Private Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concept of private stewardship is one of the cornerstones of the Adirondack Landowners Association mission. Our members, some who have ownership dating back over 150 years, take great pride in their roles as good stewards of Adirondack lands and waters. Long before the environmental movement began, ALA members were advocating for best management practices, scientific forestry and proper management of fish and wildlife.
Our stewardship mission extends beyond the borders of our member’s properties. Many ALA members have provided access for scientific research and study on issues like acid rain, forestry and wildlife. In recent years we have taken a leadership role in the battle against invasive species. First with aquatic threats and now a focus is starting on terrestrial invasive species. Our members support these efforts through a combination of advocacy, volunteerism and financial investment in outreach and education.
We welcome the opportunity to work with other stakeholders, local government, Adirondack park residents and the leaders in Albany and Washington on ways to further the concept of stewardship.
Private property within a park is an unusual arrangement. Unfortunately, it periodically results in challenges to the property rights that form the foundation of stable ownership and long-term stewardship, which benefits all who love the Adirondacks. The ALA is a leader in protecting the property rights of Adirondack landowners.
The Adirondack Landowners Association was founded in 1990 in response to the threat of eminent domain being used to acquire private land for the Forest Preserve. The work of the Adirondack Landowners Association resulted in "willing buyer, willing seller" language being added to the Open Space Plan that helps govern acquisition of lands for the Forest Preserve.
More persistently, the right of landowners to manage access to their property has been challenged by "paddlers' rights" or "navigation rights" activists exploiting the confusing nature of "navigability" to argue that routes that canoes can be paddled and carried over are public highways. This interpretation is a gross departure from established precedent, under which major Adirondack waterways such as the Raquette River were regarded as private property under the common law, which could only be made public by eminent domain. The Adirondack Landowners Association has intervened twice on behalf of members to protect their right to manage access to some of the most important and sensitive areas of their property.
The most recent case is over whether Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook on the Brandreth property is a public highway. In Friends of Thayer Lake v. Brown, New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals made it clear that evidence of recreational travel alone was not sufficient for a route to be considered a public highway, throwing out two lower court decisions and firmly rejecting the paddlers' rights arguments. The case has been sent back to trial court for consideration of "the Waterway's historical and prospective commercial utility, the Waterway's historical accessibility to the public, the relative ease of passage by canoe, the volume of historical travel, and the volume of prospective commercial and recreational use."
Property taxes are an inevitable part of property ownership. The Adirondack Landowners Association works hard to make sure they aren't overwhelming. Taxation that makes ownership of substantial acreage unfeasible, and which leads to landscape fragmentation, is not just a problem for landowners, but for anyone that appreciates the wild, unbroken character of the Adirondacks.
In 2008, the ALA joined with other groups in filing briefs opposing a court decision that could have had disastrous consequences for nearly all Adirondack towns and their taxpayers. The decision in the end was successfully overruled.
The Adirondack Landowners Association frequently advises members facing challenging tax situations, such as a spike in assessments due to the loss of a major taxpayer, or unfair tax assessments.
Most recently, the ALA worked with the Department of Environmental Conservation and other stakeholders to revise New York State Real Property Tax Law, Section 480-a, which helps keep large forested tracts intact and support the forest products industry, among other benefits. Although efforts to have the revisions adopted in 2016 were not successful, the ALA looks forward to working on this again in the near future so more landowners can enroll, and more forested acreage will be protected.
Efforts to have the revisions adopted in both 2016 and 2017 were not successful. The ALA looks forward to working with other stakeholders in 2018 to make this a reality. We support this so more landowners can enroll, and more timberland will stay as working forests in New York.
Many ALA members have been residents and citizens of their communities for decades or several generations and are legitimately concerned with the future of the special character of the Adirondacks. Changes in the economic landscape of the Park arising from the radical restructuring of the forest products industry, the virtual disappearance of mining as a viable industry, the ongoing challenges of dependence on largely seasonal businesses, the revolutionary possibilities and challenges of the internet age, the financial strictures that flow from the State's budget problems, and the endless other internal and external problems must all be understood and coped with. With energy, good will and luck, some of them can be harnessed to provide new vitality to the Park and benefits to landowners within the Park; none of them can be ignored.
The ALA applauds the passage of the Land Bank Amendment in November 2017. This will allow for the modernization of Adirondack infrastructure, such as by burying broadband cables under roads, increasing culvert sizes, replacing bridges, along with a number of other needed projects across the Park. This amendment will have benefits for the Adirondacks for many years to come.