Monday, April 22, 2013

Peter Bauer: ‘Adirondack Futures’ Story Falls Short

Entering Adirondack ParkDave Mason and Jim Herman have received a lot of commendations for their Adirondack Futures project. It’s high time, the Adirondack Futures project tells us, for a grassroots, bottom-up, inclusive planning process that is professionally facilitated to shape a plan for a new and positive direction for the Adirondack Park.

Mason and Herman have met with several hundred people about the future of the Adirondacks and created a handful of scenarios for what the future may hold 25 years down the road in 2038. They have presented these plans to government at all levels and many groups throughout the Adirondacks. They are now actively implementing this work through a half dozen work teams.

Here’s a good assessment of the Adirondack Futures project posted on the website of Protect the Adirondacks last fall. Pete Nelson also reviewed this effort recently here on the Almanack.

To further promote their work, Mason and Herman have published an article in Adirondack Life that details six scenarios for the future of the Adirondack Park. It’s accompanied by a web survey hosted by Adirondack Life where people can vote on their choice for the future. The magazine is running the survey until September 1st.

This post is mainly a reaction to the article in Adirondack Life, which differs significantly in tone and content from the main body of the Futures project. The Adirondack Life piece is a major disappointment and I think a poor representation of Mason and Herman’s overall effort. I know it’s an abridged version of their longer report posted here, but in the Adirondack Life article hyperbole has replaced substance and insults have replaced inclusiveness.

For two proponents who decry the lack of a safe zone for unheated discussion in the Adirondack Park and talk about the need to build common ground, they sure spend an awful lot of time taking cheap shots at environmentalists.

For its part Adirondack Life says it was looking to be provocative and that the over-the-top rhetoric used in the article was designed to stimulate feedback. So, Adirondack Life took leave of its lofty journalistic perch and tried out some of the tricks of Sean Hannity.

Mason and Herman tell us that they’re highly successful management consultants who worked with such prestigious companies as Merck and Intel. They helped draft plans that unified these big companies and brought together combative and competing factions or divisions. They tell us they’re using these same skills and tactics now in the Adirondack Futures Project.

I wonder if the plans they developed for Merck and Intel were laced with as much ridicule of a single faction or division as their piece in Adirondack Life?

Consider these gems from their article: “Fighting had turned into a small industry with full-time employees. Winning or losing had job implications, but continuing to fight meant job security.”

Or this one: “While the hired warriors tangled, hurling insults and lawsuits that supplied fodder for news stories, regular people just watched from the sidelines, shut out of the discussion.”

As Mason and Herman dismiss environmental advocacy to protect the Adirondack Park as the money grubbing work of con artists, they pat themselves on the back: “So we launched this pro bono project for the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance to stimulate new, creative, integrated thinking and to craft a real strategy for the whole park.”

For Mason and Herman environmentalists are really just confidence men and women. Environmental disputes are not real, but cooked up solely to ensnare gullible donors.

For Mason and Herman there is really no value to the work of the environmental camp. We have had no positive impact on the Adirondack Park lo these many decades. I don’t think even Dick Cheney would be as mean-spirited in his assessment of environmentalists as what’s written in Adirondack Life.

With a basic framework that is hardly balanced and is openly hostile to green-shaded Park constituencies, I fear this article will turn many people off.

While that’s all bad enough, the article masquerades tired anecdotes as fact. In their setup, Mason and Herman regurgitate the same discredited and misinformed shibboleths about demographics from the APRAP report. That the APA has issued tens of thousands of land use permits or that local governments have issued hundreds of thousands of building permits doesn’t compute with their narrative.

Nor do larger national trends. We live in a country that has shifted for decades from a rural society to a suburban-urban society. Over 80% of Americans live in metropolitan areas and over 85% of jobs are found in metropolitan areas. New jobs since the Great Recession are overwhelmingly in metro areas. This trend is intensifying. Demographers have charted what they call the Decimation of America’s Heartland. And yet in the last 50 years, though a minor turndown occurred 2000-2010, the Park’s population grew moderately, even as most of the rest of the rural US crumbled.

Forget deep trends like the complete mechanization of farms and the woods, consistently better economic and personal opportunities in cities and suburbs, agribusiness and investment funds squeezing out all non-corporate competitors on farms and in the woods, laws and regulations stacked in favor of the corporations, and much, much, more. Forget that over 75% of New York school districts have lost population since 2006. None of this stuff matters.

Mason and Herman’s work, as posted on their website refrains from cheap shots. They’ve basically said the Park is an important asset to build upon. But, in Adirondack Life, they sing different hymns. No space for the idea that the Adirondack Park and the Forest Preserve may have made this area more resilient than other rural landscapes in the US. Things are so dire, they say, it’s time to put the main infrastructure of the Adirondack Park on the butcher’s block.

That Mason and Herman pivoted to hyperbole in their most visible report to the public to date – publication in Adirondack Life – is unfortunate. That Adirondack Life played the same game is inexcusable.

Now to the article’s main content.

Mason and Herman give us six “endstates” to vote on. These are six scenarios for how the Park could be in 2038, 25 years hence. These are Wild Park, Usable Park, Sustainable Life, Adirondack County, Post-Big Government Solutions, and The Adirondack State Forest.

As we’ll see, they stack the deck in favor of two endstates and present the other four really as caricature, meant more for shock value or to say they covered an option. And, two common themes dominate these six scenarios: 1) vastly reduce the size and scale of local government; and 2) start logging the Forest Preserve.

They render each scenario with selective details and include good and bad outcomes. Some scenarios are drawn to be mostly all good, some mostly all bad. In doing this they clearly tip their hand and will likely drive the majority of respondents to support one of two scenarios.

Option 1 is “Wild Park.” Here, the authors present a scenario based on a caricature of the supposed environmentalist’s fantasy. “Article XIV of the state constitution—the ‘Forever Wild’ philosophy—remains its foundation, and the courts have continued to provide protection against shifting public attitudes and opportunistic politicians. The APA and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are clear that preserving this wild experience is their mission, with economic and even ecosystem health secondary.”

Right, environmental laws so strong they actually harm what they seek to protect. That’s what we want. Examples? None. Data? Nothing. Substance? Nada.

The authors don’t even seem to have this scenario straight in their own minds. They state that Forever Wild orthodoxy makes “even ecosystem health secondary.” But, then they contradict themselves by stating that because of the Wild Park “The park’s diverse ecosystem turns out to be a resilient one, better able to fight off invasives and adapt to climate change than other parts of the state.”

The garbled thinking and contradictions of Wild Park don’t really matter because it’s really a throwaway scenario, not meant to be taken seriously. It’s sort of a scare tactic, or token strategy of, hey, lets give one to the greenies, even if it makes no sense.

Option 2 is “Usable Park,” the idea of which is “to put PARK back in this place” or, actually, to put the Park back in its place. This scenario paints a bright future where “wild areas have become wilder” and “developed areas, like hamlets, more developed.” In Usable Park all land use development conflicts have been harmoniously resolved and so have all recreational conflicts on public lands. Local industry flourishes, non-profits are strong, and government payrolls have been painlessly chopped in half.

Harmony is everywhere. Everybody in the Usable Park of 2038 sings an Oklahoma!-style version of the jetskier and the canoeist will be friends; see “the jetskier dances with the canoeist’s gal.”

And there’s nary a word about how all this harmony was achieved, but that’s a minor detail. The important thing here is that in Usable Park everybody is happy. So who could be against Usable Park? We all want to be happy.

The third option is “The Sustainable Life.” This was the most popular scenario in Mason and Herman’s report on its website. If Usable Park had everybody happy because, well, we actually don’t know why everybody is happy, they’re just happy, The Sustainable Life has everybody happy because Park communities have cut free of fossil fuels and made the Park an ecologically sustainable Shangri la. “The park is a model of the sustainable, low-carbon footprint rural lifestyle. The region is more self-sufficient with strong local energy and food industries. These provide local jobs by replacing imports such as fuel oil and limit the money that flows out. Eco-friendly recreation and agritourism bring visitors and income.” How could anybody oppose this? Besides Exxon-Mobil that is.

Devoid of all details, they mention that the Forest Preserve is also somehow managed for sustainable purposes. Forever Wild is junked, but this is a small matter because in this scenario: “The park is a model of sustainable community and draws in green businesses and a new generation of young people who find the vision attractive.” How the Adirondack Park has advanced beyond genuinely progressive communities in other parts of the US in its sustainability quest is not described.

I could quibble about managing the Forest Preserve, but, really, like the Usable Park, the Sustainable Park evokes an Emerald City kind of the future, so why quibble about the fact that there’s no roadmap showing us how to get there or the value of Forever Wild as a carbon sink.

In my experience whenever people start talking about what sustainable actually means and requires, then agreement breaks down. A sustainable future is clearly where we have to go in the Adirondacks, the US and the world, but there will be tremendous upheaval and profound winners and losers in the transition to a sustainable life. One recent report on sustainability said it’s all based on “balance.” No, sustainability is based on limits. Real limits.

Fourth is “Adirondack County.” I’m not sure where this came from. In 25 years of working in the Adirondack Park I have heard, and advocated, that the State of New York manage the Park as a single administrative unit, rather than piecemeal through the variously organized regions of its different agencies, but I’ve never heard anybody call for the Park to be managed as one county. California has counties even larger than the Adirondacks, but there the populations are concentrated. I’m not sure how this works, but again, that’s an unnecessary detail.

The big thing with Adirondack County is that “The Blue Line becomes a county line, and state agencies align services to it, enabling more efficient government. This perspective is driven by taxpayer outrage at the overlaps, fragmentation and duplication of layers of government. There is just too much government for only 130,000 residents.”

And, the Adirondack County scenario envisions “For the first time the people of the park think of themselves as a group and have stopped fighting town versus town. Instead of playing the victim of rules imposed by an elite population elsewhere, residents have a sense of ‘us’ and take responsibility for sorting out their affairs.”

One small matter is “The Forest Preserve has been unified and rationalized through numerous land swaps.” I’m not sure what this means, but count me dubious of a Forest Preserve “unified and rationalized.”

One of the things that makes working in the Adirondack Park fun is the level of involvement and concern I see across the Park. While one county is certainly outside-the-box thinking, it seems like it was cooked up as something jarring, but not really to be taken seriously.

Fifth, is “Post-Big Government Solutions.” This too is meant to jar us into thinking of a world where many government services have been privatized, and the Forest Preserve, of course, logged. This is basically another throwaway scenario that points towards the future when, as Bill Clinton told us in 1996, the era of big government is over. But this time, it’s really over. Gone. Done. By 2038 major downsizing has occurred. You betcha!

Mason and Herman really have it in for government, almost as much as they do for Forever Wild (with zero data or analysis provided for either target). I know that everybody wants smaller government just as long as it doesn’t diminish any services. I know that the “smaller government” slogan is an easy thing to put out to build consensus on a superficial level. I mean, really, who doesn’t want smaller government?

But at least this scenario tries to grapple with realities of edge towns prospering while interior towns stagnate due to commuting opportunities for employment in more metropolitan areas outside the Park. The scenario is also based on a variety of privatization schemes for campgrounds and ski areas. And, they envision “Landowners and towns voluntarily spend on combating invasives and cleaning up septic systems to protect land values and preserve recreation.” If this is how to get New York’s septic system laws modernized, then count me in.

The last scenario is “The Adirondack State Forest.” Here, the 1.2 million acres of Forest Preserve lands classified as Wild Forest are removed from Forever Wild constitutional protections and opened for logging. That’s the new state forest. What becomes of the conservation easement land base they don’t say (it’s only 750,000 acres, a small matter?). In exchange, the state no longer pays local taxes on this land base, but revenues from forest management are somehow provided to various local governments and they like it.

Take away tens of millions of dollars in state property taxes and give me stumpage. That’s a trade I don’t think a lot of communities will go for. Log the Forest Preserve around Upper Saranac Lake or the islands on Lake Placid – not sure that will fly either. Open for logging the Lake George Wild Forest and even some of the islands on the lake? The authors see the forestry value of Tongue Mountain as providing more for the Lake George area than the scenic and recreational and real estate support values of the Forest Preserve? (And, other values like wildlife habitat, biological diversity, open space protection, among many others, don’t even rank.)

The authors liken Adirondack State Forest to the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, but I don’t think they know very much about the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. Resource management is not the principal policy there, but providing a range of public recreational opportunities is. And, local payments in lieu of taxes there by the Feds are some of the highest in the country.

Mason and Herman more fully evoke this scenario by ridiculing “a desperate campaign by aging environmentalists” to save Forever Wild (ouch). The authors end by writing the people of New York looked at the “loosely organized ‘park’ to the north and wondered how it ever got so big and cost so much for the benefit of so few.”

Let me go on record as quite comfortable with the public support of New Yorkers to maintain Forever Wild. Were it to be threatened in a major way, I’m confident that New Yorkers will resist efforts to open it for logging.

Benefited so few? Sure, we have a small year-round population with a low population density, but the value of the Park goes beyond year-round residents. How many millions come to the Park each year? How many second home owners are there? How many use the Forest Preserve? How many come to Lake Placid each year? To Old Forge? To Lake George? To say the Park benefits “so few” is a silly statement.

Even sillier is the comment about cost. Mason and Herman have zero data on this point. Sure, the Forest Preserve and easements cost the state about $60 million in school and local property taxes each year. The APA has a budget of $6 million. ORDA has a budget of $40 million. DEC Region 5 runs a budget of $15 million. That’s $121 million. For argument’s sake, lets throw in land acquisition and various other state agency costs and double this figure and say that total state expenditures for the Adirondack Park runs $250 million each year. In a state with a $130 billion budget the Park costs .0019% of state spending. That’s less than 1%. And we’re 20% of the state’s geography.

The Adirondack National Forest is pretty much a throwaway too. It’s not well thought out, but it’s not meant to be.

Voting for a scenario in Adirondack Life is an effort to further build consensus around a vision for the future of the Adirondacks that the Adirondack Futures Project will use in its work. The consensus that will gel will likely be around Usable Park and the Sustainable Life, based largely on happy talk artfully devoid of specifics.

Presumably, after consensus is reached, partly through the Adirondack Life digital survey, a community of the willing can begin the arduous work of building a roadmap towards this deliberate and positive future in an implementation stage (though some of this work has already begun, which raises questions about the value and timing of the survey).

Implementation is where the real work begins. That’s where the happy talk ends.

The Adirondack Futures project, overall, I think is very positive. I think Mason and Herman freed up the Park’s economic and community development discussion in a new and exciting way. I don’t know when they adopted the new tone as exhibited in Adirondack Life. Maybe all along they’ve been gratuitously bashing environmentalists and had it in for the Forest Preserve and I’ve missed it. I can see that they’d pick up brownie points by bashing greenies and the Forest Preserve with the APA, AATV or Local Government Review Board, but I’m not sure it plays with the readers of Adirondack Life.

Respondents to the Adirondack Life website only get to rank the six scenarios offered. There’s no comment box. There’s no box to add a new scenario. There’s no choice for None of the Above. Adirondack Life would be well served by making such adjustments.

If I’m limited to voting on the six scenarios as offered, I’ll have to rank the Sustainable Life as my first choice, though I’m troubled about logging the Forest Preserve. I think we can show the values to fighting climate change are greater with a Forever Wild Forest Preserve than a logged one. I’d like to be able to include that comment in my vote.

(In the interest of full disclosure I’m a fan of Adirondack Life, to which I’ll always be grateful for hiring me as an assistant editor in the mid-1980s, and to which I’ve been a faithful subscriber.)

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

49 Responses

  1. Al Pouch says:

    Wow, I don’t think I read the same article! I saw it as a jumping off point for thought, not the start of another argument between them and us. I think everyone realizes that SOMETHING needs to be done and I see the article as good way to stimulate discussion, not dismissiveness.

  2. Dan Ling says:

    Wow. We are lucky to have Protect!, and Peter Bauer.

    The notion that environmental groups are a scam in the Adirondacks is laughable. I was once the sole employee of the RCPA (executive director) from around 1989-1992, and was paid $16,000 per year, no benefits, but had to drive long miles using my own car and gas. Before that as a fresh-out-of-college environmental planner I had started in the private sector at $23,000, so had taken a huge pay cut of 31% to join RCPA. I eventually had to quit my job with RCPA because I couldn’t afford to raise a family on that pay, then took a job as a teacher, which started at $32,000 per year (twice the salary) plus health, dental and retirement pension. I don’t think the RCPA directors ever forgave me for that. As a teacher, I told my students many times that the best job I ever had was the one that paid the worst. RCPA was a volunteer organization with a dedicated board of directors, most of whom gave up huge chunks of their personal time in the sole interest of protecting the Adirondacks. None of them ever received compensation for all their efforts, other than the knowledge that the area was spared from greed for a bit longer. We accepted $5 dues, but became the fastest-growing Adirondack organization during the years after the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century. We were a volunteer organization. Everything we did, and we did a lot, was accomplished by teams of volunteers from all over the region. One of our regulars, a forester, drove all the way from Lowville to North Creek to help out.

    The Adirondack Park is the oldest forest preserve in the world. Article 14, the “Forever Wild” clause, which was the model for our National Park wilderness, is the strongest (constitutional) protection of any forest in the world. Though the APA, (which was largely the idea of just a handful of powerful people including Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller), has often, and rightly, been controversial for it’s top-down approach, the work of environmentalists in the Adirondacks is actually the stuff of legends, from Verplank Colvin’s historic pleas to preserve the watershed, to Paul Schaefer’s historic efforts in uniting large blocks of sportsmen and environmentalists under one “conservation” roof to prevent dam construction, to today’s efforts to add tracts to the Forest Preserve, preserve water quality, prevent acid precipitation, etc. Schaefer, whom George Davis called “a giant of a man,” and whose daughter is a director of Protect!, is widely regarded as perhaps the most important 20th Century New York State conservationist.

    I agree with Peter, that the people of New York State will continue to support what in my opinion is the most historically important park in the world, and I am confidant that environmentalists will continue to have a historic role to play in making certain that there will always be untamed wilds for us in the Adirondacks.

    • Ellen Apperson Brown says:

      I feel your pain! I have been trying to write a biography of John S. Apperson, pioneer preservationist and defender of the Forever Wild Clause,for about fifteen years, and it is very hard to find an organization to raise money for my work, and hard to find suitable employment in the field of public history/preservation/or teaching. My great uncle, nicknamed Appy, was the mentor and inspiration for much of the work later done by Paul Schaefer and many others, but he made a living, for 47 years, at GE, in Schenectady. He started umpteen non-profit groups and ran effective grass roots political organizations. I would love to know his opinion about the size and effectiveness of today’s environmental organizations. He most certainly would have applauded each of them that helps educate the public about the issues, and would have derided those that are pretending to support causes but are in actuality a front for business interests. This is a great discussion!

  3. AAlbert J. Haberle,DVM says:


    There should be considerable consideration given to the new population trend in the developed world, where an increasingly large percentage of ‘the working population’ who now live in urban and suburban settings but do not need this proximity to the cities.
    That is, where people with excellent skills can earn their living by their connection to the internet, and not require a cubicle in an office building – in a city.
    It is just dawning on many middle class workers that many, if not most of them, can live, educate their children and earn their living in a better enviornment, at a lower cost with their home in a rural setting, such as the Adirondack Park (and it’s parimiter areas).
    Why pay $450,000 for a small dumpy house in Queens or Fairfield, or Morristown when you can have 5 acres and a nice home for half that in Essex County, NY — and generally better schools and healthier enviornment for the children thrown in.
    Simply put, a computer works as well in the Adirondacks as in Scaresdale or Fairfield.
    Sure they, the former urban dwellers, and their children, will, from time to time, want to ‘go shopping at the mall’ or ‘see a play’ but that is becoming more and more possible in or near the Adirondack communities.
    One can see the very beginnings of this happening where ‘summer homes’ are being occupied year round by middleclass families. Soon enough this will start to show up in the school populations.

  4. Big Burly says:

    Peter Bauer …
    What a disappointing read. I have a lot of time for your thoughts and have stated support for positions you have taken.
    This however contributes little to the debate that all of us who treasure this place must have.
    I was struck reading this that you must not have had the occasion to sit with Dave and Jim, to hear directly from them their devotion to the place where they and we live.
    There are folks in the environmental movement who hold to one view and no facts or new ways of tackling solutions in the Park get in the way of intransigence.
    I have not thought of you this way.
    The solutions we need to find will be better if you become part of the conversation; it’s hard to square your stated support for the ADK Futures effort with the rest of this article.

  5. Dave says:

    “There are folks in the environmental movement who hold to one view and no facts ”

    I’d like to hear more about this. Some examples, maybe? No names needed.

    • Big Burly says:

      A better comment from me would have included similar positions taken by those who rarely if ever give credence to the thoughtful positions of environmentalists. Thanks for pulling me up short.

  6. Nick Rose says:

    Peter, Peter, Peter
    Did you ever stop and try to talk with Dave & Jim? I would expect they did not have final say over what went into the Adirondack Life piece.
    Dave & Jim have invested into a multi-year effort concerted effort to drive planned and inclusive collaboration throughout the Park. What are you driving? If there is a more discordant entity within the Park than Protect, I don’t know who that would be, and it falls at your feet.

    • Doug says:

      It appears that the article hit Peter a little too close to home. My Grandmother would have said, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

  7. Pablo says:

    Peter is one of the “fighters” mentioned in the AL piece and he does not like it. Someone figured out what is really going on.

  8. John Warren says:

    The question strikes me: What is “the debate that all of us who treasure this place must have”?

    There are a lot of loaded assumptions in that kind statement, which I think Peter has pointed out.

    The doom and gloom crowd have held sway over local discussions for so long that even those who care about protecting the Forest Preserve and the Park have given over to this notion that something is wrong – some discussion must be had!

    The evidence shows that nothing is more wrong here where we live than anywhere else. In fact we seem to be doing better than other rural areas, arguably because of the protections that this so called “debate we must have” is seemingly geared to eliminate.

    Discussions about the future? Sure, but let’s not start them by pretending that everything that came before was worthless and we need to start from scratch on a new plan. There are after all, other plans already out there: the SLMP, from the Adirondack Council, the Adirondacks in the 20th Century’s work. If we’re going to have a new plan we ought to be acknowledging the existing plans and provide concrete evidence and argument about their shortcomings.

    And if there is a discussion about what “must happen” – can we have it without some of the nonsense Peter has pointed out in this article?

    For example: “While the hired warriors tangled, hurling insults and lawsuits that supplied fodder for news stories, regular people just watched from the sidelines, shut out of the discussion.”

    Is that appropriate? Reducing Adirondack stakeholder’s opinions and efforts in such a petty way? It also completely fails to understand the vast – far more than other places in the State for example – input that citizens are provided for. The Local Government Review Board for example is the State government PAYING to combat the Adirondack Park Agency – where else can citizens say they have that kind of input? That doesn’t even begin to address the various levels of input citizens have – APA meetings streamed live, plenty of public meetings on nearly every conceivable issue, local government days at the APA, Common Ground meetings, (the Adirondack Almanack!), etc. To claim that citizens sit on the sidelines is a patently false assumption on which the ‘Futures’ project seems to be, at least in part, based. It’s also the age-old argument of those who have opposed the Forest Preserve and the Park every step of the way.

    At the same time it claims citizens are side-lined, the piece has no problem dismissing legitimate viewpoints from citizens (and residents!) who care about the Park’s protection.

    The assumption that we need to have a discussion about loosening environmental protections is contested, not a given (in many ways our development controls are inferior to others around the state have (take Queensbury’s shoreline regs for example).

    Claiming that citizens don’t have a say and ‘hired guns’ are driving the issues and debates is patently wrong, and divisive.

    If there is evidence for these assumptions – and not just anecdotal ‘gut feeling’ evidence – but actual evidence – then by all means let’s hear it.

    That would be the place to start.

    One last point. I’m not sure consensus has created the Park, or is necessary to our future (let alone possible). I think a better term would be compromise – deals made between parties with differing values. I think this is a different understanding than the Futures Project model, which suggests we see different ‘future states’. If we did a proper study of what people see as their futures, I’m pretty sure it would all be more or less the same (depending on the generality of the questions asked). I’m afraid what the ‘Future Project’ has really done is simply reopen old and largely settled debates.

    I also think one of the short-comings of the Futures Project is that it fails to correctly acknowledge everyone’s participation in the process. The Adirondack Park has a much wider importance then just what lies within the lines of an “Adirondack County”. I’m not sure the parameters of the Futures Project reflect that in a serious way.

    This is also not a new and innovative discussion. Adirondack Life published a similar piece by Brian Mann some time ago, which received a lot of discussion. Much of this piece and the Futures Project itself, seems to based on the false assumptions Adirondack Life printed then. Afterward there were public meetings, essays, letters to the editor, conference presentations, and an unending litany of input from every corner of the Park and beyond.

    • Big Burly says:

      John, as always thoughtful.
      I’m not sure what camp of interested folks someone would describe me to be in. My long time interests in caring for and about the ecology of the region have been nurtured by the teachings and writings of published environmental activists and first hand observations from years of hiking and paddling throughout the region; having witnessed the hard scrabble existence of some fellow residents has prompted my engagement in the debate to find the compromises you speak about. I place the needs of people and a quality of life upfront in that search.
      The discussion has been going on for some time as you note. My opinion is that the Futures effort is a positive initiative — as a framework to do more than just talk, to actually create solutions, compromises that continue to protect while assuring a quality of life of the people living here, and who will be living here.

    • Paul says:

      “The doom and gloom crowd have held sway over local discussions for so long that even those who care about protecting the Forest Preserve and the Park have given over to this notion that something is wrong – some discussion must be had! ”

      I don’t think this is at all accurate. Environmental groups strongly support the expansion of public land base in the Adirondacks. For over one hundred years the Forest Preserve has continued to expand, and that expansion has been accelerated lately along with expanded re-classification of state lands to more restrictive use? How on earth does that square with some other groups somehow “holding sway”??? The amount of private land is shrinking in the Adirondack Park, in some places quite rapidly, and even hundreds of thousands of acres of the remaining private land has been preserved from development. Yet, environmental groups seem to take this posture that they are somehow the underdog. That just doesn’t square with reality.

    • dave says:

      Wonderful comment John.

      I found this thought especially interesting…

      “The doom and gloom crowd have held sway over local discussions for so long that even those who care about protecting the Forest Preserve and the Park have given over to this notion that something is wrong – some discussion must be had!”

      It is absolutely true that every discussion about the Adirondacks BEGINS with the assumption that there is a problem that needs fixing.

      We need to change this.

      • Paul says:

        I agree to some extent. That is the whole basis for how many environmental organizations operate. Rather than a “problem” that needs fixing they call it “actions” that need to be addressed.

        Boathouses are allowed to be too large.

        Building in the back-country needs to be curtailed.

        Too many houses are being built on the shores of the lakes and rivers.

        New snowmobile trails are too wide.

        Too many houses are being built on upland slopes……

        The list of problems seems unending?

        • dave says:

          The way this looks to me, and almost every issue you just listed fits this view, is that environmentalists are not the ones saying there are problems that need fixing. Just the opposite, they are trying to stop those folks who obsessively see problems with the Adirondacks from making changes to the Adirondacks.

          • Paul says:

            Yes they have problems with the changes, many of which were agreed to by the people of the state many years ago. Also, you don’t think that changing something like 67,000 acres of private land to public land is a change? You don’t think that reclassifying large tracts of public land a change? I don’t follow your logic??

      • Mike S. says:

        I will start by saying I have no data to offer. However, how many run down motels, gas stations and abandoned buildings do you need to see, before one gets convinced that the private sector is having a tough time up there? On the opposite side of the fence there are gleaming schools and fire departments. All appearance, or is the public sector starving the private? The lawsuits get press, that is all the casual observer hears about. So environmentalists=lawsuits. I am not a casual observer, so I am aware of the other actions, i.e. invasives.

  9. adirondackmike says:

    Gee Peter, I just read the AL intro and seems to me a fairly accurate characterization of the Park’s dynamics. You take it too personally. Advocacy is a cottage industry here, no doubt about that. The various groups surely do compete for members and donations…always have.

    Protect is one group that fires off angry letters (like this) and files lawsuits. There are plenty of others. Read the ADE letters to the editor over ARTA. Follow Sandy Lewis and his tangles with the APA. Or the paddlers lawsuits. Mason and Herman’s intro in the AL article describe all this sort of behavior, you just happened to take it personally. And, sorry to say, your column here is another illustration of that behavior. We have too much of this angry stuff in the Park.

    To find a way forward, the logic and reason and calm discussion Mason and Herman offer is way more productive than this sort of missive and lawsuits. Just my opinion.

  10. adirondackmike says:

    So I went to read some of the ADK Futures website,it is enormous,and found their docs with conclusions. I guess I failed to find parts that recommend logging the Forest Preserve – it doesn’t say any such thing.

    Peter, sometimes the enviro community appears to take the position that anything that helps the towns hurts the Forest Preserve. But I think the opposite it true – if we can help towns be healthier, the Forest Preserve will benefit, both will benefit, and that is what I see in the ADK Futures proposals.

    One of the enviro orgs should get with the idea that helps the towns will help with the whole conservation agenda. Protect probably isn’t a candidate for this role now. Constantly fighting the towns isn’t going to lead to a good place, I fear.

  11. Paul says:

    The other plan that has been around for over 30 years is the APA land use plan. It outlined a “vision” for the park back then by defining where and what could be built over time on private land in the Adirondacks. Like the historic restrictions on what could be done on the Forest Preserve under Article 14 it outlined some of the most strict (if not the strictest) zoning on private land anywhere in the country. It was something that we, as a state, agreed to. Some people on both ends of the spectrum (environmentalists and developers alike) agreed grudgingly but they agreed non-the-less. Now that the “fight” for state land use is calmed down the next fight is over things like the use of “back country” land a matter that was supposedly settled by all sides 30 years ago (one primary structure per 42 acres or more). Now that it appears that maybe some of that “use” may actually become a reality (albeit sparingly at best and with over 1 million acres excluded in just the past 10 or so years) all of a sudden there is a call for new restrictions. Strong wetlands protections have driven development onto higher ground. Now all of a sudden the highlands are at some new risk. Look these developments were agreed to when the APA Act was signed into law. The current trend seems to be to slowly chop away at that. The job for environmentalists is getting more difficult and the law (what they already agreed to) is not quite on their side. That only leaves the courts in many instances after the agencies have not ruled in their favor. The ACR as an example with the APA and the “community connector” trails with the DEC. Hence all the litigation and all the yelling back and forth.

  12. Peter Klein says:

    To the extent this data is true – The APA has a budget of $6 million. ORDA has a budget of $40 million. DEC Region 5 runs a budget of $15 million – the money is misspent.
    It should be – The APA has a budget of $15 million. ORDA has a budget of $6 million. DEC Region 5 runs a budget of $40 million.
    As to Dave Mason, Jim Herman and their report, I really don’t know.
    This place has been so studied to death, it’s like watching re-runs of re-runs.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Please explain why the funding is allocated this way and why it should be as you propose?

  13. Dear All,

    Lots of fine comments. A few responses.

    Big Burly, thank you. I agree that the Futures project is hopeful, but the Adirondack Life piece, for all the reasons stated, made many who read that I spoke with wince and ask what these guys are all about. If they wanted to send out zingers they succeeded. If they wanted to stimulate dialogue, I don’t think this piece was their best work.

    Adk Mike, The Sustainable Life, Adk County, Post Big Gov, State Forest all call for major changes to the Forest Preserve. I just don’t see the wisdom in that move.

    Nick Rose, yes I have met with Dave and Jim, and emailed with Dave, about their project and the various work groups. I emailed Dave about the Adirondack Life piece and he never responded. According to Adk Life, Dave and Jim worked very closely on every detail of this article.

    Paul, the Adk Park is a really big and really dynamic place. There are many fault lines across 6 million acres and 103 towns. Some have been around a long time, well before PROTECT. I don’t think you’ll find many wild areas in the US, other contested areas so to speak, that are seas of civic tranquility.

    • Paul says:

      Peter, I agree. But I think you and Protect need to realize that many changes that are coming to the Adirondacks were agreed to by many constituants years ago. No we have to manage those changes as best we can. Hopefully the area will thrive if a good job is done. That is what this project seem to be trying to do. But I do agree with John I don’t think the exercise is that relevant. Interesting but maybe just as a thought excercise.

      • Dave says:

        The notion that environmentalists are fighting against things that they agreed to 30 years ago is a false one.

        In almost every case I can think of off the top of my head – including every case you’ve outlined in these comments so far – what they are doing is fighting to try to get people to stick to those agreements… both to the letter of the agreement, and the spirit of it.

        I am unable to come up with a single legitimate example of the environmental community changing its mind, so to speak, and fighting against the original principles that they were previously on board with. I’m sure there are one or two that are eluding me tonight, but they are certainly rare.

        What is likely going on here is that you simply disagree with their opinion and understanding of the original agreements… so now you see them as fighting new battles, when they are really just re-fighting the same one.

        • Paul says:

          Dave, I don’t think that is the case. Many environmental groups were heavily involved with drafting the APA act. I have already given several major examples of things agreed to that they have worked over the years to roll back and are continuing that effort today. Here are a few again and maybe you can explain why they are insignificant?

          Shoreline setback regulations. Want to see them “changed” to larger setbacks.

          Boathouse regulations. Have already successfully lobbied to have them “changed”.

          Regulations regarding pre-1973 shoreline structures. Have already successfully lobbied to have them “changed” to be much more restrictive.

          Now they think that one principle structure per 42 acres on Resource Management land is not restrictive enough. They would like to see that “changed”.

          Now they think that regulations allowing building on higher slopes was not restrictive enough. They would like to see that “changed”.

          Thousands of acres of land that has been private working forests for centuries should now be “changed” to public forest preserve land.

          I could go on and on. Now I don’t necessarily disagree with some of these idea but to pretend that environmental groups are somehow defending the status quo is not what I see going on at all?? Can you explain?

          • dave says:

            “Boathouse regulations. Have already successfully lobbied to have them “changed”.”

            This is the perfect example of the flaw in your analysis.

            Boathouse regulations were not changed for the sake of change. Environmentalists fought to have those regulations adjusted to eliminate loopholes that were being exploited.

            People were abusing those loopholes to build structures that were NEVER part of the original agreement.

            Environmentalists, by fighting to clarify the boathouse laws were in fact fighting to keep things as originally intended.

            The same can be said of every other example you have presented here… from snowmobile trails to setback rules. Environmentalists are not changing the rules of the game – they are fighting to make sure everyone plays by those rules.

            • Paul says:

              Dave, That argument is nonsense.

              Just a few examples you can figure the others out for yourself if you want to look at the old and the new.

              When you want to change a setback from say 100 to 200 that is a change to the rule not making sure that someone plays by the old rule?

              When you change the old rule from – there are NO restrictions on the expansion of pre-1973 structures. to – there ARE restrictions and in many cases a variance would be required, that is changing the old rule to a new rule.

              How is supporting the purchase that transfers thousands of acres of private land to public land some type of “clarification”.

              Like I said before I may support many of these changes and other actions but that is what they are plain and simple. It is nonsense to argue otherwise and almost any environmental activist that you want to check with will admit that they are fighting for these and other changes they believe are good for the park.

  14. We are certainly sorry for having provoked this controversy. It was not intended and is obviously counterproductive to our whole effort. Here is what happened and how we think we went wrong.

    Originally, we just gave Adirondack Life the scenarios with a short introduction about the process. Our goal was to have the readers of the magazine go through the same thought process that others had in our various forums and workshops. The article did not state any conclusions or try to say what kind of result we had gotten so far. That was going to be the subject of a new piece in the fall.

    Adirondack Life came back saying that the scenarios were fine but that the piece needed more context. They asked us questions like why did you start this effort? What did you hope to accomplish? So, we put ourselves back in January 2011 when we first got the idea to do this project. We tried to remember the swirl of news bites and naive observations we had as total outsiders. That was the intro that we wrote. This was before the NCREDC wins and Futures project and other immensely positive things started to happen for the region. It was a period of doom and gloom. And that period is clearly over.

    But we confess to amping up the language more than we usually do because this was a more mass market publication. We certainly had no one person or side in mind. We were trying to characterize the kind of interaction and lack of communication. Obviously, we went too far and caused offense. For this we are truly sorry.

    As for the specific critiques of Peter and John,who have not participated in the process, they need to be addressed in a different post or forum.

    Dave and Jim

    • John Warren says:

      Dave and Jim,

      Thanks for chiming in.

      I should clarify here that I did in fact give my time to participate in the first session at the Common Ground meeting in Long Lake, and at least one interview. I did not participate in the workshops.

      I think we’d all welcome your response, and I’d be happy to run it here at the Almanack.

      John Warren

      • We would suggest it isn’t a good idea for us to participate in these sorts of online forums. In-person, one can kick around ideas in a conversation, or a workshop. But on a comment system, the dynamic is different. This post of Peter’s, which was only because Peter didn’t get the idea that we were using a new type a media to pull more people into the discussion, has been a distraction for us. We’re suddenly guys with nefarious motives doing bad things to the Park. Dave is suddenly Dick Cheney and ADK Life is FOX News. No, we need to refrain from this sort of thing, sorry. For practical purposes in our role at the moment we have no public opinion on anything.

        What we will be doing is getting back to writing more regularly on our blog:

        The implementation work is broadly underway, as Peter notes. The way we think about the plan is that is isn’t new. A lot of it was going on already. ADKfutures provided a narrative and name for it all. In this sense it builds on all the work of other plans in the past.
        We will be writing about what is happening in the Park, and we will compare it to the event paths associated with each of the endstates. We are writing some software to help engage the public in this process, and this is taking a lot of time at the moment. There are a couple of talks coming up, mostly about the same topic: what is actually happening vs the scenarios. There is another article too, the one with conclusions that Peter thought this AL article was about. It has been written but I don’t have a print date yet. I will let you know when it is out.

        We said in summer 2011 that we would continue with this for three years, summer 2014. So until then we just have to avoid making statements that sound biased. Even when we are misunderstood, it gets a bad reaction from someone and it detracts from the value of our work so far. We can provide specific clarifications whenever you, or anyone, asks. Please keep tracking us on

        • dave says:

          I understand the desire to refrain from online discussions.

          What I’m struggling with, however, is the explanation given for the characterizations of environmentalists that you expressed.

          You seem to be saying that you said those things because you were using a new form of media (for the project) to try to pull more people into the discussion?

          Maybe I am missing something obvious, but I really don’t understand what that means, and I think it requires some clarification. You characterized those fighting to protect the Adirondack environment as hired warriors, as part of an industry, and as people who were doing what they did in part for job security… is that the way you really feel about environmental advocates, or not?

          If not, then why exactly would a magazine article about your project induce you to say something you didn’t actually believe? Were just expressing what you think others believe?

          Apologies if I am just being thick, and missing the obvious, but for me personally…. knowing if those are your real thoughts about environmentalists would provide context that would inform the way I view these efforts.

          • Paul says:

            Dave, I think you are twisting this a bit or at least exaggerating this like I think maybe Peter did as well?

            Here is the quote from the article:

            “The quote “Adirondackers would rather fight than win” seemed spot-on; fighting had turned into a small industry with full-time employees. Winning or losing had job implications, but continuing to fight meant job security. Trust was ruined, freezing the status quo. While the hired warriors tangled, hurling insults and lawsuits that supplied fodder for news stories, regular people just watched from the sidelines, shut out of the discussion.”

            It is your characterization that this describes those “fighting to protect the Adirondack environment”. Not exactly the way they were characterized in the article? At least not the words that were used. There happen to be many people who are not involved in environmental groups that support, and when necessary, fight for the same thing. Environmentalists can fit into this group but they do not define the group. Perhaps that was not your point?

            Interestingly you have said yourself here that environmental groups are fighting to protect the status-quo like they describe here (I explained why I disagree). It is also simply a fact that it is a “small industry” with full time employees. It supports not only those employees but their consultants (look at the work done on analyzing the ACR project and other things) and lawyers as well. That doesn’t mean that many people don’t think that it is a good thing, and at the same time some people see it as somewhat counter productive at times. This idea that some groups are very litigious is also simply a fact of life in this debate.

            • dave says:

              Paul, what an interesting comment.

              You start off by saying that you think I am twisting or exaggerating things when I suggest that their quote is aimed at environmentalists.

              And then you finish with an entire paragraph that explains, and tries to justify, why it does apply to environmentalists.

              I am having a hard time reconciling which part of your comment to address, since they contradict one another.

              What I will say is that the quote is not offensive because it suggests that environmentalists are fighting fights, no one would deny that environmental advocates actually, ya know, advocate – the problem with that quote is that it calls into question their motivations and integrity. Implying that they are not doing so for the reasons they state – to protect the Adirondack Environment – but that they are doing so because of job security.

              • Paul says:


              • adirondackmike says:

                I don’t think anyone get rich doing advocacy work, certainly not staff of the groups. But versions of these groups have come and gone over the years, largely driven by their ability to attract members and raise money. When they get to small, they fail. Being unable to pay the bills focuses the minds of these groups.

                So, in a competitive sense, yes the groups compete for money and members, always been true. But the staff isn’t motivated by earning money, they’re motivated by the work and possibility of going bankrupt.

                These days, I would bet a person with average knowledge of the Park has no idea how the groups are similar or different. Protect, AC, ADK Wild, TNC, ADK, there are probably more (no offense if I forgot someone) …. they all go after the same donors. But I bet most donors couldn’t tell you the differences.

                So, in this sense, Mason and Herman’s point about money is a fair observation.

  15. Oz says:

    All this discussion fails to factor in the coming of the ACR in Tupper Lake. Once that frivolous lawsuit is dismissed the “secret investors” will be flooding the development with hundreds of Millions of dollars. Tupper Lake and the whole Adirondack Park will be saved, no need to worry about the future. Just wait and see.

  16. Don Dew Jr. says:

    Peter, How does a comment like “I am looking forward to reentering the Adirondack Wars” made by Protect! board member Bob Glennon fit in to the Adirondack Futures discsussion?

    • Matt says:

      Good question Don.
      I’m a young person, I’m environmentally conscious, and I believe in the spirit and intent of the Adirondack park. We don’t have to agree all the time, but for crying out loud, can we at least have a decent civil discussion, and stop just suing each other??? Sure, there is lots of public input into policy and management in the park through planning, but ultimately it becomes irrelevant, and here’s why- Case in point: After 10 years of back and forth over snowmobile trails, a policy is written, adopted and followed, and Protect! sues. All of the open forum public input gets thrown out the window because now it’s lawyer against lawyer. THAT is what Dave and Jim are talking about, and it would be funny if it weren’t so sad, and happen so often. Amazingly, all of us, “the public”, still comes back to the table after the planning process effectively gets hijacked, and we all get 10 years older in the process, and a few more small businesses give up the ghost waiting for recreational opportunities they can bank on. This is an inexcusable disservice to the communities of the park, and to all New Yorkers. We can and will do better, and I think we’ll do it at least in part by marginalizing the disingenuous, negative and condescending elements among us that seek to control the conversation at any cost, and push a singular agenda with no regard for the practical reality or consequences of their actions. Thank you Dave and Jim for your hard work. You’re good people and we’re lucky that you’ve decided to join us here in our “conservation experiment”. I believe your work has moved us forward in a positive way, and I sincerely appreciate it.

      Finally, as for support of environmental advocacy groups, I’d recommend the ones with hand tools mixed in with their legal tools. Policy means nothing until you can put it on the ground with your own two hands and prove that it actually makes sense in practice.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      About the same as any of your dumb comments, just on opposite sides.

  17. Joe says:


    I noticed this post last night and I read the AL article over breakfast this morning. The intro to it, setting it up as a poll of a sort, and the poll itself seem intended just to get people thinking. I’ll go do the ranking later.

    Insulting Mason and Herman for their work, or for this poll, or for what? Odd. I don’t get it. What’s wrong with a poll, and asking for input? Seems like an American things to do, polling.

    As for the behavior of “insults and lawsuits” well that sure sounds like the Adirondacks to me, describing the behavior of various groups, all sides, over time, no? And surely lots of lawyers and consultants make plenty of money off all this; paying these people probably bleeds Protect dry these days. Of course advocacy is a cottage industry here, has been for a long time and we are all used to it, so why is that taken as offensive point? It’s true, so????

    It’s ironic that the Exec Dir of the (currently) most nasty, most litigious, divisive group of the moment is outraged by a magazine article that is just a poll.


    • Paul says:

      I find it interesting that the retort is usually much longer than the original article that sparked it. The 300 word piece that Will Dolittle wrote got something like a 4500 word response. Does this stuff count as working at Protect? Good gig if you can get it!

      • Joe says:

        There is a pattern emerging here. Publish something Peter takes offense at and watch for the fireworks here blasting away, as if he is the only person who’s input has any merit. Who’s the next brave soul to get slammed? There are obviously people who contribute to him and enable him to do this, but I don’t think this helps the Park in any way. Oh well, it’s the Adirondacks.

        Protect is turning into their own worst enemy, seeing battles and darkness in everyone else. They make so much negative noise that even when they have a good point, their delivery of it is so offensive it turns people away.

  18. Alan Senbaugh says:

    Welcome to the ADKS Dave and Jim! This is the way it is, has always been and always will be. End report.

  19. Twin Rivers says:

    Often the best way to deal with a tantrum is to ignore it. Like most media pieces (except for endless blog posts), due to limited space, Dave and Jim’s article in ad life simplified the scenario planning process, gave short shrift to the work of the Common Ground Alliance, left no room to highlight improved cooperation between environmental groups, agencies and local government officials,and repeated misnomers about demographics and economics. I wonder if Dave and Jim meant to slam environmental groups alone, or did they mean that lawyers, agency officials, consultants and others also have jobs (importantly) to help sort out the complex issues that shape the park. Peter is taking the different scenarios much too literally. Dave and Jim have done a lot to get people talking and, more importantly, they’ve inspired people and towns to roll up their sleeves and get to work achieving a vision, solving problems, and building on initiatives underway. While there will always be debates, the Park will be a better place to live and work (and we’ll get more support in the way of state investment)if we can keep our debates civil and respectable. I’m sure Dave and Jim will be more sensitve in the future. I can’t say the same for others.

  20. Chas says:

    Wow!! Being a former publisher I am suspect when a review article is so much longer (and angry) then the original.

    Makes you think somebody has an axe to grind.

    • John Warren says:

      Why? Because criticism should be less thought out and less strident than that which it criticizes?

      I guess your axe is already sharp.

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