Saratoga County

State budget cuts threat to tree nursery in Saratoga Springs

The Saratoga Tree Nursery has lasted through the Great Depression and two world wars. But it might n

The Saratoga Tree Nursery has lasted through the Great Depression and two world wars.

But it might not make it through a state budget crunch that has Gov. David A. Paterson asking for job and program cuts from every state department.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and its Division of Lands and Forests have put the nursery at the top of the list for cutting if the governor and the state unions don’t resolve their differences.

DEC representatives did not return a call for comment on Friday.

While some people suspect the whole process is political posturing, talk of closing the 250-acre nursery as early as July 1 is serious business to nursery manager David Lee and the other 10 permanent employees who grow seedlings of New York native species for state use and also sell them to homeowners at cost.

“We’re still playing a vital role in the preservation of forests in New York state,” Lee said.

The nursery’s annual budget is about $750,000, Lee said, including the salaries for the year-round employees, wages for 40 to 50 seasonal workers, utilities and supplies.

The nursery sells or uses for state projects at least 1.2 million seedlings a year, bringing in about $250,000 a year from sales, he said.

And Lee figures the state saves between $250,000 and $300,000 a year by getting its seedlings for forestry operations and DEC projects from the state nursery rather than buying them from a private operation.

“When you take everything into consideration, we’re breaking even,” he said.

The nursery also gives away about 35,000 seedlings a year to schools, which use the tiny trees to educate pupils about the environment.

Private nurseries also buy state-grown seedlings for their own stock, Lee said.

“It’s very hard for a private-sector person to operate a bare-root nursery like we are,” he said.

The seedlings are 1 to 3 years old when they are harvested, and about 6 to 14 inches tall.

Homeowners who buy the state-grown trees usually have at least a few acres and want to plant more trees to attract wildlife.

“If that went to the private sector, the prices would be so much higher that they wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Lee said of those homeowners.

The state sells 50 different species for a little more than $1 a tree.

The proposal to close the nursery, which has lands off Route 50 and off Route 9 near Saratoga Spa State Park, leaves many questions unanswered, Lee said, including what would be done with the four million to five million seedlings now growing on the property.

Other divisions of DEC also use the buildings and grounds at the nursery, so Lee said the tab for utilities his department pays now would have to be picked up by one of those departments.

“They’re not going to save that money if someone else is left here,” he said.

The nursery program started in the state in 1902, and the Saratoga Tree Nursery opened in 1911. It once was one of several nurseries in the state.

Now it’s the last one left.

“It would be nice to make that 100-year mark,” Lee said.

The tree nursery created Civilian Conservation Corps jobs in Saratoga during the Great Depression, helping the economy then, Lee said.

Lee himself started working at the nursery in 1991 as a forest technician and worked his way up to nursery manager. He has held that post for the last four years and lives at the nursery.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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