Sunday, May 22, 2016

Peter Bauer: 7 Simple Rules For Classifying The Boreas Tract

Boreas-600x343The purchase of the Boreas Ponds tract is a major milestone in the history of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a stellar accomplishment by the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and a feather in the cap of the Cuomo Administration. This marks the completion of the state’s purchase of 69,000 acres of new Forest Preserve announced in 2012. While over 95,000 acres of the former Finch, Pruyn and Company lands were protected as conservation easements, the 69,000 acres purchased for the Forest Preserve included natural gems like OK Slip Falls, the Blue Ledges of the Hudson Gorge, the Essex Chain Lakes, 15 miles of the Hudson River, the West Stony Creek river valley, five miles of the Cedar River, and much much more.

At the Governor’s announcement of the Boreas Ponds purchase last week at Elk Lake he said he wanted to see a speedy classification of the newly purchased lands. There are more than 35,000 acres of land to be classified, mostly bordering the High Peaks Wilderness, but also in scattered parcels in the southern Adirondacks.

This classification process, I hope, will be cleaner and far less of a legal and policy morass, and without the poor long-term management precedents than we experienced during the Essex Chain Lakes Complex classifications. Below, I talk a lot about the Essex Chain Lakes Unit Management Plan because many of the decisions in that UMP were a result of the flawed classification.

In looking ahead to the possibility of a better classification process, here are seven easy rules for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which really calls the shots, that will ensure a far better classification result than we saw with the Essex Chain Lakes.

The first rule for Forest Preserve classification is that everybody should speak up, and be listened to, during Forest Preserve classification. The Essex Chain classification and the public review of the Essex Chain Lakes Unit Management Plan were noteworthy by how many people were not listened to. The public hearing for classification ran 4-1 in favor of a Wilderness classification and the Essex Chain UMP saw 85% of comments opposed to retention of the Polaris bridge and cutting a new 5-mile snowmobile trail through a trailless section of the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest area.

It is simply not credible public lands management to see such overwhelming public comments ignored.

The second rule is that there should be no more Forest Preserve classification gerrymanders or spot zoning. The Essex Chain Lakes/Pine Lake Primitive areas are separated from the Hudson Gorge Wilderness area by a Wild Forest corridor. This 100-foot wide corridor was created for a north-south snowmobile trail and requires retention of the Polaris Bridge and construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River.

This corridor was a failure of long-term planning because it shoehorned motorized uses prohibited in the Wilderness and Primitive areas into a narrow corridor between these two clasisfications. This type of spot zoning is gaining a greater foothold in Forest Preserve planning as a means to retain nonconforming uses, such as the 1-acre “Historic Areas” on the summits of St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains to retain the firetowers. One doesn’t need to think too deeply to come up with a list of how new classification gerrymanders and spot zoning could be used all over the Forest Preserve.

The third rule is that there should be no more Forest Preserve classifications that require weakening of the State Land Master Plan. The Essex Chain Lakes classification necessitated the historic weakening of the State Land Master Plan to allow bicycle use and management with motor vehicles in a Primitive area. As APA Board member Richard Booth stated after the APA’s fateful decision last March, this type of weakening of the State Land Master Plan can be done again and again and again since the current APA Board, and its DEC overlords, don’t care much for fidelity of the State Land Master Plan.

The fourth rule is that new Forest Preserve classifications should keep motor vehicle use in Wild Forest areas. In the past few years, motorized uses on the Forest Preserve have been creeping outside Wild Forest. This is an ominous trend. The great divide in Forest Preserve management that is simple and coherent is that motorized uses are allowable in Wild Forest and not allowable in Wilderness areas (and Primitive Areas, which are supposed to be managed as Wilderness). We need to return to this rational management of the Forest Preserve.

There’s a major push to classify the entire Boreas Ponds tract as well as nearby Wild Forest lands as Wilderness, but at the same time retain the Gulf Brook Road as a Primitive Corridor and open it for public motor vehicle use. Protect the Adirondacks is pushing for a Wilderness classification of the Boreas Ponds area, while using the Gulf Brook Road as the Wilderness-Wild Forest boundary line, locating the road in Wild Forest. If the entire area is classified as Wilderness, then the road should be closed. There’s coherence to the position calling for a big Wilderness classification for all lands around the Boreas Ponds. It’s unacceptable, however, for a big Wilderness classification that retains the road. If this happens we’re simply creating a new Crane Pond Road into the heart of a new Wilderness area.

The fifth rule is that we should return to coherent and sensible Forest Preserve classifications. Historically, Forest Preserve management was characterized by big blocks of land clearly divided between Wilderness and Wild Forest. Look across the Park land use map, and you will see that these large units of Forest Preserve dominate the landscape. This is clear and coherent management that is easy to understand. More important, classification with clear boundaries provides the public with definite expectations of what they can expect and what they will encounter. This type of coherent management protects the user experience.

The sixth rule is that we should return to legal Forest Preserve classifications. The Essex Chain Lakes classification required not only a historic weakening of the State Land Master Plan, but also novel interpretations of how to circumvent the NYS Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, which one APA Board member called a “legal fiction.” The APA also ignored its own Snowmobile Trails Management Guidance to approve a duplicative new snowmobile trail and route it through a wild trailless interior area of the Forest Preserve; the Guidance prohibits duplicative trails and trails routed through interior areas of the Forest Preserve. We need to return to a time when the APA had reverence for New York’s environmental laws.

The seventh rule is that state agencies should play it straight. Public proposals from state agencies should contain a variety of options, but these options must include legitimate and viable alternatives. Not only did the Essex Chain Lakes classification, and subsequent UMP, require subverting NYS laws and weakening the State Land Master Plan, but it was also founded on disingenuous state planning. Most of its options and alternative were throwaways designed to fail and be discarded in order to promote the state’s preferred plan.

During the Essex Chain UMP review, one APA Board member chastised the DEC for proposing management alternatives that were “bound to fail.” DEC made many weak arguments. It stated that public use of the Essex Chain Lakes area had been very high, when in fact, it has been quite light. DEC argued that it needed the shortest snowmobile trail to connect Minerva and Indian Lake, when these two towns were already connected with a permanent trail on conservation easement and Forest Preserve lands. DEC also argued that the new trail through the Vanderwhacker Mountain lands, routed to cut through a trailless area that had not seen an axe in 100 years, was not a trail through a remote Forest Preserve interior area.

If the APA and DEC (and Governor Cuomo who pulls the strings) adhere to these seven rules for Forest Preserve classification and management, both public recreational use and natural resource management will be dramatically improved.

Photo of Boreas Ponds by Phil Brown.

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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 was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). 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, has two grown children out in the world, and 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 Threads.

26 Responses

  1. Justin Farrell says:

    Intersesting report, and I’m highly in favor of classifying the entire tract as Wilderness.
    That said, I think comparing Crane Pond Road with Gulf Brook Road makes absolutely no sense. Crane Pond Road had been freely open to the public for several decades before the state tried to close it. 30 years ago I remember seeing school buses back at Crane Pond full of tourists, and garbage trucks from the town of Schroon Lake coming in to collect the trash in the trash receptacles that once existed in the Crane Pond parking area near the launch. This is clearly not the case with the Gulf Brook Road, and therefore apples & oranges imho.

  2. Tim-Brunswick says:

    “Rules”….”flawed classification” ???

    Since when has Peter Bauer become the authority on right and wrong in the Adirondacks. In my “opinion” NYSDEC did a great job with the Essex Chain Lakes Tract classification process and consequently that area is accessible to almost everyone, not just hikers who are physically fit and/or able to trek miles into an area to view its beauty.

    • Peter D says:

      While I understand your underlying sentiment, I continue to be amazed at how being “physically fit” has become taboo or associated with elitists. Seems very odd to me.

      • It isn’t that “physically fit” is elitist. The thing is that the percentage of people who could carry a canoe 4 miles (or 7 in the case of the Boreas Ponds) is quite small. They could fairly be called a subset of “physically fit”, more like “athletic”. These are public lands and it makes little sense to create barriers to access for the large majority of the public by closing existing roads.

        I guess the question for the road closing advocates is “how many miles do you think one should have to walk before they are in what you consider “wilderness”?. Wilderness has borders and regardless of your aesthetic sense of wilderness, legally it begins at the border. So what we are really debating is where to locate the border.

        • Boreas says:

          FWIW, one doesn’t have to physically carry a canoe if there is road access. Canoe carts with bicycle wheels make the job about as difficult as pulling a child’s wagon. But no, it isn’t as easy as a car. But then you have to be fit enough to lift it onto a roof or bed of a truck.

          • Paul says:

            If you want a carry to be good for using a canoe cart it will basically need the same maintenance as a dirt road. Unless you want lots of erosion and run off issues. One thing they should consider changing in these areas is the rule that doesn’t allow a dock. This leads to lots of wetlands destruction in places like the St. Regis Canoe areas as people stomp their way through it trying to get to deeper water to float their boats.

    • Boreas says:

      “It is simply not credible public lands management to see such overwhelming public comments ignored.”

      I didn’t get the feeling Mr. Bauer was being authoritative, but rather giving his opinion on how the process should work – which includes paying attention to public comment. He only garners the authority that we give him.

      T-B, how would you like to see the process changed in the future – if at all?

    • Todd Eastman says:

      TB, I’m sure the Adirondack Almanack would publish an opinion piece from you…

      … please…

      … it be liberating, for all!

    • J. Hart says:

      If I make the effort to become physically fit, why shouldn’t I be able to access places that lazy people can’t? If I work hard and make a good income, I can purchase things that less ambitious people can’t afford. That’s the American way. Sounds like you are advocating recreational socialism.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        “recreational socialism” This rocks!!!

        Thanks for framing the issue.

      • Boreas says:

        Interesting point! Kinda like paving a road to the summit of Everest. Why should just mountain climbers be able to appreciate it?

  3. Jim S. says:

    Does anyone know how much of the new forest preserve property that was purchased from The Nature Conservancy has been classified as wilderness so far?

  4. Charlie S says:

    Tim Brunswick says: “In my “opinion” NYSDEC did a great job with the Essex Chain Lakes Tract classification process …”

    Why do you say this Tim? Because motor vehicle access is what turns you on is it not? Loud obnoxious gas-spewing machines. You need noise don’t you? You need easy access because the adventurous spirit that once was is no more …am I correct?

  5. Charlie S says:

    “At the Governor’s announcement of the Boreas Ponds purchase last week at Elk Lake he said he wanted to see a speedy classification of the newly purchased lands.”

    That us…hurry up and get there yesterday!

  6. Charlie S says:


    What does this mean?

  7. Charlie S says:

    “In the past few years, motorized uses on the Forest Preserve have been creeping outside Wild Forest.”

    Give em an inch and ere long a hundred feet will be sought after.

    • Paul says:

      There is no legalized motorized access on Foest Preserve land classified as Wild Forest? Are you are saying there is low legal motorized use in Wilderness areas? Please explain further?

  8. Paul says:

    Public comments are not “ignored” when a decision does not adhere specifically to what a commenter wants. If that were the case they would not be comments but some kind of twisted vote where whoever can get the most folks to comment (even if many are the same comments) gets their way. So if some group could get enough people to comment that the area should be classified as intensive use Peter would be satisfied when the area receives that classification, of course not. Public comment is simply part of the classification process.

  9. Dan'L says:

    On July 2, 2013 I attended the public meeting regarding the Essex Chain held at the Warren County Municipal enter. I still have my notes. At that meeting it was more like 4-1 in support of having a wide variety of public access options and as much Wild Forest classification as possible.

    The snowmobile clubs were well represented and of course wanted a town-connector trail system similar to what is being discussed there today. Many others wanted to be able to drive right to the ponds to launch a canoe/kayak and some wanted to be able to use motor boats on Third Lake and also have as many roads open as possible to motor vehicles. There were also some who wanted it all classified as Wilderness. Adirondack Architectural Heritage was concerned about the buildings and asked what would become of them, which will also be an issue in Boreas Ponds where what is believed to be the oldest building in North Hudson stands, along with a big rustic lodge.

    Later in 2013 I attended another meeting where a DEC representative from R5 said the pubic comments at the Essex Chain meetings leaned more towards the aforementioned access and a Wild Forest classification, while the letters that came in were in greater support of a Wilderness classification.

    • Boreasfisher says:

      I believe these FOIA summaries include all comments received, whether at the meetings or written in. So you can’t assume one meeting represents the will of the community.

  10. Charlie S says:

    ” you can’t assume one meeting represents the will of the community.”

    Strongly I feel that oftentimes decisions relative to issues concerning wilderness should not be decided upon the will of the community. Oftentimes these matters shouldn’t even be put on the table,the State ought to just do what they were hired to do and protect what’s left of our wild areas. They are the only ones who have the power to do so. Instead of doing what is morally right they propose these classifications to a divided public who too often are short-sighted and are on the side of development or industrial use or easy access or motorized use…all of which goes against protecting what remains.

  11. Boreasfisher says:

    Still, if you are a politician, you have to attend to public opinion. In this case, the question is whether the number of responses on this issue, which pretty clearly favored greater wilderness protection, adds up to a significant share of public opinion. I suspect not, unfortunately, leaving the governor to make the decision as he sees fit.

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