The APA’s “Listening Sessions” about the State Land Master Plan (SLMP) conclude this month. I’ve been to several on behalf of Adirondack Wild and appreciate the low-key, helpful competency displayed by the APA staff that receive inputs, write down comments, and field questions from the public in a one-on-one style. While absent of confident, inspired opening statements by the APA about the origins, importance and relevance of the Master Plan which they are by law obliged to uphold, these sessions do foster thoughtful, private questions, comments and enhanced listening, all of which are a good thing.
At Adirondack Wild, however, we see opportunities for strengthening the SLMP and its paramount purposes – the protection of natural resources and wild character of the Forest Preserve – and that’s been the theme behind our inputs to APA. To prepare ourselves, one of the first people we wanted to sit down with was the principal author of the SLMP, Peter S. Paine, Jr.
In our recent interview, Dan Plumley and I asked Peter to take us back to the late 1960s, and the origins of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s Temporary Study Commission (on the Future of the Adirondacks) and the State Land Master Plan that the Commission Report (1970) recommended. The Master Plan’s creation was then mandated by state legislation creating the APA in 1971. Peter Paine served on the Temporary Study Commission from 1968-70, and on the APA from 1971-1995.
Sitting together at Fort Ticonderoga, we saw in Peter’s face and heard in his words the same passionate intensity for preserving wilderness and the same confident clear-headedness, memory and precision that he displayed more than 40 years earlier and throughout his long tenure on the APA. For many reasons, and not just related to wilderness preservation, Peter Paine is a remarkable and influential figure in Adirondack environmental and cultural history and we greatly appreciate his willingness to share his knowledge and perspective.
I offer here just a few broad outlines and anecdotes from our conversation with Peter.
First, Peter Paine reminded us that the 1972 SLMP evolved out of earlier, intense debates and reports about the future of the Forest Preserve and public lands in general. So, the SLMP’s content beginning in 1972 was “evolutionary, not revelatory” in nature. It emerged through great “continuity of knowledge,” he said, starting from the field studies and deliberations of the Joint Legislative Committee on Natural Resources (JLCNR) during the 1950s and well into the 60s.
He credited Clarence Petty who provided critical staff work and who never missed an opportunity to remind his Conservation Department, the JLCNR, the Temporary Study Commission, and finally the APA that the Forest Preserve inherited from the mid-to-latter 19th century had to be better protected in the mid-to- latter 20th century. “It just has to be this way” was how Peter characterized Clarence’s consistent message.
Second, Peter candidly told us that the SLMP was made part of the Executive Law in order to legally constrain the former Conservation Department and in 1972 the young DEC from doing whatever it wanted in the Forest Preserve that was not blatantly unconstitutional.
As a draft of the Temporary Study Commission ( TSC) emerged in late 1969, the Governor’s brother Laurence Rockefeller was alarmed by its recommendation to create Wilderness areas within the Forest Preserve. Laurance Rockefeller, it must be remembered, was the force behind the controversial and abandoned 1967 proposal to create an Adirondack Mountains National Park. Throughout his extraordinary life, Laurance was a highly influential conservationist of land and for parks in the USA, but at the time was not enthusiastic about designating Wilderness, where management intentionally encourages natural processes and not human activities to predominate, where land is untrammeled or unconstrained, where humans are purposefully restrained and are “a visitor who shall not remain.”
Before the Wilderness and other TSC recommendations had firmed up by the winter of 1970, Laurence was exerting pressure on the Governor to wrap-up the report. Peter Paine gave great credit to TSC Chairman Harold Hochschild and others for ensuring the report was not “wrapped-up” prematurely by the Governor. One of “the others” was Frederick O’Neal from the New York metropolitan area, the only black man on the TSC. Mr. O’Neal, Paine told us, cast an imposing figure and had a deep voice, assets that probably helped him in his job as chairman of Actor’s Equity, a labor union for actors.
At a critical moment in 1970, Mr. O’Neal rose to make two statements to the Governor’s top advisers, which Peter remembered as: 1) The Adirondacks are for all people, of whatever race or color, and wilderness had to be preserved for current and future generations of all Americans; and 2) the job of the TSC could not be short-circuited. It must be completed.
Peter Paine and others in the room never forgot that short speech and influential moment. And, of course, it must have moved Governor Rockefeller and his advisers. Wilderness areas, and their broad purposes, policies and objectives, were retained within the TSC’s final report, “The Future of the Adirondack Park” (1970). Governor Rockefeller signed the State Land Master Plan two years later, a part of the Executive Law.
Peter Paine played an indispensable role in its drafting, approval by the Governor, and implementation over the next 23 years – both the state land and private land plans. While not the shy and retiring type, Peter gave credit to others: Governor Rockefeller, of course. Others mentioned during our conversation were Harold Hochschild, Harold Jerry, Dick Persico, Dick Lawrence, George Davis, and Peter Berle. Of Dick Persico, Paine said: “he was an invaluable legislative draftsman.”
There was more to our Peter Paine interview, of course, and we also went on to discuss current affairs. Then he led us on a memorable tour of Fort Ti. But I close with something personal from Peter that both Dan and I heard from him ten years earlier and which ought to inject red blood corpuscles, if not muscles into the APA’s spine after the SLMP Listening Sessions are over.
On behalf of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Dan Plumley had just presented Peter Paine with the 2004 Howard Zahniser Wilderness Award at The Wilderness Act 40th Anniversary Conference in Lake George, attended by several hundred people from the region and around the country. After the room had risen in applause, Peter took to the microphone and said the following:
“The work you do and we all do to fight for the extension and maintenance of wilderness against the forces of bureaucracy that would tear it down is as important today as 40 years ago, or 100 years ago,” he opened. “I will tell you a short personal story to symbolize that.”
“My wife Patty and I left for Quetico, north of the Boundary Waters on September 9, 2001. We were paddling deep into this wilderness on 9/11 and did not know what had happened. While paddling, my wife remarked that day about the complete absence of aircraft high in the sky. I mentioned something about bush pilots, but she said no, she meant planes 30,000 feet up. Then I noticed it too. Two days later we ran into a guy who had a short wave radio and we learned about the events of 9/11.
“It so happens that my law firm is located on Liberty Plaza and from my desk to the South Tower is about 180 yards. And if the tower had fallen southeast instead of southwest most of my law firm’s partners would have gone with it.
“There we were, five days travel into the heart of one of the great wilderness regions of North America. It was completely silent as wilderness always was before the combustion engine. We had five days of hard travel ahead of us. Not a drop of rain had fallen in all that time. We had seen moose, eagles and loons, and heard wolves.
“As we paddled our way to our pick-up, my wife turned to me and said ‘despite all the horror around us we have passed through one of the most beautiful, peaceful, holy places I could imagine. It was as if someone or something were saying to us: ‘despite all the horror man visits upon his fellow man, in wilderness there truly is the preservation of the world.’
“Remember that, and fight for it.”
Photo: Peter Paine.