Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dan Crane: Classify New State Lands Wilderness

Essex ChainLast Friday was the deadline for submitting comments on the classification of the former Finch, Pruyn properties that New York State recently purchased from the Nature Conservancy. Fortunately, I got my email off to the Adirondack Park Agency with a couple hours to spare. For me, deciding between the seven proposed alternative classification plans was a no-brainer.

Can you guess my recommendation? Come on, I know you can!

True to form, I recommended implementation of Alternative Plan 1B, the plan calling for the largest Wilderness area among all seven proposed alternatives. I realize this puts me in the minority, as even the majority of environmental groups within the Adirondacks do not support this position.

The environmental groups most likely are being pragmatic on this issue, where as an unaffiliated gadfly, I am free to speak my mind. Regardless of that fact, I still feel as if I am dangling precariously from a tree limb, while these environmental groups cutting the limb out from under me using a saw named Plan 1A.

My reasons for recommending Wilderness are simple. I am selfish. I do not like old or disabled people. I am selfish. I want the surrounding Adirondack communities to live in squalor. Oh, and did I mention I am selfish?

Obviously, none of that is true. However, I am positive those charges will be hurled at me in the comments below. Like most contentious issues in our country, common decency and good manners are the first casualties in the battle for the hearts and minds of the quiet majority, most of whom are too busy making a living and raising their kids to think about issues of wilderness or motor vehicular access. The vitriol surrounding these land classification debates always surprises me, especially when hurled at individuals with absolutely no influence on the outcome, other than being a single voice out in the wilderness (pun intended).

My actual reasons for supporting a Wilderness classification are pretty straightforward.

Opportunities to set aside large contiguous areas for the primary use of flora and fauna are rare indeed, especially in the northeastern United States. With much of the northeast bisected by roads and covered with shopping malls, parking lots, houses and swimming pools, letting an opportunity to set aside a large area where nature reigns supreme would not only be a shame for our generation, but for those generations to come as well.

Another reason for supporting plan 1B is the inequality that exists between the two main public forestland classifications: Wild Forest and Wilderness. Land classified as Wilderness make up 19.43% of the Adirondacks, while 22.08% is Wild Forest, according to APA statistics from 2011. Even if Primitive (0.78%) and Canoe Area (0.30%) classifications, which are managed much like Wilderness, are added in, Wild Forest still holds the lead by 91,896 acres. According to the APA’s count, Plan 1B would cut that difference down to 22,372, which would go a long way to establishing parity between these two warring land classifications.

Many people are going to disagree with me. They will cite many different reasons why these areas should receive the least protective classification. The reasons will likely include economic concerns for the surrounding areas, promises made, and so on. For me the ecological reasons should take precedence, which appears in line with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP), New York State’s guide to the preservation, management and use of state land within the Adirondacks.

Unfortunately, people interpret the APSLMP through their own self-serving lens. Interested individuals tend to see these issues based on their own provincial interests, with the hikers and environmentalists on the side of Wilderness, and the hunters, anglers and motorized enthusiasts on that of Wild Forest.

My position is more philosophical than self-interested though, or at least that is what I have convinced myself. I doubt I will ever be a frequent visitor to this new area (I have yet to visit the Whitney Wilderness), and much of the area will remain uninteresting from a bushwhacking prospective until well after my life internship ends.

The property has been accessible to the public for some time now, but unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to visit and see it for myself. As others explore the area, a common argument against classifying the property as Wilderness is that is does not look like wilderness. Apparently, the presence of roads excludes such classification in their minds, although, I theorize these individuals were predisposed this opinion well before setting foot on the property.

The presence of dirt roads need not be an impediment to Wilderness classification as these motorized vehicle trails are eternal and unchanging. Much of the Wilderness in the Adirondacks hosted dirt roads in the past before obtaining their current classification. For those in doubt should just take a hike along the Truck Trail in the northern Five Ponds Wilderness, any of the many old logging roads within the old Wilderness Lakes Forest Preserve tract (now part of the southwestern Five Ponds Wilderness), or just about anywhere within the Whitney Wilderness. Left to its own devices, nature reclaims most human created structures eventually, although some quicker than others.

Others will complain about the lack of enough dirt road access to the forest preserve for the elderly and disabled; most of whom I suspect is neither elderly nor disabled. Apparently, these individuals never heard of Bear Pond Road (Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest), Jessup River Road (Jessup River Wild Forest), Powley-Piseco Road (Ferris Lake Wild Forest), Indian River/Cedar River Roads (Moose River Plains Wild Forest), McCarthy Road (Independence River Wild Forest) or any of the myriad dirt roads within the Adirondacks. Are more roads really necessary within the forest preserve, and if so, what amount of roads would be enough?

In the end, all this arguing is probably a moot point, as this was likely a done deal from the start. The public commenting is just a required dog and pony show, much like the recent Department of Environmental Conservation’s changes to the bobcat hunting regulations. The Adirondack Park Agency will collect the comments, dutifully go through them and then just rubber stamp their preferred plan from the start regardless of the public input. Most likely, they received their marching orders from the Governor’s mansion the day the purchase went though.

That is too bad, as a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a living legacy of wilderness will be lost.


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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

52 Responses

  1. Arnold S says:

    Hi Dan,

    I often thought of leaving money to the APA, but after reading your post, I think I will just buy an acre or two somewhere and have it posted off-limits to everybody for ever.

    • Dan Crane says:

      Awesome idea! The plants and animals on your acre will be forever in your debt. That is, until global climate change does them in.

  2. Dick Millet says:

    I’m in full agreement with you Dan. I’m pushing 50 now and realizing more and more “they ain’t making any more wilderness”. Even though it gets harder and harder every year to make those treks into what little wilderness we have left I keep trying and I will keep arguing for more even after my days of enjoying it are over. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

  3. Tom Philo says:

    The Wilderness classification is essentially a “private” designation
    as so few will be able to visit those lands – it is a selfish designation designed to keep out all but the young and very well conditioned. You may as well put up a posted sign

    • Dan N. says:

      I always enjoy hearing people say that. It’s utter nonsense. Many different areas of wilderness have large numbers of people going into them, e.g, the high peaks wilderness area. The Dix Mtn. wilderness area. The Giant Mtn. wilderness area. Need I go on?

      • Tom P says:

        It is even greater nonsense to not recognize that a greater number are completely shut out! And the number going in is relatively small. Now you want to reserve newly acquired lands for the private use of the few.

        • RIch says:

          Shut out?????
          Any one can park and go in and wander around almost anywhere in the Adirondacks nobody is shutout.

        • Dave says:

          I was in the Giant Wilderness area this entire week (sadly, looking for a lost dog) and I saw TONS of people, of all ages and physical capabilities, enjoying those lands.

          No one is shut out of Wilderness, and plenty of people visit and enjoy it.

  4. Jim Racquet says:

    Wilderness classification is cop-out. The state can stamp it and forget it,its cheap and low cost. Tax payers dollars used but no tax payer use. I would rather see a multi use area for hunters, kayakers, fishermen, and campers. So more diverse part of ny’s population can have the use of our public land.

    • David says:

      Please remember that these lands were bought with New York State tax payers money. That is all of NYS not just the >.5% of citizens that live in the three counties that have land in the area.

      One of the listed groups to be considered are people who enjoy wilderness just because it is there [without visiting] I bet many, if not most, NYS taxpayers would fall in that category.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    I totally disagree.
    In fact, I would be in favor of reclassifying all state owned lands as wild forest.
    Why? Because nothing would change except for seaplanes being allowed to land on some lakes they are now prohibited from landing on. Nothing else would change.
    The on the ground fact of the matter is that no matter what trail you are hiking on, be it in wilderness or wild forest, you are hiking on wild forest land. As soon as you go off trail and start to bushwhack, you are in wilderness even if the maps say you are in wild forest.
    This whole debate is about imagination.

  6. Lee Keet says:

    I agree with Dan. The environmental groups are being pragmatic. 1B cannot win. But Dan ignores a subtlety. The environmental groups have all endorsed 1A with some modifications, the most notable of which is a buffer zone north of the Chain Lakes that would protect these shores from unauthorized access, i.e., would surround them with wilderness lands. Drop-off points that come within 1/4 mile of wilderness waters provide more than adequate access, and Unit Management Plans for those northern Wild Forest lands can provide the final controls needed to balance the needs of the environment with the needs for public access.

  7. AdkBuddy says:

    My understanding of the law is that the land has to be classified per its current condition. In that case this is not Wilderness, not by a long shot.

    • Dan Crane says:

      I think you are misinterpreting the master plan; at some point I will go back and carefully read it. Using your thinking, how would you explain the Whitney property being classified as Wilderness; to my knowledge it was covered with dirty roads and heavily logged prior to NY State purchasing it.

      • Paul says:

        I think that the ASLMP states that traditional uses should be taken into account. These lands have been under motorized use, snowmobile, ATV, motor boats, as well as logging equipment, tractors etc., for about 100 years at this point.

        They have been hiked (or certainly bushwhacked as you like Dan) for as long as well. Seems to argue for a multiple use sort of designations. Share the sandbox approach.

        • Dan Crane says:

          My recollection is that the ASLMP indicates that ecological concerns (i.e. protecting the natural resources) take a priority over all others, including economic.

          • Paul says:

            Perhaps. But if this were the only “concern” you would not have some of these other classifications right? They should perhaps also have another classification “closed to the public”? I guess that is what it has had for the last 15o or so years. It has worked kinda good?

  8. jay says:

    What about ATV use?

    • Dan Crane says:

      I could be wrong but my understanding is that ATVs will be banned regardless of the classification. In my opinion, that would be a good thing, especially given all the damage I saw along Bear Pond Road when that was designated an ATV trail.

      • Paul says:

        Yes, I don’t think there will be any ATV use no matter the designation. Even private conservation easement lands have been barred from ATV use (except in extreme circumstances) lately. This is the case for the former Champion lands.

  9. AdkBuddy says:

    How do I explain Whitney being classified wilderness? Simple, the State of New York has no problem breaking the rules.

  10. Paul says:

    “Another reason for supporting plan 1B is the inequality that exists between the two main public forestland classifications: Wild Forest and Wilderness. Land classified as Wilderness make up 19.43% of the Adirondacks, while 22.08% is Wild Forest, according to APA statistics from 2011. Even if Primitive (0.78%) and Canoe Area (0.30%) classifications, which are managed much like Wilderness, are added in, Wild Forest still holds the lead by 91,896 acres. According to the APA’s count, Plan 1B would cut that difference down to 22,372, which would go a long way to establishing parity between these two warring land classifications.

    Why are not all classifications in the battle? Sounds like the real underdogs are things like Canoe areas (one idea here) and some you left out like Intensive use? This argument seems biased towards a few classifications?

    • Dan Crane says:

      Talk to the APA, the bias is obviously their’s, since they made the inequality to begin with. And I did say forestland; I’m not sure Intensive Use would really qualify as such.

      • Paul says:

        The campers that use these areas might disagree?

      • Paul says:

        Speaking of balance, in the past, how much Wilderness land has been re-classified to a different designation? There have only been a few tiny parcels that I can think of and for some of those they had to have a net impact in favor of Wilderness. This idea that Wilderness is disappearing in the Adirondacks, or that there is some threat to it, defies the facts on the ground?

        • John Warren says:

          Every inch of the Adirondacks is within 5.3 miles of a road.

          • Darrin Harr says:

            That doesn’t surprise me, people live here…..

          • Bill Ott says:

            And Wilbur Weyland crashed and died in his Piper Cub in December of 1954, only 5 miles or so from Wanakena. He and his plane were not found until 1979. Yes, we are close to roads, and no this is not Alaska, but there are some areas here that are really wild and not frequently visited.

            Bill Ott
            Lakewood, Ohio

          • TiSentinel65 says:

            As the crow flies. But I can’t fly, so I have to take the longer rout. So yes it is true if you measure by the map. But that can be misleading. Canada Lakes region sticks out. It is the most remote area in the park but even though it may be only five miles as the crow flies, from a road, it truly is the boondocks. You don’t see to many people back in there. At the BrookTrout Lake trailhead register, the last people to sign in were two weeks previous to me. ADK guide book on the NPT warns people to not go back in that area in the winter unless you have excellent winter camping and surviving skills. They strongly advise you not to go alone in the winter. The next person passing through may be a month away, such is the scarcity of people using it in the winter. Rescue could be days away. This not in the wilds of Alaska, but right in our backyard.

  11. Deb says:

    a couple of reasons to side w/ wilderness designation:
    DEC doesn’t have the manpower or budget for new lands.
    They don’t have budget or manpower for current lands.
    Increases the % of wilderness in the Adks – aim for 40%.
    Gives time for the land to heal – pretty ugly in there- 100 yrs of logging will do that.
    Unsupervised boatlauch will bring invasives and baitfish.
    Who wants to paddle chain of lakes w/ugly shore and few wildlife.

    Jewel of the parcel is the rivers! riding the rivers would be the best way to enjoy this area, at least for the next 30 yrs or so.

    • Darrin Harr says:

      If the State didn’t have the manpower or budget for the new land, maybe the State shouldn’t have bought it from TNC to begin with.

      Just a bit of food for thought…..

  12. Pete Nelson says:

    Dan, Dan, Dan…

    Well here I am just having written a long comment taking you to task for your Giardia column and now I read this. This may be your best column yet. It is right on the money. People who bitch and moan about wilderness have, in my view, a selfish, myopic perspective. You took that issue on really well.

    How much true wilderness do we have? Forget merely considering it as a percent of total Forest Preserve; I devoted several columns to the insultingly slight percents compared to human land use in general. You are absolutely right to advocate for its precious value.

    How many dirt roads are enough? You hit that one out of the park too.

    Well done.

  13. ADK Native says:

    Dan, Excellent take on the situation. Your last paragraph that suggests all this arguing is a moot point, done deal, dog and pony show, marching orders from the Governors Mansion. Couldn’t agree more and it sems very reminiscent of the whole ACR Resort process in Tupper Lake. After tons of information was presented, the APA basically ignored the eveidence presented during the Adjudicatory Hearing(evidence they were supposed to use to make the decision) and rubber stamped the project. Sad, but that seems to be the state we are now in.

  14. David says:

    It disappoints me to no end that the 1B alternative doesn’t have a snowballs shot (perhaps a 1Bs shot in the APA would be a fitting phrase). I can’t get over the fact that people are willing to condemn these unique lakes to ecological ruin so they don’t have to walk and think they will have more money. That is selfish, not wilderness.

    • Paul says:

      Davis the ponds in the St. Regis Canoe area that you can drive right to and many other similar ponds and lakes are not ruined ecologically. Your comment sounds very scary but I don’t think it would come to that? There was a post here recently by Peter B. From Protect advocating for more access to non-motorized waters (including drive up access) here is an opportunity to get some.

    • Paul says:

      In fact one of the most well protected fisheries in NYS is a drive up pond in the St. Regis Canoe area (Little Clear and the NYS brood stock of Landlocked Salmon). Check it out. It doesn’t look ruined to me?

      • David says:

        Let me explain where I come from on this one. I work as an invasive species monitor on one of the Finger Lakes. I understand that comparing the two lakes is in may ways comparing apples to oranges but here I go. At my job I see hundreds of boats every week using a DEC launch to put in. It works out that approximately 10% of boats have aquatic vegetation attached to their trailers or motor housings. Usually it has been thoroughly dried out because the boat has been out of water, but being that the plants can live out of water for 9 hours and that rain and trapped moisture can hugely lengthen this number about 1/4th of these plants are viable. Basically with enough motorized use invasive are inevitable.
        Although it is much rarer to see on kayaks or canoes I have seen plants attached to those too and would also predict that, with use, nonmotorized craft would become a vector too. Perhaps more disturbingly find that many of the kayaks have some amount of water in their hulls creating the perfect environment for aquatic plants and animals alike. Upon reading your comments I was more than a little surprised to see that St Regis has been lucky enough to avoid aquatic invasive plants, but their aquatic community is not perfect. A number of fish species have been introduced and as a result a number of water bodies were reclaimed.
        I agree that a 1A would decrease the risk of invasive compared to a wild forest designation, but I think that even a small buffer [encouraging people to drain their boats away from the lake] would increase this protection exponentially. It only takes one person to introduce these species.
        I am brought back to the Leopold quote whenever I do research like this and live “alone in a world of wounds.”

  15. Tim Baker says:

    I think there are a lot more hidden agendas at work with some folk who seem so determined to close off these lands to all but a select group of people that apparently have the wherewithal to use these lands than others do. Reminds me insidiously of this so-called UN Agenda 21, pretty soon out of state and “national” entities will be pushing for even more radical agendas while they plot ways to plunder this area of its fresh water and other resources they can somehow use to put money into their own pockets at the expense of the people who live here.

  16. Charlie says:

    “approximately 10% of boats have aquatic vegetation attached to their trailers or motor housings…”

    It makes much sense to me that it will only be a matter of time for invasives to ‘take over’ if motorized craft are allowed on lakes that now do not allow them. Especially considering how the earth is warming (a documented fact not liberal fear-mongering) and more species are claiming more northern climes as places to propogate.You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to decipher this. We need leaders who are more futuristic in ecological matters than they are economicical ones when it comes to making decisions on matters such as above. Leaders who care about our progeny and what kind of planet they are going to be living on.

    • Darrin Harr says:

      Keeping motor boats off the Chain Lakes to keep “invasive species” out of Adirondacks is like sticking your fingers in the leaky dike: It will have little, if any effect.

      Let’s face it, most of what lives here was brought here from somewhere else by nature itself. We’re not going to stop the northern migration of species….

      • David says:

        That statement is factually incorrect and is a disturbingly common misconception. Human activity, especially motor boating and baitfish transportation, is by far the number one vector for aquatic invasive species between two non contiguous bodies of water.

        There is a reason that the lakes that have invasive plants also have launches. It’s not that the “birds” prefer Lake George over Cedar Lakes; its because the humans do.

        • Darrin Harr says:

          You’re correct about lakes. But I’m taking about birds, insects and land based plants migrating northward. How are we going to stop those?

  17. Charlie says:

    Tell him David! Darrin’s comment and attitude is pretty much the same as saying “Let’s sit back and do nothing while running towards the flames.”

    • Darrin Harr says:

      So what’s your solution, Charlie?

      Let me guess: Turn the Adirondacks into Yellowstone Park and drive everybody out. Everything will be better if evil humans no longer lived in the “Park”.

      Sorry Charlie, I plan on sticking around for a while. 🙂

      • Tim Baker says:

        I agree with you Darrin. I think that they do indeed wish to bar the use of these lands to all but a select few with deep pockets. The “unwashed masses” need not apply. I don’t want to see these incredibly beautiful places trampled all over, rutted with ATV tracks or polluted with outboard motors at all, but it’s not necessary to preclude all uses, people should be free to enjoy these places in a responsible manner. It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t clean up after themselves and help maintain the forests and lakes. It just seems to me that the monied interests that push to block usage of these lands always seem to find ways that they and their friends can use them but people with much more limited means are blocked from doing so.

        • John Warren says:

          Anyone can access wilderness lands for free. It costs money to own a boat, an ATV, or a snowmobile and more to maintain and use them.

          The vast majority of this 161,000 acre purchase will not be wilderness.

          Even if all the land currently under consideration (a small part of the whole purchase) is wilderness there will be NO RESTRICTIONS on access – only restrictions on motors. In fact, the actual restrictions to access will HAVE BEEN LIFTED BY THIS PURCHASE – no one except those who paid the fees to a private company could access this land before the state purchased it. That’s the kind of access those who opposed this land purchase prefer – their own private clubs.

          By any objective measure, the only people losing here are those who seek wilderness.

          Darrin has a personal financial interest – he owns, and receives money from, a web page devoted to snowmobiling in the Adirondacks. He fails to acknowledge personal gain from promoting motorized access. If he was in a position to decide, he would be forced to recuse himself by law.

          The vast majority of New Yorkers, history has shown time and again, support the idea of the Adirondacks with wilderness areas.

          Those with special interests, who claim that all of us who live here want motorized access, are only supporting their own personal agendas.

          Tim is making slanderous statements without an ounce of proof that some people, who he does not name, will have access that he won’t specify. It’s as if he never heard of the private clubs that had exclusive access to these lands and kept the public out for 100 years.

  18. Charlie says:

    Darrin Harr says: July 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm So what’s your solution, Charlie? Let me guess: Turn the Adirondacks into Yellowstone Park and drive everybody out. Everything will be better if evil humans no longer lived in the “Park”.
    Solution? How about just keeping things simple Darrin. Just about everywhere we go in these not so united states there is nowhere to get away from the noise of automation and people. This is why the Adirondacks is so important to many of us…we want less noise,less cars,less motorized contraptions which some people cannot seem to get enough of. To some of us the Adirondacks is about spirituality,about slipping into the woods and getting a feel of the past,of what our ancestors experienced before this country became one highway and shopping mall after another.
    So far as turning the Adirondacks into another Yellowstone….they tried to do that in the 60’s.Not a good idea as the feds are not to be trusted with land as they sell it off to special interests,especially when there’s minerals under it or when times are tough as they are now.
    Everything would be better if the Adirondacks were left as much as possible in their natural state.

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