Prior to his retirement as a member of the Adirondack Park Agency’s board, environmental attorney and land-use regulation expert Richard Booth prepared a memo for all to consider as the APA decides how to recommend classifying tens of thousands of acres of newly acquired Forest Preserve lands — including the Boreas Ponds tract in North Hudson and Newcomb.
After eight-and- a-half years as an APA board member, Booth understands that the 11-member board has some discretion when it comes to making decisions. However, his memo reminds them that state policy strongly favors the creation of new wilderness (motor-free) areas in the Forest Preserve and places important limits on the board’s discretion in future classification decisions.
Booth urged decision makers to pay careful attention to the mandates laid out for them in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The SLMP guides management of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve – the public lands that comprise about half of the Adirondack Park.
He noted that the master plan favors classifying large, sensitive and biologically rich parcels of Forest Preserve as Wilderness (or Primitive or Canoe; all three bar motor vehicle access and motorized recreation, with limited exceptions).
Almost any other classification would result in public motorized recreation, which could irreparably damage any lands with water bodies, rivers, wetlands, steep slopes, easily eroded soils, high elevations or other characteristics that make them vulnerable to damage. Most of the lands awaiting classification in the High Peaks region of the park share those characteristics.
Keeping motorized vehicles off of the park’s most fragile and important conservation lands is the key to keeping them healthy for future generations, he noted:
“It is vitally important that people have meaningful and extensive opportunities to experience nature in its unbridled form without many of the intrusions of the modern world,” Booth wrote. “Protecting those opportunities today is increasingly important and difficult because the world in 2016 is so much more crowded and busier a place than it was in 1972 [when the APA was created]. Protecting and enhancing those opportunities will become ever more significant and ever more challenging as the decades proceed, as new generations arrive, and as technology wears away at more and more of the world’s natural fabric. The members of the Agency, now and far into the future, bear and will bear the responsibility — – and must bear the responsibility — – of making certain that the Master Plan’s spirit lives and thrives.”
Don’t worry if there are private roads on the parcel or if previous owners logged the property, he noted. Nearly all Adirondack wilderness areas were once subjected to more intensive uses. They will recover their vitality over time, if we classify them correctly.
Booth’s thorough, 19-page explanation of the APA’s classification responsibilities is a useful tool. It should be read carefully. Those making recommendations and decisions, and anyone who plans to participate in the public decisions, can use it as a guide to a balanced plan. The APA’s public hearings are slated to begin this fall.
Booth then quotes the SLMP itself to reinforce his point:
“If there is a unifying theme to the master plan, it is that the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park must be paramount. Human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the resources in their physical and biological context as well as their social or psychological aspects are not degraded. This theme is drawn not only from the Adirondack Park Agency Act … and its legislative history, but also from a century of the public’s demonstrated attitude toward the forest preserve and the Adirondack Park.” (SLMP, Section I, page 1)
Finally, Booth reminds all that the legislation that established the Adirondack Park Agency (the APA Act) “requires the Agency to classify the state lands in the Park according to ‘their characteristics and capacity to withstand use.’” Political pressure to allow more intensive uses has no place in the APA’s decision-making process, he said.
As decision makers and other interested stakeholders consider the fate of MacIntyre East, MacIntyre West, Casey Brook, the Open Space Institute tract and Boreas Ponds, people should carefully review and consider Booth’s memo.
Photo of Dick Booth by Mike Lynch.