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State Land Classifications

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The Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for over 4.5 millions acres of public land in New York State. These lands are managed according to the following classifications:

  1. Forest Preserve
  2. State Forests
  3. Wildlife Management Areas
  4. Conservation Easements

I. Forest Preserve

Protected by Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, the Forest Preserve is defined as public lands in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks within "forest preserve counties" as defined by the New York State Legislature. These lands are identified as [ECL 9-0101]"...lands owned or hereafter acquired by the state within the county of Clinton, except the towns of Altona and Dannemora, and the counties of Delaware, Essex, Franklin Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Oneida, Saratoga, Saint Lawrence, Warren, Washington, Greene, Ulster and Sullivan,..."

Forest Preserve lands are further broken down into categories based on their capacity to withstand use. These categories are defined in the 1987 (updated 2010) Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP) and/or the 1985 (updated 2008) Catskill Park State Land Master Plan (CPSLMP) depending on which Park(s) they are found in. These classifications are:

  1. Wilderness
  2. Wild Forest
  3. Canoe (Adirondacks only)
  4. Primitive (Adirondacks only)
  5. Primitive Bicycle Corridor (Catskills only)
  6. Intensive Use
  7. Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers (Adirondacks only)
  8. Travel Corridors (Adirondacks only)
  9. Historic (Adirondacks only)
  10. State Administrative
  11. Detached Forest Preserve

A. Wilderness

[APSLMP and CPSLMP] A wilderness area, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man - where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. A wilderness area is further defined to mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character, without significant improvement or protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary, its natural conditions, and which

  1. generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable;
  2. has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation;
  3. has at least ten thousand acres of contiguous land and water or is of sufficient size and character as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and
  4. may also contain ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, scenic or historical value.

B. Wild Forest

[APSLMP] A wild forest area is an area where the resources permit a somewhat higher degree of human use than in wilderness, primitive or canoe areas, while retaining an essentially wild character. A wild forest area is further defined as an area that frequently lacks the sense of remoteness of wilderness, primitive or canoe areas and that permits a wide variety of outdoor recreation.

[CPSLMP] A wild forest area is an area of Forest Preserve land whose character as a natural plant and animal community receives the same degree of protection under Article XIV of the Constitution as in areas classified as wilderness, but which differs from wilderness in that generally:

  • The physical characteristics of wild forest areas are capable of withstanding higher levels of recreational use;
  • Wild forest areas convey less of a sense of remoteness and provide fewer outstanding opportunities for solitude for visitors, and therefore;
  • Wild forest areas are managed to provide opportunities for a greater variety of recreational activities and a higher intensity of recreational use.

C. Canoe (Adirondacks only)

[APSLMP] A canoe area is an area where the watercourses or the number and proximity of lakes and ponds make possible a remote and unconfined type of water-oriented recreation in an essentially wilderness setting. The terrain associated with parcels meeting the above definition is generally ideally suited to ski touring and snowshoeing in the winter months.

D. Primitive (Adirondacks only)

[APSLMP] A primitive area of land or water that is either:

  1. Essentially wilderness in character, but
    1. contains structures, improvements, or uses that are inconsistent with wilderness, as defined, and whose removal, though a long term objective, cannot be provided for by a fixed deadline; and/or
    2. contains, or is contiguous to, private lands that are of a size and influence to prevent wilderness designation; or,
  2. Of a size and character not meeting wilderness standards, but where the fragility of the resource or other factors require wilderness management.

E. Primitive Bicycle Corridor (Catskills only)

[CPSLMP] A Primitive Bicycle Corridor is a linear area of Forest Preserve land, adjacent to or going through, a Wilderness Area, where bicycles are permitted, but which is otherwise managed as wilderness. This is a new land classification and was not identified in the original 1985 Master plan. The physical character of this corridor is usually an old road, often used as a foot trail, which has historic bicycling use, as allowed according to the 1985 Master plan. The Primitive Bicycle Corridor is 100 feet wide, 50 feet each side from the center line of an existing trail. The trails within the corridor have been located with differential GPS, and are digitally located on area maps. The width of this corridor will allow for minor relocations of the trail when environmental conditions warrant such relocations. Maintenance may be minimal in nature; these trails within the corridors will not be made "smooth" bike paths, but substantially left in their current condition - often rocky and rough. However, maintenance activities for erosion control will be allowed. In addition, trailhead signage will be used to notify users that bicyclists may be on the trail to help reduce potential user conflicts.

F. Intensive Use

[APSLMP] An intensive use area is an area where the state provides facilities for intensive forms of outdoor recreation by the public. Two types of intensive use areas are defined by this plan: campground and day use areas. These areas provide overnight accommodations or day use facilities for a significant number of visitors to the Park and often function as a base for use of wild forest, wilderness, primitive and canoe areas.

[CPSLMP] An Intensive Use Area is an area of State land where the department may:

  1. offer opportunities for an array of outdoor recreational activities that are appropriate to a wild forest setting, and
  2. develop recreational facilities that will accommodate relatively high densities of visitors while conforming in design and intensity of development with the wild character of the Forest Preserve. Intensive Use Areas include campgrounds, day use areas, fishing access sites, ski centers and visitor information centers.

G. Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers (Adirondacks only)

[APSLMP] A wild river is a river or section of river that is free of diversions and impoundments, inaccessible to the general public except by water, foot or horse trail, and with a river area primitive in nature and free of any man-made development except foot bridges.

A scenic river is a river or section of river that I free of diversions or impoundments except for log jams, with limited road access and with a river area largely primitive and undeveloped, or that is partially or predominantly used for agriculture, forest management and other dispersed human activities that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of the river and its shore.

A recreational river is a river or section of river that is readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have development in the river area that may have undergone some diversion or impoundment in the past.

H. Travel Corridors (Adirondacks only)

[APSLMP] A travel corridor is that strip of land constituting the roadbed and right-of-way for state and interstate highways in the Adirondack Park, the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right of way, and those state lands immediately adjacent to and visible from these facilities.

I. Historic (Adirondacks only)

[APSLMP] Historic areas are locations of buildings, structures or sites owned by the state (other than the Adirondack Forest Preserve itself) that are significant in the history, architecture, archaeology or culture of the Adirondack Park, the state or the nation; that fall into one of the following categories:

  1. state historic sites;
  2. properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places;
  3. properties recommended for nomination by the Committee on Registers of the New York State Board for Historic Preservation; and that are of a scale, character and location appropriate for designation as an historic area under this master plan and the state has committed resources to manage such areas primarily for historic objectives.

J. State Administrative

[APSLMP] State administrative areas are areas where the state provides facilities for a variety of specific state purposes that are not primarily designed to accommodate visitors to the Park.

This category, like the travel corridor category with which it is closely associated, contains a wide variety of developed areas related directly to the activities of many state agencies. It includes the administrative offices of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of State Police and Adirondack Park Agency itself as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation fish hatcheries, Department of Transportation offices and maintenance and storage sites, the Atmospheric Science and Research Center at Whiteface Mountain, the Sunmount Developmental Center, the Adirondack Correctional Facility, the Dannemora Correctional Facility, Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility, Camp Gabriels and several sewage treatment plants operated by the Environmental Facilities Corporation. All of these facilities are in close proximity to public highways and are generally in developed areas of the Park.

[CPSLMP] Administrative areas are locations within the Catskill Park under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Conservation, which were acquired and are managed for other than Forest Preserve purposes.

There are three areas that fall within this category; the Vinegar Hill Wildlife Refuge, the Simpson Ski Slope and the Catskill Mountain Fish Hatchery, which includes the DeBruce Environmental Education Camp.

K. Detached Forest Preserve

Detached Forest Preserve parcels are classified as Forest Preserve but located outside the Catskill and Adirondack Park boundaries. These properties range in size from 0.5 to 739 acres. They are not managed for timber production and have relatively poor access with no developed trails or facilities, but do provide ample wildlife habitat and watershed protection values. These detached forest preserve parcels were owned by the state before the Adirondack and Catskill Parks were created and were in Forest Preserve counties where forested lands acquired by the state later became Forest Preserve lands. Eventually the Adirondack and Catskill Parks were established, within which state lands acquired would usually become Forest Preserve, while outside the Parks most new acquisitions would become other categories of DEC lands such as state forests or wildlife management areas. Generally, Forest Preserve rules apply to the public use of detached parcels.

II. State Forests

"State Forests" is a generic term encompassing many legally defined classifications of lands outside the Forest Preserve. It was originally confined to "reforestation areas", but has been expanded to include land parcels acquired under several Bond Acts. Those lands known as "State Forests" are under the administration of the Division of Lands and Forests. The 2011 Strategic Plan for State Forest Management states that these lands "are managed under public ownership by professional foresters; allow for the sustainable use of natural resources; are open to recreational use; provide watershed protection; and cover large land areas throughout the state. From the beginning, State Forests were set aside to offset widespread trends of agricultural abandonment and deforestation and restore the land's ability to support vegetation."

There are 4 basic State Forest classifications (defined below):

  1. Reforestation Areas
  2. Multiple Use Areas
  3. Unique Areas
  4. State Nature and Historic Preserves

A. Reforestation Areas

[ECL 9-0501 (1)]: "In order to provide for the acquisition of lands outside of the Adirondack park and the Catskill park... which are adapted for reforestation and the establishment and maintenance thereon of forests for watershed protection, the production of timber and other forest products, and for recreation and kindred purposes, the Department may acquire in the name of the state, by gift, purchase or appropriation, reforestation areas which shall consist respectively of not less than five hundred acres of contiguous lands, which shall be forever devoted to the planting, growth and harvesting of such trees as shall be reforested." Reforestation Area may be divided only by a highway, railroad, transmission line, telephone line, telegraph line, pipe line or other rights of way or only by canals or streams and are also devoted to watershed protection, the production of timber and other forest products, and for recreation and kindred purposes.

B. Multiple Use Areas

[Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law, 15.01 (1) (b)]:"...moneys received by the State from the sale of bonds sold pursuant to the park and recreation land acquisition bond act of 1960 and 1962 shall be expended for the following purposes..." For the acquisition of real property for other than state park or municipal park purposes, to provide additional opportunities for outdoor recreation, including public camping fishing, hunting, boating, winter sports, and, wherever possible, to also serve multiple purposes involving the conservation and development of natural resources, including the preservation of scenic areas, watershed protection, forestry and reforestation... Definition: A parcel of land owned by the state acquired for outdoor recreation, including public camping, fishing, hunting, boating, winter sports, and, wherever possible, to also serve multiple purposes involving the conservation and development of natural resources, including the preservation of scenic areas, watershed protection, forestry and reforestation

C. Unique Areas

[ ECL 51-0703 (4)]: "A state project to acquire lands of special natural beauty, wilderness character, geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve and similar lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill parks" Definition: A parcel of land owned by the state acquired due to its special natural beauty, wilderness character, or for its geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve, and may include lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

D. State Nature and Historic Preserves

[ECL 45-0117 (3)]: Lands dedicated to the preserve (State Nature and Historic Preserve as referred to in Section 4 of Article XIV of the State Constitution) are declared to be put to their highest, best and most important use and are to be held for one or more of the following purposes:

  1. As natural communities for maintaining plants, animals and natural communities;
  2. As reservoirs of natural materials and ecological processes that contribute to the state's biological diversity;
  3. As field laboratories for scientific research and education in the natural sciences, including the fields of biology, conservation, ecology, natural history and paleontology; and
  4. As places of natural and historical interest and beauty which provide the public with passive recreational opportunities including, where appropriate, fishing, hunting and trapping, or commercial fishing opportunities that are compatible with protecting the ecological significance, historic features and natural character of the area.

Definition: A parcel of land owned by the state acquired to protect the biological diversity of plants, animals and natural communities and may provide a field laboratory for the observation and education in these relationships. The areas may also provide for the protection of places of historic and natural interest. The areas may be used for passive recreational pursuits by the public.

III. Wildlife Management Areas

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are lands owned by New York State under the control and management of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. These lands have been acquired primarily for the production and use of wildlife.

The WMA program is part of a long term effort to establish permanent access to lands in New York State for the protection and promotion of its fish and wildlife resources. Beginning in the early 1900s with the acquisition of abandoned farm lands and fields, DEC and its predecessor (NYS Conservation Department) have worked with the federal government, state government and sportsmen and women to secure these land parcels for public use.

IV. Conservation Easements

[ECL 49-0303 (1)]: "An easement, covenant, restriction or other interest in real property, created under and subject to the provisions of (Title 3) which limits or restricts development, management or use of such real property for the purpose of preserving, or maintaining the scenic, open, historic, archaeological, architectural, or natural condition, character, significance or amenities of the real property in a manner consistent with the public policy and purpose set forth in 49-0301 of this title, provided that no such easement shall be acquired or held by the state which is subject to the provisions of article fourteen of the constitution". Definition: A parcel of land under management of the state which has an easement, covenant, restriction or other interest in real property which limits or restricts the development, management or use of such real property for the purpose of preserving, or maintaining the scenic, open, historic, archaeological, architectural, or natural condition, character, significance or amenities of the real property. It cannot be subject to the provisions of Article XIV of the State Constitution.

For more information visit our Conservation Easements webpage.


More about State Land Classifications:

  • State Land Acreage by Classification - This table shows acreage totals for lands managed by the New York State Department of Conservation (NYS DEC) for all land classifications. These include State Forests, Forest Preserve, Wildlife Management Areas, and Conservation Easements.
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