ALBANY — New York cannot cut down thousands of trees for a 27-mile snowmobile trail in the Adirondack Park without voters approving an amendment to the state constitution, the state’s top court ruled Tuesday.
The 4-2 decision by the state Court of Appeals is a victory for environmentalists who sued over the partially built snowmobile trail, a wide “Class II” connector trail that was to be part of a larger network. Opponents claimed the Class II trail violates the “Forever Wild” clause of the state constitution, which protects state-owned forest preserve land.
Lawyers for the state Department of Environmental Conservation argued that the number of trees affected per-mile would be relatively small and that any impact would be justified by increased recreational opportunities in the popular winter tourist destination, according to the decision.
But the court wrote that the Class II trail, which requires rock removal, grading and cutting down 25,000 trees, is “constitutionally forbidden” without a voter-approved amendment.
“The people’s land is protected in the Constitution for a reason, and the governors and the Legislature and state agencies can’t be trusted to manage the forest preserve and try to make really big decisions about the future of the forest preserve,” said Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks!, which sued the state.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation said it was reviewing the decision.
Bauer said the decision about Class II trails will not prevent crews in the Adirondacks from building or maintaining hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing trails, which require significantly less tree cutting.