Forever Wild Clause Upheld in Court Appeals
In a huge win for preservation of the New York State Forest Preserve for generations to come, the New York Court of Appeals this morning held that the State’s destruction of thousands of trees to build snowmobile trails throughout the Adirondack Park violates the Forever Wild clause of the New York Constitution. The Court made clear that the People of this State must be permitted to decide when large development projects will be allowed to move forward in the Adirondacks.
As the Court of Appeals majority explained, the Forever Wild clause’s plain language—“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”—and the legislative and constitutional history underlying it clearly show the framers’ intent to strictly prohibit destruction of the State’s forest preserve in favor of economic development. Indeed, the Court noted, the Forever Wild clause has been amended 19 times before to permit development that would otherwise be foreclosed by the Constitution.
Although the Court had recognized nearly 100 years ago that the Forever Wild clause’s commands must be interpreted reasonably to permit nonsubstantial and nonmaterial removal of trees, the intent that a constitutional amendment is required every time a substantial project is proposed in the Adirondacks and Catskills has remained unchanged. So too here for the State’s Class II community connector snowmobile trails.
The Firm is proud to have represented the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve in filing an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals in this landmark conservation case. A copy of the amicus brief can be found here. Firm partners Phil Gitlen and Rob Rosborough handled the matter.