- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New snowmobile trails being carved through the Adirondacks violate the “forever wild” clause of the state’s constitution because tens of thousands of trees are being cut and the forest’s character is being altered, an environmental group argued before a trial level state Supreme Court judge on Monday.

In a case that could clarify how much tree-cutting and land disturbance is acceptable when the Department of Environmental Conservation builds trails in the state-owned Forest Preserve, Protect the Adirondacks lawyer John Caffry said the 9-to-12-foot-wide “community connector” trails are more like roads than typical snowmobile trails and will destroy more than 31,000 trees.

Under the State Land Master Plan law, snowmobile trails are supposed to be similar to foot trails.

Assistant Attorney General Loretta Simon, representing the state agency, said the number of trees cut is far less because the agency counts only trees at least 3 inches in diameter. Simon also said the snowmobile trails are only a foot wider than new hiking trails.

Protect the Adirondacks argues that smaller saplings have ecological value and should be counted. The group also contends the Department of Environmental Conservation’s planned system of connector trails should be considered in its entirety when evaluating the impact on the Forest Preserve, rather than view each trail segment as a unique project.

The executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, Peter Bauer, said the case involves about 36 miles of snowmobile trails with separate segments around the central Adirondacks. Less than half the trail system has been completed, with the rest in the planning stages or halted by a court injunction secured by the environmental group pending the outcome of its lawsuit, which seeks to stop the trail construction.

The group says it’s not opposed to any trails, just to the way the state is creating them.

Two previous cases in the 122-year history of the state constitutional amendment protecting the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve have addressed the tree-cutting issue. In 1930, a planned Olympic bobsled run had to be relocated off state land when the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, said the constitution forbids removal of timber “to a substantial extent.” The project called for clearing about 2,500 trees from 4.5 acres.

An appellate court in 1993 ruled in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s favor on a hiking and cross-country ski trail project in the Catskills. That project called for cutting about 350 trees.

The clause says the land should be kept forever wild and prohibits cutting trees or selling or trading away land.

Attorney Neil Woodworth, who represents the Adirondack Mountain Club, which is not involved in this lawsuit, said, this case “may make it clearer how many trees can be cut for a snowmobile trail and whether you aggregate trails being constructed as part of a system to determine the number of trees involved.”


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