Often, it’s not the value of a piece of legislation, but the negative perception of that legislation, that prevents a good law from being passed.
Such is the case with two proposed pieces of state legislation — one that would allow people to gather up fallen trees in the state Forest Preserve and another that would allow limited maple-tree tapping on state land. Both bills would help residents and businesses without harming the environment, and both should be passed this legislative session.
The so-called “dead-wood” proposal would allow people to harvest downed trees lying within 50 feet of a roadway in the 2.6-million-acre Adirondack Forest Preserve. Wood removed from the sides of roadways could be used by economically struggling Adirondackers, who could gather it for firewood to heat their homes or to sell. Some of the fallen timber might even have limited use by saw mills and builders as lumber for construction. During the great ice storm of 1998, millions of usable fallen trees were wasted and allowed to rot on the forest floor because of the Forest Preserve’s harvesting ban.
Since the new legislation dictates that wood could only be collected within 50 feet of a roadway, human intrusion into the massive Forest Preserve would be limited. Since people wouldn’t be able to cut down trees, even those that appear to be dead, there would be no risk of unauthorized logging. And under the law, the state Department of Environmental Conservation would be empowered to place restrictions on removal of wood, thereby limiting abuses.
The bill is co-sponsored by state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, who are among the most knowledgeable state legislators in Albany on Adirondack issues.
So it’s all good, right? Well, not quite. Environmental groups are lobbying against the bill and are confident it will be defeated. But why are they so adamantly against people picking up some logs lying by the side of the road?
For starters, they say this legislation represents a slippery slope toward timber harvesting in the Forest Preserve. That’s not true. Nothing in New York state goes down a slippery slope, except maybe the economy. Any bill to alter the Forest Preserve, including this one, would have to be passed by two separately elected state legislative bodies, and then by voters in a statewide referendum. At minimum, the process takes two years, hardly a slippery slope.
Another reason some groups oppose it is because they say the law is largely unenforceable. Given the size of the DEC’s staff these days, there’s little chance that violators of the rule could be caught. That’s true. But how does that differ from the current situation? Any logger right now could sneak in and steal wood from anywhere within the preserve with little chance of being detected. A law allowing the roadside removal of timber might actually discourage people from going deeper into the woods because they wouldn’t have to hide from forest rangers.
Environmental groups also say it’s not good for the environment to remove dead wood. It’s true, rotting logs contribute to the rejuvenation of the forest. But again, we’re only talking about logs that have fallen near the road. Given the small volume of wood available, in context of the size of the Forest Preserve, this will hardly have a negative environmental effect.
Another piece of legislation that will hardly have a negative environmental effect is one proposed by Washington County lawmaker Tony Jordan that would allow people to tap maple trees on state land. Syrup producers and farmers would lease land from the state. The revenue from leases would be used for conservation or for farm-preservation efforts. Vermont’s maple-sugaring industry is helped by similar leasing arrangements for state land, so it’s not unusual for the state to allow this kind of activity.
Maple sugaring doesn’t harm healthy trees, and the issuance of permits would limit the degree and impact of the sugaring. The law wouldn’t open up all state land to widespread tree-tapping. Administrative duties could be shared by the DEC and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, or permit fees could be used to increase staffing. And as with the dead-wood legislation, any sugaring in the Forest Preserve would have to be approved through the lengthy constitutional amendment process.
State lawmakers should put aside any negative perceptions they might have and look at the facts before voting. These bills are good for people and good for the environment.
What legitimate reason could anyone possibly have for voting no?
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Tom Sullivan.