Editor's Note: This story has been updated to note when the vote was scheduled on the logging regulations.
The Adirondack Park Agency has delayed a vote that had been scheduled for later this month on a proposed overhaul of state oversight of large-scale logging.
Thursday’s announcement comes amid accusations from environmentalists that state regulators tried to avoid public scrutiny of the proposal.
APA commissioners were scheduled to vote Jan. 10 on a slate of clear-cutting regulations touted by the logging industry, which would fast-track clear-cutting permits on tracts of more than 25 acres.
But four environmental groups blasted the proposal last month, calling it an erosion of the APA’s historic oversight of large timber operations, and claimed the state intentionally held the revised regulation’s public comment period over the holidays to side-step input.
The APA was flooded with public comments following the environmentalists’ complaints, requiring the APA to hold the proposal so the concerns can be addressed, according to APA spokesman Keith McKeever.
“We’ve got a lot to review,” McKeever said.
The environmental community, which views the proposal as a dangerous deregulation that potentially threatens millions of acres of private land throughout the park, hailed the APA’s decision to withhold the vote as a victory and an opportunity to potentially kill the proposal altogether.
“The way they’re carrying it out, it would be left to the private sector in terms of self-regulation,” said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan. “How well did that work with BP (British Petroleum)?”
APA’s former lead scientist, Dan Spada, said the agency’s 40-year-old regulations created a situation where woodlot owners selectively cut only the most valuable trees, creating unhealthy forests, to intentionally avoid the lengthy APA review process.
The streamlined process would incentivize modern sustainable logging practices, while creating healthier habitat, and drive substantially more landowners into state oversight, Spada said.
“All you have to do is look at an aerial photograph of the Adirondacks and you will see 20- or 25-acre patches,” said Eric Carlson, president of the Empire State Forest Products Association and an advocate of APA’s proposal. “That is not how you maintain forest land.”
Forest fragmentation is widely considered poor habitat for most indigenous bird and mammal species.
The days of strip-logging that decimated the Adirondacks in the 19th century are long gone, Carlson said, a change driven by consumer demand for “environmentally friendly” products.
“The Adirondacks are really the only place in New York with potential to feed that market,” Carlson said, specifically pointing to the sustainability-minded European paper market.
Environmentalists contend the new regulation would open many acres of state-protected easement lands to clear-cutting.
“The public has a clear expectation that conservation easement lands will be well managed over the long-term and, in addition to supplying wood to help the local economy, will also protect wildlife, scenic viewsheds, water quality,” wrote Peter Bauer, executive director of environmental group, Protect the Adirondacks. “Clear-cutting destroys all these other values.”
The regulations are primarily intended to fast-track permits, without full APA review, for landowners holding an international harvesting accreditation, Carlson said. He said domestic and international industry oversight organizations impose stringent internal regulations, which would ultimately bolster forest health.
Less than 20 percent of the 3 million acres of private land in the park have the accreditation, Carlson estimated.
Both sides of the issue hope to build further support for their view because of the hold-up.
And while environmentalists hope that the APA’s decision not to act means state officials are second-guessing the proposal, the agency insists the hold-up is merely a matter of responding to the comments.
“We still believe it’s a good proposal,” McKeever said.
It’s not known when APA commissioners would again consider the proposal, McKeever said.
State officials plan on initiating meetings with both sides of the issue in the coming weeks, McKeever said.