Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peter Bauer: Backroom Land Classification Decisions

Essex ChainThe current Forest Preserve classification process underway at the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for the new lands around the Essex Chain Lakes and the Hudson River is likely go down as the worst administered process in the 40-year history of the APA. Since the close of the public hearing in mid-July, the APA leadership has openly subverted state law and moved decision making from an open and transparent public forum to a smokeless backroom.

The process has gone awry. The train has run off the tracks. This is evidenced by four recent events:

1. APA has subverted its laws and openly ignored its legal responsibilities

The overarching directive of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) is natural resource protection for the Forest Preserve. The SLMP states on page 1 that “the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park must be paramount. Human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the resources in their physical and biological context as well as their social or psychological aspects are not degraded.”

The SLMP also requires that the APA classify state lands according to their characteristics and ability of lands to withstand use and provides four criteria for this. These criteria include analysis of physical characteristics (soils, slopes, elevation, water, among others), biological (sensitive habitat, rare species, wetlands, wildlife, among others), intangibles (remoteness, views, ruggedness, among others), and existing uses (roads, buildings, uses, among others).

After this evaluation and analysis, the APA selects the best of nine different classifications, ranging from Wilderness to State Administrative. The APA also has to comply with the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act.

In March 2013, James Connolly (recently retired) and Kathy Reagan of the APA staff provided a good presentation to APA Commissioners about the APA Forest Preserve classification process (you can watch it here). Here’s the sequential process they enumerated for how the APA makes its classification recommendation:

  • The first step is the assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). This includes analysis and development of a variety of APA staff developed alternatives.
  • The staff alternatives are submitted to the APA Commissioners, who review and ultimately approve taking various alternatives to public hearing.
  • The next step is formal public hearings, which are held throughout the state where verbal and written comments are encouraged and accepted.
  • Once the formal public hearing closes, the APA staff then develops a record of public comments and a Final Environmental Impact Statement.
  • This is followed by a formal staff recommendation to the APA Commissioners.
  • The APA Commissioners vote on a final recommendation.
  • The APA Chair and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner then jointly make this recommendation to the Governor.
  • The Governor then approves or rejects this recommendation.

The other major document that governs an APA Forest Preserve classification decision is the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This document accords the APA with the responsibility to preserve new wilderness opportunities where possible due to the shortage of such opportunities across New York and the eastern U.S. The FEIS notes that “intensive recreational” uses are abundant throughout New York, whereas only in the Adirondack Park can we protect Wilderness on a large scale. The FEIS also states that acquisitions of large tracts must be evaluated first and foremost for Wilderness classification due to scant opportunities elsewhere. The FEIS clearly holds high the optimum natural resource protection values provided by a Wilderness classification.

What has happened since the close of the public hearings in July is that public recreational use has driven the classification review by APA, not natural resource protection. The decision now being developed by the APA is being formulated in various smokeless backrooms and not in an open and transparent public forum.

2. APA leadership is actively negotiating with the DEC, Governor’s office and others with the objective of forging an agreement for the APA Commissioners to approve

The APA leadership is energetically engaged in negotiating a deal with the DEC, Governor’s staff, and others on the classification of the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River. While these negotiations are ongoing the APA leadership has implemented a policy blackout for all legal and policy materials relevant to Forest Preserve classification. While negotiations are underway the APA has steadfastly refused to develop the necessary and required policy and legal documents. The APA leadership is waiting until a political deal has been reached before it puts pen to paper and drafts these materials.

Once a deal is reached, the APA Chair and executive staff will then submit this deal to the APA Commissioners. At that point, the deal will have the support of the APA Chair and the three state votes. What of the rest of the APA Commissioners? Clearly, their role has been usurped. Will this be an issue? Doubtful. It appears, sadly, that most of the APA Commissioners don’t want to wrestle with the substantial legal and policy issues and will be quite happy if the deal is effectively made for them, is blessed from on high by the Governor, and requires only their rubber stamp. It’s highly likely that the APA Chair will be greeted by a cheering chorus of Commissioners for saving them from having to make any independent judgments. Part of the choreography of the deal is that APA staff will be directed to write legal and policy documents to support this agreement.

There is no better illustration than the classification process unfolding before our eyes for the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River to show how far the APA has fallen. A once proud and independent agency governed by the rule of law and a professional independent staff that debated issues in an open and transparent public forum is now making exclusive decisions behind closed doors.

Note that there is nothing in the classification process detailed at the APA’s March 2013 meeting about negotiations by the APA Chair and Executive Staff with other agencies, the Governor’s staff, or other various interests.

3. APA has withheld information from its Commissioners and the public in a deliberate policy blackout to facilitate closed-door negotiations

The public hearing closed on July 19, 2013. At the APA’s August meeting, the APA devoted nearly the entire day and a half to the classification decision. Since August, the APA has gone into a 90-day (and counting) policy blackout and has refused to release any information of substance to its commissioners or the public. At the end of its August meeting, APA Counsel Jim Townsend developed a list of more than three dozen items where the Commissioners requested additional information about classification matters. As of the APA’s November meeting, Townsend has reported back on about one-third of these items. This hardly represents a vigorous priority to get information to the Commissioners.

At the end of the public hearing in July, the next step for the APA under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was to develop an official “Response” document to the substantial issues raised in the public hearing by some 3,600 public comments. The APA has not released this document. The APA leadership has delayed the preparation and release of this document so that it can be written to support a political deal reached in a smokeless backroom. This is hardly what SEQRA intended.

At the end of the APA’s September meeting, State Lands Committee chair Richard Booth, a Cornell Law professor, requested that the APA staff prepare a legal and policy memo that detailed major legal and policy issues involved in the four principal classification options before the APA – Wilderness, Primitive, Canoe and Wild Forest. The APA leadership has delayed the preparation and release of this document so that it too can be written, if it’s written at all, to support a political deal reached in a smokeless backroom. This is contrary to the purpose behind Booth’s request. Note that the APA Counsel Jim Townsend says he fulfilled Booth’s request, but maintains that his response is subject to attorney-client privilege and even though it was requested in a public forum it will not be made public and included in the public record. Have any other Commissioners seen this memo from the APA Counsel? When was it circulated?

To fill the void created by the APA leadership’s decision to implement a policy blackout for the APA commissioners and the public about key legal or policy matters for the APA’s classification decision until a political agreement is finalized, APA Commissioner Richard Booth drafted his own legal memo about classification options and circulated it to APA Commissioners and the DEC. The APA Counsel also states that the Booth analysis is not a public document and will not be part of the public record. It’s subject to attorney-client privilege. It’s shielded intra-agency correspondence. To the APA leaders, thoughts about the peoples forest are not suitable for the people.

The APA’s position is troubling. If Booth had received an adequate legal and policy document from the APA Counsel, then why did he feel compelled to write up his own analysis? The Townsend memo, if it exists, should be made public.

Another troubling aspect of the APA’s decision to negotiate in a smokeless backroom, rather than air these issues in a public forum, is that it has handcuffed the APA staff’s ability to do its job. The only people paid by the State of New York as Forest Preserve policy experts are the APA’s state lands staff. This stuff is their job. Yet, as the policy blackout over the past 90 days has shown, the APA leadership has basically prevented them from doing their jobs, which in the best of all possible worlds would mean that they provide the APA Commissioners and the public the full range of legal and policy options for the APA’s classification decision and make an impartial recommendation based upon natural resource protection. This has not happened.

The APA leadership has worked mightily and effectively to keep its Commissioners as well as the public in the dark about its looming classification decision, while energetically negotiating with other state officials and various interests to cut a deal.

Note that there is nothing in the classification process detailed at the APA’s March 2013 meeting about delaying or withholding information to facilitate negotiations by the APA Chair and Executive Staff with other agencies and various stakeholders.

There are a lot of games being played here. The public should have access to all materials on which APA Commissioners will base their decision. That’s a pretty simple standard.

In my experience as an environmental advocate over the past two decades, negotiations on decisions are moved out of public forums to smokeless backrooms when the law and other official rules and regulations need to be bent or subverted. If the law is to be upheld and fully complied with then discussions occur in open and transparent public forums.

4. Governor Cuomo has committed his senior staff to broker a deal

In an effort to expedite a deal, Governor Cuomo has dispatched his top environmental staffer from the Capital to a course of shuttle diplomacy to align the various agencies and interests. The goal here is to create a checkerboard of various recreational uses over the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River lands to satisfy the broad range of conflicting interests. This level of executive leadership in the final details breaks new ground for involvement by a Governor in an APA Forest Preserve classification review and decision.

Note that there is nothing in the classification process detailed at the APA’s March 2013 meeting about negotiations involving the Governor’s executive staff.

This process has been far different than other Forest Preserve classifications from the very beginning. The level of deal making has topped anything that has come before us. This was initially evidenced by the DEC’s “concept plan” that detailed a DEC vision for the entire 69,000 of former Finch Paper lands. DEC had never before provided a document with this level of detail, or engaged the public and various interests to gin up support for its position, as part of its classification recommendations to the APA for new Forest Preserve lands. This clearly showed a level of deal making from the very beginning where DEC’s primary focus was always about recreational management and not natural resource protection.

When the APA went to public hearing last summer, it included as one of seven alternatives the DEC’s preferred option of a Wild Forest classification with a Special Management Area, despite the fact that a Special Management Area is a Unit Management Plan function and not a classification function. The Special Management Area was based upon a series of special deals for things like seasonal floatplane access to the Essex Chain Lakes and road access, among other considerations.

The public hearings in June and July 2013 were generally well managed and generated a lot of very good public comments across the recreational use and political spectrum. The decision to hold only three of the eight hearings outside the Adirondack Park was unfortunate, but overall the APA gets high marks for soliciting input. The hearings resulted in over 3,600 public comments than ran 4-1 in favor of a Wilderness classification.

Unfortunately, after its August meeting, the APA has moved to a policy blackout in order to facilitate its backroom negotiations. The APA followed the DEC’s lead here. In essence, the DEC has coopted the APA and brought it over to its way of doing things of trying to parse recreational uses as its primary consideration with natural resource protection and the law as secondary considerations.

The sad fact here is that much has been lost in the current frenzy to hammer out a recreation plan under the guise of a classification recommendation for the former Finch lands.

The sad fact is that the checks-and-balances relationship between the APA-DEC has been subverted. One agency is no longer holding the other accountable over the management of the people’s forest.

The sad fact here is that the Governor has subverted his own checks-and-balances responsibilities for approving or disapproving the APA-DEC classification recommendation as he has dispatched his top staffer into the fray to cut a deal.

The sad fact is that it appears most of the APA Commissioners have acquiesced to abdicating their responsibilities for upholding and implementing the APA Act and SLMP.

No one at the DEC seems troubled by trampling the APA’s independent role or by making a decision almost exclusively based on recreational management.

The APA leadership is blazing full steam ahead with negotiations in smokeless backrooms so it is clearly untroubled by usurping the authority of the full APA Board of Commissioners, circumscribing the independence of its staff review and judgment, or by failing to administer a process faithful to the SLMP or FEIS.

It’s clear that the APA is dragging its feet and refusing to make public important policy and legal analysis for Forest Preserve classification. In the best of all possible worlds, the generation of this information should be done impartially and in advance of a decision so that it helps to educate and inform decision makers. The APA is working diligently to keep decision makers in the dark until after a deal is struck. The APA is working diligently to keep information from the public, hiding behind attorney-client privilege and shielded intra-agency communications. What the APA is withholding is information that consists of the thoughts of a legal scholar on the SLMP and classification of the Forest Preserve. These are not state secrets. This is not the war on terror. This is legal and policy analysis about the Forest Preserve, the peoples forest, New York’s great public domain.

Decisions about the Forest Preserve should be made in an open and transparent process.

The natural resources around the Essex Chain Lakes and the Hudson River that are on the line with this classification decision are truly stunning and beautiful, rich and dynamic, rare and unique. This is a largely intact forest landscape that connects other major forest ecosystems in the Park. Public Forest Preserve ownership will allow these lands to grow wilder over time, unlike most of the rest of the world. This is a landscape of unblemished lakes and ponds that are home to a unique and sensitive fishery. This is a landscape with 22 miles of New York’s grandest river in its wildest state.

Unfortunately, the Forest Preserve classification and management process is being driven by recreational uses exclusively and all meaningful deliberations have moved from an open and transparent public forum to a smokeless backroom.

The Forest Preserve deserves better.

Photo of the Essex Chain Lakes by Carl Heilman II.

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Peter Bauer

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 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 and two children, 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 Twitter.




60 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    The fact that Bauer is so upset is a sure sign that the APA is on the right path to a fair, balanced and reasonable decision.

  2. Jim Jordan says:

    This is a superb and highly disturbing post. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    Since Peter thinks the APA is so flawed, maybe it is time to save some tax dollars by getting rid of the APA and let the DEC administer state owned lands as they and the governor see fit to do.

  4. Daniel says:

    Peter:

    While I appreciate the posting, and am completely on the side of wilderness protection for these lands, I must ask why you were not substantive (enough) in this post. I see a lot of hearsay, and that worries me. I trust you have your sources for some of what you wrote, but this must be included to allow others to judge the scenario for themselves. This is especially true in what is a fairly scathing report.

    On a different note, what legal options exist if these lands are not classified as wilderness? Can the judicial system be called upon to revoke an inappropriate designation (e.g., lake bed classification)?

  5. Paul says:

    I am not sure that it would be very productive to have a completely open process. Nothing would ever get done. You would just have folks on both extreme ends of the matter questioning every little thing as it is brought forth. They have to be able to deliberate some of the issues in private. Peter, what indication is there that “public recreational use has driven the classification”. If what you are saying here is true you have no idea what is driving the process? I do like the “smokeless backroom”! At least we have made some progress over the last 40 year!

  6. Justin says:

    Is there an Essex Chain Enchanted Forest Water Safari proposal we’re not aware of, or is the APA still just considering permutations of Wilderness and Wild Forest?

    How do you expect to influence decisions when you impugn the motives, character and actions of practically everyone, and especially the decision makers, at every chance you get?

    Wouldn’t it be more effective to demonstrate that you are passionate but reasonable and willing to work with others in a respectful, good faith manner?

    Don’t you think respectful and reasonable commentary, dialog and advocacy would increase the odds that people not in your choir will listen to, consider and perhaps be persuaded by your arguments?

    Or are you and your group more interested in ‘the fight’ than actually protecting the Adirondacks?

    We need strong advocates for Wilderness, and groups to take a stand against things like the NYCO amendment and the ACR project, to scrutinize the APA and DEC, and to make sure snowmobile trails aren’t begin turned into roads, etc…

    But why can’t anyone seem to do that in a reasonable manner, free of shrill hyperbole, and with respect for others and their viewpoints?

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Kudos to Justin for succinctly characterizing the behavior of Peter and PROTECT! recently.

      The vitriol and insults continue to roll out of the gaping maws of PROTECT!’s smokeless offices.

      Its like a bad train wreck though, and I just can’t look away from the ensuing carnage which will be the ultimate demise of this organization. Eventually the folks writing the checks that fund Mr. Bauer’s salary will dry up and he will become unemployed if this type of depredation continues. Frankly, if Mr. Bauer and PROTECT! continue on their current course this will likely happen sooner rather thah later.

      Its sad actually when an organization that has so much to offer isolates and marginalizes itself so severly that it no longer has a voice that resonates with truth and merit, but rather, becomes a mouthpiece for straw man arguements and anger projected on those who disagree. There is nothing constructive about being combative every time an issue arises. Constructiveness comes from working with others in a MEANINGFUL way to reach consensus among all the parties at the table. Its a good faith process, and there is no good faith when you are only willing to accept your own views and not those of the others involved in the process. Mr. Bauer’s piece above outlining his stance on this issue is clearly reductio ad absurdum arguement gone crazy.

      • Peter says:

        At a certain point, Protects! board of directors has to be held accountable to this as well. Protect! has two staff members, so my assumption is that the board remains heavily involved in operations. I hope that they realize that there are plenty of good leaders out there who would be capable of helping direct Protect!’s vision in a far more effective and meaningful manner.

    • Peter says:

      Spot on Justin. This is my concern also. The voice is always needed to speak out for wilderness. The difficulty here is that it appears Mr. Bauer is occupying that role in the social media, and he is butchering the job with “unreasonable shrill hyperbole.” I can only imagine what the response is like when PROTECT calls the APA offices, or the DEC, or the governor. But I bet I’d be pretty accurate in saying that people roll their eyes, laugh with a little knowing exasperation, and say “put him through to voice mail.”

      The environmental community should be really concerned about Mr. Bauer at this point. A voice that really needs to be heard is muted by his tactics. Maybe Adirondack Wild can step in and play the role of speaking out for an ideal scenario without alienating everyone in the process.

      I’m really serious about this. The damage that is being done by these rants and accusations is no slight matter.

    • Matt says:

      Justin. Right on! Peter represents a very vocal elitist minority

  7. Running George says:

    You can be sure that laws and rules are being broken when the sunlight is kept off the process. I’d rather have a raucous, open, process than one governed by good ole boys in a backroom.
    This is more “collaboration” designed to fit the Cuomo agenda.
    Could some of the negotiators be some of the same “collaborators” involved in the sell out on Prop 5?

  8. JP says:

    Here Here Justin! Couldn’t agree more. There is no room for common ground and reasoned debate in the world of PROTECT, and that is why they will eventually become marginalized to the point that the organization will lose all relevance.

  9. Jan Hansen says:

    Mr Bauer
    I think you protest too much. It is ridiculous that the APA is taking so long to come to a public decision. That I agree. I also agree that the public comment period has ended. Protect seems to want to further influence the process by all this drum banging. Wait for a result instead of reacting to every word leaked to the press.
    Ultimately it is the Governor’s decision. It is all politics. Period. Hopefully the Governor will decide not to lock up all motorized access to the parcel. The lakes, sure, keep them pristine. Land with a well developed road system, why not keep them? I’ve seen you at the Black Fly Challenge. Are you going to tell me you wouldn’t ride your mountain bike on these roads if allowed? No,fine, walk them. Walk from the outer Gooley area to the Cedar river when you are 73 years old. I digress.
    Let the APA make their decision and complain when they do it. Makes more sense.

  10. Running George says:

    So Jan Hansen and Justin think Peter Bauer is wrong to protest about a closed process? Who picks the insiders? How are decisions made? What kind of trade offs are being made and what gets lost in the process?
    You’ll never know because the process is closed. Remember all the recent talk about this being “our Park”? Well is it
    ‘our Park”? Or is it the domain of the Governor and the chosen few insiders?

    Waiting to sound the alarm until after the decisions are made would be too late. The DEC or APA may roll their eyes when Protect! calls , but that sure doesn’t mean Protect! is wrong. Power concedes nothing without a fight and the DEC and APA are representing power rather than the law and what’s good for Wilderness.

    • Paul says:

      But the process isn’t closed as he describes? They have had to extend the process several times to allow the agency more time to consider the 3000 or so public comments they have gotten. The board deliberates in public at the meetings, the public is invited to attend. The meetings are simulcast so if you can’t make it you can watch it from anywhere. Folks may not like the decisions being made but this agency has one of the most open processes of any state agency that I can think of? With that said they can’t do everything in public, that would be totally unproductive. That type of a process would not benefit the general public, but it would benefit the professional organizations that make their living doing these kinds of things. That would include people working for developers or people working for environmental groups.

      Also, from the 21 page memo that Peter describes it sounds like they are considering some of the things that are very important to Peter and his organization. That seems to fly in the face of what he is describing here?

      • Running George says:

        “sounds like they are considering…” Yeah, sounds like, they might be, they could be…the point is we don’t know and can only guess because it’s behind closed doors.

        Besides, the 21 page memo was written by someone that “sounds like” he has his own problems with the process.

        “Deliberates in public”? That’s no help if its all been choreographed ahead of time.

        Open up the process, APA, and let the sun shine in!

        • Paul says:

          I think that memo may just be making a legal argument to his fellow commissioners, even he does not want to make it public at this point in the deliberation.

  11. John Henry says:

    I am more concerned with the process at this point than the outcome. Looks like it is gaming the outcome and no matter who “wins” the other side will have some issue with the process to tout for years.

  12. Richard says:

    Perhaps it is time for the Almanack to make some editorial reevaluation of the virtually open forum that this one individual (Mr. Bauer) has too long enjoyed.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      In other words, you’d like to silence him? I’d just like to be clear on what you are asking.

      You want me to limit our contributors to only those who agree with you?

      John Warren
      Editor

      • Mark says:

        Silence him (only in our dreams), but you don’t have to invite him to write for you. He can send letters like anyone else, but don’t provide him with a podium.

      • Matt says:

        John,
        You do a fine job, and I enjoy your content immensely. As an editor, you get to make a call on what gets published. Peter is ranting here. This is nothing more than a strategically crafted rant. I don’t think that’s a stretch. Publishing rants adds little to nothing on what has been a good public forum discussion on this issue thus far. PROTECT! has a nice website they can put this kind of material on. I hope the Protect Board is listening. I respect Peter and his opinions, but folks can see through what this is. Peter can paint whatever picture he wants because he knows that the Agency and the DEC won’t respond to this. Easy target. Accordingly, he will take their silence as evidence of all his mis-guided assertions, and carry on his own dialogue in whatever fashion he sees fit to support whatever story he wants to sell. I wonder if the PROTECT Board really buys this stuff? I hope the Almanack can be a bit more of a filter when it comes to such obvious propaganda(and I don’t think that’s a stretch either). Let’s remember that PROTECT wanted the Agency to take their time crafting a preferred alternative, and they are getting their wish, as they should. The public comment period is indeed over, Peter. If I want to read a thinly veiled fundraising appeal, I’ll visit PROTECT!’s website. Thanks.

      • Matt says:

        um, John, you strike me as more intelligent than what your last remark suggests. Reading many of your posts, it is clear you know your stuff and I enjoy your input. The point made in this post about peters forum is that, through his position, he can simply ” shout louder” than anyone else. It’s not about censoring it’s about balance. I’m a long time subscriber to the explorer and love the paper. Just wish it offered a little more from the other side. I guess the old saying applies. Don’t get in arguments with those that buy ink by the barrel

        Matt

    • Nature says:

      Richard,

      I am pretty sure the Adirondack Almanack is John Warren’s own Blog. Therefore, he rightly gets to post whatever he wants to. And, as Peter Bauer said in his reply post, if you don’t like the content here then you can choose from thousands of other blogs that might match your own sensibilities.

      I don’t often agree with Peter, or John, but I appreciate the fact that John allows all of us to chime in.

      I also have to admit that I like reading Peter Bauer, Dan Plumly, and Dave Gibson’s posts specifically because I know I will probably disagree. It’s a guilty pleasure, but I want to know what imminent threat the Adirondacks are facing on any given day. These posts are usually packed with intrigue, shady dealings; big, greedy bad-guys vs. underfunded, outgunned good-guys,etc…

      I am not insinuating that these posts are specifically published to up the readership. But John Warren would be crazy not to post something this juicy. These posts raise a lot of emotion in people no matter what side of the issue you may be on.

      I will conclude with an open “thank you” to John Warren for providing this blog.

      • Matt says:

        Well said. I enjoy it too, but I fear this is getting a bit ridiculous. Your call John.

        • Paul says:

          You have to remember there are not that many folks following the discussion here. Hope it is growing for John’ s sake! I find it interesting as well.

  13. JimBob says:

    I don’t think Mr. Bauer wrote “smokeless backroom” enough.

  14. James says:

    The APA became quite useless during the ACR debacle. What Peter Bauer claims in this article could certainly be applied to the way the ACR decision was arrived at. Look, It’s obvious Cuomo is shooting for higher office and is trying to line up as many votes as possible. Politics is dirty business.

  15. JR says:

    As being a low-life hunter who leased lands with a cabin from Finch, of which must be torn down soon, given zero
    offers or options of moving it to main road with 1 acre easement around it, to still enjoy the property.
    It makes me happy to see proponents of this State buy-out
    almost equally as unhappy as I with the State.
    Hopefully the State will do the exact opposite as
    you all had hoped and we can all be angry, together.
    Cheers.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      JR,

      You will, along with every other member of the public, be able to continue to enjoy these new state lands, including for hunting and fishing.

      I’m sorry that your club will no longer be able to keep the public out. Unfortunately for you, it wasn’t your land and the owner of the land on which your private club operated decided to open it to the public.

      I know several hunters from Newcomb and the surrounding towns who have already gotten to enjoy hunting this land for the first time ever. They are more than happy that they will no longer be excluded.

      Cheers,

      John Warren

      • Paul says:

        The ideal solution here would have been to allow the public in and the clubs to remain as well. We could have had it all and nobody would have been sorry about the outcome.

  16. Peter Bauer says:

    Lots of comments. Thank you all.

    From the top:

    Bob: Clearly I don’t think the APA is on the right track and I think they’re headed for a highly political decision that has little to do with natural resource protection and more to do with recreational interests.

    Jim Jordan: You’re very kind. Thank you.

    Pete Klein: An Adirondack Park Service was recommended years ago as a merging of APA-DEC functions. I still think that the two agencies with checks and balances responsibilities are viable, but one agency is designed to hold the other accountable. In recent years, the DEC has pretty much walked all over the APA.

    Daniel: Most of what I write about here is straight from the public record, or as major materials have not been generated or released from the lack of a public record. It’s on the APA website, in the laws, etc. I’m writing here as an advocate and opinion writer, not a reporter, though I spoke with lots of people over the past few weeks. And, yes, the report is scathing, but where we’re at right now is pretty bad. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    Paul: I disagree. Plenty has gotten done at the APA over the years. 17,000 permits, plenty of State Land decisions. At one time the APA was a weirdly wonderfully democratic place where the public spoke to substance all through its open meetings. Those times have changed and that’s too bad. I disagree that things cannot get done through public deliberation.

    Justin/MP Heller/Peter: I apologize that you find this piece off putting though you may or may not agree with the content. The issue here is certainly not the fight. Far from it. The issue here is that the substance of this very important debate has largely been taken out of the public realm. Unfortunately, I have not seen anybody raise that issue and that’s too bad.

    On overall tone, these are controversial and emotional issues that the Adirondack Park is dealing with. Land, vehicles, wild places – people are passionate about these things. I have strived to bring rich content and new information to my posts here at the Almanack and I think I have a fairly strong body of work here over the last year or so, but I note your concerns about tone, and will be mindful of that.

    Running George: I agree that sunlight is the best policy.

    JP: PROTECT has in many ways become the last line of defense for the Forest Preserve and the wilds of the Adirondack Park.

    Jan Hansen: I don’t think that people can protest enough with government agencies. The big thing here is that laws, rules, policies, established process need to be minded. What we’re seeing now has little to do with the “official process” enumerated by the APA back in March.

    John Henry: An open, public process is the best way. The APA took seven alternatives to public hearing. They got lots of comments. They started to analyze the comments and start its policy review and then everything stopped. 90 days now of nearly nothing. My fear is that the APA will come back with a decision at the same time they release all the policy and legal analysis. That would be too bad. Good data, good analysis should all feed into a good decision, not written simply to back up a political decision.

    Richard: The beauty of the Almanack, like the world wide web, is that you can pick and choose who you want to read. I read lots of different people, but I don’t read everything. There are lots of voices across the Adirondacks and around the world and the world wide web has tremendously expanded and democratized the ability of everyone to be heard.

    JimBob: I was trying to inject a little humor, but I don’t think it worked.

    James: I remain a fan of the APA, a true believer, though I’m distressed by its decision to cease functioning as an independent agency.

    JR: You’ll still be able to hunt there after the leased rights are terminated and you’ll still know all the best spots.

    • Peter says:

      Your apology on tone seems comic in the face of the rhetorical devices you use in this blog post. These devices create a specific outcome, and that outcome defines PROTECTS!’s attitude towards the agencies and the people involved in the process. As an example(and I’ll only select one little treasure from your rant),it’s tough to read the following…”The APA leadership is blazing full steam ahead with negotiations in smokeless backrooms so it is clearly untroubled by usurping the authority of the full APA Board of Commissioners, circumscribing the independence of its staff review and judgment, or by failing to administer a process faithful to the SLMP or FEIS.”…..and then actually accept that you will be “mindful” of tone. The point is that it is obvious that you were mindful of tone, and the tone your mind selected remains one that is critical, assuming, divisive, and cynical. As many many people have pointed out,the reason this is disturbing is that PROTECT is impugning “the motives, character and actions of practically everyone, and especially the decision makers, at every chance.” The land in question will hopefully be classified as close to Wilderness as possible. And your tone, and specifically who it is directed towards, in my opinion, undermines the work of good people working towards that end.

      It’s also worth noting that your tone doesn’t change much.

      “James: I remain a fan of the APA, a true believer, though I’m distressed by its decision to cease functioning as an independent agency.”

      You simply can’t help yourself.

      Please, at least during this critical land classification process, can you refrain from attacking the very agencies and people who will make the decisions. Perhaps that means a vacation, or a workshop or something.

      The Forest Preserve deserves better.

    • Paul says:

      Peter! they can and they are. So we just disagree in the chance you describe.

  17. Charlie S says:

    Good post Peter.The first thing that comes to mind while reading it is that the APA may have been infiltrated by a corporate goon or two…the first step towards more development in the Adirondack Park,less effort towards preservation.Keep up the good work Peter!

  18. Charlie S says:

    Richard says: Perhaps it is time for the Almanack to make some editorial reevaluation of the virtually open forum that this one individual (Mr. Bauer) has too long enjoyed.

    John Warren says: In other words, you’d like to silence him? I’d just like to be clear on what you are asking.You want me to limit our contributors to only those who agree with you?John Warren Editor

    Thank you John!

  19. Daniel says:

    Peter:

    Thank you for (at least partially) addressing the comments left by many of the people here. I’ll say nothing more about this particular decision process.

    However, I would still like to know what legal action can be taken to certify a wilderness classification for these lands, if such protections are not given by a supposedly due process. Can the APA or (ultimately) the current administration be brought into a judicial conflict as necessary?

    • Paul says:

      Daniel, Not sure what you mean? the agency can classify these lands as they see fit. There is plenty of room in the law to allow for that. You could take legal action if you don’t get a result that you like but it is too risky. There is no way to ” certify” this. This isn’t like a million acre roadless area we have out west where a wilderness designation is a no brainer. Here you are looking at a very different process.

  20. Richard says:

    Editor:

    I did not suggest silencing Mr. Bauer–perhaps I was too circumspect. Apologies. Actually, I agree with much of what he has to say–but I find his combative approach to be unhelpful, dysfunctional, and annoying. And redundant.

    Your response to my post…. “In other words, you’d like to silence him? I’d just like to be clear on what you are asking. You want me to limit our contributors to only those who agree with you?”….this black and white reaction is almost Bauer-like in its hyper-reactivity. Never ever suggested a total exclusion of his contributions.

    No, I am not suggesting silencing him or anyone else. I enjoy reading and considering new ideas and unfamiliar ideas. I am suggesting balance, restraint, productive discourse. And a firm editorial hand.

  21. Jan Hansen says:

    Ultimately isn’t the entire debate about this particular piece of land classification about recreation use? No one is looking to have the lands classified as intensive use. The great debate is whether the lands are to be classified as Wild or Wilderness. Easily accessed recreation or harder to access recreation. Recreation period. As I have heard and seen for myself, go far enough off the trail anywhere in the Adirondacks and you have wilderness. Walk on those trails in the High Peaks. Trip over the rocks and roots and sink in the mud holes. Run into the dozens of folks on the trails and mountaintops.
    I’d rather walk down the road in the Moose River Plains.
    So the process for the classification of these lands is not transparent and equally divided amongst the participants. Sounds about normal. The end result is what we all should worry about.

    • Matt says:

      Jan,
      Peter’s suggestion that the priorities and spirit of the SLMP are being subverted by folks that only care about recreational access and no thought for resource protection is a great big red herring here. The SLMP is a planning document, and like all planning documents, it’s purposely vague at times due to the dynamic circumstances it applies to. It even says so. Those with the strongest of opinions and skin in the game would tell you this is cut and dry. That amounts to little more than a slick used car salesman’s pitch(

      • David says:

        Although very vague in some places there are a number of points to wilderness classification that are very direct. The most obvious one applies to land over 2500 feet in elevation. More vaguely it talks areas that are sensitive to impact such as wetlands. I’m not going to follow this up with my preferred option, but please read it, it is a very interesting document.

    • TiSentinel65 says:

      I’d rather do that also. If I care for an even greater wilderness experience I can continue on and get lost in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. The only difference is what you can and can not do on said lands. A compromise is in the making. There will be both wilderness and wild forest designations for the lands north of Rt.28, just as they are south of Rt.28. It sounds like a deal most Adirondackers will be able to live with.

  22. lLily says:

    Kudos to Peter for being the only person talking about the importance of integrity in the State’s classification process. ( And thanks to Joh Warren for publishing it!) Without honest, open, and rational process, nobody on either side of any issue can respect and abide by actions of our government. Clearly Peter is respected enough to obtain this inside information.

    • Matt says:

      “respected enough to obtain this inside information”. Lily, contrary to Peter’s assessment, there is every indication that the process is being followed, political as it may be. Peter has an agenda and a story to sell you, not inside information. He’s a hired gun. Read again if you are unsure. The only “inside information” Peter has is what is available to all of us in the public who choose to ask. In fact, it’s ironic you’ve suggested that he might have some kind of inside special privilege, since he is railing against the idea that some folks in political positions might be talking about and deliberating this matter among themselves before making a decision and he seems to be having a hard time reading their minds and inserting himself into their conversations. His article here is the best proof of that fact.

    • Nature says:

      Lily,

      Your post may be wrong on one point. Peter has claimed that he, and us, are not able to obtain any inside information. If he has obtained any inside information, he is way ahead of you and me, and likely not too shut out of the process?

  23. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    So far almost all of Pater Bauer’s original post and the comments have been about the process and how that is possibly being subverted. In the current political climate, I agree that some of this has to be worked out in private or we would never get to a plan that could be voted up or down by the APA commissioners.

    What’s missing here are any statements about the land itself. At last May’s meeting of the Forest Preserve Advisory Committee (FPAC) the DEC presented their seven options for classification. Peter Bauer was at that meeting. The presenter stated that Jerry Jensen, author of the Adirondack Atlas, had stated that the forests around the Essex Chain were mostly second growth after years of logging and that the fishery was “put and take” from years of stocking by the leaseholders. Additionally, there is a network of good gravel roads. Sounds pretty suitable for recreation to me.

    The Special Management Area seems like a good concept since many uses can be allowed – but not every use. These lakes are relatively small, so I see no reason to allow motor boats, except perhaps electric motors for bona-fide handicapped. Likewise, all boats would have to be carried a few hundred yards which would limit it to car top boats that are not likely to introduce invasives. Any drive-to campsite would be well back from the water, and paddle-to campsites would also be suitably located back from the water.

    Finally, all of the proposed classifications create a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area east of the river. “Compromise” seems to have become such a dirty word these days that perhaps I should have spelled it “c*m*r*m*s*.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Special Management area is not a true classification choice for substantial acreage. Again, the DEC is subverting the process, violating the SLMP in it’s genesis of a new classification type. Special management means DEC follows no APA guidelines and they do what we want. Wasn’t the APA supposed to be dictating to the DEC? Whats going on here?

  24. Running George says:

    So Matt, since this information is available, who are the environmental groups and other “stakeholders” that are involved. The process is so transparent I’m blinded! (snark)

  25. Peter Bauer says:

    Dear All,

    Just to put a bow on this conversation: Phil Brown’s interview with the DEC Commissioner confirms much of what my article was about: 1) “Our focus is not on classification, our focus is on acceptable uses” said the Commissioner, hence recreational uses are driving the decisions around classification of the former Finch lands, which turns the SLMP on its head; 2) Active negotiations are underway between APA-DEC and others, which deviates from the APA’s public process as articulated in March 2013.

    The DEC Commissioner has confirmed the substance of my article.

    Here’s Phil Brown’s piece: https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2013/11/martens-discusses-classification-process-finch-lands.html

    Note that these negotiations at not without a purpose, they’re to arrive at a recommendation for the APA to confirm.

    Note that the Commissioner finds the Booth memo “food for thought.” I believe that the public should get access to this memo that the DEC Commissioner finds useful. This document should not be withheld. These are just ideas about the Forest Preserve after all and should be made available to the public.

    From this I stand by my contentions that this is poorly administered process. Moreover, the various legal and policy memos that remain by law to be developed by the APA will be written to support an agreement, and not written impartially to educate and inform the APA Commissioners (and the public), and prepare the Commissioners to make their decision. They have put the cart before the horse.

    • Justin says:

      None of this justifies the caustic mountain you’ve created out of a very reasonable molehill in the process of determining where on the Wilderness – Wild Forest spectrum these lands will be classified.

      It is too bad for those of us who want to see as much Wilderness as possible that you seem to be shut out of the current deliberations, but pieces like this make it easy to understand why that’s the case.

    • Paul says:

      It doesn’t sound like Mr. Booth’s 21 page memo was focused on recreational uses. That is part of the deliberation. Recreational uses are obviously part of it but not the sole focus. A Wild Forest classification, like a Wilderness one does include substantial protective measures. If ecological protection was the only factor there would be no need for any classification except wilderness or perhaps one like a “Sanctuary” classification that bars all human use.

    • Paul says:

      Peter, when the commissioner says the focus is on “uses” that is essence of the classification system and how it can protect the resource. How much use can it withstand? – that is the paramount question for the agency. I think it would be a misread of that quote to say that it does not consider environmental protections afforded by limiting use with one classification or another. I think you may be reading too much into what he is saying here?

  26. Mike says:

    One wonders if Mr. Bauer would be so vehement in protesting about the “process” if he felt the “process” was leading to the most restrictive classification that he supports?

    If that was the case, Mr. Bauer would be applauding the “process” and extolling the virtues of those enlightened folks meeting in the”smokeless back rooms” and arriving at a decision that he agrees with.

    Since he seems to think something other than that is in the works, well then let’s attack the process.

  27. Running George says:

    Nobody has said who the environmental groups are that are cutting deals behind the scenes. I’m putting my money on the Adirondack Council selling us short as Willie tries to advance his standing with Cuomo. Sorry if this sounds too negative for a few of you, but that’s the way I see this cookie crumbling. Who needs principles when you’ve got a career to advance.

  28. Running George says:

    That’s the Adirondack Council’s position… but what’s being negotiated away behind the scenes. You said “I think”. That’s all we’ve got- speculation, because the process isn’t transparent. You can bet that what’s classified as Wilderness is being whittled away in the name of Willie’s new favorite word, “collaboration”.

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