Only five people showed up to comment on the Open Space Conservation Plan at public hearings held at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook Thursday.
The Open Space Conservation plan outlines the state’s conservation priorities and lists lands the state should consider buying if they become available. It is written by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and DEC, with input from regional committees.
The plan lists four urgent priorities: promoting outdoor recreation; addressing climate change; ensuring clean water, air and land for a healthy economy; and protecting, using and conserving natural resources and cultural heritage.
The lands the plan says the state should consider buying are listed under priority projects. Among the lands mentioned are the 14,600-acre Follensby Park in Tupper Lake, the 36,000-acre Whitney Park in Hamilton County, and the 22,000-acre Boreas Pond tract in the Central Adirondacks. The state already has made a commitment to buy the Boreas Ponds tract from The Nature Conservation.
In Region 5, there was only one new project listed inside the Adirondack Park, which may have been the reason for the low turnout.
That project calls for to the protection of farmland in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Saratoga and Washington counties. The plan says the state “should focus attention and resources on the protection of agricultural lands for working farms” in the same way that it does for working forests. It states that farmlands should be protected by easements rather than added to the Forest Preserve. Additionally, it says funds should allocated locally and on the state level for purchasing those easements.
Of the five people who showed up to comment, all of them came in the afternoon. None showed up for the evening session. Of those five, three were longtime environmentalists: Peter O’Shea, John Collins and Bob Glennon. The other two were Chris Maron, executive director of Champlain Area Trails based in Westport, and Karen Lassell, northeast regional vice-president of the New York State Horse Council.
O’Shea, Collins and Glennon all asked for the Environmental Protection Fund to be raised from its current standing of $162 million. The EPF provides money for environmental programs and land acquisitions.
“I am struck by the stark contrast between the cosmic and the intergalactic reach of the first 70 pages in which you promise everything short of cold fusion,” Glennon said. “Count the number of times expand, increase, continue are used. Very little expansion, increase and continuation will occur without another expansion and increase in the EPF. The EPF is less than half of what it was 10 years ago, and then it was over $300 million a year.”
Glennon and Collins also asked that the DEC add “wilderness managers” to its staff. Currently foresters oversee land management planning.
Several people asked for better access and management of conservation easements.
“There’s absolutely no funding for stewardship to monitor compliance with the terms of the easements, and things are happening out there that shouldn’t be,” said O’Shea, a member of the Region 6 open space committee.
The plan calls for the creation of a program that provides incentives and legal protections to landowners for allowing hunting and fishing on their lands. Maron asked for that list to be expanded.
“There should be an incentive for private landowners to allow hiking on their property,” he said.
Maron also asked for CATS to be added to the plan as a priority project. CATS is a trail system with nearly 40 miles of trails in the Champlain Valley.
Lassell spoke about increasing opportunities for horse riders in the Park.
“There is untapped opportunities for increased economic impact in the Adirondacks and in New York state for trail riding tourism,” she said. “It could be captured with more horse trail mileage and the improvement of trailheads at those sites, the development of horse camps, as well as private horse (bed and breakfasts) on/or adjacent to state lands and trailheads.”
The public comment period for the Open Space Conservation Plan continues until 4:45 p.m. on December 17. Additional information can be found on the DEC’s website.
Public comments can be submitted by email to [email protected] or mailed to the DEC state headquarters with the following address: Open Space Conservation Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233.
Photo by Mike Lynch: Karen Lassell of the New York State Horse Council addresses the Open Space Conservation Plan Thursday in Ray Brook.