By MELISSA HART
fter 100 years of supervising logging operations in the Adirondack Park, foresters at Finch Paper are looking for new work.
In what was seen as a monumental land sale in 2007, The Nature Conservancy bought 162,000 acres of prime forestland held for generations by Finch Pruyn and Co. The transaction marked a change for the Glens Falls-based company, too, as it was bought by a group of equity investors and renamed Finch Paper.
The $110 million sale left the company without any land, but still committed to sustainable forestry. To prove it, the company retained its forestry staff, which recently reinvented itself as a consulting business called Finch Forest Management.
Foresters such as Len Cronin, who has been working for Finch since 1986, hope to use their expertise in new ways, to work with private landowners.
"We can give them guidance and represent them. Be their eyes and ears on a daily basis," Cronin said.
According to Finch foresters, owners of larger parcels are facing the same high taxes that prompted the company to sell its own holdings. Selective harvesting could generate enough profit for owners to hang onto their land.
Through proper management, forest owners can ensure the health of their land for generations, said Danielle LaValley, district forester with Finch. "They want to be able to pass the land on to their grandchildren."
Finch foresters specialize in sustainable forest management. In 2003, Finch Paper received certification through the Forest Stewardship Council in both forest management and chain-of-custody, achieving certification for all aspects of production. This was in addition to being certified through the Sustainable Forest Initiative.
Using wood harvested through sustainable-forestry practices, the company's mill in Glens Falls produces paper that is labeled FSC and FSI certified, which sells to corporations such as Nike, Ford and National Public Radio.
"There's value there for landowners," Dziengeleski said. "We can make sure they are being sustainable. Certified products fetch a higher price."
Finch foresters see their role as assisting in the certification process, or in developing long-term management contracts (five to 10 years) with the landowner.
Under the latter agreement, pulpwood products that are produced from the property could go to Finch Paper at market value, thus insuring a fiber supply for the company.
For now, Finch Paper foresters continue to work on lands owned by The Nature Conservancy as part of the sale agreement. When the conservation organization purchased what's regarded as "The Jewel in the Crown" of the Adirondack Park, the non-profit group entered into a service contract with Finch Paper's foresters to continue to manage the lands and the associated recreational leases.
Connie Prickett, director of communications for The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter, described the process as a "smooth transition," under which the nonprofit stepped into Finch's existing management plan.
"Since then, the Finch foresters have demonstrated a real interest in helping us achieve our goals and objectives, while recognizing the biological richness of our lands," Prickett said. "For instance, they've worked in concert with our ecologists to formalize protections in sensitive places, like the more than 500 miles of freshwater shorelines found on the property."
The ability to own land and harvest resources as needed was a corporate model for many years, said Roger Dziengeleski, company vice president and certified forester. But paying high property taxes as well as taxes on the finished product made that practice less than sustainable.
But the Finch management agreement with The Nature Conservancy could end if the group sells land, which it has done with one 92,000-acre parcel that Danish Pension Fund ATP bought in March. Looking ahead into the future, the foresters are thinking more creatively about ways to increase their "wood basket."
On a recent tour of Ragged Mountain Management Unit, a 1,200-acre parcel on former Finch land, Cronin pointed out the variety of services that the consulting business could handle:
Having retained a road and infrastructure crew, Finch is able to build access roads that can handle the commercial truck traffic necessary for removing logs.
Connections with long-time contractors, such as Steve Bureau of Queensbury. A second-generation logger, Bureau has worked for Finch since 1986 and still fells trees by hand to cut costs that come with buying expensive machinery.
Marketing product. Loads of wood taken off lands managed by Finch are consolidated and sold from a concentration yard in Newcomb. Pulpwood ends up at the mill in Glens Falls, the rest sold.
Timber evaluation: Measuring the volume of tress on a plot to determine overall value.
Managing leases and lessees.
Perhaps the most lasting visual image is that of a parcel that was worked on six years ago and has since regenerated to the point when even the former logging road is now green.
"This has been our backyard," Cronin said.