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Conservation group bought land last year to keep it protected

Conservation group bought land last year to keep it protected

The Nature Conservancy is prepared to sell more than half the 161,000 acres of land it acquired f

The Nature Conservancy is prepared to sell more than half the 161,000 acres of land it acquired from a Glens Falls paper manufacturer last year, raising concerns among sportsmen and local politicians.

Conservancy spokeswoman Connie Prickett said Tuesday that five large parcels of land in six counties and 27 towns from Greenfield to Newcomb are included in the properties offered.

In February, the state announced it had agreed to buy 57,699 acres of the timberland as well as conservation easements on another 73,627 acres in the central Adirondacks from the Nature Conservancy.

The Conservancy, in an effort to protect wildlife and habitat, had purchased the 161,000 acres that were owned for decades by Finch, Pruyn & Co. The $110 million purchase last summer was done with borrowed money, including $25 million from the Open Space Institute.

The land for sale is offered by LandVest, a Boston real estate consulting and sales firm that specializes in large-scale development and timber properties.

The company’s Web site, LandVest.com, lists the conservancy’s land as follows:

“The properties are being offered by Sealed Bid in 5 Sale Blocks ranging from 1,691 acres to 58,502 acres, thereby providing a broad range of investment price points, and diverse timber portfolios. The land is being sold subject to a Fiber Supply Agreement and a Working Forest Conservation Easement.”

The fiber supply agreement is a 20-year deal allowing what is now Finch Paper to take a designated volume of trees from its former land. The conservancy and state are writing the easement agreement that would prohibit development of the lands that are being sold.

Prickett said the conservancy’s mission is to protect the forests and its wild inhabitants, and it has worked to ensure the land being offered will be protected.

But local government leaders in the Adirondack Park say they have many concerns about how they will be affected by the sale of the land, especially 57,000 acres proposed for sale to New York state and destined to be designated forever wild.

Chester town Supervisor Fred Monroe is an officer of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and a life resident of the Adirondacks.

He said he appreciates that most of the land being offered for sale would continue to be logged, but land designed as forever wild prohibits any permanent evidence of humans.

“Our first concern is for the loggers and the mill workers. The timber operations have been going on for 150 years and that would continue [under the sale proposals],” he said.

But, more than 57,000 acres are proposed to be included in the state’s forever wild program that would close roads and require the removal of fishing and hunting camps.

Monroe said although the state currently pays taxes on forever wild lands, there is no guarantee that will always be the case.

“It creates a huge tax insecurity for towns. The payment of taxes is not guaranteed for the future and there are some towns that couldn’t survive with a loss of revenue that big,” he said.

The state owns nearly 50 percent of the land in the town of Long Lake, Hamilton County, and Monroe said it and other communities with small private taxpayer bases would be devastated by a loss of government property tax money.

There’s more than financial stability on the line for residents in the Adirondack Park. Many families have built camps in the forests and along waterways on land that was leased for generations from the paper company.

Monroe said his family owns four such hunting camps around Newcomb and those properties could be lost.

“The state designated land near Saranac Lake [forever wild] and if the owners didn’t destroy the camps, the state went in and destroyed them,” Monroe said. “The state will close the roads and cut access to the elderly and the disabled, including my 88-year-old father who has hunted and fished in the area for decades.”

Monroe said there are two small pieces of land in Chester that have been included on the list that the state is interested in acquiring from the conservancy.

He said he doesn’t have a problem with those properties being designated forever wild because they are remote.

Prickett said efforts are being made to help hunting and fishing clubs relocate to other areas in the Adirondack Park if their camps are shut down by the state.

“We’re in the process of working with the state on a 10-year transition period so they would not have to vacate immediately,” she said. “There are some clubs that are struggling for membership and we’re trying to hook up those clubs with the ones that would be closed.”

She said normally, lease holders sign annual contracts for use of the land, but this fall, three-year deals are being offered in the areas outside the proposed acres that could be designated forever wild. She said the lease agreements would be transferred to the new owners, giving clubs and individuals until 2011 to negotiate new deals.

Prickett said over the past 14 months, scientists have been evaluating the 161,000 acres acquired from Finch Paper of Glens Falls.

The land, about 250 square miles of terrain, has been researched by foot and through technology including Geographic Information Systems, commonly referred to as GIS.

“Using a combination of GIS modeling and field work, they’ve not only documented the natural composition of the property, but also evaluated its quality. The information they are collecting feeds directly into our protection plan,” Prickett said.

Although the conservancy expects to recoup much of the $110 million that was paid to Finch Paper, LLC, Prickett said it is expected the land deal will cost about $35 million for the nonprofit organization.

“There have been a lot of survey and research costs as well as appraisals and management costs,” she said. “We have a three-year goal to raise $35 million and private fundraising is going really well.”

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