Press-Republican

September 8, 2013

No firearms on SUNY ESF lands

By Dan Ladd
Press-Republican

---- — Last week the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) released a statement alerting both big- and small-game hunters that hunting with firearms on their properties is no longer allowed, at least for the upcoming hunting seasons. 

When Governor Andrew Cuomo’s famed NY SAFE Act was hurried through the Legislature earlier this year he clearly stated that the package was not intended to affect hunters. He’s obviously been wrong about that, and although this latest development from SUNY ESF was actually unintentional, those who hunt two of these tracts of land in the Adirondacks will likely be frustrated. The announcement comes just before the Adirondack range early black bear season opens Saturday, Sept. 14.

Specifically, the 2,500-acre Pack Forest Demonstration Area in Warrensburg as well as the 2,800-acre Dubuar Memorial Forest adjacent to SUNY ESF’s Ranger School at Wanakena near Cranberry Lake in St. Lawrence County are off limits to firearms hunters. Bowhunting and trapping are still allowed.

Under the SAFE Act possession of firearms on these properties, and also on two other properties managed by the college, is currently prohibited and is considered a Class E felony.

Article 265.01a of New York’s Penal law, which went into effect March 16 of this year, prohibits firearms possession on schools and college universities. There is an exemption for forestry lands that are both owned and maintained by SUNY ESF. According to the school’s Director of Forest Properties Robert Davis, the wording is the problem.

“We don’t own those lands, they’re owned by Syracuse University,” Davis said. “We may maintain them, they may be held in trust for us, but we do not own them.”

The ownership factor was brought to Davis’ attention by Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff. Davis, in turn, consulted with the SUNY’s legal council and after speaking with DEC attorneys decided it was best to prohibit firearms usage until the legislation can be changed, hopefully in early 2014.

“Penal law is very strictly construed by the courts in that you don’t have the option of satisfying one or the other,” Davis said. “So, we decided that’s just too great a risk. Until we can affect a legislative change, we hope in the next session, we’re simply going to have to prohibit firearms on the properties.”

Davis also pointed out that even prior to the SAFE Act wording in the law would’ve made firearms usage on these lands a misdemeanor. However, it was overlooked. “That law has always been there and we never read it correctly. It appears that no one should ever have been carrying a firearm. I guess everyone figured that the intent was for those properties to be exempt and perhaps it was overlooked for that reason. When the penalty was elevated to a Class E felony, and it was brought to our attention by the folks over at DEC, we took a real close look at it and realized that there is a problem here,” Davis said.

Davis reminds the public that, “These properties are not state forests, they’re college campuses. They’re private lands held in trust for a state agency. So, they are considered college campuses under the law.

“We really don’t want to post the properties to ‘no hunting,’” he continued. “We certainly hope to correct this situation as quickly as possible and don’t want people to feel that we’re posting the property against hunting. But we’re trying to come up with some language that says ‘no firearms.’ We feel the legislators clearly intended to exempt these properties but the language was poorly chosen. It didn’t consider the fact that we don’t own these properties, they’re just held in trust for us.”

Along with the 5,300 acres that SUNY ESF operates at Pack Forest and Dubuar, they also operate the Adirondack Ecological Center & Huntington Wildlife Forest (15,000 acres) in Newcomb and the Cranberry Lake Biological Center (1,000 acres), a boat-accessible only facility on the shores of Cranberry Lake. Hunting is not allowed in any form at these two facilities. 

LOOKING AHEAD

Please allow me to pass on some items of interest. Aside from black bear season opening soon squirrel season is already under way and grouse hunting begins Sept. 20.

As for events, a fly fishing seminar by Rick Kovacs is going on at the Adirondack Interpretive Center on Saturday, Sept. 14 (www.esf.edu/aic/). On Friday, Sept. 20, the Northwoods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society is having their first banquet in Malone. For information, call 518-521-4559.

I’ll be in Lake Placid next weekend for a joint outdoor writer’s conference between the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) and the New York State Outdoor Writer’s Association (NYSOWA).

Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.