Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Message to APA: Know Your Own Master Plan

APSLMP - LogoThe 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Second, the latter part of the APA quote implies that the APSLMP is outdated because there have been no major amendments since 1987 while human beings have expanded their recreational activities, preferences and technologies during that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:

  1. The Constitution powerfully constrains the APSLMP, and the APA is powerless to amend the Constitution;
  2. 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
  3. 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:

  1. 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;
  2. The preservation of the Forest Preserve’s natural condition should continue as fundamental policy;
  3. Motorized equipment should be regulated to protect the wilderness character of the Forest Preserve;
  4. Wildlife resources should be managed consistent with Article XIV.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

13 Responses

  1. ADK Native says:

    While I too hope those that are in charge of making decisions about the Park so many of us enjoy are informed, sometimes change is necessary. I praise the state to be willing to make changes to the STLMP.

    Since the SLMP’s formation in 1972 the way we humans utilize the Park’s resources wether for recreation or industry has changed drastically. Logging is largely being pushed out of the Park, and many new forms of recreation (snowmobiling, MTN Biking) have begun to enter.

    If I am not mistaken the DEC is reviewing the SLMP largely because of promises it made in the formation of the Essex Chain acquisition. Tell me this… do you think when the SLMP was created in 1972 those founders ever saw the state acquiring thousands of acres of land with preexisting logging roads that could be used by hikers, horse back riders, Mtn Bikers (Was Mtn biking was even around then?), and snowmobilers. Its a dated document, and needs to be updated.

    Revisions to the SLMP would allow us to use newly acquired state lands in the best possible manner. Allowing many different user recreation types utilize the land, and not limit it to one specific interest group.

  2. Paul says:

    ” 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.”

    Here is where the crux of the question lies. ANY use of the lands degrade the physical and biological aspects of the land. Even if that is simply hiking and camping in an Adirondack wilderness area. The only way to achieve this fully would be to lock it up from human use. That leaves us with the alternative which is where do we draw the line?

  3. Hawthorn says:

    It is irrelevant, but some of us were mountain biking back in the early’70s on trails in the Adks. We got a lot of funny looks. This is a document that I think needs to be regarded with a lot of respect and changed only with great care. Overall, despite some problems, the Adirondack Park has done well. I would be worried that in the current political climate any changes might be for the worse with regard to issues surrounding motorized equipment. The default position that there should not be motorized use in Wilderness areas seems to be leading to convoluted classifications in order to allow motorized use through and near Wilderness areas. There is a similar problem with mountain biking use and other activities. So, maybe there is an argument for some type of new classification like Wilderness Travel Corridor or something.

    • Paul says:

      Something like that is probably what they will want to do. The alternative (when they decide they want to allow something like snowmobiles or bikes) is to classify the lands as Wild Forest.

      I think that they should not change the plan. Simply start making decisions one way or the other.

      Growing up in Saranac Lake we used to take our bikes as far as we could up Mt. Baker and ride down (no helmets of course!). Not sure if that was Wilderness land at the time?

  4. Colvin says:

    Point of clarification-I think the Master Plan applies to ALL State land inside the Adirondack Park, not just Forest Preserve (e.g., State land located within villages or cities in the Park is defined by law as not being Forest Preserve, but is nonetheless subject to the Master Plan).

  5. Bill Ingersoll says:

    Updating the SLMP is one thing, and as I’ve stated before there are ways that the plan could be improved that don’t involve the creation of a list of new “special exceptions” to accommodate recreational uses in otherwise non-mechanized areas. The current SLMP was essentially written as a reaction to certain Forest Preserve issues of the mid-twentieth century, such as the now-extinct tent platform program. An updated SLMP could offer a vision for the future that releases its stranglehold on the past, without compromising any of the document’s key principles.

    However, it is abundantly clear that this current effort has nothing to do with the SLMP in general, only how it applies to the Essex Chain in particular. Yesterday, the APA issued a press release that stated as much:


    In other words, the APA made promises in 2013 about recreational use of the Essex Chain that contradicted with its land classification action, and now they need to bend the SLMP in order to make everything fit. There have been two APA press releases on this topic so far this month, and neither of them provide insight on the specific courses of action that the agency might be considering. Public input is important, but if APA isn’t putting out a draft document ahead of these scheduled meetings that lists potential options, then this “series of public listening sessions” will be unfocused and yield few useful comments. It would be a failure of leadership on the part of the agency.

    The upcoming meetings and comment period strike me as a fishing expedition intended to assess just how much public pressure there is to open those bike trails and to create that non-conforming bridge. My hunch is that the bridge will be the hotter issue, since the only people who will want to bike the roads will be a subset of the 50-and-over crowd looking to get to the lakes as quickly as possible. The bridge, however, has other issues beyond the scope of the master plan, such as conformity with state law.

    Last year I suggested that the Essex Chain area would be a good test subject for a new SLMP land designation, intermediary between Wilderness and Wild Forest:


    I still think this is one of the best ways to improve the SLMP with a vision that anticipates the physical characteristics of nearly every forthcoming stand-alone land acquisition, which like Finch Pruyn and Whitney Park have included (and will continue to include) a network of abandoned gravel roads. The Backcountry designation, as I envisioned it, would create a standard of state land management that anticipates human recreational usage within a “semi-primitive non-motorized” environment, without the need to spot-zone non-conforming uses in Wilderness and Primitive areas. In a way, it could be billed as “wilderness with bikes and fire towers,” or “wild forest without snowmobiles.”

    While I saw a lot of grassroots support for the Backcountry proposal (including an unsolicited shout-out on p. 4 of the September/October issue of the Adirondack Explorer), the state’s actual plans for the Essex Chain region have made any further discussion on the idea meaningless. Although the official map of the area (http://apa.ny.gov/State_Land/2013Classification/PrefAlt_LARGE.jpg) shows a medley of Primitive, Wilderness, and Wild Forest designations that was intended to provide “something for everyone,” the net sum of the 2013 classification was a Wild Forest complete with deep road access, floatplanes, and the desire for future bike use. If you looked at a grayscale version of that map and could only see the location of the recreation facilities, and not the pale blue and green zones, you probably assume that an area with such an extensive level of motorized access was a Wild Forest.

    If APA and DEC want a designation that accommodates mountain bikes and snowmobile bridges, then why waste our time with another round of public debate when the solution they so clearly want was spelled out for them in 1972. The Essex Chain is really a Wild Forest that is “PINO” (primitive in name only). The farce about updating the SLMP should be ended, because that is NOT what this is about.

  6. Ojibway says:

    Before the classification system there was just the Forest Preserve, all of it “forever wild” and protected under article 14. The J. Watson Poweroy Joint Commission on Natural Resources, with Roger Thompson, Neil Stout and others at SUNY-ESF pushing all the way as staff,dreamed up the classification system, which was then picked up Harold Jerry and others on the Temporary Commission staff and carried into the SLMP in 1972, a year after APA was created.It was set up based largely on an arbitrary size of the acreage of the area. Most of the Preserve got tagged as Wild Forest in the system and nearly as much became Wilderness. The classification system, once adopted in the ASLMP, did a great disservice to conservation of the Adirondack Forest Preserve (and the Catskill Forest Preserve where the system was copied) by making Wilderness the truly “wild forest” most closely resembling the “forever wild” Article 14 ideal, whereas Wild Forest was less valued because of smaller size, greater proximity to civilization. As a result of the devaluation of Wild Forest it has gradually has become more and more a dumping ground for recreational uses, including motorized uses, that clearly are not consistent with “forever wild” wild forest as the Forest Preserve is supposed to be.
    The classification system make the Forest Preserve and its uses into an “forever controversial matter.

    Throwing it out as a failure and getting back to basics about what “forever wild” really means instead of focusing on a highly arbitrary and divisive classification system that says that some Forest Preserve is more valuable to preserve as “forever wild” land and waters than other parts. How about starting over and saying that all Forest Preserve is created equal?

  7. Pete Nelson says:

    Dave is right about the importance of understanding the history in order to grasp the full import of the SLMP. Unfortunately for those who would follow his advice, Technical Report #3 from the Berle Commission work is not readily available.

    I’d like to recommend two publications which are readily available and which together give a solid picture of the forces that led to the creation of Forever Wild, the APA, the SLMP and the critical developments that have happened since. One is Frank Graham’s “The Adirondack Park: A Political History.” The other is Barbara McMartin’s “Perspectives on the Adirondacks: A 30 Year Struggle by People Protecting Their Treasure.” Both are available, McMartin’s as an eBook.

  8. Paul says:

    “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”

    I looked at the ASLMP, wideness character is not mentioned on page one or anywhere in the introduction?

    In fact the word “wilderness” is found only once in Article 14. There it is referring specifically to land outside the park.

    Article 14 states that lands will be kept as “wild forest lands”. By that, the meaning is not as in Wild Forest the land classification, but clearly the law does not refer to anything about wilderness character?

    • Greg says:

      My two cents…take them for what they are worth.

      I find this article to be the usual cherry picking of details that is common with most stuff I see from Adirondack Wild. Worse yet, this is a personal attack on certain [unnamed] people. This leads me further from them when sadly we should be on the same side. Perhaps a better name for the group would have been Adirondack Wilderness, which I think is closer to the group’s goal, and mine for certain areas, but not all state lands.

      “Wild” does not equal “wilderness”. Snowmobiling/mountain biking/float planes/etc. all exist in a wild setting, therefore constant referencing Article 14 is nonsense here. No one is discussing the addition of backcountry mansions on state land which would clearly violate Article 14.

      I think what is more relevant here is:

      1.) Is this a genuine process or have decisions already been made. I myself worry about the transparency of decisions.

      2.) The scope in which changes should be made, because it needs to be realized that the whole master plan is open can be overhauled at the whim of the APA/Legislature. The land-use guide have just been deemed a guide and not law. The constitution effectively only says a few (albeit important) words: “…shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” How those lands are managed within this framework is up to the APA/Legislature.

      Thus I fully expect some to push for the wild equals wilderness bit, but to many others, I think it is clear that the path forward is inclusion of activities that do not “forever” degrade the “wild”. Mountain biking on the existing roads of Essex chain certainly would be fine in my opinion. Heck we’re allowed to drive through the forest for many miles with 5000 pound trucks, but not mountain bike on those same roads closer to the lakes? Non-sense.

      Adding a new category to wilderness/wild forest/canoe area/etc. will get it done for the Essex Chain, but what’s next? A new one for Boreas Ponds? As the number of acres owned by the state increases, so does the plan for how it is managed. If there is to be a common goal of adding additional lands, the use of that land must be common and inclusive to a “wild” setting, and not an artificial “wilderness” setting.

      Also, in reference to the ski glades, since I know it will come up eventually, if the original writers of article 14 heard anyone reference the forever wild or “timber thereon [shall not] be sold, removed or destroyed” clauses as a reason to prevent it’s use, I think they would laugh. Again, I think there are places for this within the park and others where it should not be allowed, but to use Article 14 as a baseline for outlawing ski glades is a non-starter for me.

  9. craig says:

    Really informative stuff. We have to make sure that parks are preservced for future generations to enjoy.

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