Thursday, February 2, 2017

Local Government Review Board: Boreas Ponds Classification Commentary

What follows is a letter sent to the APA.

The Review Board thanks the Adirondack Park Agency for the public hearing process on the 2016 classification package and makes the following comments regarding the process, and the classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract, the Benson Road Tract and the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.

The members of the Review Board have carefully considered the physical characteristics of those tracts and their capacity to withstand use, as the fundamental determinants of state land classification specified by the State Land Master Plan, and support the following:

o The compromise of Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract.
o Wild Forest classification for the Benson Road Tract.
o Evaluation of additional alternatives for the MacIntyre East and West Tracts.

Statutory authority for the State Land Master Plan classification scheme:

It is important to consider the statutory authority for the Adirondack Park Agency Act (APA Act.) The New York State legislature, in 1971, authorized the Adirondack Park Agency to draft and recommend an Adirondack State Land Master Plan to the governor for his signature. The APA drafted the State Land Master Plan and Governor Rockefeller signed it in 1972.

Interpretation of the State Land Master Plan must be guided by the intent of the state legislature (our elected representatives) in authorizing its creation.

The Statement of Legislative Findings and Purposes of the APA Act states that the basic purpose of the Act is “to insure optimum overall conservation, protection, preservation, development and use of the unique scenic, aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, open space, historic, ecological and natural resources of the Adirondack Park.” Recreational use of the Park’s resources was included as a purpose of the Act.

State Land Master Plan (SLMP) requirements:

The SLMP states that: “The APA Act requires the APA to classify lands in the Park according to their characteristics and capacity to withstand use. “

It also provides that “A fundamental determinant of land classification is the physical characteristics of the land or water which have a direct bearing upon the capacity of the land to withstand human use.” and that “… the classification system takes into account the established facilities on the land …” It adds that “(T)he extent of existing facilities and uses that might make it impractical to attempt to recreate a wilderness or wild forest atmosphere is also a consideration.”

The Review Board believes that the reference in the definition of Wilderness to “… restore, where necessary, its natural conditions …” refers to restoring relatively minor features of the property to wilderness, rather than wholesale restoration to wilderness, where extensive features of the land are man-made.

Wilderness classification:

Wilderness is defined in the SLMP as “An area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” It is further defined to “mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character without significant improvement … with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable…”

Wild Forest classification:

Wild Forest is defined as “an area where the resources permit a somewhat higher degree of human use than in wilderness, while retaining an essentially wild character.”

The Boreas Tract’s physical characteristics:

The 20,758 acre Boreas Ponds Tract has extensive man-made infrastructure. A large dam constructed by Finch Pruyn creates the ponds. A large bridge crosses the Boreas River over the dam. Another dam with a large bridge over the Boreas River creates LaBier Flow.

The tract also has three additional large bridges north of the Boreas Dam, including the bridges over Slide Brook, White Lily Brook and Snyder Brook.

There are 53 miles of roads on the Tract. The roads have an average width of 25 feet, and an average depth of gravel of 2 feet. The roads were constructed to support 50 ton loaded log trucks. The design and construction of the roads is much more than sufficient to support bicycles, two-ton two-wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles, and recreational activity.

The property has been leased to hunting clubs for many years and currently has ten private hunting cabins owned by club members.

The existing infrastructure makes the property well suited for public recreation.

There are more than 20 gravel borrow pits on the parcel. According to a former Finch manager, the gravel used to construct and maintain the roads is equivalent to approximately 25,000 truckloads at 20 cubic yards per load.

Careful analysis of the physical characteristics of the Boreas, and MacIntyre East and West tracts does not support a wilderness classification for most of those tracts. Their characteristics and demonstrated capacity over a long period of time to withstand human use support a Wild Forest classification.

Given the choice of alternatives proposed by the APA, the Review Board supports Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract. That alternative would allow the use of only 17 miles of the 53 miles of the existing roads. No new roads are proposed.

The Boreas Ponds Tract has the characteristics and capacity to withstand use to be classified as “Wild Forest.” A “Wild Forest” classification allows for reasonable access for people of all ages and abilities, and a range of recreational activities that expands the numbers of people who may be attracted to our region.

New York State’s acquisition, and responsible recreational management, of Adirondack properties can attract more visitors to the region and strengthen the economies of small Adirondack towns — if those properties are reasonably accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Both are goals stated by Governor Cuomo for the Boreas ponds Tract.

Community connector trail system:

Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract will provide the necessary classification to enable the creation of a community connector trail system to connect the 5 Adirondack towns most affected by the classification to each other, and to the wider region, with far less tree cutting than an alternative, that does not use Gulf Brook Road.

Boreas Pond use history:

No region of the Boreas Ponds Tract has been untouched by forest and recreation management for leaseholders over the last century. With all of this activity, the ecosystem is still healthy, demonstrating that Alternative 1 is the correct classification, because the physical characteristics of the property and its long use confirm its ability to withstand use.

MacIntyre East and West Tracts:

The only alternative proposed by the APA for the MacIntyre East and West Tracts is Wilderness. There is a very extensive network of roads comparable to the best Boreas roads on each of those tracts. The Review Board recommends a careful review of the physical characteristics of those roads, their capacity to withstand use, and the creation of maps showing the roads and built infrastructure with alternate classifications for review in an open public process.

Essex County Wilderness and Wild Forest lands:

Essex County currently has 356,761 acres of Wilderness and 167,665 acres of Wild Forest. Adoption of Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract would add 10,621 acres of new Wilderness and 9,913 acres of new Wild Forest. Alternative 1 would add a small measure of balance to the classification of state lands in the region.

Compatibility of access and environmental protection:

We do not believe that access and environmental protection are goals in opposition. The combination has worked well throughout much of the Adirondack Park. Public access builds appreciation for the Adirondack forest and Adirondack communities and attracts new visitors to the region. The Unit Management Plan process helps ensure that appropriate environmental safeguards are in place.

Benefits to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness:

By providing reasonable access to newly acquired properties, New York State will give recreationalists new places to visit, and relieve some of the public over-use of the High Peaks Wilderness. The major access points to the southern High Peaks are on private lands owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Ausable Club and Adirondack Mountain Reserve and the Elk Lake Lodge. The Boreas Ponds and MacIntyre Tracts will provide access to the southern High Peaks over public lands.

Unit Management Plan Process:

The classification process determines only the universe of public uses that may be allowed on the property. Final decisions on specific allowable uses, and appropriate environmental safeguards, are not determined until the Unit Management Plan process. We encourage the Park Agency to establish classifications that allow for reasonable access for people of all ages and abilities, especially the disabled and mobility impaired based on the history and characteristics of each individual property, and to use the UMP process to apply appropriate environmental safeguards.

Benson Road Tract:

The Review Board supports the proposed Wild Forest classification for the Benson Road Tract.

Conclusion:

The Review Board supports Alternative 1 for the Boreas Ponds Tract, Wild Forest for the Benson Road Tract, further analysis of the road and bridge infrastructure in the MacIntyre East and West Tracts, and additional alternatives for their classification based on that analysis.

The Review Board has also considered the process for acquisition, classification and creation of unit management plans and believes that the process is flawed. The legislature appropriates money for state land purchases without knowing what property will be acquired, without voting on its acquisition, and without a public process to determine what property should be acquired. DEC purchases the property without knowing how APA will classify it, so it is unable to advise the public what uses will be allowed. The majority of the general public is not given reasonable access to the property prior to the classification hearings so that they are in a position to comment intelligently. APA maps do not include all of the road and other infrastructure on the properties before the hearings on classification. APA does not know what uses will ultimately be allowed in the unit management planning process when it classifies the property.

The Review Board believes the process should be reformed to include more transparency and to provide complete information to the public on the characteristics of the land before the public hearing and comment period begins.

The above commentary was submitted to the Adirondack Park Agency, which will soon be deciding how to classify Boreas Ponds and a number of other recently acquired state lands.


Guest Contributor

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with a biding interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.




34 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    The lack of environmental concerns of the local government is causing me to reconsider my long term plan to retire in the Adirondacks.

    • Bob says:

      Your loss!

    • Boreas says:

      Jim,

      Not all communities are this short-sighted.

    • Paul says:

      The property is going from commercial timberland to forest preserve.

      Wild Forest or Wilderness – the environment wins either way.

      Would you have considered it a good place to retire if the land had 53 miles of roads, a bunch of buildings, and there was active logging with skidders, bulldozers, log trucks, mechanized tree harvesters….

      I think you should reconsider.

      • Jim S. says:

        I’m just frustrated. I see the potential for an international tourist destination for adventure minded youth like my kids encounter on their travels, and the locals want fat old people who tour by car.

        • Boreas says:

          Jim S.,

          I feel your pain. However I do not think the local governments care about body size or age, as long as they have cash to spend.

          • Paul says:

            What those folks care about is having an economy that allows the folks they represent to at least scrape by, or maybe do a little better. If all they cared about was cash I doubt they would be saying that they think classifying half of this land as Wilderness is a good idea.

            Many public servants actually have good intentions.

            • Jim S. says:

              I do believe that their intentions are very good. Almost everyone I have met in the Newcomb area are “the salt of the earth” types. I just strongly believe in Wilderness protection and promotion. To have the biggest area of forest that is left alone to let mother nature do what she does will become rarer and rarer in this age. The wilder and more remote areas will draw more people as time passes. Access is convenient, but it makes a potential exotic destination into just another campground.

              • Paul says:

                It’s almost a one mile hike and or paddle to get to the ponds even if the road goes to the flow. With enough land being classified as Wilderness to allow for even a new Wilderness are (10K plus acres). That isn’t just another campground. You are mis-representing the facts with that characterization.

                • Jim S. says:

                  My opinion of what is “just another campground” is obviously much different than yours. The presence of the road dictates that to me.

        • Paul says:

          Under these proposals the “fat old people” still have to walk and or paddle for almost a mile to get to the ponds.

        • Byron says:

          The locals want to build their economies, no matter who travels.

  2. James Marco says:

    Close the road. Classify the area as Wilderness. Snowmobiles are dying. The roads will revert to trails. The dam maintenance can be supplied by air and do not pose a problem to the Wilderness classification (Low’s Lake, Taylor Pond, etc.) The bridges are not capable of supporting cars for any length of time without work. The existing infrastructure was private, limiting public access, for many years allowing regrowth of forests. My belief is that Wilderness will benefit the entire ADK’s and increase tourism much more than a Wild Forest classification. The ecological needs of the area are best filled by Wilderness. Fauna in the region could move away with continual mechanized traffic with the noise invading their homes. People and access is the largest problem with the surrounding Wilderness areas. There is certainly no reason to provide easy access of MORE people through the areas. Leaving a legacy to the future, Wilderness gives us hope for our children and a place to respect the land, not an opportunity to rape the land again. We tried that in the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s. We preserve much more than the land with a Wilderness classification. We preserve a piece of ourselves in the land, protecting our future and nurturing our children.

    • Boreas says:

      James,

      Many people that have grown up with land already preserved for them by people with foresight don’t feel the need to pay it forward. As we have seen by many comments here, if they can’t drive on it it they consider it locked up and useless. Just as some parents pass on pro-environment values, others pass on anti-environment values – essentially a cultural thing. Local governments are no exception.

      • Paul says:

        Saying you want to classify over ten thousand acres of land as Wilderness is passing on “anti-environmental” values? Interesting way of looking at it.

        • Boreas says:

          Paul,

          You are intentionally conflating two different statements. My statement made no mention of classification, as it was obviously a broader statement. Don’t put words in my mouth.

          • Paul says:

            Not putting words in your mouth I was simply posing a question for you? Do you think that these folks asking for this particular classification proposal are what you define as anti-environmental? You did reply to a comment that was all about classification with your comment.

            • Boreas says:

              Paul,

              I am not very cerebral and when I comment I expect my words to be taken literally. If you read between my lines to make arguments I am not making, then you are misrepresenting my statement.

              But I will reply to your question with this one. If there were a couple significant logging roads in the northern section of the parcel, would the APA still be proposing a Wilderness classification for that section?

              I do feel the APA and local governments feel that as long as they throw the pro-wilderness folks a bone that they should be able to do what they want with the rest of the parcel, especially the ‘ponds area” proper – arguably the most contentious and sensitive area of the purchase. None of the proposals suggested making the ponds area Wilderness with less total land allocated to Wilderness to the east and west keeping the acreage totals the same. My point all along has been to give maximum protection to the ponds area which is the most sensitive area of the parcel. As far as I can see, this was never a consideration.

              My only hope is that the DEC sees the ‘ponds area’ in a different light and minimizes or blocks vehicular traffic to LaBier Flow which is their prerogative regardless of final classification.

        • Bruce says:

          Paul,

          It’s all about “we want Wilderness or there will be nothing.” That view is not supported by the facts, which were laid out in this article succinctly and logically. Alternative 1 is likely the best fit to the rules as spelled out in the SLMP.

          So many have ignored the parts of the SLMP which don’t fit their notion of how it should be, and then work the parts which do fit to death.

          Do I smell another court case?

  3. Tim-Brunswick says:

    I sincerely hope that Jim S. does seriously reconsider his plan to retire to the Adirondacks……….

    • Jim S. says:

      I do love it there. My original comment was a knee jerk reaction

      • Paul says:

        We have recently added many thousands of acres of Wilderness and thousands of acres of wild forest. Stopped almost all development on almost one million acres of easement lands in the past 15 or so years alone. If you like retiring in wild places it is only getting better don’t believe all the rhetoric that some groups are using to fill their coffers.

        • Boreas says:

          I agree! Despite the many arguments that our current SLMP classification system spawns, the net result has been more land with more access to the backcountry – both vehicular and pedestrian. The conservation easements are a particularly good feather in NYS’s cap – and tend to be much less contentious. TNC’s efforts, although not without criticism, should also be acknowledged.

        • Bruce says:

          Paul,

          Members of Protect and other groups, as well as individuals keep talking about a loss of wild lands in the Adirondacks, when the fact is they’re increasing. I wonder how they explain this dichotomy? Perhaps they try to explain it by saying that if the Boreas tract is not all classified Wilderness, then that somehow equates to a net loss. It’s a bit like saying half empty is a worse condition than half full.

          • Boreas says:

            Bruce,

            Private land that was once forest and now has a lawn and house or a business or lumbering/agriculture is also a loss of wild land. Granted, the classification of the property hasn’t necessarily changed, but there has been development on otherwise forested land. You can’t just look at the numbers on a tally sheet. A simple drive shows net forest loss.

          • John Warren John Warren says:

            Bruce, it is absolutely and obviously false that the acres of wild lands are increasing. That simply has no basis in fact and it’s a little surprising to hear you even make the claim. There are thousands of homes and businesses being built every year. DEC is one of the biggest developers of wild land in the Adirondacks. That you don’t understand this as a simple fact really calls into question your understanding of all these issues.

            • Paul says:

              I think he is talking about the Adirondacks specifically. If you look at the 2014 stats you see we have 2,551,699 acres of protected state land in the forest preserve (43.83% of the park). In 2009 we had 2,524,088 acres (43.36%). In 2014 we had 1,161,257 acres of land classified as Wilderness and in 2009 we had 1,095,186 acres. So in those 5 years alone we added 66,072 acres of Wilderness – enough land for 6 separate new wilderness areas under state law.

              http://apa.ny.gov/gis/index.html#Stats

              • Boreas says:

                We need to get our heads out of the classification stats and think about the concept of net loss/gain of natural lands, regardless of ownership. Even within the Park, there is significant development on private lands. Hundreds of houses, businesses, farms, etc. alter the Park annually. But how much private land is being returned back to nature to maintain the balance? Just because the state buys a parcel of forested land from a private owner and protects it – regardless of classification – it is no net gain in forest land for the Park, state or country. It was forest before and is forest after the acquisition. The stats I am concerned about are total # acres natural vs. # acres developed and how that changes over time. But development continues, and no one pays attention because it is a “good” thing.

                So when many of us lament the loss of natural areas or forest, we are talking about development – net loss of forest – not ownership changes. This is different than the classification arguments. The state isn’t buying up much farmland and planting trees on it, although some land owners are allowing farmland to revert naturally.

                • Paul says:

                  ” it is no net gain in forest land for the Park, state or country”

                  Public forest land for the park is increasing. Every state land purchase in the Adirondacks is private land becoming Forest Preserve land. With only very rare occasions (constitutional swaps for example) does forest preserve land ever become private land decreasing forest preserve.

                  As for private land. Look at the project on the lodge road we were discussing. Before the permits there was about 590 acres of RM land that was available for development. Now about 480 acres of that private land is off limits to development – more private land that we know will remain wild land. Off the chopping block so to speak.

                  Sure there is development going on nobody can deny that but things are being managed pretty well. Since the park is a finite area at some point in the future – probably pretty far out there – what can be developed will and what can’t be developed will be protected. Personally I think it is being managed pretty well. Can we do even better sure. But the sky isn’t falling when it comes to development in the park.

            • Bruce says:

              John,

              Are we talking about public wild lands in the Adirondacks, or land in general? Of course more and more land is going under the knife so to speak, but publicly owned wild lands are increasing in the Adirondacks.

              Both views are true, but we’re talking about public wild lands in the AP.

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