and community housing. The proposed uses are a result of extensive meetings with local government officials. TNC and DEC have engaged in unprecedented outreach efforts to the communities and stakeholder groups, led by DEC Region 5 Director Elizabeth Lowe and Mike Carr. 

Commissioner Grannis has pledged to work cooperatively with Adirondack communities. Last year, the state launched a $1 million grants program to promote smart growth in the Adirondack Park. DEC has involved towns in the planning of management of Forest Preserve lands, revised a management plan for the Moose River Plains because of local concerns and postponed the removal of float planes from Lows Lake until appropriate alternatives are found.
 
A map of the proposed classification breakdown, map of the proposed snowmobile network, and a fact sheet on the agreement can be found on the DEC website. 

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