Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Research Should Drive APA’s State Land Master Plan Reform

APSLMP - LogoThe Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is investigating potentially significant changes to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), which sets Forest Preserve management standards and guidelines. As part of the resolution passed by the APA in December 2013, two issues were identified for SLMP reform: 1) the requirement that bridges in Wild Forest areas be constructed with natural materials; 2) the prohibition of mountain biking on designated roads in Primitive Areas.

Last fall, the APA solicited public comments on these two items, as well as anything else members of the public want to see changed in the SLMP and afterward convened a group of stakeholders for a scoping meeting. Because APA staff has not yet released recommendations for SLMP changes and the APA Commissioners have not yet acted to start the public review process, we are still in the early stages of formulating a process and schedule for how to undertake SLMP reform and select issues.

As they move ahead, APA would be well-served to adhere to the adage that good science makes good policy. The APA needs to bring solid data to the public about the issues they select for SLMP reform. We live in an age of stunning research and science, yet this is also an age where politics rather than science drive public policy. SLMP reform by anecdote is unacceptable.

The issue of bridges on the Forest Preserve is important. The state is on record that it wants to build a 120 to 150-foot bridge across the Cedar River for a new motor vehicle route connecting Newcomb and Indian Lake. To span this width and hold the weight of a multi-ton snowmobile trail groomer, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) needs to utilize non-natural materials.

DEC uses many different kinds of bridges on hiking trails, roads, mountain biking trails, and snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve. Significant variations in bridge designs are used on snowmobile trails depending on whether a trail is a Class I or a Class II trail. Bridges vary significantly on hiking trails from long, narrow, steel-cable and wooden plank bridges to larger wooden beam bridges with railings on one or two sides, among other designs. Moreover, the DEC has informed the APA that engineering standards for public safety standards and for long-term resiliency have forced significant changes in bridge designs.

The SLMP requirement that bridges in Wild Forest areas should be made of natural materials raises many questions. What types of bridges are currently used on foot trails? How do they perform? What types of bridges are used on snowmobile trails and how do they perform? What types of bridges are used on roads? What are the design standards referenced by the DEC that have changed bridge design? How have Forest Preserve bridges been impacted by extreme weather events? If changes are adopted, should they apply to other Forest Preserve classifications, not just Wild Forest? There are many others.

Clearly, the APA’s review of changes to the SLMP requirement for use of natural materials for bridges in Wild Forest areas would benefit from research and analysis of the effectiveness of current designs being utilized across the Forest Preserve and from a look at the state of the art in outdoor recreational bridge design on other public lands across the U.S.

The question of changing the rules for Primitive areas to allow mountain bike use also begs many questions. Primitive areas are those that possess Wilderness character, but contain some type of non-conforming use, such as a private road or power line, or it is too small to be a new Wilderness area, among other factors. The SLMP currently recommends that a great many Primitive areas should be upgraded to a Wilderness classification pending resolution of the non-conforming uses or further land acquisition. A few current Primitive areas will remain Primitive for the foreseeable future for a variety of reasons.

Here, the APA should undertake research because it’s looking to change longstanding state policy based on a questionable premise. The APA is looking to change the Primitive classification so that mountain bikes can be used on a network of state administrative roads that will likely be maintained in the new Essex Chain Lakes Primitive area. The APA is looking to make this change based on unsubstantiated public comments that there is a great recreational interest in mountain biking on these former logging roads.

Organized mountain bike groups are advocating effectively for new specially designed mountain biking trail networks in various locations in the Forest Preserve based on the success of the Wilmington Wild Forest trail network. The DEC is now looking at 100 miles of new specially designed mountain biking trails in the Moose River Plains. Mountain bike trail advocates are pushing for specially designed long distance trails that link the Wilmington Wild Forest trail network with other Forest Preserve areas.

The organized mountain bike groups have stated that they have little desire for mountain biking trail systems on former logging roads. Desirable mountain biking networks are based on single-track trails specially designed for biking. If there was a big public market for mountain biking on former logging roads or dirt roads in general in the Adirondacks, why has mountain biking not been a major activity in the Independence River Wild Forest, Black River Wild Forest, Moose River Plains Wild Forest (in the times outside the Black Fly Challenge race week), Ferris Lake Wild Forest, Watson’s East Triangle or Lake George Wild Forest areas? The market that exists for mountain biking on dirt roads in the Essex Chain Lakes area is unproven and purely anecdotal, yet the APA is looking to make far-reaching changes to the Primitive area classification. Clearly research is needed.

Changes contemplated for Primitive areas could be substantial. Will the APA formalize the different types of Primitive areas? Will the APA formalize the two types of Primitive areas utilized in the SLMP? What is the mountain biking market for riding on dirt roads? What is the mountain biking use in other Forest Preserve areas outside of the Wilmington Wild Forest? What is the mountain biking use near the Essex Chain Lakes area in Newcomb at the Santanoni Historic Area? Will the APA create an entirely new type of Primitive area? Will this new Wilderness-lite Primitive area mark the end of new or expanded Wilderness areas in the Adirondacks? Should mountain biking be allowed in Wilderness areas? The issues are not simple and changes could be far-reaching. The APA would benefit from good research on these questions so that decisions are based on good data and not anecdote.

Beyond the issues of bridge materials and Primitive areas, many are advocating changes to the SLMP that could fundamentally change the way the Forest Preserve is managed. The APA has signaled a willingness to listen to all manner of recommended changes, both big and small. The APA will have to publish its intent for SLMP revision in the weeks ahead.

As the APA proceeds with SLMP revision, they would be well advised to follow the adage that good science makes good policy.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.

Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.




14 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    Safety concerning bridges is paramount. I don’t see why the primary support structure can’t be something like 5-10 steel which naturally turns a brown color without physical damage if properly installed, and an easily replaceable wood overlay for character. I would assume all public-use bridges get inspected regularly, regardless of classification.

    The Blue Ridge Parkway rebuilt part of its guard rail system in NC using wood, but with a galvanized steel under structure which is all but invisible.

  2. Richard says:

    Well–good science does not make good policy, really. But good science can inform good policy development. People make policy. And policy is about values choices. This whole APA struggle is about conflicting values that good people hold, on all sides.

  3. Chris says:

    I would like to think we all agree that science should play an essential role in whatever decision is made…the difficulty will be that there is no singular data source or truly independent study. You won’t find any studies out there that say forests vanished or mountains crumbled due to mountain bike use, and you won’t find any that say bikers never left a mark on a trail they traveled either. You’ll find something in between – and the public sentiment (based on the data/studies presented) will ultimately end up driving most of the decision-making process.

    In regards to that public sentiment, this article seems to try and pull a fast one. I see the phrases “change policy…based on a questionable premise” and “unsubstantiated public comments that there is a great recreational interest (for mountain biking)” – implying that the policy change needn’t be considered as the interest level is being overstated. But the underlying point/fear being expressed here is that the interest level is actually high – and it is – whether it be to use these roads for connections to other trails, for riders that occasionally seek a more leisurely riding experience with a beginner or their families, or to at least get a foot in the door/seat at the table for possibly expanding access in the future.

    And I hope we do.

  4. Marco says:

    Yup, further research IS needed.

    The requirement for natural materials in the construction of bridges is NOT a limiting factor. With proper footings, pilings embankments, etc. (a good foundation) wooden bridges are perfectly adequate for long spans for example. Plain stone foundations from a couple hundred years ago can be found throughout NY state, often in good shape. It could be argued that burnt lime is still a natural material allowing all sorts of concrete structures and pre-dates most written history (6-8000 years old.). Even the newer lean-to’s along otherwise wilderness trails use nails, shingles and some treated wood, none of which is actually “natural.” As are slippery planked trails over swamps (gone are the superior split logs.) Or ladders over boulders and up mountains. Soo, it is a matter of the degree of “natural materials” that we need to consider, the maintainability(durability and repairability,) utility(present and future) and cost (initial construction, short term and long term) of the structure that is intended. What is needed is a better definition of what the APA and DEC wants, but this needs to be tempered with non-natural materials as needed to make things practical, too.

    As far as mountain bikes go, they require a maintained road to let pedestrian traffic and bikers utilize the same road. To me, this means a standard 8′ lane with two tracks for tires. If it is not maintained it will revert to forest or single track pathways. Not “potentially maintained”, “IF” it is needed, or other qualifiers. When road maintenance stops for more than a year, it stops being a bike road. Should we allow bikes on all of the trails? Up the High Peaks? Up Black Bear Mountain? On the Northville-Placid Trail? No. A few trails are acceptable in relation to the amount of different people participating in the sport, not a few highly vocal people. Fair is fair. But I have visions of people driving off cliff faces or running headlong into hikers on many trails and do not consider them a safe blend with pedestrians and needs to be avoided. Clearly more research is needed, since, this is my belief only.

  5. Ed Zahniser says:

    Thanks, Peter, for this thoughtful critique of the possibility of revisions to the SLMP. The call for science rather than anecdote is particularly apt. It is my belief that the approval of snow machines way back when was a case of anecdote versus science. I believe that the rationalization then was that since snow machines run on snow and do not touch the ground, they had/have no impact. But we now know that they have vast impacts on naturalness, wildness, and wilderness — natural sound, feelings of solitude, wildlife disturbance, sometimes deadly wildlife winter stress, and obliteration of the contrast value of outdoor recreation — not to mention the recent felling of thousands of trees that is out of keeping with longstanding Forest Preserve lands policy, as well as the use of industrial-scale groomer machines.

  6. Junk Science says:

    Modern snowmobiles have to meet EPA required emissions and noise standards last I heard. And your statement that snowmobile trails are in “wilderness” classified areas is very unscientific. Snowmobile trails are not allowed in “wilderness” classified lands. Trail mileage for snowmobiles was capped in the ADK Park in 2008 at 848.88 miles. Thousands of trees cut? Really? Just love people who talk out of both sides of their mouth. Albany and Washington are just full of them. Chicken Little the sky is falling!!

    • John Warren says:

      “Snowmobile trails are not allowed in “wilderness” classified lands.”

      Wrong.

      There are several designated wilderness areas were snowmobiles freely operate, most notably on the trail to Crane Pond in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness.

      Also, according to “Management Guidance: Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance on Forest Preserve Lands in the Adirondack Park” (DEC, November 2009), page 4, footnote 3:

      “Snowmobile trails may also be located in some Primitive areas and in Wilderness areas within 500 feet of the Wilderness boundary.”

      You can find that source here:

      http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/snowmangguid.pdf

      It should also be noted that not only do snowmobiles currently operate in wilderness areas, so do exploratory mining operations.

      And BTW, historically through intensive lobbying, the snowmobile industry has set emissions and noise standards which have been enshrined in law by state and federal regulators.

      • Junk Science says:

        I read the section. After reading the section on Class I (secondary trails) The footnote you speak of comes at the end of the statement about these secondary trails on the periphery of Wild Forest and other Forest Preserve areas where snowmobile use is designated. The footnote states trails may also be located in some Primitive areas or within 500 feet of Wilderness area boundaries. That does not say within the Wilderness classified area. I also checked the NYSDEC trail information website concerning the Eastern Adirondacks. I could find only Wild Forest areas list for snowmobile use? The Pharaoh Lake Wilderness has no snowmobile trails listed? As for the snowmobile industry lobbying to set emission and noise standards I see no difference in the environmental groups intensive lobbying in the halls of power for enshrined environmental rules and regulations.

        • John Warren says:

          Read it again:

          “Snowmobile trails may also be located in some Primitive areas AND IN WILDERNESS AREAS within 500 feet of the Wilderness boundary.” [Emphasis Mine].

          In addition to that fact, just because a trail is not a “designated snowmobile trail” does not mean that snowmobiles don’t use it. Go to Crane Pond and see for yourself (and that’s just one of several). DEC currently allows snowmobiles in, and snowmobile trails to be built in, Wilderness areas.

          And you may see no difference in lobbying efforts, but the fact is the snowmobile industry set the noise and pollution levels, the EPA merely codified them.

          • Junk Science says:

            It says may also be located, does not mean it has or is going to happen. Mr. Bauer would be in court if that happened. As for the Crane Pond road in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness the NYSDEC is not enforcing the wilderness rule. Why is that? Perhaps some more illegalness on their part? I checked the US EPA website. The EPA claims they set the standards and the manufacturers have to make those standards.

            • John Warren says:

              Someone using the name of “Junk Science” ought to know that a website does not constitute research.

              Over the past several months you, a member of the leadership of the New York State Snowmobile Association, have written a litany of falsehoods, outright lies, and attacks on the character of Almanack contributors, all while hiding your name under various pseudonyms.

              But let’s review what you’ve said here in your last three comments – to let readers witness your character for themselves:

              You said, “[the] statement that snowmobile trails are in ‘wilderness’ classified areas is very unscientific. Snowmobile trails are not allowed in ‘wilderness’ classified lands.”

              I proved you were wrong by quoting the DEC’s own trail construction guidance, which says: “Snowmobile trails may also be located in some Primitive areas and in Wilderness areas within 500 feet of the Wilderness boundary.”

              So you then said “I read the section… [it] states trails may also be located in some Primitive areas or within 500 feet of Wilderness area boundaries. That does not say within the Wilderness classified area.”

              It was clear by that statement that you did not comprehend the sentence, and I suggested you try and read it again. To which you answered:

              “It says may also be located, does not mean it has or is going to happen.”

              It’s the trail construction guidance – it clearly authorizes snowmobile trails to be built in Wilderness areas in direct contradiction to your first claim that “Snowmobile trails are not allowed in ‘wilderness’ classified lands”.

              I also pointed out that snowmobiles (and mining operations) currently operate in Wilderness areas, to which you have offered some other obfuscation and misinformation – despite the simple fact it’s true and easily proven.

              John Warren
              Almanack Founder & Editor

  7. Paul says:

    Peter,

    The story you had here on March 5 about how a road is reclaimed after being closed describes well how a dirt road closed to cars and trucks and open only to Mt. bikes would rather quickly revert to the character of a single-track trail. The “process” could probably even be sped up by blocking the sides in some way to allow the vegetation to fill in faster. The pictures you have at your “Protect!” website of the old “burn” road are an excellent example. It looks like a perfect mt. bike trail.

    Over time the Mt. bikers will have just what they want.

    I agree there should be some other work on the bridge question also. It sounds like the use of natural materials is mostly an aesthetic thing. Other non-natural materials will probably make a much stronger lower maintenance environmentally more friendly bridge. I think it is also a cost issue. You can probably span a river much easier and cheaper if you use materials like steel.

  8. joe says:

    I consider myself an Adirondack environmentalist and this sort of disingenuous nonsense is precisely why I can’t stand Bauer.

    Bauer doesn’t want research on use of non-native materials in bridges or mountain bike trails on logging roads: he wants research that agrees with him and only research that agrees with him.

    A serious question: let’s say that the APA went out there and found current, well-performed research that supports the idea that best current practices in bridge-building in protected areas do use non-native materials, and that in addition, mountain bikers relish trails built on old logging roads once they’re in place and use them avidly.

    Does anyone — ANYONE — think for a second that such research would cause Bauer to go “oh welp, I guess they did their homework. Imma gonna support these issues now.” No, it wouldn’t. He would find problems with the research, invent reasons to disregard the conclusions, concoct reasons why they don’t apply to this specific situation, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

    Don’t call for the use of research if you’re not prepared to accept the conclusions if the research disagrees with your preconceived notions. This post is *precisely* why I support other environmental groups in the Park and don’t give a penny to Protect.

    Now all that said: personally I don’t want the State cutting trees in Forest Preserve left and right to accommodate bikers, snowmobilers, ATVers and the like. But I’ll lend my support to the environmental groups that oppose such uses of the Forest Preserve in a sensible fashion, thank you (i.e., recognizing that sometimes we won’t get 100% of what we desire — but that 90% is better than trying to fight to the bitter end on every last issue.). As for non-native materials: whatever. If the bridge is attractive enough this is hardly a priority for me. I could totally give in on this issue if it means getting more of what the environmental community needs to get on issues it does care about deeply.

    But I feel that sort of quid pro quo is beyond Mr. Bauer’s intellectual capacity….

  9. Paul says:

    The paper that Bob Rainville posted a link to on Pete Nelson’s last article on Mt. Biking here was probably the most science based analysis I have seen. There are many variables but the conclusion was basically that there is no more environmental damage from Mt. Biking than there is from hiking. So it looks like the research done to date would indicate that allowing it would not be worse than other activities that are already allowed on Wilderness lands. But that is only the question of environmental impact. Science can only help it can’t make the decision for you.

    Here is the reference:

    Journal of Environmental Management 91 (2010) 551–562