Nov. 25, 2009: Forests' value can't be overestimated


To The Editor:
Many of my friends feel that open land and forests that are ‘undeveloped’ are in effect going to waste. This premise is very misguided and is in reality totally untrue. The reality is that forests and open space are crucial to the survival of man and all other species on the face of the earth. Let’s look at our local forests in particular; they provide clean unfiltered water to approximately nine million people, fresh air, carbon absorption, timber and firewood when managed appropriately. There is also wild game to pursue resulting in a very healthy food source. All this and the aesthetic value revered by hikers and tourists and most of the rest of us that are lucky to be residing in the vicinity are important considerations.
A report recently published by the US Forest Service shows that the forests in the Northeast are being converted to other uses at an estimated rate of 350 acres per day, a rate that could increase to as much as 900 acres per day by 2030. As many as 12 million acres of private forest land in these states may be converted to other uses by 2030. Another study by Yale University estimated that one percent of the Catskill region’s forest land is being annually converted to development. At this rate, 15,000 acres of the region’s private forest land will be lost in the next 10 years.
So where am I going with all this? Considering that private forest lands play a significant role in providing all the above mentioned benefits now and for future generations, why this cry for more and more development? For those who feel that more and continued development is the panacea to the economy, I say that we should concentrate our efforts in the hamlets by rehabilitating the existing buildings and supporting our local entrepreneurs. With beautiful countryside and small town atmosphere buttressed with fine dining and quaint shops tourism appears to be thriving. There is much need for plumbers, electricians, landscapers and handymen to maintain all the homes that exist today.
All the research that has been done consistently results in showing that taxes from new development have never been enough to cover the costs of the required infrastructure, road maintenance etc. the new development requires.
When thinking about this locally it would seem that further development would be most appropriate taking place within the hamlets as the infrastructure is already there.
It appears that what drives some land owners to subdivide and develop are the very high taxes we pay to retain and maintain open space that in many respects serves all.
It is a fact that our private forests need no infrastructure, nor do they go to school, yet they are very highly taxed to support same. Sustainable development is an oxymoron.

Jack McShane,