WHITE PLAINS, NY, December 8, 2010 –Influential state conservation leaders came to a Pace Law School symposium recently to hear the latest wisdom regarding New York’s Constitutionally-protected forest preserve, vital information for a state Constitutional Convention that is likely to be held in the next few years. What made the presentation especially notable was that the experts were students.
The students’ work, presented December 1, was the culmination of the school’s “Research Seminar on Article XIV: ‘Forever Wild’ and Legal Issues of a Possible Constitutional Commission and Constitutional Convention.” Attendees included leaders at public policy groups and top officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation, including Kenneth Hamm of the general counsel’s office and Robert K. Davies, New York’s State Forester and director of the Division of Lands and Forests.
According to Professor Nicholas E. Robinson, who co-taught the seminar with adjunct Professor Philip Weinberg, this was the first review of the state’s Constitutional forest preserve in three decades. The research involved field trips to the Adirondacks and Catskills, as well as interviews with experts.
New York is required to hold a state ballot question in the next few years on whether to assemble a Constitutional Convention, Robinson said. Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has endorsed doing this, and has announced that he would convene a Constitutional Commission to decide what issues a Convention would review.
The students argued in their presentations that the forest preserve is an essential state resource that must be protected, especially in light of concerns over climate change. The forest preserve is an important source of biodiversity; serves to sequester greenhouse gases; and is crucial to ensuring an adequate water supply.
Michael Friese, a third-year law student in the seminar, presented research on the legislative history of Article XIV, which he hopes will provide a valuable perspective for those involved in a possible upcoming Constitutional Convention.
“State officials should consider going back to the original intent of the article as developed by delegates in the 1894 convention, as opposed to chipping away at it as they’ve been doing over the past 100 years,” Friese said.
He was excited to know that his research and that of his classmates could be influential to policymakers.
“This is one of the reasons you come to Pace as an environmental student, so you can have opportunities to work with Professor Robinson or Professor Weinberg, who have influence not just locally but nationally as well,” he said.
Dave Gibson, a partner in Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve who was involved in the seminar, congratulated the students on their research. “Your research, writing and this seminar are going to inform and energize our work for a long time to come,” he said.