Every 20 years, New Yorkers are given the opportunity for a constitutional convention. A referendum will be on the ballot in November asking voters if one should be held. Groups are lining up on each side. Several environmental organizations are opposed to the convention because they are concerned that a key protection for the Adirondacks and Catskills could be eliminated.
Article 14, Section 1 of New York’s constitution states: “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.” First enacted in 1894, the Forever Wild clause is the fundamental protection for the Adirondack and Catskill Forest preserves. Environmental groups are concerned that if a constitutional convention is held the clause could be at risk.
Adirondack Council Spokesman John Sheehan notes that a convention opens the entire constitution to revision and the Forever Wild clause could be weakened or eliminated during such proceedings. “We don’t know that it’s all that likely. But frankly we’re not willing to take that chance. As soon as the Forever Wild clause was enacted the legislature tried to repeal it. The same year! And that was defeated. There was another constitutional amendment brought forth a couple years later. That was defeated. And every year, the last 27 years in a row, we have seen something introduced during the legislative session that would weaken or eliminate the basic protections of the Forever Wild clause. So I think it’s never really safe. So we’re against having a constitutional convention and we’re really concerned that the Forever Wild clause might be something that even by accident gets dropped out of the Constitution.”
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says it’s unclear who the delegates would be — and how representative of the Adirondacks. “Most of the ideas that have come up regarding Forever Wild and Article 14 of the state constitution since 1894 have not been good ideas. So what we fear in a constitutional convention is that there are some ideas that people have for using the Adirondacks that we feel would not be consistent with Forever Wild that could come up in the convention.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe says local government officials are mixed on whether there should be a constitutional convention. While there are many things that officials would like to see changed, he says they are also concerned about ramifications of any changes to the Forever Wild clause. “Many in local government including me believe that it has a big impact on the economy and that the people that passed the Forever Wild clause of the constitution they didn’t think it through and give adequate consideration to the impact on the economy of the residents. On the other side of the issue of the constitutional convention is everyone including local government and me is afraid of, you know, maybe there’ll be changes that’ll make it much worse for us.”
If approved a convention would be held in April 2019 and each proposed amendment would appear on the November 2019 statewide ballot.