The North County Regional Sustainability Plan (NCRSP), published in May 2013, outlined goals for the Adirondacks and surrounding regions to develop local, long-term strategies to improve their environmental footprint. Specifically this included “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, increase renewable energy production and consumption of renewable fuels in place of fossil fuels, and enhance economic growth based on stewardship of local resources, clean energy, and effective land-use planning” (NCRSP 3). This study is part of a wider state initiative called the “Cleaner, Greener Communities Sustainability Planning Program,” which engages regional planning to boost local communities, economies, and the environment.
Woodfuel expansion is one answer to the NCRSP to reduce fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emission, and boost the economy. Thirty percent of the Adirondacks’ thermal energy needs are already met through wood, which makes up only 1% of the total greenhouse gases emitted through heating systems in the region (NCRSP 8). The NCRSP proposes to increase the use of high-efficiency biomass heating systems (see What is Woodfuel?) specifically in small commercial buildings such as institutions and small businesses, in an attempt to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions (NCRSP 8). In order to develop more woodfuel the Plan also proposes to expand the forest industry for biomass production. Strategies for developing woodfuel expansion in the region include sponsoring sustainably harvested biomass and capitalizing on the already existing forest industry. However, the Plan lacks specifics of how and where this timber would be acquired since logging is banned on all state lands. Mostly the Plan emphasizes the opportunities available for private forestry on lands that are not state owned. The Plan believes if the Adirondacks are successful in managing and sustaining renewable wood sources, the Park can expand both woodfuel production and consumption.
For the full North County Regional Sustainability Plan see here.
Body Text Source: United States. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Cleaner Greener Communities Program. Our Economy: The North County Regional Sustainability Plan. By North County Planning Consortium. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, May 2013
Governor Cuomo took action on furthering woodfuel in New York by proposing the initiative “Renewable Heat NY: The Low-Emission Biomass Heating Initiative.” This will convert oil heating systems to woodfuel heating systems by providing financial and technical assistance for conversion. His primary solution to expand woodfuel in New York is to incentivize the private-sector logging industry in the Park. According to the Governor, this would expand the existing forest industry by creating a new market for wood that is usually not saleable, such as lower grade wood or wood scraps.
Body text source: Shift from Oil to Wood Fuel in New York Attracts Pellet Producers." National Association of State Foresters. NASF, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
© NEW YORK STATE ENERGY RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
to convert into a woodfuel heating system from Cuomo's Renewable Heat Initiative.
The NCRSP and Cuomo's Initiative, however, are much easier in theory than in practice. There are many restrictions against logging on both private and public lands and many individuals are strongly for or against logging’s expansion in the park.
Contacting the Adirondack Park Agency is the first step in determining local, private timber harvesting restrictions. For instance, in order to harvest on private lands, one cannot clearcut over 25 acres on uplands or over 3 acres on wetlands without running into certain limitations and permit requirements. Also, harvest restrictions apply on certain Adirondack land zones such as on “Wild, Scenic and Recreational River” corridors. These extensive regulations make logging on private land less economically viable than in the past. It also encourages outsourcing timber production and harvest, depriving the Adirondacks of the economic benefits that come with local logging.
Body text source: "Timber Harvesting." Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State DEC, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Timber harvesting is prohibited altogether on the State Forest Preserve after the passage in 1895 of a state constitutional amendment that banned logging. The Forest Preserve is protected state owned land that is constituted as and must remain “forever wild.” However, some, such as Senator Elizabeth Little of District 45, argue to amend Section 1 Article 14 of the State Constitution, which establishes the Forest Preserve. She believes we need a relaxation of these laws so that the state can log on more of its land. This will boost the Adirondack economy by employing individuals to carry out the logging operations. Little also believes that logging old timber or downed wood allows for new growth, creating even healthier forests.
In Senator Little’s proposal, however, all new land bought by the state would be open to logging. The state plans to buy 65,000 acres out of 161,000 acres of land owned by The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that acquired the land from a large paper company. This land is said to have rich ecological value and will most likely be opened for public recreation if Senator Little’s amendment is not ratified. The extensive outcry from the Adirondack Council and other environmental groups gives this proposal a very slim chance of passing. However, it does bring up a good argument for logging on state owned land. In doing so, the DEC can monitor timber harvesting and ensure tracts of land in the Adirondacks are managed sustainably.
For Article XIV Section I of the NY State Constitution see here.
Body text source: Youker, Darrin. "Tug of War in Adirondack Park." American Forests: Protecting and Restoring Forests. American Forests, Autumn 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
Clearly, extensive laws and regulations block a lot of logging in the Adirondacks, both on private and public lands. In light of the North County Regional Sustainability Plan, the state encourages logging as the key to creating sustainable energy from woodfuel and boost the economy. However, the state, both in the NCRSP and in Cuomo’s Renewable Heat NY initiative, lacks answers on how exactly logging will exist to create woodfuel with the current laws in place. There is a lack of evidence of a new, private market opening up for logging and if private companies will actually increase logging from this initiative. Both rely solely on private forest industry, which must abide by heavy regulation and lacks economic incentive.
So, where does that leave us? Either we must incentivize private companies to log in the Adirondacks even further though it is currently not economically feasible or lower restrictions on logging on state owned land. By lowering restrictions on state owned land, we can create jobs, money for the state, have a sustainable energy source for woodfuel, and ensure that logging is only done on tracts of land that hold less ecological fragility. Maybe we need a compromise to Senator Little’s proposal, where only state land determined by the DEC to be ecologically sustainable and cause the least environmental damage would be chosen to be logged. This will create a renewable supply of wood and help advance the use of woodfuel as a sustainable heating method in the Adirondacks.