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DEC appeals tree-cutting case to state's highest court

DEC appeals tree-cutting case to state's highest court

Protect the Adirondacks: "We're confident in the merits of our case."

ADIRONDACKS -- The state Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will decide what the term "timber" means in the state Constitution.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has formally asked the court to consider whether its cutting of trees and vegetation in the Adirondacks for new snowmobile trails violates the state Constitution. At issue is whether trees smaller than three inches in diameter should be considered "timber."

The DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency on Wednesday appealed to the Court of Appeals in Albany to reconsider the July decision of the mid-level Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, which found the cutting violates the "forever wild" provision protecting state forest land in the Adirondacks and Catskills.

"The state strongly disagrees with the decision, and will vigorously defend its management of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves," DEC said in a released statement.

On July 3, the appellate court, in a 4-1 decision, reversed a lower court and found that construction of 27 miles of Class II snowmobile trails will destroy more timber than allowed under the Constitution's Article 14 -- the "forever wild" amendment protecting state forest lands from development.

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental organization Protect the Adirondacks, which sought to block the trails' construction, contending they cause significant environmental damage.

State Supreme Court Judge Gerald W. Connolly held a bench trial in Albany in 2017, and ruled in the state's favor. The appeals court supported parts of Connolly's decision, but decided there was no basis in the Constitution for DEC's determination that only trees with diameters of three inches or greater count as timber when assessing the cutting's impact.

"We will vigorously defend the part of the lawsuit that we won, that the state is now appealing," said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. "We think there's clearly a lot of interest in the case. ... The Court of Appeals is never a sure thing, but we're confident in the merits of our case."

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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