The Adirondack Park Agency has announced that they will hold “public sessions” in the coming weeks to consider changes to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The State Land Master Plan has been part of the Executive Law since 1972. It is the planning document guiding the management and public use of all state lands in the Park, including the New York State Forest Preserve. It includes landscapes as distinct from each other in character as the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and the Crown Point State Historic Site.
All of these sessions could be positive if they are respectful, well informed, organized, focused and led. The sessions also should be well grounded in State Land and Forest Preserve history.
What concerns me, and has concerned me for years, is how well informed the APA’s Members are about their own State Land Master Plan. The quote which concludes the APA’s news release about the public sessions is a case in point:
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan defines permissible activities on State-owned Forest Preserve land in the Adirondack Park. The APSLMP was written in 1972, but since 1987 there have been no major amendments to the APSLMP, despite changing recreational activities, such as mountain biking.
These two sentences, indeed the entire release, fails to mention the New York State Constitution and the fact that the APSLMP cannot authorize anything that may be viewed as generally inconsistent with the Constitution’s “forever wild” clause.
While the Master Plan itself states it is “neutral” with respect to the constitutionality of certain State Land structures or classifications, Article XIV places a very obvious constraint on the APSLMP. Nothing in that document can override the “forever kept as wild forest lands” promise in the Constitution, or Article XIV’s prohibition on the taking of Forest Preserve by any corporation, or the sale, removal or destruction of its timber. The NYS Constitution, the Environmental Conservation Law defining the Forest Preserve, and the APA Act form the very foundation of the APSLMP.
Second, the latter part of the APA quote implies that the APSLMP is outdated because there have been no major amendments since 1987 while human beings have expanded their recreational activities, preferences and technologies during that same time span. This more than suggests that the overriding purpose of the APSLMP is to accommodate and manage a growing variety of recreational uses and technologies on the Forest Preserve, when in fact that is not its overriding purpose at all. From page 1 of the APSLMP:
If there is a unifying theme to the master plan, it is 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 their social or psychological aspects are not degraded. This theme is drawn from …a century of the public’s demonstrated attitude toward the forest preserve and the Adirondack Park.
While I appreciate that a lot of the pressure on the APA to convene these sessions will be about recreational activities such as mountain biking in Primitive Areas, or maybe just in certain Primitive Areas, as well as other desires for recreation on the Forest Preserve, the APA should communicate three things to the public very clearly at the outset of each session:
- The Constitution powerfully constrains the APSLMP, and the APA is powerless to amend the Constitution;
- The overriding purpose of the APSLMP (page 1) is to protect and preserve the natural resources of the state lands in the Park, including its wilderness character; and
- The APSLMP and the protection and preservation of the State Lands of Adirondack and Catskill Parks are the business of every citizen of the State because the Forest Preserve is owned by all of us in equal measure and taxable for all purposes.
If the protection and preservation of natural resources are the paramount purposes of the APSLMP, then presumably the APA will be highly receptive to ideas for strengthening their protection through possible APSLMP amendments – in addition to ideas for how recreational interests can be accommodated without degrading natural resources. Those of us at Adirondack Wild have been thinking about this and I’ll convey some of these ideas in a future post here at the Almanack.
One final point: The APSLMP did not emerge out of thin air in 1972. It emerged out of a lengthy statewide debate about the purpose of the Forest Preserve throughout the 20th century, and particularly since the early 1950s.
The APA’s Members and staff, as well as the DEC should bone up on this history before the public sessions. They could do no better than read Technical Report 3 in Volume 1 of The Adirondack Park in the 21st Century (the “Berle Commission,” 1990). Author Charles W. Scrafford, the APA’s supervisor of regional planning and the staff member then most responsible for the APSLMP, describes in great depth its origins. Scrafford noted in his introduction: “The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan evolved out of public debate over a 20 year period.”
That debate about the future management and public use of the Forest Preserve began in the Conservation Department’s magazine The Conservationist in 1952 and transitioned into fifteen years of study and public engagement within the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources.
In 1963 that committee articulated some key principles that eventually found their way into the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks report of 1970 which recommended a planning process and public hearings, resulting in the APSLMP approved by Governor Rockefeller in 1972.
Those 1963 principles remain very relevant for New Yorkers today. I quote them directly from Scrafford’s report:
- The Forest Preserve is only one part of the State’s outdoor recreational system and the “forever wild” concept allows the Preserve to make a unique contribution to that system;
- The preservation of the Forest Preserve’s natural condition should continue as fundamental policy;
- Motorized equipment should be regulated to protect the wilderness character of the Forest Preserve;
- Wildlife resources should be managed consistent with Article XIV.