Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New State Lands: The Ecological Case for Wilderness

Essex ChainThe recent acquisition by the State of New York of the former Finch-Pruyn/Nature Conservancy lands means many things to many people. While economic, social, and political implications fuel many of the broader conversations occurring over these lands, these issues tend to drown out the quieter voice of the land itself.

Any visitor to the North Country knows that wild places are anything but silent, from the ever persistent hum of the mosquito, to the chittering call of the hunting kingfisher, to the push and pull of the wind through the forested hillsides. At the Adirondack Council we pay attention to these sounds, or more specifically, to the scientist and professionals who study how wild places and wild things are ecologically connected, and incorporate this critical input into our decision making process.

For issues involving classification of State Lands within the Blue Line, science isn’t just a cute way of making a point. It is one of the driving elements within the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP). Physical characteristics of the land or waterways, including the type of soil, slope of the hillsides, elevation of mountain peaks, and the condition of the streams and lakes are fundamental considerations in the classification process.

Biological considerations go hand in hand with these physical characteristics and are also a key element in deciding what classification these new lands receive. These considerations are as diverse as the species of fish in a lake, the types of wetlands found on the land, to specific wildlife habitats that may be associated with rare or threatened animal or bird species.

Many considerations, such as intangible perceptions, social uses, or existing infrastructure play an important part in the classification process, the physical and biological uniqueness of the land form the foundation for understanding the types of uses that will be allowed on the land in the future. The SLMP guides this process by stating that lands classified in the Forest Preserve shall be determined by “their characteristics and capacity to withstand use.”

In advocating for a wilderness classification on these few tracts of the Finch lands, the Adirondack Council doesn’t discount the importance the land had as a working forest, the historical use of hunting camps, or the enormous recreational potential for the surrounding communities. The Council views the land through the lens of the SLMP and the sheer volume of scientific data that underscores the incredible ecological value this land has.

As noted in the Adirondack Park Agency’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the region where the Finch lands are located is in one of five areas of Temperate Deciduous Forest identified for restoration or protection in the United States. These forests “represent the most fragmented and degraded … forest habitat on the planet” with the “largest area of unbroken forests greater than 100,000 acres is in the Adirondacks.”

Known as “matrix blocks,” these forest blocks combine a number of physical characteristics such as elevation, geology, and being relatively unfragmented, with biological considerations such as forest health and valuable wildlife habitat, including over 180 miles of rivers and streams, 175 lakes and ponds, 465 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and over 1,800 acres of wetlands, to create conservation priorities of the highest order. Ten of these high-value conservation forest blocks intersect within the Finch lands current undergoing classification.

As the first step in a classification process that will eventually include over 65,000 acres, the uniqueness of the forested lands and water bodies of the Essex Chain Lakes and other associated tracts, only hint at the biological richness the additional lands hold. The New York Heritage Program has identified 64 rare species and natural communities, including 13 globally significant species of plant and animal and 37 additional species of significance within New York State, on the full 65,000 acres.

For the biologists who have surveyed these lands and spent hours in the field cataloging the species found there, the story of these lands and how the next chapters will be written depends greatly on how much of their work gets incorporated into the current narrative. Conservation work has always depended greatly on the work of the biologist and ecologist, and the data acquired through their efforts, to drive the process forward.

The true story of the Finch lands is how closely the attributes of this terrain matches the core scientific principles of the SLMP. It is a compelling story, hopefully one with an equally compelling and wild ending.


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As Director of Conservation for the Adirondack Council, Rocci Aguirre is responsible for the design and implementation of the Council's conservation strategy. Rocci graduated from SUNY Cortland in 1995 and holds a MS in Resource Management and Conservation from Antioch University New England.

Rocci's connection to the Adirondacks goes back to his days as a student in Cortland's recreation department. When not fly fishing or hunting, Rocci can usually be found hiking in the woods looking for chanterelles or other delicious ingredients to add to the supper pot.

9 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Yes a “wild ending” is all three. Wilderness, Canoe Area (my preferred choice), or Wild Forest. Either way we all get a Wild result.

  2. Ethan says:

    Great explanation of why a Wilderness classification is best for the land. And, I believe, best for the surrounding communities as well.

  3. And the quiet is of value too. My son just returned from a week at Acadia National Park in Maine. Yes – a week during which the Park was closed as part of the government shut-down. He reported that people were simply parking their cars at the barricades and walking into the Park to access the hiking trails. And he specifically noted how quiet it was. That may be the lone benefit of the government shut-down! People all over the country are having the chance to experience wild places – as wild places!

  4. Paul says:

    “over 180 miles of rivers and streams, 175 lakes and ponds, 465 miles of undeveloped shoreline”

    How many miles of roads did they also say were on this property? How do they effect the fragmentation?

    From some of the comments on an earlier article on the opening day in there was a description by some of roads going off in all directions.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      The roads are temporary in their fragmentation if there is no motor vehicle use. In a matter of decades they are gone! It is the motor vehicle use that will continue the disruption. You know the answer to these hypotheticals you throw out there. Why do you continue to troll?

      • Paul says:

        Alan, trolling? If I am a troll you are a troll (and you are not). These are real issues, one that perhaps you would like to pretend don’t exist. The ASLMP law says that traditional uses of the lands are a consideration. Now I have said that I personally prefer a canoe area (basically a Wilderness designation) but that does not mean that these things can simply be swept under the rug in the classification, they are the law. Given enough time Manhattan’s roads buildings and other features could be “gone”? Think about it.

  5. Peter says:

    I always love when the Adirondack Council weighs in. Rather than creating divisiveness and controversy (salted with arrogance and self righteousness), they rely on science and facts to shape their vision. It is facts, rather than ideology, that allows them to make a stance on the NYCO land swap. It was facts during the 70s and 80s that shaped their persistent work on acid rain. And they are providing the facts that help guide the upcoming decision on the Essex Chain. It’s no wonder that they are the group invited to the table when discussions get serious. They have the resources to do the research and the stature to help influence the critical decisions that have shaped the park in the last thirty years. I hope that Mr. Cuomo has the perspective to value their perspective on the Essex Chain. It is backed by their objective, longstanding, and thoughtful investment in the Adirondack Park for the past 30+ years.

  6. Avon says:

    I agree with Peter’s facts.

    But this article stating the Council’s views illustrates that it is too touchy about the divisiveness and controversy. The first five paragraphs pussy-foot slowly around the direction that the article is going to go. They come across as one long introductory apology, or perhaps a reassuring pat on the head. The six remaining (shorter) paragraphs say exactly what’s on their mind. But the poetic imagery and the pithy sentences are gone; we get only long, dry sentences. They feel to me more like a college textbook than a persuasive outreach.

    Will people really care about “37 additional species of significance” as much as they’d care about “another three dozen important kinds of plants and animals”? Will they find “considerations” as interesting as “points” or “issues”?

    There’s gotta be a livelier way to get these exact same facts across! Moderation and objectivity are great, but there needs to be some poetry and pithiness too.

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