Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Essex Chain Classification: Legal Memo Rejects Wild Forest

Essex ChainAn Adirondack Park Agency commissioner has written a twenty-one-page legal analysis that concludes that the Essex Chain Lakes cannot be classified Wild Forest under the State Land Master Plan.

Dick Booth, a lawyer who teaches at Cornell University, has distributed the memo to his ten fellow commissioners, but it has not been made public.

Booth declined to discuss the memo in detail, but he told Adirondack Almanack that it focuses on the Essex Chain, a string of seven linked lakes at the heart of a 17,320-acre tract that the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy, along with two smaller tracts.

Basically, he contends that the nearly pristine condition, remoteness, and interconnectivity of the lakes make the Essex Chain “a very, very special resource” where motorized use and motorized access would be inappropriate.

The classification of the Essex Chain is perhaps the thorniest issue facing the APA as it weighs the future of the newly acquired state lands, once owned by the Finch, Pruyn paper company. Environmental groups want the lakes classified as Wilderness, which forbids motorized use. Local officials want the lakes classified as Wild Forest, which would give the state the option of allowing access to the tract by snowmobiles, floatplanes, mountain bikes, and motor vehicles. They say this will foster more tourism.

Booth had revealed at the APA’s meeting in September that he thought the State Land Master Plan precludes a Wild Forest designation. The memo spells out his reasoning. He cautioned that it reflects his own thinking, not that of the agency. “I’m a lawyer, but I’m not the agency’s lawyer,” he said.

The existence of the memo came to light when Protect the Adirondacks issued a news release on Tuesday that criticized the APA for not releasing the document.

“This is a public agency dealing with public lands. All of this information should be made public,” Peter Bauer, Protect’s executive director, told the Almanack.

Bauer said he has heard that officials from the APA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been talking about ways to allow snowmobiles, floatplanes, and mountain bikes on the Essex Chain tract. “They want to do things that the current law doesn’t allow,” he said. “Recreational use is clearly driving the process; it’s not resource management,” he added.

Like Booth, Bauer believes the State Land Master Plan precludes a Wild Forest classification. The plan asserts that the protection of natural resources—as opposed to recreation—“must be paramount.”

Bauer said the agency refused to give him the memo when he asked for it. Instead, APA counsel James Townsend told him to file a formal request under the freedom-of-information law (FOIL), according to Bauer.

“He said it most likely would be denied,” Bauer said. “I put in a FOIL request. I’m sure it’ll take weeks, and they’ll deny it.”

APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency is treating Bauer’s FOIL request as any other. “We’re following standard procedure,” he said.

McKeever said he didn’t know if the document must be released under FOIL guidelines. Asked why the agency would not release it regardless, he replied in an email that “we are following our long-standing standard process.”

In a follow-up email, McKeever elaborated after reading Bauer’s news release. “Mr. Bauer is fully aware of this longstanding process given his numerous FOIL requests. It is disingenuous to suggest to the media that the Agency is withholding public information given the fact that APA has not yet had the opportunity to fully review his request. Mr. Bauer certainly knows this given his many FOILs over the years to the agency,” McKeever wrote.

As to whether the memo needs to be disclosed, McKeever said: “In general, internal, non-final and deliberative documents are not disclosable under state law. However, APA will review his request in a timely manner consistent with the Freedom of Information Law to determine if the requested document is a releasable document in accordance with statute.”

When the Almanack asked Booth if he thought his memo should be released, he said he’d rather not answer. “I wrote the memo. I have not tried to keep it secret,” he said.

Wilderness and Wild Forest are not the only classification options for the Essex Chain. The APA also is considering Primitive or Canoe designations. Both are similar to Wilderness in that they generally exclude motorized use, although they allow some exceptions.

In his interview with the Almanack, Booth did not advocate for a specific designation, but he said the Essex Chain “should go into one of the more restrictive classifications.”

Bauer argues that, initially, Primitive would be appropriate for the Essex Chain as members of the Gooley Club have the right to drive to the lake until 2018, when the club’s lease expires. Once the lease expires and the club’s buildings are removed, the region should be reclassified as Wilderness, he said.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

38 Responses

  1. John Henry says:

    I have some reservations on this. I want to drive to put my canoe in but do not motorized boats on the lakes. I do not mind maintaining roads but do not want them expanded.

    I think some historic camps should be persevered for all to visit and not burned.

    • Phil Terrie says:

      What matters is not what any one person wants, but what the State Land Master Plan mandates.

      • loggerhead says:

        And the SLMP is clearly out of date, written at a time when no one could have anticipated International Paper and Finch Paper cashing out. Forestry Lands should remain well managed forestry lands, the new conservation easement land owners are hammering the hell out of previously, carefully selective cut lands.
        These were Resource Management lands with open recreational and sporting potentials, roads that already exist for biking ,winter cross-country skiing and existing snowmobile trails.
        That should remain.

        • Paul says:

          No doubt about it. They are totally out of control. They are cutting over that land as fast as they can. It will all probably hit the market again soon. At that point the development right are gone the timber value is gone. I can only think of one potential buyer, NYS.

          I was talking with a timber cruiser on easement land a few weeks ago. He was marking off land to cut. It was already cut twice in the past 20 years. It has no mature trees. He claimed it had “lots of good timber”?? What??

    • Paul says:

      I totally agree. I personally prefer a Canoe Area designation that has access so you can drive to the end of it. That is what we have with the St. Regis canoe area which we all know is pretty popular. This would be a very good thing for the surrounding communities. May not be good for Saranac Lake since you basically have to drive by this new “Canoe Area” to get to the old one from the directions that many people live. Maintaining the roads that are already there can’t be illegal under the ASLMP? That would certainly fit with the “traditional uses of the lands” thing under the plan.

    • Paul says:

      I totally agree – I’d love to kayak this area without having to deal with motorized boats on the lake. That being said, I’m not someone who’s going to carry a kayak in five miles if vehicles aren’t able get to the lake…

  2. Bruce Lockwood says:

    This area should be kept as primitive as possible. I along with a friend, paddled the lakes a couple of weeks ago. We portaged to round pond then onto third lake using the trails setup recently. It gave you a sense of the remoteness of the lakes. Access with motorized vehicles and float planes will allow too many people easy access which in turn creates more congestion. Bog river and lows lake region are a wonderful area without motorized access. We need more areas like this.

  3. Curt Austin says:

    All this complicated classification stuff doesn’t really address the real issue. You know what’s really important? Preventing SYMs from venturing to these lakes, whether in their cars, ATVs or however. These are the people who leave beer cans, slash trees, and make a lot of noise.

    I’m referring to Stupid Young Males.

    I’m being a little flip here, but banning alcohol to groups that include under-30’s would have a big effect. The combination of alcohol and an ATV – jail time.

    I like a good Ideal as much as anyone, including the State Master Plan. But that causes a lot of noise in another sense. I prefer results on the ground.

    • David says:

      SYM standing up for myself. I haul loads of garbage OUT whenever I go into the backwoods. No ATVs here, but lumping all young men together is absurd. I’ll be at those lakes no matter what, just like I Cedar Lake, the 5 Ponds, and other unique spots around the area.

      If you want to keep trash out don’t create spots for trash to accumulate, and when it does REMOVE it immediately. Too many people complain about the problem without doing anything, and they have their share of the responcibility.

      • Troutstalker says:

        We need to educate people more on how to respect the outdoors.You can,t just single out the motor heads.Every place that I have paddled in the ADK’s I have seen this disrespect!Not only garbage,but the so called Paul Bunyan,s that think it is manly to cut live trees.I have also found toilet paper on top of the ground near the waters edge!We need to change these mindsets.Teach them to enjoy the outdoors without cans,bottles,saws and axes.The Boundary Waters in Minnesota has banned cans,bottles,saws and axes and was successful at cleaning it up.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Its highly inappropriate to single out ‘Young Men’ (level of intelligence not withstanding) on a variety of levels.

      First is that its simply discrimination based on age. No less so than saying that if you are over 70 you shouldn’t be allowed in the backcountry. Any ideas for land use classification along those lines are completely broken and unproductive. Being related to public lands, these types of ideas are also very likely illegal.

      Second. We already have laws about alcohol consumption and possession when it comes to age requirements for this. Those laws extend to operation of motor vehicles while under the infuence of intoxicants. ATV’s Snowmobiles, and boats are treated the same way as automobiles when it comes to operation under the influence of intoxicants.

      A much more productive route to the “results on the ground” you talk about would be to not include ideas that run opposed to already well established areas of law like Civil Rights and the consolidated Alcoholic Beverage Control laws. We aren’t rewriting the US Constitution or the NYS ABC laws here. We are trying to reach an agreement on what is the best classification for these newly acquired tracts of public land and the types of use that will be allowable under that classification.

      I am not trying to insult your ideas or your right to express them. I am pointing out that in order to be constructive they need to adhere to already adopted laws that are not going to be changed to accomodate a land classification.

  4. Justin says:

    It’s interesting to note the same commissioner who wrote this memo saying a Wild Forest classification would violate the SLMP supported the NYCO amendment – “I think the NYCO thing made a huge amount of sense,” Booth said, during an open comment period.

    – See more at: http://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/inbox/2013/11/15/green-apa-commissioner-embraces-nyco-land-swap/

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Is this is how the APA is now run with commissioners posting legal papers before the issue is debated and voted upon?

    • ethan says:

      But the commissioner has NOT posted a legal paper — did you read the article? He wrote a private memo to his fellow commissioners. Why on earth shouldn’t he?

      • Paul says:

        I agree. Pete you have to let them deliberate then vote. It sounds like he is trying to convince the others what he thinks is the right thing to do. They can (and probably will) disagree. Given the ambiguity in the law (purposefully so) any one of the proposed classifications seems legal. I assume that is at least what the DEC attorneys think. They are not going to hand the agency a bunch of illegal proposals. Again this is just Mr. Booth’s opinion.

  6. Paul says:

    It seems like the ASLMP and the APA Act both leave lots of room for interpretation. Another attorney could probably write a memo describing how the ASLMP requires the land to NOT be classified as Wilderness. In the end the board just needs to make a decision based on everything they have. I am sure that either way the decision could be defended under the law.

    I mentioned to Peter B. here once that if the Essex chain is required under law to be classified as Wilderness than certainly the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest designation is illegal using the same legal measure. Consider just the stretch of it from the Lower Locks to the other end of Middle Sarnac Lake. All state owned land and all compromising a far more complex and unique waterway than the Essex chain. That precedent does not strengthen Mr. Booth’s argument.

    • David says:

      I personally think that those two areas are somewhat different and I can’t say that I agree that a lake that has been dammed is more of an area where man dominates the landscape than the Essex Chain.

      • Paul says:

        No doubt they are different, but it seems like the interconnected waterways and all the adjacent wetlands associated with that huge area would have to make it fall under whatever legal measure he is trying to apply to the Essex chain. Dam’s don’t seem to prevent Wilderness designations in a number of other areas. But that is a good point.

    • Phil Brown says:

      One of Dick Booth’s points is that the Essex Chain is fairly remote and surrounded by Forest Preserve. That cannot be said of the Saranac Lakes, where access is via a major state highway. Also, the Saranac Lakes are developed–dams, locks, boat launches, private camps, a state campground. Really, there is no comparison.

      • Paul says:

        Point taken. What about if you just consider the stretch between the lower locks and route 3 including all of Cold Brook and up and including Little Ampersand pond. Also you could argue that those (state built) things could and perhaps legally should be removed. Just like here where the Wilderness proposal would erase many miles of roads. Didn’t someone say there are 250 miles of roads in there? Is that true? That can’t be right?

  7. Bill Quinlivan says:

    So often, this classification of Chain of Lakes has been made into a black or white issue. There is need for balance when classifying this land. It makes sense to me that a classification that allows a motorized vehicle to carry in a paddle craft should be considered. Allowing motorized boats and float planes onto these lakes in a wholesale fashion is much more questionable. Why not a classification that allows DEC to do its job with regard to a management plan that recognizes and balances the special nature of these lands, their protection and the enjoyment of them by those who appreciate and respect them. If no such classification exists, then perhaps a special one is needed for this special case.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    There is no appreciable difference between a Wild Forest and a Wilderness classification as they exist here in the Adirondacks.
    I’m talking about what it is like when you are hiking in these classifications. I’m not talking about who is admitted and who is excluded by these classifications.
    Your chances of getting lost in ether classification is about equal.
    The fact of the matter is that there are roads into the Essex Chain. The fight over the classification comes down to how much of the roads will be available and how much will become unavailable. This boils down to limiting the number of people who will be able to get in and see some of these lakes.
    No one is talking about keeping all of the roads open. The question is how much.
    Wouldn’t it be funny if the 5 Towns who want to have more access decided to close the roads they now maintain if the more wilderness people get their way? Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Indian Lake decided to not maintain Chain Lakes Road beyond the put in for rafters?
    I’ll bet the wilderness people would be up in arms if Indian Lake were to do that.
    You want true wilderness? Parachute out of a sea plane 100 miles from the nearest road in northern Canada and have a ball.

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Pete it seems you are just a lumper and not a splitter. With nearly 3 million acres of Forest Preserve isn’t there room for different classification types? Don’t you see how some people enjoy motor free areas?

  9. Charlie S says:

    Reality is….there’s hardly a place left to go to get away from noisy motorized contraptions.We are a clamorous bunch as a society and it seems as if we just cant get by unless we make as much noise as we possibly can. Entertainment or recreation to most of us is going around in whatever noisy contraption we choose instead of simply getting around by foot.
    “Why Henry,you’re insane thinking i’m going to physically exert myself by footing it when I can get around faster and more furious by my beloved motorcraft.”
    Hardly a one knows what it’s like to be in a tranquil state,or to be in a place where only the sounds of nature are predominant,the wind whispering through treetops…..
    We are as complicated as we’re ever gonna get and the problems that confront us are only going to rise.Your average inhabitant is not even aware a problem persist as he or she is too busy sitting in front of a tv or doodling with whatever the latest fad is in electronic gadgetry.Your average inhabitant can do without a wilderness such as the Adirondacks as malls are severely limited there.
    Everywhere you go motorized contraptions dictate,there’s no getting away from the noise they emit.Or if there are places to get away from them they are few and there’s always someone,for whatever their selfish reasons,whose desire it is to take that serenity away too.
    To some people there is no such thing as hallowed ground.
    Some people will never be happy unless they trod over every last sacred place on this earth.My only wish is that some great big hand would swoop down from the sky and smack them upside their noggins until they come to the realization that our resources are finite and that there are generations to follow who most probably will need those beautiful,serene,magical Adirondack woods much more than we do now. O great gig in the sky make my wish come to fruit!

    • Paul says:

      The fact here is no matter which classification they select. There will never be any commercial or residential development on this land. The structures that are there will be removed, gone. Even with the Wild Forest classification like Pete says there is not going to be any new roads constructed, there are going to be some that are abandoned. Some folks make a Wild Forest designation sound like the place will be laid to waste?

  10. PROTECT calls upon APA to release legal and policy document about Forest Preserve classification for the Essex Chain Lakes and Hudson River tracts | Protect the Adirondacks! says:

    […] See initial report posted on the Adirondack Almanack. […]

    • Justin says:

      How exactly is confronting the APA like this when they’re in the middle of their deliberations supposed to help us get a Wilderness designation?

  11. alex mckay says:

    Ive been reading Wallace Stegner on Aldo Leopold – “Living on our Principal” – he writes, “Unlike many early conservationists, Leopold was as suspicious of recreation as he was of logging and agriculture. He noted that the impulse to refresh ourselves out of doors has damaged many of our remaining wild places — and he wrote before off-road vehicles had carried damage close to ruin. The lure of tourist money, he said, is a gun pointed at the heart of the wild, and he was right.”
    He quotes Aldo’s famous dictum, “Recreational development
    is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”
    Being almost eighty with bum knees, I’m unlikely to see much of the Essex Chain, but I’m all in for keeping the area as wilderness. We’ve too little left to have the mechanized recreation and tourist industries ruin it.

  12. Charlie S says:

    David says: “lumping all young men together is absurd.”

    Curt is not lumping together all young men David.He’s specifying stupid young males. His words are as clear as day.There are a ton of stupid young males out there no doubt. The prison system is full of them. I’ll never forget the time I hiked to Squaw Lake way back in the Moose River Recreation Area,way back in nowhere land.What did I discover upon approaching that wonderful jewel? Three empty six-pack bottles of beer near the shore.The people camping across from the trail to Squaw lake told me a bunch of noisy white males had arrived earlier in a car and went on the trail. ‘They’ left the empty bottles behind…stupid young males. This is another mere reason why motorized access should not be allowed in areas that don’t deserve the ruination that follows eventually.

  13. John Henry says:

    As the clubs have their usage rights to 2018 (I think) why not see how it goes for the next few years before committing to any plan? No matter what is picked it will not take effect to the rights expire.

    I would like to see some the camps maintained that have historic value not for private use. They are a great representation of a historic camps and for that a select few would service us well to keep for future generation to see and enjoy.

    Like any new area there will be large increase in usage at the beginning and then a taper off.

  14. bob flacke says:

    Booth has been an insensitive radical all his career. Isensed he could not properly think through most decision balances and removed him as a DEC staff member,

    Remember the state now owns a tree farm. Not wilderness area. .remember a tree farm.

    bob fkacke

    • bob flacke says:

      What is wrong with the truth

      • David says:

        It is absurd to think that there are any environmental radicals on the board. Environmental leaning yes. Radical absolutely not.

    • david p. says:

      Mr. flacke,

      In the 19th century before the forest preserve and article 14, the entire adks was a tree farm. But thanks to forest preserve and article 14, it’s been reclaimed as wilderness.

    • Scott van Laer says:

      Most every wilderness area in the Adirondacks was a “tree farm” as you term it, at one point. They all had roads of some type as well. I have spent considerable time in almost every Mgmt area in the ADKs and the Essex Chain feels very much like wilderness from a recreational use standpoint.

  15. Adirondack Citizen says:

    Dick Booth’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. He now preaches that because of its pristine condition APA must classify the Essex Chain as Wilderness.

    (While he conveniently disregards the roads that access the lakes.)

    This is the same Dick Booth that perverted the State Land Master Plan definition of Wilderness by voting to classify man-made Lows Lake as Wilderness.

    Dick Booth doesn’t care about proper classifications. He only cares about classifying EVERYTHING as Wilderness and pushing his doctrinaire agenda.

    • Penn Hoyt says:

      Totally agree with you. I hunted and hiked at Sabatis numerous times when it was owned by the Knox family. I know Johnny is turning over in his grave over this and he never wanted the State to own the property. Lows is a nice little lake but TOTALLY man-made. As to the talk about SYM, I have seen many “environmentalist” do there damnedest to intimidate those who are following the law on lakes and ponds where motors are allowed. Where is the outrage over this behavior?

      The whole area needs economic incentives. It does not need anymore reasons to push businesses out of a struggling area.

      Keep the area wild, not wilderness. Then “old” people like me, with MS, can get to where they need with the help they need.

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