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SEQRA for Heartland Forestlands Easement Modification

DEC Modifies Heartwood Forestland Conservation Easements to Allow for the Continued Leasing of 220 Camps In Exchange for 2,800 Acres of Heartwood Property for The People of the State of New York

Press Release - March 30, 2012

Map of Lands Acquired by the State for Addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve and State Forests (PDF) (551 KB)

DEC completed a findings statement on the proposed action to modify three working forest conservation easements held by The People of the State of New York on lands owned by Heartwood Forestland Fund III, LP, formerly owned by Champion International. The findings were based on a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) of the proposed action, publicly released on July 27, 2011, in which no public comments were received. The FEIS was a revision of the Draft EIS, which was first issued on November 11, 2009 in the Environmental Notice Bulletin. During the 48 day public comment period on the Draft, DEC received a total of 78 letters and emails, of which 73 were from current camp lessees and club lessee members in support of the proposed action. The FEIS and a Response to Public Comments Summary responded to concerns and questions received by current camp lessees and four environmental organizations, in addition to providing updated decisions issued by the Adirondack Park Agency, an involved agency in the action. Based on the FEIS, public comments received on the Draft EIS, and findings, DEC moved forward with amending the conservation easements and recently closed on the agreement.

SEQRA Findings Statement, September 16, 2011

This findings statement has been prepared pursuant to Article 8 ("State Environmental Quality Review Act", or "SEQRA") of the Environmental Conservation Law and its implementing regulations found at 6NYCRR Part 617.

The Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC"), as lead agency, has completed a draft and a final environmental impact statement ("EIS") for the action described below and has taken into consideration the relevant environmental impacts, facts, conclusions disclosed in the final EIS and comments received during the public review process, and makes the following findings.

Name of the Action: Modification of Working Forest Conservation Easements Held by DEC on Lands Owned by Heartwood Forestland Fund III, LP

SEQRA Classification: Type I Action

Description of the Action: The proposed action will modify three (3) working forest conservation easements ("Easements") held by the People of the State of New York, acting by and through the Commissioner of DEC. The Easements encumber 110,000 acres of land in the northwestern Adirondack Park and are owned by Heartwood Forestland Fund III, LP ("Heartwood").

The significant modifications to the Easements being proposed under this action include: (i) the permanent right to allow Heartwood to retain up to 220 hunting and fishing camps on the Easements, which would otherwise terminate in 2014; (ii) the permanent right to allow Heartwood to lease one-acre privacy areas around each camp ("Camp Envelopes"); (iii) new restrictions on camp structures and camp lessee motor vehicle and motorized vehicle (particularly ATV) access to each camp; and (iv) a new option for Heartwood to enroll in a third-party sustainable forestry certification program. In exchange of these rights, Heartwood will convey 2,708 acres in fee (all property rights) of certain Easement and unencumbered private lands to The People of the State of New York.

Location: Towns of Waverly, Santa Clara and Duane, Franklin County; Towns of Hopkinton, Clifton and Clare, St. Lawrence County; and Towns of Croghan and Watson, Lewis County.

DEC Jurisdiction: New York State Environmental Conservation Law Section 49-0307 (3) (a) provides DEC with the authority to modify or extinguish a conservation easement held by a public body inside the Adirondack Park, as provided in the instrument creating the easement; and where paragraph (19) of the Easements' Terms and Conditions allows for the Easement to be amended by mutual agreement in writing by Heartwood, its successors and the State of New York.

Date Final EIS Filed: July 27, 2011

Facts and Conclusions Relied on to Support the Decision:

1. Based on the Draft EIS, public comments and the Final EIS, DEC has determined the following:

a. Implementation of the proposed action is consistent with and supportive of the principal objective of the Easements, which is "to encourage the long-term professional management of those forest resources." Heartwood's right to continue private leasing of 220 camps on their Easements properties will result in additional revenue generation, potentially increasing the economic viability of its sustainable working forest business and resulting in additional protections of local jobs and sustainable forest product commerce within northern New York.

b. Modification of a footnote within the original Easements "Declaration of Restrictions" would ensure that "forest management activities" and the use of motorized vehicles are reserved rights restricted to Heartwood and its successor only, which has the potential to decrease future motorized vehicle use and any potential illegal use with its associated adverse environmental impacts on the Easements and adjacent Forest Preserve lands.

c. Economic benefits are provided by clubs and camp lessees to the surrounding local communities, including local tax revenue generated by the lease camps, which amounted to approximately 2% of the total assessed value of the Champion International lands in 1999 or approximately $176,000.

d. Hunting clubs and families have leased the camps on the Easement lands for decades and hold a personal knowledge of, attachment, and investment in these lands. This personal knowledge provides The People of the State of New York additional stewardship on extensive areas of remote state-owned Easements in the Adirondacks.

e. Continuation of Heartwood's camp leasing rights on the Easements is consistent with the rights of other private landowners, who hold similar working forest conservation easements negotiated and acquired by The People of the State of New York, and which DEC and the public have found to be acceptable both economically, socially, and ecologically in supporting the goals of private working forest landowners, in addition to being compatible with the state's ongoing Working Forest Conservation Easement program.

f. A majority of camp lessees are state citizens who hold long-standing family traditions and gatherings on the Easement lands with the predominant recreational use of the camps being used for extended overnight hunting and fishing on the Heartwood properties; and where the remoteness of the Easement lands, the long-standing history of camp and club leases, and the use of the lands as active working forests, contribute to the lands being suitable for continued camp and club recreational use.

g. In exchange for providing Heartwood the permanent right to lease up to 220 hunting and fishing camps, Heartwood will convey 2,708 acres of their land in fee (all property rights) to The People of the State of New York. 2,164 acres of the total amount is located along the Deer River and will become part of the Forest Preserve. The remaining 562 acres is along the eastern shore of the Deer River just outside the Adirondack Park and will be added to State Forest lands. Both properties will provide additional recreational and ecological value to the existing and adjacent state resources.

h. A new option provided under Heartwood's sustainable forestry rights would allow them and their successors the option to enroll their Easement lands into a sustainable forestry certification program, approved by DEC. This option will provide additional sustainable forestry protections for the state and will assist DEC in monitoring several thousand acres of Easement lands, allowing for the potential decrease of state staff time and cost, while providing Heartwood the additional opportunity to market their products as "green-certified."

i. Associated adverse impacts related to the continuation of Heartwood's camp leasing rights and the continued existence of 220 camp leases on the Easement lands could result in: (i) bacterial contamination of surface water or groundwater from associated camp outhouses; (ii) aesthetic or scenic impacts from the continued existence of camps and associated structures on the Easement lands; (iii) overharvesting of fish and game from the continued use of the Easement lands by camp lessees; (iv) loss of 220 acres of Easement lands from the addition of one‐acre "Camp Envelopes" for each of the 220 camps; (v) discouragement of general public recreational use from the continuation of camp lessee use; and (vi) the potential illegal use of motorized vehicles (particularly, ATVs) by camp lessees and its associated adverse environmental impacts on the Easement lands and adjacent Forest Preserve lands.

j. These potential adverse impacts will be mitigated through: (i) the proposed modifications which impose size, setback and motor vehicle access restrictions on the camps, in addition to, (ii) APA Project Permit 2010-298, which imposes similar size and set-back restrictions on camps and associated camp outhouses. Both sets of restrictions will assist in mitigating potentially significant adverse impacts to water and aesthetic or scenic impacts. Adverse impacts to fish and game from overharvesting and any potential discouragement of public recreational use on the Easement lands will be addressed through DEC's recreation management planning process, which is also subject to SEQRA.

k. The identified potential adverse impacts were not determined to be significant as the proposed modifications remain consistent with the Easements' continued use and purpose as an active working forest, where sustainable logging continues to take place, established logging roads remain, and where the remaining camps and "Camp Envelopes" are located in dense proximity with one another, and located along existing roads.

Alternatives to revision of the Plan include:

Besides the "no action" alternative, no other alternatives are proposed. DEC has developed the proposed modifications through extensive negotiations over several years with Heartwood, where possible alternatives were examined. Therefore, the proposed action is the most reasonable and feasible alternative to no action.

1. No Action

a. If the original Easements are not modified and remain unchanged, the result will be the removal of all leased hunting and fishing camps on the Easement lands within three (3) years of the June 30, 2014 camp leasing termination date. This alternative was not selected because it would result in economic losses to the commercial working forest landowner, which would diminish the viability of the Easement lands' use for sustainable forestry purposes to help keep large tracts of forestland in private ownership and contribute to New York's forest products industry.

b. If the camps are to be removed, DEC would have limited ability to restrict Heartwood's reserved right to allow private use of motor vehicles on the Easement lands. Arguably, this right of Heartwood could be exercised in perpetuity, even if the hunting and fishing camps are removed from the property in accordance with the terms of the original Easements. Unless significant damage to natural resources on the Easement lands or nearby adjacent lands are clearly linked to guests of Heartwood, DEC could have difficulty addressing motorized vehicle violations occurring on the Easement lands without the presence of long-term and invested camp lessees on the Easements to assist in recognizing violations.

c. Without the modifications, DEC would lose the potential and likely benefit of the presence of an independent inspection and auditing team to help monitor Heartwood's compliance with the sustainable forestry terms of the Easements and the opportunity to reduce state costs and staff time.

Certification to Approve/Fund/Undertake:

Having considered the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement and having considered the preceding written facts and conclusions relied on to meet the requirements of 6 NYCRR Section 617.11, this Statement of Findings certifies that:

1. The requirements of 6NYCRR Section 617, implementing Article 8 of the ECL (SEQR) have been met.

2. Consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations from among the reasonable alternatives, the action to be implemented is one that avoids or minimizes adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable, and that adverse environmental impacts will be avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable by incorporating as conditions to the decision those mitigative measures that were identified as practicable.

3. The New York State ECL Section 49-0307(3)(a) provides DEC with the authority to modify or extinguish a conservation easement held by a public body inside the Adirondack Park, as provided in the instrument creating the easement, and where the primary purpose of the Easements is to maintain and support the long-term use and availability of these lands for sustainable forest management, in a way that is economically viable and avoids or minimizes negative impacts to water quality, soil productivity, sensitive species or biological communities, and other natural resources on the Easement lands. This action will achieve a balance between the protection of the environment and the need to accommodate economic considerations as intended under the Easements' primary purpose.

_________________________

/s/

_________________________

Joseph J. Martens, DEC Commissioner

Dated: September 16, 2011

Albany, NY

_________________________

FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) (PDF) (386 KB)

FEIS Appendices

2009 New York State Open Space Conservation Plan


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