Last 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.