Heartwood Forestlands Easement Modifications
Frequently Asked Questions about the former Champion lands
New York State and Heartwood Forestland Fund lll, LP, have amended a conservation easement agreement to allow the landowner to continue leasing recreational camps on the former Champion lands in Franklin, Herkimer, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties. These conservation easement lands include the Croghan Tract, the Santa Clara Tract and the Tooley Pond Tract. In exchange, Heartwood Forestland will transfer 2,797 acres of valuable wildlife habitat in the Deer River corridor to the state.
Why didn't DEC hold public meetings or public hearings on the amended easement?
Over the years DEC has worked on this amendment, numerous and repeated stake holder meetings were held, a significant public comment period was provided, a full and complete SEQR process with EIS was developed and the amendment also went through a separate APA permit process with public comment. Many changes were incorporated into the final disposition of the amendment as a result of this lengthy public input and comment process. No public hearing is required to amend a conservation easement pursuant to Article 49 of the ECL.
Why hasn't DEC promulgated regulations?
DEC is in the process of drafting a regulation to provide standards, criteria and process to follow when amending a DEC conservation easement.
DEC has made two previous attempts to do a rulemaking to implement ECL section 49-0305(7)'s requirement that DEC promulgate regulations establishing standards for conservation easements. In both cases, the regulations DEC drafted would have been applicable to not only the state, but all other entities which are authorized to hold conservation easements under ECL Article 49. This includes municipal corporations, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, and not-for-profit conservation organizations.
DEC was unable to reach consensus with all of these groups as to the scope and content of the regulations. The different entities each raised valid and sometimes opposing concerns, and it became apparent that a "one size fits all" rulemaking was neither possible nor appropriate. Thus, the previous rulemaking efforts were dropped.
Why was there an exchange of land as part of this amendment adoption?
The State was providing development and recreation rights associated with the camps that Heartwood Forestland owned. The landowner provided lands of equal value to those rights it was obtaining.
What benefits does the amendment provide to Heartwood Forestland?
Heartwood Forestland gains the ability to continue leasing up to 220 recreational camps.
What benefits does the amendment provide to the people of New York State?
The State will obtain:
- 2,146 acres of forest preserve lands within the Deer River corridor and adjacent to the Deer River Primitive Area and
- 651 acres of new state forest land just outside the Adirondack Park.
This will provided further protection of the Deer River watershed, the waters of the Deer River and sensitive riparian and aquatic habitats in the river corridor.
These parcels will provide access to a previously-inaccessible, detached Forest Preserve property and will be open to the public for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and other outdoor recreation.
Are there any natural resources worth noting on the lands that the State is acquiring?
The stretch of the Deer River currently protected as Forest Preserve will be buffered by more than 2,000 acres of addition forest preserve lands including unique and important wetland complexes.
An entirely new stretch of the Deer River and associated bogs and wetlands will be protected by 651 acres of new State Forest lands.
Both of these areas will now enjoy full public access with hiking, x-country skiing, fishing and hunting opportunities.
What will be the state land classification of the 2,146 acres of new forest preserve lands?
Currently the lands are unclassified and not designated as part of any forest preserve unit. The Adirondack Park Agency, in consultation with DEC, is responsible for providing a classification recommendation to the Governor for newly acquired forest preserve lands. The process for developing that recommendation will include a public comment period and a public hearing.
When will the public be able to recreate on the lands that the State is acquiring?
DEC is currently working with Heartwood Forestland through the regional offices to make sure all necessary measures are in place in preparation for greater public access in the future, including which roads can be opened.
Under the old easement agreement, the public was prohibited from hunting on the easement lands during the fall hunting season. Under the amended easement agreement, when will the public be able to hunt on these lands during the fall hunting season?
The details about fall deer hunting are still being worked out. The amended easement says there will no longer be restrictions about hunting access on the easement lands, with the exception of the one acre parcels around the camps which can be posted against trespass. Recreational uses like hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping will be year round.
Like all land acquisition projects, a transition period is required to prepare the lands in question for public access. DEC is currently working with Heartwood Forestlands through the regional offices to make sure all necessary measures are in place in preparation for greater public access in the future, including which roads can be opened.
Will easement roads be open to ATVs?
Nothing has changed in the amended easement regarding the public's use of ATVs. As it was under the previous easement agreement, if a forest road is signed as open to ATVs, the public can use their ATV. The amended easement does include additional restrictions on the use of ATVs by camp lessees. They can use ATVs for ingress and egress to their camps only when access is not possible by car or truck.
Will additional forest roads on easement lands be open to motor vehicles?
Yes. Recreational management plans will be developed and will identify which roads can be opened during which seasons of the year.
Why did the State agree to allow the continuation of lease camps?
Allowing lease camps on the former Champion lands is consistent with the other large working forest conservation easement agreements obtained subsequent to the 1999 agreement with Champion, including conservation easements on the former International Paper lands, the former Domtar lands and the former Finch Pruyn lands.
As experienced on other easements, camp lessees provide many stewardship services such as reporting information regarding public usage of the lands, the status of public recreational facilities and impacts on natural resources.
The hunting camps also provide recreational destinations and local economic activity during the fall hunting seasons - a period that would see less activity without these camps.
What benefits does the amendment provide to the camp lessees?
Lessees will be able to exclusively lease and access a one acre parcel with a recreation camp at the landowner's discretion.
A primary access route to and from the one acre parcel has been designated for each camp, allowing lessees motorized access to their camps.
The boundaries of the one acre parcel can be posted against trespass at the lessee's discretion after confirmation of the location of the boundary lines with the landowner.
The lessees were able to have exclusive rights to much larger leased parcels in the original agreement, haven't they lost a lot?
Under the terms of the original agreement all of the leased camps had to be removed by 2014. The amendment allows lessees to continue having a camp, the ability to access the camp and the ability to hunt or otherwise recreate on the land surrounding their camp. Though the public can also recreate on those lands, they will have to access the lands from public access points.
Were any existing private lease camps and lessees displaced as part of the land transfer that accompanied the adoption of the easement amendment?
Three clubs/recreation camps were displaced as part of the land transfer in the amendment. The landowner had advised those lessees of this when the easement amendment process was first initiated. The landowner presented the affected lessees with a range of alternatives to address their displacement and the lessee's selected the preferred alternatives of their choice.