Tuesday, June 16, 2015

DEC’s 11th Hour Forest Preserve Plans Criticized

Polaris Bridge and the Upper Hudson (courtesy Protect the Adirodnacks)Another thick set of Forest Preserve recreational plans and maps was sent by the Department of Environmental Conservation to the Adirondack Park Agency at the 11th hour,  just before the APA’s June meeting. It’s the second time in as many months that APA members felt unprepared.

In May, APA Member Richard Booth spoke of having to review 80 pages and 45 maps of alternative snowmobile trails through the Forest Preserve just a few days before his State Land Committee was expected to consider them in public. This month, APA Member Art Lussi  said he had less than 24 hours to review the 141-page Essex Chain of Lakes Complex Draft Unit Management Plan (UMP), which includes more than 20 maps before the Committee’s most recent meeting. “I have to comment that these plans are thrown at us in a way that doesn’t allow for us to give you input,” Mr. Lussi said to Rob Davies of the DEC.

The timing was interesting. A particularly problematic snowmobile community connector route across the  “scenic” Hudson River’s Polaris Bridge south of Newcomb was removed at the last moment by the APA from plans and maps sent out for public comment in May after DEC failed to analyze alternative routes, among other legal and public policy concerns.

After local elected officials complained about the connector’s removal in May, the Essex Chain UMP appears to have been expedited for the APA’s June meeting. That UMP contains this same snowmobile connector route between Indian Lake and Minerva.

Nonetheless, even this document was “evolving” according to Mr. Booth who noted that he, as Chair of the State Lands Committee, had been obligated to read three drafts of the UMP in as many days and was still reading the “final” draft at 3 am the morning of the APA meeting.

After the DEC presented a power point presentation on the Essex Chain of Lakes Draft UMP, Mr. Booth invited discussion from his committee.  There were questions, but it was left to Mr. Booth to probe the major policy issues raised by DEC’s draft plan. Among his comments were the following:

  • A preferred snowmobile community connector route involving the Polaris Bridge lacked substantive discussion of alternative ways to get between Indian Lake, Newcomb and Minerva, as the law requires. At least one feasible alternative seems to be dismissed without much explanation;
  • Bicycling in the Primitive area, which is managed as Wilderness, is authorized without proper observance of State Land Master Plan guidelines, which have the force of law;
  • New public motorized uses and river crossings on bridges within the Essex Chain Complex were declared “grandfathered” by DEC despite lacking a factual basis for such a determination;
  • The Wild and Scenic River statute and regulations pertaining to new public snowmobile uses at the Cedar and Hudson Rivers are weakened in this UMP;
  • The State Land Master Plan’s prohibition on public motorized uses within Primitive areas is compromised by DEC’s allowance of a select number of able-bodied people to drive right up to the Essex Chain of Lakes (persons with disabilities have this ability to access the lakes by motor vehicle, exclusively, under a commissioner’s policy).

My organization, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, and others commented on these and other issues a year ago when DEC issued its first draft UMP for the Essex Chain. That draft was withdrawn.  While I am disappointed that we have to address these same issues again a year later, I note one improvement: snowmobiling and related routes and bridges, including a new 140-ft span over the Cedar River, is now open to public comment. A year ago, DEC’s draft UMP sought to avoid and postpone public comment on this subject, and hide the actual purpose of such a large bridge. The added clarity and transparency is appreciated.

One can offer a strong policy critique and simultaneously recognize tremendous staff effort. Mr. Booth did both.  Following his comments, there were two reactions which caught my attention. One was from Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board’s Fred Monroe who advised the DEC that it should have legally defensible explanations prepared for all of Mr. Booth’s points.  I could not agree more.

Another comment (I wasn’t sure who said it) was that “it was easy to criticize” the UMP. I wonder if whoever said this saw casual complaining rather than the strong policy critique I heard. Shouldn’t all members of the APA engage in critical thinking and questioning?  Every member of the APA is an officer responsible to the public for understanding and upholding the State Land Master Plan and other laws protective of the Park and the Forest Preserve.

APA’s own State Land Master Plan clearly states that recreational considerations, such as snowmobile community connector trails, bicycle routes and hiking trails, are important, but secondary, to the plan’s paramount purpose, the protection of natural resources and wild character on the Forest Preserve. Yet, the evidence grows every month that recreational and economic opportunities are now the top priorities at APA and DEC because they are Governor Cuomo’s top priorities.

No, in the current climate it is definitely not easy to be seen as critical. In this or any administration where conformity is demanded up and down the ranks, an independent line of questioning, however cogent and well-founded, is discomforting for those listening and isolating for the questioner.

The public can comment on the Essex Chain UMP through July 27. Public hearings are scheduled in early June for Indian Lake and Newcomb. Go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/97474.html for more information.

Photo: The Polaris Bridge and the Upper Hudson (courtesy Protect the Adirondacks).

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David Gibson

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 Preserve

During 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.




31 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    It sounds like nobody is happy. That is why I have always said that these plans, classifications, and UMP changes need to be considered BEFORE land is purchased. Everyone including town officials, environmentalists, and the tax payers should know ahead of time what they are getting. This will also remove any possibility of a bait-and-switch by any of the parties involved.

  2. Hope says:

    Not only are recreation considerations (hiking, biking, snowmobile trails, etc.) important, they can and do help with the protection and promotion of our natural resources. Without promotion of our natural resources via well planned recreational facilities, we may very well lose the protection of these resources, by alienating the very constituency that would want to protect them. This would happen because without personal experience in the woods, mountains and lakes there could develop an apathy to their protection. You might win more advocates by embracing recreational diversity. Good trails protect wilderness they don’t hurt it.

    • Paul says:

      agreed. here at the almanack many folks have talked about getting a diversity of users into the woods.

    • Mike says:

      Hope, agree with your points. Balance and including more recreational points of view ultimately help create more advocates for the lands we all love.

      • Joe Hansen says:

        Hope I am joining the chorus in support of your position. If the people of New York do not have a connection with public land what is to prevent future politicians from divesting of them? I can imagine the rhetoric now, I’ll cut taxes but taking these lands off the public dole and put them back in private hands and every one will benefit. Average tax payers would be saving $2 a year and political cronies what get land at fire sale prices. That is way scarier than letting a mountain bike ride on road built for automobiles or allowing a snowmobile to pass over the Cedar on a steel bridge.

        • Woody says:

          I refuse to believe that bicycles and motor vehicle roads are our only hope against the complete annihilation of Article 14. People have been recreating in the forest preserve since 1885. If that recreation is now deemed impossible without the use of gears and gas pedals, then it’s our society that needs help, not the concept of forever wild.

          • Hope says:

            The key here is well planned. Those vehicles already have been used extensively on the subjected property. You want to remove what has been a traditional access by the previous and current club members. The deal was made with the communities about access. Reneging on that deal will poison future acquisitions in the pipeline. It’s not just about you. It’s about all outdoor recreation enthusiasts and stakeholders. It’s about finding balance and not thinking of ways in which to restrict access. This was touted as a great acquisition that would open up access to the general public yet more emphasis has been on developing ways to restrict access than open it.

            • Woody says:

              It’s not all about me, but it’s not all about you either. It was the previous landowner and its lessees that restricted access to everyone but themselves, so “opening up access to the general public” means removing their posted signs. When the clubs are gone after 2018, let the motorized access go with them. “Access” does not mean “motor vehicle.” The roads were the club’s traditional access, no one else’s. Just show me where the trailhead is, and I can get the rest of the way on my own, just like any other place on state land.

              Besides, what little data the state has provided seems to show that the state’s current management is driving people away, to the extent that far fewer camping permits were issued then expected. The Essex Lakes are getting so-so reviews among paddlers, and some have made the decision not to go back or not to go at all:

              http://www.adkforum.com/showthread.php?t=21786

              Local people like to holler all day that wilderness restrictions are too restrictive and that no one can’t go there if motors aren’t allowed. But what they forget is that the people who drive for hours to their quaint little towns come from cities and suburban areas where anyone can drive anywhere, and where there is no peace and quiet. This is what makes the Adirondack Park different from the rest of milktoast suburban America. If these people are going to bother to drive all the way to Newcomb they’re going to want to sweat a little bit and earn their fun. Otherwise its a 4 hour drive for an hour of paddling. The math doesn’t add up, they decide that the Adirondack Explorer and the Almanac over hyped the Essex Lakes, and instead they go to Lake Lila or Lows Lake, places where you really can get away from it all.

              I for one am one of those people. The state’s handling of the Essex Lake property describes a zoo where I would never want to go. And I have not gone there, and have no plans to go any time soon. Little Tupper Lake and Rock Pond are more my style. Longer paddling, more secluded campsites, no planes, no permits, no campfire bans, no motor vehicles = peace, quiet, and solitude!

              If I am representative of the people coming up north to spend money on your towns, why on earth would you tell me I don’t know what I really want? As I said before people have been playing in the forest preserve since 1885. Threats of the demise of “forever wild” because of a lack of support are overrated. The solution is to get more (diverse) people interested in outdoor recreation, not opening up more roads. If you have to “bend” fifteen environmental laws and regulations in the hopes of getting these people into the woods, then these new “constituents” are going to have a very skewed since of what it is they are voting to protect.

              • Hope says:

                Hey I’m happy to participate in non motorized endeavors since snowmobiling is not my thing anyway but I am also willing to share which apparently you are not. It’s a big chunk of real estate and there is a way. Drive to your trail head and walk away no one is stopping you. Promises made to communities should be kept or not made.

                • Woody says:

                  Don’t accuse paddlers of being greedy, Hope.

                  Snowmobilers got access to the Finch Pruyn easements surrounding the Essex lake property–easement land which you and I don’t have access to, except for one or two access roads. One of the very first actions that happened was a snowmobile trail between Indian Lake and Newcomb.

                  The towns already had that trail, and when the Essex lakes opened to the public, they decided they wanted that too. I’m pretty sure that’s the dictionary definition of greed.

                  So let’s dispense with the lectures about who wants to share what with whom, if you don’t mind.

                  • Hope says:

                    I’m not accusing anyone of being greedy. You want quiet paddling, so do I. I don’t think that there will be any bikes on the lakes and the snowmobiles will only be around in winter. Floatplanes don’t bother me much. Like it or not, things change and 1885 was a long time ago. I too would like to be able to build a campfire and I hear that more people complain about that than anything.

                    • Woody says:

                      If floatplanes don’t bother you much, feel free to paddle around the beech at Long Lake and camp out there for a while. Let me know if you have the same affinity after about 20 mins.

                      One thing that hasn’t changed too much is Article 14. Indeed its been strengthened since then by a host of laws and regulations, several which would need to be violated in order for all these wonderful bike and snowmobile trails and floatplane only campsites you think are going to swell the ranks of wilderness groups. When the current evidence suggests that this management direction is driving people away from the Essex Lakes.

                      Get rid of the snowmobiles. They have the easements surrounding the Essex Lakes to build their trails. That was their piece of the Finch Pryun pie. They can’t have it all.

                      Mountain bikers would rather die than bike anywhere near the Essex Lakes. Ask them. They’ll tell you flat out: biking on logging roads sucks.

                      Get rid of the float planes. There are what 1 or 2 guys in the entire park that provide that service? Hardly an economic force. Talk about a minority interest messing something up for everybody else.

                      Do these things and keep the forest wild. If this doesn’t work for you, that’s what KOA’s are for.

  3. David Thomas-Train David says:

    The DEC is hugely underfunded. Its low and mid-level staffers, whom I have found to be smart and well-intended, are always in catch-up mode, scrambling to plow through an endless list of tasks. This is a cause of the last-minute document submissions that lack fully thought-out alternative positions.

  4. Ruth Olbert says:

    Public comment opportunities are July 7 in Newcomb and July 9 in Indian Lake.

  5. Wanakena says:

    Dave, your concerns are noted and will be discussed by the APA, The presentation by DEC was a “courtesy” to APA prior to beginning their public process. It was not the place for comments by anyone on the APA board. At the end of the DEC process, the APA will decide if the UMP conforms to the State Land Master Plan. At that time there will be much to discuss.

  6. adkmike says:

    The proposals by DEC strikes me as what was expected, more or less, given the history of how the whole transaction developed. Like private float plane companies having exclusive use of prime water front camp sites owned by the State, wow, but TNC made some sort of side deal with the float plane company. The head of Adirondack TNC is a float plane pilot. So this is all expected stuff.

    Anyway, the promise was this would become a much visited area. Last summer, if I got the numbers right, there were 77 camper nights on the property. Obviously that’s not anywhere near the economic benefit promised by the State.

    If the enviro community somehow blocks much of this, it will have negative long term impacts on future purchases by NYS and preservation. They’ll have to think about the bigger picture on this one. Hope made a similar point above. Their backroom dealing about the snowmobile trail appearing and disappearing is not a good sign.

  7. Dave Gibson says:

    Hope, your points are well taken. Recreational activities on the Forest Preserve have often provided, and still provide the starting point for commited multi-generational support for the Forest Preserve. 46-er Bob Marshall and his parents and siblings, and their descendants down to what is now the 5th generation of Marshalls working for wilderness in our world represent your point well. We are by no means against recreational trail development and uses, but Adirondack Wild et. al. will continue to speak out when environmental agencies appear forgetful of their mission of natural resource and wilderness protection on behalf of the public at large and the more than human world. Thanks for writing.

  8. Charlie S says:

    In 1999 The Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies printed an essay by Barbara McMartin. She had traveled the world with her husband and got a good perspective on other countries and how they handled the preservation of their natural resources. She says, “Even when we compare the Adirondacks to countries with well-developed park systems, it is obvious that our region is certainly not unique, except in one devastating way. Every other park has a central organization that integrates planning and carries out the goals of preservation, economic development, and people’s needs to be a part of nature.”

    She goes on to say “I am saddened that the Adirondacks which has done a spectacular job of preserving natural resources has done so little to make these resources available to the regions visitors.; that it has done so little to provide the economic base that residents require; that it has not made this ‘a park of people and natural resources’ as we hoped when we planned the Park’s centennial.”

    She adds, “We have done a very good job of natural resource protection. We have done a very poor job of putting people in a natural setting.”

    She goes on and on in this essay and what I get from it coincides with what Hope has to say above: “Not only are recreation considerations (hiking, biking, snowmobile trails, etc.) important, they can and do help with the protection and promotion of our natural resources. Without promotion of our natural resources via well planned recreational facilities, we may very well lose the protection of these resources, by alienating the very constituency that would want to protect them.”

    This essay,along with other essays on the Adirondack Park by authors such as Bill McKibben,Paul Jamieson,Paul Schaefer,Ann LaBastille and lesser known writers,can be found in ‘Rooted in Rock New Adirondack Writing 1975-2000’ by Jim Gould 2001

    • Woody says:

      Dave Gibson can speak for himself here, but I believe the contention is NOT that the state wants to place trails and other things at the Essex Lakes, but the “well planned” aspect mentioned by Ms. McMartin. A “well planned” trail network doesn’t violate state laws and long established guidelines.

      • Joe Hansen says:

        I think that Hope has expressed an inclusive attitude while Woody your arguments seem to be self centered. Some of your statements are just plain wrong, many bikers like to ride forest access roads and drier logging roads. All the paddlers I’ve spoken with would return to the Essex Chain again. Just because someone does not participate in snowmobiling does not mean they are against it,raising my hand here. I believe the DEC’s proposal are a fair mix of wilderness, wild forest and access. I am impressed that promises to local leaders have been kept. Acquisition of former Finch properties prevents future development insuring a home for wildlife and recreational and hopefully economic opportunities for people. Why can’t some conservation minded folks just accept a victory?

        • Woody says:

          Of course my arguments speak my own mind, and no one else’s. That’s what it means to have firmly rooted beliefs, and I am proud of that. Your comment mirrors the last paragraph in Dave Gibson’s article: to be critical is to be labled obstructive, or self centered, or what ever.

          I am pro wilderness and damn proud of it. I refuse to cave on my stance because snowmobiles and float planes exist. Wilderness is the only reason why I return to the Adirondacks and spend money. Take the wilderness away, take the peace and quiet away, and the Adirondacks become about as exciting as New Jersey.

          If my posts bother you, too bad! Let the snowmobilers speak for themselves, if they want to ride to that one bar in Newcomb so bad. The state is ruining the Essex Lakes by trying to please everybody. By the state’s own admission people aren’t going there, paddlers are openly discouraged, there is no market for the mountain bike trails that everyones so hot about, and everything the state wants to do violates a 100 years of law and policy. This is not a victory, but a flat out FAIL. And if the Essex Lakes are lost, then the Boreas Ponds and Follensby will fall like dominoes.

          • Hope says:

            Woody, NYS could designate the whole tract Wild Forest if they wanted too. Just because NYS purchases land to add to the Forest Preserve does not guarantee that it all becomes Wilderness. That is there is a planning process in place. All stakeholders get to participate. Nothing is set in stone till the plan is finalized. NYS made some promised to these communities for their support for NYS to acquire these lands. Regardless to how you feel about that, they could have blocked the sale if they wanted to.

            • John Warren John Warren says:

              “NYS made some promised to these communities for their support ”

              We keep hearing there were promises. There certainly were deals – half of the 166,000-acre Finch lands went to motorized uses, including logging, snowmobiles, private clubs, town projects, and more.

              Where are the documents that promise the other half – now owned by the people of New York State – would also be motorized? When was that public hearing held?

              • Hope says:

                Those deals and promises were made prior to the sale to NYS. Not after. Now NYS is trying to make it work. When Follensby comes up again, Tupper blocked it once already, the political powers that be and the community members will look back upon these deals and see how they panned out for the communities involved.

                • John Warren John Warren says:

                  What promises were made? Where can we read the promises that we’re required to keep according to your view?

                  • Hope says:

                    You’ll have to ask the towns and state those questions.

                    • John Warren John Warren says:

                      Unless you can produce these so-called promises, I think you should stop claiming they exist.

                      The mysterious promises motorized access advocates claim are apparently misstatements of the actual deals which were made that gave into the towns requests that half of the 166,000-acre Finch lands go to motorized uses, including logging, snowmobiles, private clubs, town projects, and more.

                      Those promises were met. If other promises were made in advance about how these lands would be managed then the entire DEC and APA process is a complete farce – it that your claim?

  9. Dave Gibson says:

    Woody, I agree with your statement that a well planned trail network does not violate existing state laws and guidelines. Put another way, Unit Management Plans must comply with existing laws. The Essex Chain Unit Management Plan has no power to alter the Master Plan, the Wild/Scenic Rivers Act, etc or its regulations. In classifying the Essex Chain as Primitive, the Adirondack Park Agency anticipated in its resolution that laws or regulations might need to be changed to allow the desired snowmobile community connector routes. Unfortunately, some of the DEC’s UMP preferred alternatives, as currently drafted, circumvent law and regulation without going through the legal process to change them. This point will come up in the hearings in early July.

  10. Charlie S says:

    “Where does it say the car was speeding Charlie?”

    Let’s face it John….this country is chock full of mindless automatons.People don’t see the animals because they just don’t see….period. I suppose you have to be somewhat attentive to recognize all of the absent-mindedness.Meanwhile good people and hapless animals will continue to suffer because.

  11. Paul says:

    This area is a place I have not explored too much but from what I have read It was clear that there would be a community connector snowmobile trail built between Indian Lake and Newcomb (call it as promise if you like). Now that the state has proposed it in the plan some groups (Protect! for example) are claiming that there is already a trail.

    http://www.protectadks.org/2015/06/apa-and-dec-willfully-omit-important-information-from-evaluation-of-plans-to-build-major-snowmobile-system-through-the-central-adirondacks/

    There is, but it runs across private conservation easement land (see Protect’s map). A trail that can be closed at the whim of the landowner (or if they need to do some logging in the area etc.). Here they are going to build one on state land that won’t have these issues. Why is that so difficult for some to understand?

  12. Chris says:

    Obviously a tactic to avoid reasonable deliberation. Is there any way to create a rule requiring a review period time-line for advanced notice of submissions like this?

    Where can I find preserve – friendly guidance on what comments I should make to the state on the link you provide? That Web page covers a lot of ground and I’d like to know how to best communicate a strong preservation approach.

    Thanks!