Newest state land purchase is gratuitous

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state is in the process of buying 14 far-flung tracts of former Finch, Pruyn timberland from The Nature Conservancy, totaling 8,451 acres. The price tag is $5.7 million. It’s probably too late to stop the deal now that the governor has announced it, and that’s too bad.

New Yorkers don’t need more land right now, and especially these scattered parcels. They’re beautiful, we’re sure, but none is going to be as attractive to the public as the Essex Chain of Lakes, OK Slip Falls, Hudson River frontage and other former Finch lands on the 27,600 acres the state already bought over the last 15 months. Those were, understandably, the top priorities among 69,000 acres the state contracted to buy over five years from the Conservancy – if funds were available. Of the phases, this one, phase 3, seems the weakest. The un-bought tracts in later phases include some apparently prized spots such as Boreas Ponds and the McIntyre Works. Perhaps the strategy is to close with Boreas Ponds, whose glorious views may be hard to resist.

The state already owns around 47 percent of the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres and has never set an endgame for its acquisitions, but it keeps buying anyway. Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is way behind on managing the existing Forest Preserve, and Gov. Cuomo has been keeping DEC staffing levels at a dangerous low.

One main motivation here, we’re convinced, is that governors love buying Adirondack land. It’s not just to boost their environmental record with voters; it’s the permanence of land – state Forest Preserve land in particular. It’s a legacy thing, otherwise known as an ego thing. From Rockefeller to the Cuomos to Pataki, they always seem to be aching for acres.

It’s true that big state land purchases preserve the animal and plant habitat there – but only to a point. It partly depends on who the prior owner was and how they treated the property. The Nature Conservancy is a wonderful steward, so there’s little need for a taxpayer rescue here.

If the goal is to protect animal and plant habitat, that could be done by the Conservancy, whose officials never had any guarantee that the taxpayers would buy every acre they bought from Finch back in 2007.

We also think there are more effective, though less visible, things the state can do with $5.7 million from the Environmental Protection Fund. We fully support the EPF for things like sewage treatment and grants to encourage construction that minimizes environmental harm. It’s critical that our water and air be clean.

But that doesn’t mean the state needs to own every acre of undeveloped land in the Blue Line.

Please don’t get us wrong: We are not against state land purchases, and we don’t want the state to raid the EPF to help balance its budget. We just think that, at this point in history, buying more state land is gratuitous. That $5.7 million would do more good to the environment if spend on DEC staff and water-quality measures.