Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ex-DEC Official Disagrees With Essex Chain Plan

Essex Chain and nearby ponds (Photo by Carl Heilman)A former top official in the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says the department’s proposal for managing the Essex Chain of Lakes will jeopardize the region’s natural resources.

In the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Christopher Amato calls for classifying the Essex Chain as a Canoe Area, a designation that would prohibit the public use of motorboats, floatplanes, and motor vehicles. DEC has proposed classifying the area as Wild Forest, which would permit motorized access.

Amato’s proposal is closer in spirit to proposals by the Adirondack Council and Protect the Adirondacks to classify all or most of the tract as Wilderness. Motorized use is also prohibited in Wilderness Areas. But Amato, who served as DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources from 2007 to 2011, contends that the Canoe designation is a better fit.

“The Canoe Area classification is designed to promote and protect water-based recreation and fisheries—the two outstanding attributes of the Essex tract,” he writes in a Viewpoint article in the Explorer.

A Canoe designation would give DEC more latitude in managing fish populations, including the administrative use of floatplanes and motor vehicles. The Essex Chain contains trout and landlocked salmon.

Under DEC’s  Wild Forest classification plan, private floatplanes would be allowed to land on one of the lakes in early spring and late fall and dirt roads would be kept open to allow motor vehicles into the interior of the tract. Department officials say they are not proposing that the lakes be open to motorboats. However, the plan does not specifically ban them.

Amato contends that DEC’s plan will lead to overuse. “DEC’s proposal—which would allow intrusive motor-vehicle and floatplane access to much of this wild area—would put the tract’s natural resources at risk and drastically alter its relatively untrammeled nature,” Amato writes.

Amato resigned from DEC to join a law firm in Albany. He told me that when he left DEC, the department was planning to designate the Essex Chain a Canoe Area. DEC officials deny there was such a consensus.

Although both the Adirondack Council and Protect want the Essex Chain designated a Wilderness Area, their plans differ substantially. The council proposes a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness that would encompass not only the Essex Chain, but also a long stretch of the Hudson. Protect is proposing a 39,000-acre Upper Hudson Wilderness. Under their plan, some interior roads in the vicinity of the Essex Chain would remain open. DEC is calling for creation of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, but it would not include the Essex Chain.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, had once proposed that the Essex Chain region be a Canoe Area. He now backs Protect’s proposal, but he said Amato’s proposal is a good fallback. “I think ADK could live with a Canoe Area classification for the Essex Chain,” he said.

Click here to read an article explaining the various proposals for the Essex Chain.

Click the link below to read Amato’s Viewpoint in its entirety (note: the first click will bring you to a new page with a similar link; click that link to call up the PDF document).

Amato Viewpoint

Photo: Essex Chain of Lakes by Carl Heilman II.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

6 Responses

  1. Charlie says:

    It seems to me that DEC seems to support more things big business than it does the natural resources of NY State like the way it used to be.It just doesn’t make sense………..unless of course some bigshot fatcat/s, whose sole purpose is the earning of profits,somehow got to the narrow minds of DEC employees.The same DEC who seems to be all for hydrofracking in New York State,which is a process that will destroy and pollute what are now unspoiled ecosystems chock full of living things unseen by the average robot….contrary to what the gas people are spewing. Where motor vehicles have access pollution always follows,this is a given. The DEC should know this by now.So why would they favor motorized access to a pristine wilderness? It’s the nuclear family mindset is why.Which is all about convenience and entertainment and what can we destroy next? Allow motorized access to places that have been undisturbed by them all along and watch what follows.There’s always a Joe Schmoe who will come along and let loose his dysfunction. I can set forth examples if anyone wishes for me to do so.Of course your average lover of the Adirondacks has his or her head screwed on right and respects that pristine environment that surrounds them,but there’s always the few who ruin it for the rest.So why chance it? The Essex chain will,in increments,lose its virginity if motorized access is allowed. And how are floatplanes any different than boats so far as transporting invasive species from one body of water to another.Shouldn’t this be a concern also?

    • loggerhead says:

      Right On Charlie!… Hopefully “Protect”(protect us from ourselves) and the Adirondack Council (recent rulers of the APA) will enlist you to speak at the public hearings on land use classifications. Your understanding of the history and nature of the Essex Chain – Finch properties will most likely work well in getting the classification you hope for.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, Your concerns are very real. That is why the land should have remained private and well protected (even far more protected if there were easements put in place, without public access). But the folks that supported these transactions have gotten their wish and the DEC cannot (as you would like) simply impose some idea that is not based on public sentiment. They work for the taxpayers who now own this land and many of them disagree with you.

      • Alan Senbaugh says:

        I disagree with “more protected” because at least they will not be developed. However I do agree that opening it up to public access now will have a greater impact than in recent times. The problem with easement lands is that we then have subsidized private lands. Not against easement but I like FP better. I wish the DEC stopped putting trails every place.

  2. TiSentinel65 says:

    Is this the same lawyer who was rebuked by a federal judge in the James McCulley vs. DEC case. If so who cares what he saying. He was wrong then and he is wrong now. DEC’s proposal represents a fair compromise as it is. I recall a previous article in here talking about compromises being made, and DEC’s proposal in my opinion represents that. I wish DEC would just deed all the land over to me. I’ll take care of it. I won’t be holding my breath however. DRAT! That DEC!

  3. Paul says:

    It is just his opinion. Fair to hear it. This particular land has been driven on for years I guess the argument here is that the hunting club members and forestry workers are far less likely to degrade the resource than the general public. I guess that is possible. Now there is going to be some increased car travel but no more ATV and Log Skidder and Excavator and bulldozer use so it will probably remain in pretty good shape even with a Wild Forest designation.

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