The “Forever Wild Clause” – myth and reality

The Adirondack Park includes approximately 6 million acres of land in the northern portion of New York. Approximately half the land in the park is owned by private individuals and entities, and the other half is owned by the state of New York.

In 1894 the citizens of New York State adopted a constitutional amendment designed to protect the forest within the park from depletion for purposes of protecting the watershed and the economic viability of the Erie Canal. This constitutional provision is referred to as the “Forever Wild Clause.”

Unfortunately many people think that the purpose of “Forever Wild Clause” is to maintain the wilderness in the Adirondack Park in a primordial state. When discussing an issue concerning activity in the park those people often invoke the “Forever Wild Clause” in a romantic emotional context asserting that it prohibits anything that might disrupt the smallest twig on the forest floor. Fortunately for the rest of us the courts have held otherwise. And we can basically ignore those romanticizing fanatics is a go about both preserving and enjoying the Adirondack Park.

The “Forever Wild Clause” is nothing more than a tree protection clause. But the courts have held that protection of the trees by that clause is subject to reasonable depletion of the forest for the benefit of the people of the state of New York. The “Forever Wild Clause” does not protect the critters in the forest, or the streams therein, or the surrounding air. Its sole purpose is to protect the trees in the Park from depletion for any reason other than for the benefit of the people of the state of New York.

Section 1 of article XIV, of the New York State Constitution states that:

The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.

They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.

The preceding sentences are then followed by the twenty plus exceptions that have been adopted since 1894.

The courts have consistently held that the purpose of the “Forever Wild Clause” is to preserve the Forest for the benefit of the people of the state of New York, and that the destruction of a reasonable amount of timber to afford people access to the state forest preserve is permissible. Those who claim otherwise are simply ignorant of the history and legal interpretation of the “Forever Wild Clause” or are trying to corrupt it with appeal to emotional and romantic altruism merely to promote their agenda. They should follow the ultimate leave no trace doctrine and stay out of the woods altogether.

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