Since 1894, the constitution has required that all lands owned or acquired by the state in the existing forest preserve must be kept forever as wild forest lands. It specifically prohibits all such land from being leased, sold or exchanged, or being taken by any public or private corporation, and bars the timber on it from being sold, removed or destroyed.
When established statutorily in 1885, the vanishing of state forests was threatening the watersheds that supplied New York City, but the protection created for the forests continued to be compromised by the sale of timber. At the 1894 constitutional convention, language requiring that these forests in the Catskill and Adirondack Mountain regions be kept forever wild was added to the constitutions. To conservationists, this provision both preserved the state's natural resources and produced a unique environment.
By the mid-sixties, wilderness areas were being recognized as of recreational value, and in the 1965 report of the Joint Committee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Scenic Beauty, it was noted that New York's Forest Preserve was the only state owned wilderness in the United States east of the Mississippi (with the exception of a small part in Maine). That report pointed out that once the remaining wilderness was lost, it would be gone forever, and it would make it impossible for future generations to understand or experience what had contributed so much to our country's heritage of independence and enjoyment of leisure time in the wilderness.
Over time, a series of constitutional amendments had allowed some development to take place, including the building of ski trails, foot trails and horseback riding trails, and both public campsites and open-faced shelters had been constructed, though these primitive shelters were of questionable constitutional authorization. At the 1967 constitutional convention, attempts were made to insert language into the constitution that would have turned the forest preserves into managed multiple use areas, but it was pointed out that the idea of a forever wild wilderness area was completely at odds with the idea of a managed wilderness. The constitutional authority for the existing public campsites was not resolved.
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Section 1. 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. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.