Monday, July 11, 2016

John Sheehan: Decision Makers Should Heed Booth’s Classification Advice

Dick BoothPrior to his retirement as a member of the Adirondack Park Agency’s board, environmental attorney and land-use regulation expert Richard Booth prepared a memo for all to consider as the APA decides how to recommend classifying tens of thousands of acres of newly acquired Forest Preserve lands — including the Boreas Ponds tract in North Hudson and Newcomb.

After eight-and- a-half years as an APA board member, Booth understands that the 11-member board has some discretion when it comes to making decisions. However, his memo reminds them that state policy strongly favors the creation of new wilderness (motor-free) areas in the Forest Preserve and places important limits on the board’s discretion in future classification decisions.

Booth urged decision makers to pay careful attention to the mandates laid out for them in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The SLMP guides management of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve – the public lands that comprise about half of the Adirondack Park.

He noted that the master plan favors classifying large, sensitive and biologically rich parcels of Forest Preserve as Wilderness (or Primitive or Canoe; all three bar motor vehicle access and motorized recreation, with limited exceptions).

Almost any other classification would result in public motorized recreation, which could irreparably damage any lands with water bodies, rivers, wetlands, steep slopes, easily eroded soils, high elevations or other characteristics that make them vulnerable to damage. Most of the lands awaiting classification in the High Peaks region of the park share those characteristics.

Keeping motorized vehicles off of the park’s most fragile and important conservation lands is the key to keeping them healthy for future generations, he noted:

“It is vitally important that people have meaningful and extensive opportunities to experience nature in its unbridled form without many of the intrusions of the modern world,” Booth wrote. “Protecting those opportunities today is increasingly important and difficult because the world in 2016 is so much more crowded and busier a place than it was in 1972 [when the APA was created]. Protecting and enhancing those opportunities will become ever more significant and ever more challenging as the decades proceed, as new generations arrive, and as technology wears away at more and more of the world’s natural fabric. The members of the Agency, now and far into the future, bear and will bear the responsibility — – and must bear the responsibility — – of making certain that the Master Plan’s spirit lives and thrives.”

Don’t worry if there are private roads on the parcel or if previous owners logged the property, he noted. Nearly all Adirondack wilderness areas were once subjected to more intensive uses. They will recover their vitality over time, if we classify them correctly.

Booth’s thorough, 19-page explanation of the APA’s classification responsibilities is a useful tool. It should be read carefully. Those making recommendations and decisions, and anyone who plans to participate in the public decisions, can use it as a guide to a balanced plan. The APA’s public hearings are slated to begin this fall.

Booth then quotes the SLMP itself to reinforce his point:

“If there is a unifying theme to the master plan, it is that the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park must be paramount. Human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the resources in their physical and biological context as well as their social or psychological aspects are not degraded. This theme is drawn not only from the Adirondack Park Agency Act … and its legislative history, but also from a century of the public’s demonstrated attitude toward the forest preserve and the Adirondack Park.” (SLMP, Section I, page 1)

Finally, Booth reminds all that the legislation that established the Adirondack Park Agency (the APA Act) “requires the Agency to classify the state lands in the Park according to ‘their characteristics and capacity to withstand use.’” Political pressure to allow more intensive uses has no place in the APA’s decision-making process, he said.

As decision makers and other interested stakeholders consider the fate of MacIntyre East, MacIntyre West, Casey Brook, the Open Space Institute tract and Boreas Ponds, people should carefully review and consider Booth’s memo.

Photo of Dick Booth by Mike Lynch.


John Sheehan

Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.




21 Responses

  1. Charlie S says:

    “He noted that the master plan favors classifying large, sensitive and biologically rich parcels of Forest Preserve as Wilderness (or Primitive or Canoe; all three bar motor vehicle access and motorized recreation, with limited exceptions).

    Almost any other classification would result in public motorized recreation, which could irreparably damage any lands with water bodies, rivers, wetlands, steep slopes, easily eroded soils, high elevations or other characteristics that make them vulnerable to damage.”

    > It’s too bad Mr. Booth is leaving. Without minds like his on board the APA there may very well be some trying times in the years ahead for the Adirondack Park. He’s a rare breed indeed!

  2. Scott says:

    I like wilderness and like wilderness to be free from lasting impacts of man. I also think if the area has existing roads then bicycles are as harmless as hikers. We have lots of wild forest areas with gated roads where biking is legal yet motorized recreation is not. The statement above “almost any other classification would result in public motorized recreation” is highly misleading considering how much of the wild forest areas do not allow motorized recreation. With wild forest the DEC can choose to allow motorized recreation or choose to not allow motorized recreation but wild forest designation does not automatically mean there will be motorized recreation.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Maintaining roads as part of a recreation infrastructure inhibits the return of lands to a natural state…

      … no maintenance of roads no linger required for autos and trucks. Roads are like placing a levee across a landscape.

      • Scott says:

        I know, and I agree, if it is maintained as a road. DEC usually doesn’t maintain the gated roads as roads if they don’t allow motorized recreation. My point is wildforest does not automatically mean motorized use.

        • Boreas says:

          Scott,

          By my understanding, Wilderness classification affords more stringent protection overall. I think it is more than simply excluding motors in a Wild Forest area or allowing bikes in a Wilderness area, but how they integrate with other similar areas ecologically.

          A random patchwork of WF and W areas doesn’t make the most sense ecologically. I would think ideally Wilderness parcels would abut one another and possibly be surrounded by less strict WF areas. Now this would probably be the ideal, but not always possible because sensitive areas needing protection are not necessarily ideally located WRT towns, highways, and other land uses.

          Some people are rightly concerned about what appears to be “watering down” of strict Wilderness classification by allowing dams, structures, and roads – which is nothing new. Somewhere there needs to be compromise WRT acquisitions – both before they are acquired and after. Unfortunately, when land comes up for sale, there often is not the time for sorting out exactly how it will be classified – or even how it will be paid for. Luckily, we have had the great support of the Nature Conservancy being able to acquire and transition the lands for the benefit of NYS, as they don’t need to deal with legislative bureaucracy. KUDOS!!

          The APA is trying to wind their way through this morass, and John Sheehan is simply reminding the APA of their original charter to protect the lands according to the letter of the law. It is always difficult to navigate between the letter and the spirit of the law. When this occurs with every acquisition, it is usually the sign of a poorly written law. Perhaps there needs to be another classification called Pending Wilderness or something like that which would allow significant protection while the details are sorted out.

      • Boreas says:

        Todd,

        I agree. But in this particular case, the levee is already in place. I can possibly see removing the dam and the road, but I can also see the benefit of simply allowing them to succumb to entropy. We often view these acquisitions as “do it now” and “all or nothing” – all human terms and viewed from a human time scale. Nature works on a slower time scale, and will eventually recover those lands one way or another.

        My take on the BPW is to simply gate it off from motorized vehicles and allow access by bike, hand cart, etc. only along the hardened road. HOWEVER, I feel the road and the dam should not be maintained as such – with the possible exception of filling in a road washout with gravel – as long as it can be accomplished without motorized vehicles. Don’t maintain the dam at all and let it breach naturally. Perhaps install a hardened (rock/gravel) area for launching canoes/kayaks to minimize erosion. Maintain the road just like any Wilderness trail – harden areas to minimize erosion and clear downed trees along the road, but only with hand tools. Eventually, bicycle use will diminish but allowing newly cut hiking trails both as side-trips off of the road and linking trails to other parcels and destinations should still entice numerous visitors.

        It may take a generation before the dam begins to breach and the roadway narrows in, but at least it would be a gradual, more natural transition than destroying the dam and tearing up the road – which have their own ecological ramifications. A human generation is only a split-second for Nature. Time will heal most wounds.

        • Paul says:

          If you are going to allow bikes you can’t take Mr. Booths advice and classify it as Wilderness. Even with a cart very few people will utilize a 6 mile carry.

  3. Charlie S says:

    Scott says ” My point is wildforest does not automatically mean motorized use.”

    The Wild Forest classification leaves the usage open Scott in that it permits a somewhat higher degree of human use than in a wilderness classification,ie…motorized access. And though some wild forest areas do not allow motorized recreation in 2016 who’s to say it will be that way in 2026 when more of the population just might be less inclined to take part in the wilderness experience. Less voices to put up a defense against capitalists whose search for the almighty dollar will drive every living thing on earth into oblivion….which is what we’re doing!

    • Paul says:

      Not in the Adirondacks. There is far more protected land than ever before in our history.

      • Charlie S says:

        Yes but things are changing Paul nothing ever stays the same. All’s it takes is one generation to be less mindful then the generation before and before you know it free-enterprising spirits are going to be filling the air in the heads of the mindless and kabam…the road least taken will be dense with hurried people who were swayed because of the vacuum.

  4. Paul says:

    “He noted that the master plan favors classifying large, sensitive and biologically rich parcels of Forest Preserve as Wilderness (or Primitive or Canoe; all three bar motor vehicle access and motorized recreation, with limited exceptions).”

    The master plan also favors placing active timber tracts (what I understand these these were at the time of the transaction) under conservation easement. The plan does not seem to favor placing land under a Wilderness classification here as indicated. Quite the opposite with respect to tracts like these. At least I don’t see it stated as bluntly as the ASLMP guidance below?

    “Due to the importance of the forest products industry to the economy of the Adirondack region, bulk acreage purchases in fee should not normally be made where highly productive forest land is involved, unless such land is threatened with development that would curtail its use for forestry purposes or its value for the preservation of open space or of wildlife habitat.”

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      I would argue that if F-P thought the land to still be highly productive timberland, they would not have sold it. It had been logged for all it was worth, and apparently wasn’t worth paying the taxes until the forest regenerated enough to be profitable again – which takes a long time in that region. The land was purchased to preserve sensitive habitat and provide recreation. I believe the state just left it up to APA to determine its final classification. The state had the opportunity to make a great acquisition and took it.

      Mr. Booth simply warns that a parcel with that much wilderness potential should not have a watered down Wilderness classification. It is the precedent he is concerned about. If this parcel gets watered down a little, the next one can more easily be watered down. Why have the classification of Wilderness if it is to be watered down?

      • Paul says:

        The Nature Conservancy has continued to log the land after they purchased it. If properly managed this land has a long proven record of productivity. Timber companies sometimes sell land because they want to sell the land. I am just pointing out what the ASLMP guidance is in the case of productive forest land. There is little doubt that this land is good for growing trees that will be evident even in the places that have been extensively logged in just a few decades. But I agree in this case the state saw a good opportunity for an acquisition so they disregarded the guidance in the ASLMP and didn’t opt for an easement. Nobody made much noise about that, it looks like the noise comes when they consider disregarding guidance that says go with a stricter classification. That is the point it is “guidance” that is why these lawsuits brought by environmental groups when they don’t like a particular decision all fall flat on the face when the courts weigh in. If this was classified as wild forest to allow a road to avoid a 6 mile carry (recreation was one reason for the acquisition) as opposed to Wilderness a court will look at that and make the only logical conclusion. That the agencies involved did their legal duty and made sure the land got a strict classification just not one that is the most strict. It isn’t like they are opting for an intensive use classification. Plus the state can always later re-classify land to a stricter classification if they see that there is a problem. They have done that several times. It isn’t set in stone.

  5. Dan says:

    The first Paul is right on about the SLMP’s suggestion not to purchase in Fee potentially active logging lands. F-P and other timber companies are selling their lands because the paper industry is changing and they have a mill to run; not because they are no-longer potentially productive. In some cases other timber companies are wasting no time purchasing such lands, including more than half of the former F-P holdings. The Forest Preserve, meanwhile, is full of potential timber harvests, but that’s another argument.

    This discussion is obviously focused on the Boreas Ponds tract. Is it really too much to ask to have vehicle traffic at least to LeBiere Flow, or even if part of Gulf Brook road was used as a snowmobile connector and the rest of the 20,000 acres were non-motorized?

    • Boreas says:

      Given time, any land is “potentially productive” timberland. That doesn’t necessarily make it profitable or in the best interest of NYS residents. High-value timber needs time to grow and re-grow after harvesting. Obviously, F-P had a desire to sell off these parcels, and I believe they even had the intention of selling them to the state via the Nature Conservancy, which helps keep it out of the hands of competitors.

      If one looks at a map of the High Peaks region, the largest single missing piece of the wilderness puzzle was the Boreas Ponds tract. Evidently NYS decided the best use of the land would be to add it to the HPW – not to leave it in private hands for logging purposes – so they agreed to buy it. They felt it was more valuable as a preserve as opposed to timberland. So the way I see it, whether or not the state should have bought it is moot. They clearly bought it with the intention of protecting it.

      The discussion now is how to classify it. Mr. Booth is concerned about the precedent(s) of classifying land as Wilderness then relaxing the requirements via amendments. It is a valid point. Many of us are open to compromise to keep at least a part of the road open – but a compromise would be just that – it would not be a strict Wilderness classification. Mr. Booth fears that compromise to the most strict classification will result in more pseudo-wilderness classifications in the future. But who knows – it could be decades before another parcel like BPW becomes available to the state.

      • Paul says:

        Again a Wild Forest designation is a compromise and exactly what makes sense for this parcel. When I first saw this on a map I thought the same thing – add it to the High Peaks Wilderness. Then when I started to learn here that this was not really an alternate route to the HP, something that might even take some pressure off the other HPW launch points, it became clear that this is a good place for remote paddling opportunities. To utilize that you can’t have a 6 mile carry. What are people supposed to do? I guess they could make a Tow Sawyer style raft from down trees to paddle around with when they get in there and then dismantle it when they leave?

        • Boreas says:

          Paul,

          FWIW, a few people have actually toted lightweight canoes to Lake Tear of the Clouds. But when they got there, they most likely had the pond to themselves. Granted, a 6 mile haul to the ponds will discourage many people, but perhaps that is not such a bad thing.

          • Paul says:

            I too have carried boats to very remote ponds there are basically hundreds if not thousands of those types of “carries” when you think about it. One of the goals here is to set it up in a way that reasonable number of people will use the resource. I have been in the St. Regis canoe area on many ponds all alone many times. A reasonable carry isn’t going to overrun these remote ponds with paddlers.

      • Dan says:

        NYS has not decided to add Boreas Ponds to the HPW yet.

        • Boreas says:

          Dan,

          True. They may never officially join the two parcels. My point was the state viewed the BP acquisition as being nearly the same wilderness character as the HPW – therefore adding a parcel to complement the HPW.

          • Dan says:

            I agree that TNC had some foresight in targeting which lands from the 2007 F-P purchase might be better suited for recreation vs continued timber harvesting as conservation easements. I also know there were some parcels that did not survive the town vote process to be added as fee purchase and are now CEs as well. As for classification, I think everyone understands the public process and fortunately we’ll all have a say in it, hopefully sometime very soon.

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