Thursday, August 1, 2013

Most Written Comments Support Wilderness Classification

Essex ChainAlmost 5,000 pages of written public comments, most supporting Wilderness classification, were submitted as part of the recent public hearing concerning some 46,000 acres of newly purchased and existing Forest Preserve lands around the Essex Chain Lakes area and 22 miles of the Hudson River. The carefully argued and highly emotional comments, were acquired  from the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The comments were emailed, faxed and mailed; some were handwritten or sent from iPads and smartphones. They included a variety of form letters and petitions.

The nearly 5,000 pages were part of some 3,600 written comments submitted in total. Only the written comments were included in the FOIA request. An analysis of testimony from the eight public hearings; five held in the Adirondacks, three outside the Park, was not included. Around 200 total speakers made statements at those hearings, many speaking more than once.

The written comments tracked the public hearings with a sharp Wilderness and Wild Forest divide. The difference was that at the public hearings more people spoke  for Wild Forest while the written comments had more Wilderness supporters. A rough count  had about 2,700 backing Wilderness classification, and around 800 backing Wild Forest. There were over 100 letters where it was difficult to determine what the author was advocating; for example a number endorsed “Forest Preserve classification.” There were a handful of Canoe and Primitive classification support comments submitted.

Many who spoke at public hearings also submitted written comments. A number of written comments seemed to have been submitted multiple times.

There were a variety of petitions submitted as well. The Upper Hudson River Recreation Hub submitted petitions with 200 or so names in support of Wild Forest. PROTECT-ADK-Sierra Club jointly submitted a petition with over 2,100 names supporting a Wilderness classification. The Childwold Snowpackers submitted 46 form letters backing Wild Forest.

There were many form letters submitted on both sides. In fact, the majority of written comments in each camp were form letters of one sort or another.

Groups submitting letters or resolutions backing a Wild Forest classification included the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, Local Government Review Board, Town of Long Lake, Town of Indian Lake, Town of North Hudson, Town of Minerva (Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey submitted the most, and longest, comments), New York State Fish & Wildlife Management Board, NYS Snowmobile Association, NYS Conservation Council, Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, Town of Inlet, Lewis County Board of Supervisors, Fulton County Board of Supervisors, Trout Unlimited, CAP-21, and various county sportsmen groups, mountain biking groups, hunting and fishing clubs, among others. The town attorney for the Town of Indian Lake sent a detailed and argumentative letter that appears to be laying the legal groundwork for a court challenge.

The Wilderness camp was headed up by the Adirondack Mountain Club, a number of ADK chapters, Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild, Adirondack Council, Audubon New York, Environmental Advocates, Environment New York, the Sierra Club, various chapters of the Sierra Club, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Holy Myrrhbearers Monestary, among others.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage called for saving the farm house at the Outer Gooley Club, as did many other writers.

Former APA Commissioner Peter Paine, and lead author of the State Land Master Plan, called for a Canoe classification, with a fallback for Primitive. Former APA Commissioners Liz Thorndike and John Collins called for Wilderness. Former APA Executive Director Bob Glennon called for Wilderness. Former APA Commissioners Rick Hoffman and former DEC Deputy Commissioner Chris Amato backed a Canoe classification.

Over 30 form letters were submitted in support of a Wilderness classification and naming it after Adirondack conservation icon Paul Schaefer.

APA organized the comments by date received. Wild Forest and snowmobiling supporters got off to a strong start with the majority of letters in the first weeks of the hearing cycle, but the Wilderness groups finished stronger with some big form letter campaigns.

The contents of the hearing, both written and oral comments, are great fodder and data for evaluating public attitudes towards Wilderness and machines in the forest in the first decades of the 21st Century. Great sociological, public process and political science studies could be performed from these comments.

Updates and summaries of the comments are expected to be presented at the August and/or September APA meetings as the agency makes its decision.

Editor’s Note: The Adirondack Almanack’s full coverage of the acquisition of the new state lands from The Nature Conservancy, more than 50 stories, can be found here. Details of the various proposals with maps can be found here.

Photo courtesy Carl Heilman II.


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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.

29 Responses

  1. David says:

    By more than a 3 to 1 margin, the public favors wilderness over wild forest. That’s quiet waters over float planes and motor boats. And hiking and backcountry skiing over snowmobiles, ATVs and 4 x 4s. The people have spoken.

  2. Rich says:

    Amen Brother!!!!!

  3. Alan Senbaugh says:

    That is exciting. I think if it went to state wide referendum wilderness would win. It is sad to me more Locals don’t support wilderness but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

  4. Andy says:

    It’s not a popularity contest. It’s about what’s right for the land and state.

    • David says:

      Shouldn’t the people decide what’s which instead of a bunch of state bureacrats ? Otherwise what have public hearings and a coment period ?

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      I agree but that would not be popular with ADK residents. Who seem to favor Wild Forest more times than not. Wilderness classification is a no brainer if your primary concern is what’s “right for the land.”

      • If Wilderness classification is a “no brainer” there wouldn’t be any debate over this and the comment section would be void.

        • Alan Senbaugh says:

          Try reading the entire 2 sentence post….”if your primary concern is whats right for the land.” I know you are advocating for wildforest and I respect your opinion. You are not going to try and argue that wild forest would be better for the land, ecology than a wilderness designation are you?

  5. […] The decision over how to manage the new state lands has been called one of the most important decisions since the founding of the Adirondack Park Agency in the early 1970s. There is a lot of good fodder.… […]

  6. al Pouch says:

    I would guess that the majority of the comments in favor of Wilderness come from downstate non-residents who visit infrequently, if at all. The people who live here and need to earn a living here are likely in favor of Wild Forest designation. Can the responses be tracked and weighted to reflect the more direct interest in the future of the Adirondack in relation to it’s residents? Are we simply going to create a servant class in the park catering to those able to travel here and buy their summer homes? If the decision is to be made for the greater good with regard to economics, then it should be made Wild Forest!

  7. David D says:

    I guess the question comes down to who’s land is it. I am a taxpaying resident of central NY. My money contributed just as much as residents money did and I think my say should be weighed equally. We live in a state of 19.5 million, but less than .5% of that lives in the three counties with land claims in the purchase.

  8. David says:

    Democracy is not based on weighted voting. The Park is a state resource. Besides, I would bet that a number of votes for wild forest came from snowmobile interests, most of which reside outside of the Park. It’s speculation to say that most of the wilderness votes came from people don’t visits the park.It also a stretch to say that a wilderness designation will hurt the Adirondack economy. There are a number of wilderness based outfitters and businesses within the park. Unfortunately, Americans think that walking or doing anything requiring muscle effort a the most god aweful thing. The people have spoken.

  9. alpouch says:

    I guess that gerrymandering and the electoral college don’t count as weighting? I realize this is not a ‘vote’ per se, but if the APA is listening, and judging by the hearings they are, we should be heard and a decision madde accordingly.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Public comments should not be the overriding factor. The Forest Preserve is here for ever. They need to classify it that will provide the greatest protection. This is a large tract. The Forest Preserve is a globally important ecological reserve. It should not be compromised just so fisherman can drive closer to their fishing hole. A wilderness classification is the answer.

  10. Paul says:

    “By more than a 3 to 1 margin, the public favors wilderness over wild forest.” That is not accurate. Assuming these numbers are accurate you can say this: “by more than a 3 to 1 margin, the people sending in comments favored a wilderness classification over wild forest”. The reality is that a tiny fraction of the public voiced their opinion in the comments. All the wheels deserve the grease not just the squeaky ones. Luckily we don’t make decisions based on just a few loud voices.

    • You beat me to it, Paul! 🙂

      Another thing: If this would have happened 20 years ago (before internet became a household staple) almost nobody would have heard about these hearings.

      But Protect and Sierra Club would have been at the meetings and writing their letters like that’s their job…..because it is their job. This land would have been classified as Wilderness with almost no discussion.

      Now, more of the general public is getting informed and involved in the process. There is more than sufficient interest in Wild Forest classification to make this an intense debate.

      If there was NO debate, APA could have easily made their decision this week.

  11. Colvin says:

    The Master Plan says that land is supposed to be classified based on its “characteristics and capacity to withstand use.” I hope the APA focuses on these criteria when it makes its recommendation classification to the Governor. Classification is not a popularity contest, which Mr. Bauer would have strongly asserted had the majority of those submitting public comments favored a Wild Forest designation. A more informative article would have discussed those public comments which discussed criteria which the Master Plan says are relevant.

    • David D says:

      That is absolutely true, and after watching the APA meeting it was clear that the agency staff are doing just that. I think the state land committee has begun compiling that information including the ecology of the area and particularly vulnerable areas. It seems that the Essex Chain has some very high value wetlands in addition to the tracts other ecological assets. I think that “characteristics and capacity to withstand use” firmly support wilderness as well.

      • Darrin W. Harr says:

        The areas has been a working tree farm for over a century. That would favor a Wild Forest classification.

        • David D says:

          That is irrelevant. The SLMP does not say if the land was an industrial forest it should not be wilderness. What it does say is that wilderness can be a tool to “preserve enhance and restore” the land. Preserve the fragile ecosystems, enhance access the natural value of the area, and restore the forest. Sounds like wilderness [1B ideally] is a perfect fit.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      I couldn’t agree more! The Essex chain is very unique to the Adirondacks because of the calcareous bedrock underneath. Third and Fourth lakes, in particular have a low capacity to withstand use and are very pristine. The APA has classified the wetland in the channel between these lakes as being a value 1. This area is of high ecological importance and very fragile. On a site visit APA staffers found a rare Native Milfoil in fourth lake which has been documented in only a few sites statewide. Deer Pond and Third lake also contain rare plant species. Clearly this area requires a wilderness designation based on the criteria of the SLMP, as you have highlighted Colvin. Thank You for pointing that out.

  12. Peter Bauer says:

    Colvin and David D,

    Good comments. Please see the comment letter from PROTECT

    I think we cover the State Land Master Plan Wilderness definition and criteria there as well as anyone.

    This article was simply about the “score” of the comments and not the substance of the overall issue. There will be more posts on that later on.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Great letter by PROTECT! If you look back at the purchase of other lands now classified as wilderness in the ADKS, the Essex Chain is more pristine than they were at time of purchase. The HPWA, West Canada, Silver Lakes, Mckenzie,…All had roads and structures and were exploited more so than the Essex chain. I doesn’t take rose colored glasses to see a wilderness here.

  13. David says:

    No matter how the Wild Forest (motorized) advocates try to spin it, the vast majority of those submitting comments favor Wilderness. If the motorized crowd didn’t speak up, they have only themselves to blame. Or maybe the truth is that the votes aren’t there. Maybe more of the public favors quiet (wilderness) recreation.

    Also Peter Bauer’s letter makes some VERY good points.

    • I’m very curious to know about your experience as a pollster.

      • John Warren says:

        The dozens of attempts to water-down the Forever Wild clause that have been defeated in the State Legislature and at referendums of the people of this state over the years (recently in the State Leg every single year), combined with the overwhelming majority of commenters on this particular issue, should be enough to convince the the objective observer that, at the very least, the majority of those who make their opinions known (the only ones who matter in our Democracy) prefer “forever wild” to “forever motorized”.

        I’m pretty sure most wilderness advocates would be happy to put it to a statewide vote. “I want to ride my snowmobile in the Forest Preserve” is probably not a big vote-getter.

        It doesn’t surprise me that the most vocal motorized advocates don’t understand that they hold the minority position.

  14. David says:

    To Darrin E. Harr

    OH PLEASE ! Is that the best you can do ??????

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