The Adirondack Forest Preserve has largely been divided between motorized and non-motorized lands, mechanized and non-mechanized areas. Primarily, these dividing lines separate where automobiles, snowmobiles, and bicycles are allowed and where they are prohibited. On one side, people walk, run, cross country ski or paddle a canoe. On the other side people can use motor vehicles and ride bikes. By and large, the separation of uses has worked well. It’s coherent and there’s virtue in its simplicity. As one long-time local government leader often quipped referring to Forest Preserve advocates, “Wilderness is yours and Wild Forest is ours.”
Not so anymore. There is an effort underway now to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP), the first serious policy changes in a generation (since 1987). These amendments seek, among other things, to shift up to 39,000 acres away from Wilderness and closer to that of Wild Forest.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) took public comments until late January on a draft proposal to allow bicycle riding and maintenance with motor vehicles by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in Forest Preserve lands classified as “Primitive” areas. The APA is considering whether to makes changes to just the 10,000-acre Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive areas or to make these changes across all 39,000 acres of Primitive areas.
The APA proposals seek to allow changes to the definition of Primitive areas from near Wilderness to something far less, to, in other words, Forest Preserve more like Wild Forest where bikes and motor vehicles are permitted. Wilderness (1,161,257 acres), Primitive (38,984), and Canoe Area (17,637) lands total 1,217,878 acres compared with 1,298,929 acres of Wild Forest lands.
Primitive lands are Forest Preserve areas identified as lands that one day could be upgraded to Wilderness (think the Lake Lila or Hudson Gorge models) or lands that have some permanent constraint that preclude Wilderness classification, yet should be managed with this high level of protection (think Valcour Island, which will never meet the minimum 10,000-acre Wilderness requirement). The APA calls these Type 1 and Type 2 Primitive Areas. Today, there are 40 Primitive Areas and 22 are identified as Type 1. Interestingly, though the Essex Chain Lakes and Pine Lake Primitive areas were created in December 2013, the APA has never said whether they are Type 1 or Type 2.
Basic Guideline 1 for Primitive Areas in the APSLMP, which sets the management standard, states: “The primary primitive management guideline will be to achieve and maintain in each designated primitive area a condition as close to wilderness as possible, so as to perpetuate a natural plant and animal community where man’s influence is relatively unapparent.” Basic Guideline 2 states “No additions or expansions of non-conforming uses will be permitted.” A decision to allow bikes and motor vehicles in Primitive Areas does not conform to these management objectives.
What this means is that the APA is, in essence, creating a new kind of Forest Preserve classification. Call it Wilderness-lite or Primitive Type 3; it’s a fundamental shift away from managing Primitive lands as essentially Wilderness. It also means, for all practical purposes, that these lands will not be upgraded and classified as Wilderness at some future point.
The immediate choice before the APA is to either make the changes to allow bicycle use and management and maintenance by the DEC using motor vehicles in just the Essex Chain-Pine Lake Primitive Areas or to make these changes for all 39,000 acres of Primitive Areas. It is likely that the APA will act to make these changes for the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive areas, though there is a great deal of pressure to make these changes apply to all Primitive areas. The APA is expected to make its decision on March 10-11, 2016.
What we’re watching is the Wild Forestization of Primitive Areas.
Photos provided by the New York State Department of Conservation.