Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adirondack Wild Takes Big View On SLMP’s 40th

At the 40th Anniversary of the State Land Master Plan (SLMP), Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has issued a report that calls upon Governor Andrew Cuomo and state agencies “to advance and expand upon the many positive values of wild lands in our Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.”

“The Forest Preserve was placed into state laws and its Constitution. It is where wilderness preservation began,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson in a prepared statement (Gibson is a regular contributor at Adirondack Almanack). “However, government often approaches such an important landscape with a muddied sense of mission, and in an uncoordinated and shallow way. We are urging parties to venture deeper, and with greater purpose.”

“Governor Cuomo and his agencies should focus upon the paramount purposes set forth in the Master Plan for protecting our wild land heritage in the Forest Preserve,” said Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. “That requires leadership which places the protection of natural systems above strictly recreational interests.”

The SLMP addressed these issues when it was created in 1972:  “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.”  The forward-thinking plan has since provided the legal baseline for protection of the Adirondacks that serves as a worldwide conservation model today.

“Not only did the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve inspire the drafting of the National Wilderness Preservation Act, but this great landscape also inspires people around the globe and serves as a crucial, working global model for parks and protected areas from the United States to Russia, Tibet and China to Europe, Central and South American nations, and beyond,” Plumley added.

Adirondack Wild’s report (available online) makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • APA and DEC should amend the SLMP to incorporate the Park’s large conservation easements, and require management plans which take into account ecological integrity as well as recreational goals. All SLMP amendments require public hearings;
  • APA and DEC should amend the SLMP to unite the myriad units of Forest Preserve, consolidate unit boundaries on a regional basis, and systematically apply the most critical management tools to a larger consolidated region consistent with principles of ecological integrity and connectivity.
  • Agencies should be required to re-examine and align State Environmental Quality Review Act and other regulations to assure that the mandate of Article 14, Section 1 of the NYS Constitution is carried out by every state agency;
  • The APA with private sector partners should immediately undertake a long-term trend analysis of ecological changes taking place in the Park, and measure indices of ecological health;
  • All agencies should systematically manage State Lands and State-held conservation easements for their ecological integrity, to advance biological diversity, and mitigate the effects of climate change;
  • APA and DEC should strictly control motorized uses on the Forest Preserve, undertake carrying capacity studies, and subject the Snowmobile Trail guidelines and All-Terrain Vehicle Policy to public hearings;
  • The agencies should call for a quantifiable economic study and evaluation of the economic contributions made by all Adirondack and Catskill wild lands.

Governor Cuomo should take advantage of the opportunity to reach for the higher standard implied by Article 14 that would attract new regional and international ecological research, the report says. “Advancing this wild land model would be a result worthy of our state’s history as wilderness pioneers, and of the 40th anniversary of the State Land Master Plan,” the paper concludes.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit membership organization organized in the summer of 2010 to advance New York’s “Forever Wild” legacy and Forest Preserve policies in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and promote public and private land stewardship consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research.

Illustration: The original 1972 SLMP map [larger pdf version].

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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com.




17 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    ““That requires leadership which places the protection of natural systems above strictly recreational interests.””

    A good example of where this could have been done and should be done in the future is draft conservation easement agreements that do NOT allow public access on easement land.

    In the past it has always been, draft the agreements so that hiking and paddling and hunting and fishing interests are paramount and environmental protection is secondary. Or the strategy is to add it to the forest preserve so that it can be even more heavily used for recreation with the building of many trails, lean tos, bridges, and other public use facilities.

  2. Mick says:

    I contend that DEC should focus efforts on protecting existing Forest Preserve Land, which would require a constitutional amendment, and until that time, until a sound management and protection plan is in place, the State should acquire no more lands in fee title.

    State-owned land is under imminent threat of high forest mortality rates. See this report:

    http://www.adirondackcouncil.org/acrapub.pdf

    • Paul says:

      Mick, What sort of “constitutional amendment” would you craft that would help deal with Acid Rain and mercury deposition described in the report you link to?

      I don’t get it?

      • Mick says:

        Paul, the prescribed control method for EAB and ALB is removal. That would limit the spread. Removal is illegal. A constitutional amendment is necessary to make it allowable.

        • Paul says:

          Yes, I get that for EAB. I just didn’t get the link to the thing about acid rain you linked to. I think that clear cutting is a decent short term solution. It is more likely that a good insecticide will be needed for a long term solution (tough for a bug like this but there are some available it is very labor intensive but so is clear cutting 25 acres in an area with no good road access). Treating tress would not violate article 14 in my opinion. Also your idea below if it could work could be done on FP land without amending the constitution.

          I think we should allow some logging of the FP for less complicated reasons. That would require a change to the constitution.

      • Mick says:

        Paul, are you familiar with agronomy? I hypothesize that indigenous mycorrhizae is stressed due to acid deposition, and non-indigenous multi-specie beneficial soil microbes should be introduced in test plots. Check out the function of mycorrhizae here. It could be a solution to the forest health problems:

        http://www.mycorrhizae.com/

  3. Solidago says:

    Unfortunately, the money and the votes are in recreation, not protecting ecological integrity, a fact that most supposedly “green” groups and elected and appointed decision makers in the government who are in charge of protecting our natural heritage seem to be very well aware of.

    They’ll favor the protection of ecological integrity only so far as it doesn’t interfere with their recreational experience (or that of their customers or constituents).

    That said, the folks at Adirondack Wild do seem to be idealistic enough that they might just take on the paddling and hiking industry and the groups and officials that advocate for their interests, even if it means ticking off pretty much everyone. We’ll see…

    • Paul says:

      Maybe, but if they did that they would probably go out of business pretty fast. What they could do is try and ally themselves with groups that want to protect land under private stewardship, for example the Adirondack League Club or Brandon Park or Bay Pond. The trade off is that the land will be closed to the public but open for a select group of people in some cases. Seems like a fair trade off. The state doesn’t have to pay for the land or the taxes (which at some point they will not be able to afford if they get too much land). The state doesn’t have to mange all the different user groups that saves money. The land has far less USE which means it is better protected. Currently there is no shortage of public land in the Adirondacks. With these new large purchases folks are just like kids in a candy store. They want to have a look at what has been protected under private stewardship for all these years then they lose interest and head back to places like John’s Brook Lodge anyway. The state (the tax payers) are left holding the bag.

      • Mick says:

        Paul, you are absolutely correct. How do you think this concept would fly:

        I understand the intent of conservation easements as they are currently used in the Adirondack Park; they are usually purchased by the state to ensure public access and usage rights, and to prevent or strictly limit development. Is there any reason why they could not be used to protect and ensure usage rights for all of the user groups, including recreational clubs? The reasons for protecting the clubs are manifold: They are an important economic component in the region, and they have important and intrinsic cultural and social value.

        I can just imagine the arguments AGAINST such protection, but realistically, why would access and usage be granted to some user groups at the behest of others. The current conservation easement procurement program is preferential and exclusionary. Its purpose should be broadened to include protection of the clubs as well.

        Is there any legal reason why this could not be done?

        Hypothetically, if a TIMO were to purchase “eased” lands, they would know full well that recreational club leases would encumber their deed, and that they could expect revenues in the form of lease payments in perpetuity. The easement language would need to be written to protect customary and traditional usage and access rights, with lease payments capped relative to normal payment rates (historically, Finch & Pruyn used recreational club lease revenues to pay their property taxes).

        • Paul says:

          The idea flies with you and me but not with many other folks. Their top priority remains public access limited to a particular type of recreation and they have been very successful in advocating their position.

          The former Fynch Pruyn lands (an hundreds of thousands of other easement lands) are a clear example of how that model has already been successful. The easements simply ensure that even the potential for future development is no longer an issue. Many groups do not want to also limit recreation to a much smaller group of people. Obviously that has nothing to do with preservation since it would enhance forest protection on those lands.

          The other question is whether or not the “conservation easement” model is financially viable in the long-term without the added leasing revenue from the land. The tax break for the easement is probably not enough to allow these companies to hold the land long term. I suspect this may have been a big part of the equation on the former Champion lands as they looked at their holding costs on those timber lands in the face of falling timber prices and rising property taxes. But if these deals are to fail and the land is not very marketable given these encumbrances the only buyer left standing maybe the State of New York. If that happens I don’t think these green groups will be too upset with the outcome.

          • Mick says:

            Paul,

            I bet that the allowance for the continuation of recreational leases on the Champion land is exactly for the reason you state; the landowner needs the lease revenue. The enviros are going nuts over that. They don’t want reality to get in the way of their fantasy.

  4. TiSentinel65 says:

    Dave, I think the only way you can get people to endorse more taxpayer money for state acquisition of land is through the compromising we have now. Working forests combined with recreational opportunity, seems to be the template for the future. If outright preservation, and a look don’t touch mentallity is the goal, you will have a hard time garnering popular support. TNC realises this. They would never be able to pull off the deals that they have in the past without the people at least giving luke warm approval. The only way I could see ideas as such come to fruition would be through private monies. It will have to come from members of the private preservationist groups to fund their own idea. You are never going to get the majority of the people to support the state putting up posted signs on state land. TNC and other groups have a hard enough time financing their current land flipping. These groups do not like to hold onto land. They need the state to aquire them quickly so taxes don’t eat up the monies needed for more aquisition. Many groups have proposed tax breaks for these deals. I am dead set against more tax breaks for speacial interest. These groups have to under stand. If you want to own it, pay taxes like everyone else.

    • Dave Gibson says:

      TiSentinel,

      I do not disagree with you. Like you, we are not for “look, don’t touch.” People that touch and are touched by these landscapes come to learn, appreciate and protect them. The easement program has been a great success overall. Recreational opportunities are important on both state and private lands – by agreement or easement. What we are seeking is acknowledgement that the State Land Master Plan, as well as other plans adopted for other land ownerships in the Park are not utilizing the best data available, or best understanding of how to measure things like ecological integrity, those aspects that make the Adirondack Park stand out from other places. Nor does government operate from an understanding of what these landscapes are worth on a direct and indirect basis.
      Thanks for your comments. Also, it is my understanding that The Nature Conservancy is paying full taxes on the Finch lands, among others.

    • Paul says:

      Here is an interesting question. Since the state has to pay property taxes on FP land (albeit at a pretty ridiculously reduced rate, I am sorry folks will argue they pay the market rate but look at what they pay for a large waterfront parcel, since the development rights are gone everyone else on the lake picks up the slack (an the municipality takes a serious hit in the process)why isn’t a not-for-profit set up for land preservation required to do so under the tax code in NYS? I know the TNC is paying taxes on their Adirondack land but it is similar to a university paying making a PILOT just to keep the municipality from running them out of town on a rail. The TNC knows that if they stop paying property taxes that many people that they be-befriended when they cut these deals will quickly un-friend them.

  5. Mick says:

    So, it will probably take a lawsuit against the state to change the course of the deal, wouldn’t you agree?

    • Paul says:

      The deal is done. What would be the basis for a lawsuit? The SLMP says that productive timber land should be put into easement but they put most of it there. Not enough in my opinion. But like I said the deal is structured in a way that will probably force the TIMOs to sell anyway. If you look these firms hold land 10 maybe 15 years. Once they are ready to divest if you have no buyers under these crazy restrictions then in steps the State (maybe with help from a preservation group with deep pockets) and it all gets added to the FP. The state ends up holding too much land (we know they can barely afford or manage what they already have) and then they have to renig on their tax obligations (we have seen a hint of this already a few years ago). The towns are screwed and you end up with the original plan for all the land within the blue line that was envisioned when the drew it. Then you have a real PARK.

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