RAY BROOK — The 762,000 acres of forest timberlands owned by New York are not being managed in a sustainable way.In an audit released Tuesday, the State Office of the Comptroller estimated New York is losing $4.85 million per year in potential timber sales, along with important biodiversity benefits of good forest stewardship.The audit looked at a three-year period of activity and found Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of State Land Management is harvesting only half the "optimal" amounts of timber.Region 5, encompassing three-fourths of the Adirondack Park, including Essex, Clinton and Franklin counties, has 31,000 acres of state forest that could be selectively harvested, said Comptroller's Office spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman.It is a fragment of the 2 million acres of state forest preserve that Freeman said comprise Region 5.The rest is protected as "Forever Wild" under Article 14 of the constitution.Only a few sections of Adirondack Forest Preserve are tabbed for any kind of cutting, said DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren."Those forests are in Altona and Dannemora. Most of the rest of Region 5 state forest timberlands are outside the park."Forest preserves in the Adirondack Park are healthy in a natural manner and provide a large-scale ecosystem and water-quality benefits, which is the reason the state protected them over 100 years ago."But beyond lost revenue, the Comptroller's Office listed many ecological benefits of culling the state timberland in order to maintain species diversity, track invasives and support recreational use."When forests are properly harvested, it is easier to respond to natural disasters, such as ice storms, high winds, insect infestations and plant diseases," the audit stated.The equation valued lost revenue against an optimal timber harvest figure of 17,675 acres per year — a number assigned by DEC in 1992."DEC harvested (statewide) 10,157 acres in 2003-04, 8,559 acres in 2004-05 and 9,080 acres in 2005-06 — considerably below annual allowable cut levels and the even lower targets."While the state collected $15.3 million in revenue from timber sales during this time, auditors determined that another $14.6 million in potential revenues was lost because DEC did not have enough foresters dedicated to timber harvesting," the audit said."As a result, important forest-management goals are not being fully achieved."The Comptroller's Office also reported that the number of foresters decreased from 46 to 33 between 2001 and 2006, while loggable state forest increased by 18,700 acres."An additional 17 full-time foresters would have been needed to harvest the additional (acres)," it said.In comments attached to the audit, DEC agreed with the need for more forestry staff and said that process is under review.Additional staff and funding were provided for DEC in the new budget.But DEC said the audit went too far in calculating against maximum possible acres to cut."(DEC) has no intention to harvest all harvestable timber," agency officials wrote."The primary objective of timber harvesting is to maintain the health of the forest, not to generate revenue," Wren said.In its audit, the Comptroller's Office also recommended that DEC monitor the competitive bidding process for all timber sales.DEC said it has spent two years developing an electronic reporting and monitoring system that will go online in May.The Comptroller's Office also recommended that DEC develop formal policies and procedures for a standard Stumpage Price Report.DEC said its bureau of private land services has created a data-collection report process for regional foresters.The Comptroller's Office recommendations for sustainable forestry do not pertain to state forest preserve lands inside the Adirondack Park.
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