Monday, January 2, 2017

Dave Gibson: Planning for Wilderness Management

Photo by Phil Brown 2016. View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds.As I review notes from several public hearings on the State Land Classifications, including Boreas Ponds, the apparent gulf between voices to “keep it or make it wild” and “this isn’t wilderness anyway and we need motorized access” seem unbridgeable.

Well, perhaps not. More than one or two speaking out for “more access” to the Boreas Ponds (usually meaning motorized) also addressed how experiencing quiet, serenity and wildlife undisturbed moved them personally as much as any wilderness advocate. For their part, several wilderness advocates stressed that economic benefits of access (usually non-motorized) should interest local businesses and governments. The personal values expressed by all the speakers clearly demonstrated the common ground for all of us – a deep appreciation, even love for being in the out of doors Adirondacks.

Regardless of perspective expressed at the hearings, I found a widespread lack of appreciation on all sides for the difference (found in the federal and state definition of Wilderness) between “untrammeled” and “untrampled” – as in the phrase “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” Yes, the Boreas Ponds and the High Peaks etc. may be “trampled” but that word is nowhere to be found in the legislated definition. To meet the Wilderness federal and state definition the land must not be “trammeled,” meaning hindered, shackled, hobbled (as in hobbling a horse).

To choose Wilderness here is to choose a process of restoration, to see Wilderness potential and character restored in future, not to be limited or blinded by the land’s current conditions.  To choose Wilderness is to choose hope and management – management of us and our recreational appetites. Miles of former industrial dirt roads – of greatly differing character and condition – and dozens of culverts underneath them does not by any stretch “trammel” the Boreas area, or disqualify it from Wilderness definition, classification or future management – just as it did not disqualify the William C. Whitney and many other of our other Wilderness, Primitive and one Canoe area despite their century-long industrial forest history.  Indeed, we would have no Wilderness in the eastern United States (Adirondacks, Catskills, Everglades, Baxter, White Mountains, Green Mountains, etc.)  if we went strictly by its often intensive land use history.

Perhaps we all could use a refresher course. What is Wilderness (Primitive, Canoe) under the State Land Master Plan? How should one parse its definition? Do you know it when you see it? How are infinite variety of Wilderness “users” described and why must they be managed? What considerations do professional wild land managers need to keep in mind about the designation, definition and user management of Wilderness? What range of variation exists or is allowed in Wilderness areas?

Readers could be directed to the volume, Wilderness Management by Chad Dawson and John Hendee (4th ed, 2009). It’s a fine, in-depth text for those passionate (or instructed) in this field, but it’s not for everyone.

I offer a slimmed-down, 21-page, pretty accessible, though dated, guidebook on the subject: Unit Planning for Wilderness Management (1987). Its author was once the Director of the NYS DEC Division of Lands and Forests, Norman J. VanValkenburgh.

Throughout his notable DEC career, Norm sought to make the field of Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve history, protection and management more accessible to the general public. His Forest Preserve slideshows, brief histories, longer histories and primers dating from the 1970s and 80s fill many shelves. He wrote Unit Planning for Wilderness Management as much for State employees of the DEC as for the public at large. The fact that Norm went to a private organization to publish it speaks to his appreciation for the crucial historical role of citizen watchdogs in the protection, proper management and public education about our publicly-owned Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.

So, here is a pdf of that guidebook from the Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve office.

You will find it dated in more ways than one. Thirty intervening years has changed our lives a great deal, including incalculably greater human population and pressures, climate change and whole collapse of some earth ecosystems, to say nothing about our altered attitudes about government and about wilderness and how to care for it.

Still, this slim little volume about Wilderness and how to keep it by our former State Lands director (and one of my heroes) remains relevant and, I hope, informative to Almanack readers. Happy New Year.

Photo: The view of Gothics from Boreas Ponds (Photo by Phil Brown).

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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 PreserveDuring 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.

41 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    Good article Dave. Your point “keep it or make it wild” versus “this isn’t wilderness anyway and we need motorized access” is very accurate. Bicyclists often are somewhere in the middle. The dilemma and debate seems strongest the larger and more improved the roads are. If you want the areas with major improved roads to become wilderness you really should get the plan to include ripping and discing the roads. I like my wilderness to not have old roads and the western high peaks, northern five ponds, and west canada wilderness roads still look like roads and really feel like primitive areas when you are on those ‘trails’. It is good that you point out the technical differences in the definitions we use.

  2. Bruce says:

    Several writers have said something like wilderness is a key to local economic success, and perhaps to some degree it is, but it’s not necessarily so.

    Last summer, I drove Blue Ridge Road from Newcomb to the Northway. I saw nothing that would lead one to believe Boreas Ponds if closed to motorized use, would be any sort of “boon” to the local economy. Or if open to most access for that matter. Economic advantage is measured in money spent, and I saw nothing which might encourage one to do more than drive in from somewhere, park, spend a day or weekend and then drive back.

    Boreas Ponds is not the high peaks, and there is no convenient Loj as a jumping off point.

    • Boreas says:


      You are right – you can’t just hang a sign on the Blue Ridge road and expect a significant economic impact. I am sure the access folks will promote their activities when the classification is over, and the wilderness folks will do the same. Well thought out promotion is key in any similar situation. It all depends on the foresight and planning of the various communities nearby.

      No, the BPW is not the HPW, but it will abut it and can provide alternate approaches to peaks that are quite a hump from the ADK Loj. Many people use Elk Lake Lodge (private) and/or Upper Works for this purpose now. There is also potential for several nice hiking/skiing routes & loops on the BPW lands.

      Regardless of how the classification shakes out, the communities will only benefit if they approach the situation properly and not just look at the BPW as a simple resource to be exploited.

  3. Real Cerise says:

    HIKING in protected areas looking increasingly bad.

    ………………Hiking, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy.
    Nature-based, outdoor recreation is the most widespread human land use in protected areas and is permitted in more than 94 percent of parks and reserves globally. Inspiring an estimated 8 billion visits per year to these areas, outdoor recreation is assumed to be compatible with conservation. Increasingly, however, negative effects of recreation on wildlife are being reported.
    Protected areas include national parks, wilderness areas, community conserved areas, nature reserves and privately-owned reserves.
    “People generally assume that recreation activities are compatible with conservation goals for protected areas,” said Courtney Larson, lead author of the study and a graduate student in CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. “However, our review of the evidence across wildlife species and habitat types worldwide suggests otherwise.”

    Read more at:

  4. Paul says:

    “To choose Wilderness is to choose hope and management”

    To say that lands that are designated as wild forest are hopeless and un-managed seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

  5. Dave Gibson says:

    You make a good point. I should have explained what I meant by “choose hope and management.” My choice of words could have been more precise. Acquiring and designating land as Forest Preserve and “forever kept as wild forest land” (Art. XIV) is a hopeful, promissory act from one generation to the next, regardless of its classification.

  6. ScottyB says:

    You are correct that; “untrammeled” and “untrampled” are not the same. Untrammeled means unrestrained or ungated….not fenced. It means anyone can enter and use the Forest Preserve?

    I guess it could imply nature as unrestrained or users as unrestrained (no gate). It is a funny word. Perhaps there is a legal definition?

  7. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: “To choose Wilderness is to choose hope and management.”
    To say that lands that are designated as wild forest are hopeless and un-managed seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

    There is a marked difference between ‘Wilderness’ & ‘Wild Forest’ classifications. In a ‘Wilderness’ classification it states “where man himself is a visitor” not man with loud,destructive,polluting machines. A ‘Wild forest’ classification allows some use of loud, destructive, polluting machines which are found everywhere human’s inhabit enough is enough already!

    With a ‘Wilderness’ classification there is most certainly a sense of hope whereas with a ‘Wild Forest’ classification it could go the other way Paul.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, I am lucky enough to spend my summers on the lake in the middle of the 80,000 acre Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. I can only get to my camp via a “destructive polluting machine” (a boat with a 4 cycle outboard engine, there is no road access). I assume that you don’t own anything like that or a car? It is one of the most well managed and beautiful (IMHO) places on earth. I dare say those of us that are lucky enough to enjoy it are also quite hopeful that it will continue to stay that way. It doesn’t need to be designated Wilderness in all cases.

      • Charlie s says:

        Well managed and beautiful! No road access you say. Coincidence? Your hopeful that your little paradise stays the way it is Paul. What if of a sudden there were road access and droves of people started coming in? What if more boats started noisily taking up more of that quiet space where you now enjoy your summer vacations Paul?How lucky would you feel then? How hopeful would you be? With a Wild Forest designation the tables are left open and as you well know nothing last forever!

        The world’s population is expanding rather rapidly and one can only imagine what the few paradise’s that remain will be like in just a few short years what with everyone and their zombie neighbors having more and more of that malady ‘Nature deficit disorder’ overwhelming them.

        What if your little paradise was Boreas Ponds Paul.There are some whose desire it is to see cars allowed right up to those jewels,or a mile away which is too darned close.Some people want motorboats on the water because we just have to have our motorboats in every place possible else we’ll go into our hissy fits.

        Of course I own a car and I must say I just love my road trips twelve times a year. I would never own a boat….too much work for one. Plus I’m not into the noise they emit. And what does IMHO mean?

        • Boreas says:

          In My Humble Opinion

        • Paul says:

          Charlie, we have been over this before. The Adirondacks has more protected land now than at any time in the past. The amount of constitutionally protected land in the Adirondacks is increasing. It is increasing by tens of thousands of acres with this one parcel alone. Here we are simply talking about allowing a small stretch of a few miles of road to remain where many many miles of currently traveled roadways are going to be shut down and gone forever.

    • Bruce says:

      Charlie S,

      Downplaying (or ignoring) the well-documented damage and negative affects on wildlife in Wilderness areas caused by amenities for hikers…trails, lean-tos, bridges, boardwalks and the sometimes resulting overuse, while at the same time maximizing condemnation of anything with a motor is a bit ingenuous.

      • Boreas says:


        Most of us are aware that any human incursions into the backcountry has its effects on nature. But what some of us are saying is that the effects can be minimized with usage limits. It isn’t likely taxpayers would pay for lands that would allow no usage – basically posted land with no admittance – so that is off the table. But all uses are additive.

        Motor vehicle usage by permit for individuals with limited mobility, snowmobile usage via connector trail, and bicycle/horse usage on hardened roads allows a higher level of usage with more added impact. Adding unlimited motorized usage, albeit restricted to hardened roads, adds easy access for all, but adds significantly more impact. Many of us feel that general access by motor vehicles adds an impact that is unnecessary to enjoy the resource. And many also feel motorized vehicles detract from the uniqueness of a motor-free area.

        If BP were an island unto itself elsewhere in the Park, I do not believe we would be seeing this amount of interest in the final classification, as a Wild Forest or Primitive classification may make more sense in a different setting. But when the parcel is nestled in an area with significant parcels already classified as Wilderness – either abutting or in close proximity – we have a unique opportunity to increase the size of this wilderness island that is not possible elsewhere in the Park. While none of us expect the APA to classify the entire BP parcel as Wilderness, many of us are trying our hardest to ensure the most sensitive areas of the parcel are given maximum protection, not maximum access.

      • Charlie S says:

        I have not downplayed nor do I ignore the negative effects caused by the accommodations for hikers. Wherever people go corruption follows. I am very well aware of the damage ‘some’ people,who walk into the Adirondack wilderness,do. Or ‘some’ people who drive into the wilderness such as the Moose River Recreation Area. The savage in ‘some’ people is pitiful but what are you gonna do… people will be people. Some of us are more civil of course.
        Anything with a motor can complicate matters by far Bruce… it driven by a savage or by one with a ton of civility about them. This is a given we need not be rocket scientist to prove (or disprove) this.

  8. Byron says:

    I rode into the Boreas on a gorgeous day in late October. After ditching my bike at the four corners, I headed up the east side to find White Lily Pond. As I walked I wondered why I was walking, since the road was well developed and about to be used by some of the six pickups that hunters at the camp had idling for the day’s hunt. Oh well, the sign said NO BICYCLES.
    When I reached the convergence on the north side, it was clear that the east perimeter was much more developed and used extensively by tractor trailers, which could pass each other easily in either direction. After the large header at the northern tip, the roadway becomes more pickup and skidder oriented, with recovery well under way. The same is true for the west side and track toward White Lily Pond.
    However, due to the level of construction on the east side, the chance for natural recovery of this portion of the roadway is at least several decades from now without further human endeavor. This brings us to the discussion of Wilderness and being “trammeled”, which is a frequent reference made.
    Rather than regurgitate the definition from the Wilderness Act, I’ll simply point out why I feel this area no longer meets the definition of wilderness in relation to that definition. But first, I will point out the definition of trammel, as I feel that it is important to the discussion and not readily used by most people in conversation. I’ll use the verb form since we’re talking about action rather than naming a device.
    “To hinder the activity or free movement of.”
    In relation to the Wilderness Act definition of Wilderness:
    – Where construction has taken place, the works of man clearly dominate the landscape, as the roadway was developed for transportation.
    – The infrastructure exist not by natural forces,
    – The imprint of man’s work is substantially noticeable in the vicinity of the ponds by the encircling roads, the impaired condition being obvious.
    In portions of this once wilderness the earth and its community of life has indeed been trammeled by man.
    Some feel those who should now be trammeled are those who purchased the land. Rather, I believe this is a prime opportunity to make public land available to more public, not less. By adopting APA alternative 1 this would be accomplished. As the novelty wears off as it did with the Essex Chain, use will lower to those few who have a purpose for using the land as it is best suited; boating, hunting, fishing, camping, bicycling, horseback riding and other nature/wildlife related recreational activities. It’s a resource we purchased as part of the Adirondack Park, let’s use it as such rather than trammel the many who recreate outdoors.

    • Boreas says:

      Again, we see the argument that if the state doesn’t buy pristine wilderness, it shouldn’t be given the protection of a Wilderness designation. My understanding is the idea of a Wilderness designation is (depending on its location, sensitivity, features, etc.) simply to put a given parcel under the highest protection. Period. If it has skyscrapers and mine pits it can still be classified as Wilderness to protect it from further damage and allow it to revert back to wilderness in the future. It doesn’t have to continue as a mine with skyscrapers just because they existed in the past or exist today. My understanding is that the classification system was set up to decide how we want to use or protect the land in the FUTURE, not how it was used in the past or how it appears today. But perhaps I am wrong.

      • ScottyB says:

        So the point is we can classify midtown manhattan wilderness? Ok but of course that would make no sense. I am confused by your statements. Also I think the classification must address recent and current conditions. If the then the entire state could be wilderness. I am all for wilderness but this thinking seems odd.

        • Boreas says:

          None of the Park should be wilderness because none of it was wilderness before the state took it over? It was a decimated, logged and burned over mess. Luckily the people of NYS put aside the lands and let them heal (and to preserve an important watershed for NYC). People mistakenly think the park has always been this way – heavily wooded with fairly clean water. In reality, much of it looked like ground zero of a nuclear attack just a few generations ago.

          Many of us feel there are currently plenty of places in NYS that are easily accessible for recreation. There isn’t a lot of protected wilderness and we are always looking for an opportunity to add to that acreage. Perhaps I am a bit odd, but not entirely alone.

          • ScottyB says:

            I think your thought that Manhattan could be classified as wilderness makes a mockery of the process. It will loose support not gain it. It may be a fun idea but it isn’t a serious idea. You have better positioning statements than this.

            Also the notion that we can produce wilderness whenever and wherever we like runs against the idea that we are lacking it and this special place is some sort of last chance.

            • Boreas says:


              I never mentioned Manhattan – perhaps you are arguing with yourself? I did however mention skyscrapers and mines as examples of extreme previous activities and structures by way of an illustration or example. I thought most readers would get that. FYI, a huge mine surrounded by beautiful land is definitely present right next door to the BP parcel.

              • ScottyB says:

                The mine you note is not being classified wilderness….no such thing is being proposed.

                • Boreas says:

                  Of course not – at least not yet. But what if it was? After all, it is in a great spot for increasing wild lands. You seem to be saying that NYS would have no other option than to let it continue as an open mine with RR corridors simply because that is what was there previously. Land CAN be re-purposed for the future. Previous use should not strictly mandate future use. We are re-purposing BP. Otherwise, we should continue logging it.

                • Boreas says:

                  Another way to think of it is literally WHAT is present and HOW it was used before. What was present were logged lands with some good logging roads. Also present were several leased camps (scheduled for demolition in a few years), the F-P lodge – demolished as the ink was drying on the contracts – and Gulf Brook Road with a LOCKED gate allowing very limited access to leaseholders and F-P people.

                  Clearly, DEC/APA didn’t want the structures to remain. Why not?? Were they looking toward a stricter classification? Also, the gate question. The gate restricted entrance to the parcel significantly over the years. As long as the gate has been there, it has helped protect the parcel by limiting usage to perhaps 100-200 people (?) – spread out over the various seasons.

                  So, to use the logic that we need to classify based on current or previous man-made “improvements” the road, at most, should remain locked and only allow a very few people over the course of a year – possibly a very few permitted individuals only. It wouldn’t mean taking down the gate for access for all as some are espousing.

                  So, however you want to look at it, the APA/DEC/Towns have a vision in mind and a simple thing like land classification isn’t going to stand in the way of whatever outcome they foresee for the land. They are throwing a bone to the Wilderness people, but seem to fully intend to have much more access to the ponds by motor vehicles than in the past.

                  • John Warren says:

                    You’re correct in the general, but it was a willing seller and and a willing buyer. The seller, TNC, is who gets to decide what happens with the leases et al.

                    • Boreas says:

                      Thanks for the clarification. I assumed there was some coordination between the parties when negotiating the sale.

  9. Charlie s says:

    “it can still be classified as Wilderness to protect it from further damage and allow it to revert back to wilderness in the future.”

    Some people just don’t see too far ahead Boreas. Matter of fact few of us do….is why there’s more and more of a struggle to protect what is left of our natural resources,of the species that remain within them. We lost the beautiful black rhino a few years ago because some people saw more value in their ivory horns than they did the animal itself. Which is the same thing as seeing more value in the pleasures of a motorboat than it is the tranquility of the body of water it is wreaking havoc upon. The same thing as seeing more value in a road going into a forest than the forest itself.Very different results would have occurred with the black rhino if the conservation measures that were suggested would had been implemented.Fifty years from now we might be saying the same thing about the Adirondacks and some of these places like Boreas Ponds that some of us are endeavoring to protect now….we’ll be singing that old song “Too little too late.”

    • Boreas says:

      Yeah, now congress wants to get rid of federal lands. Pinheads. At least they can’t touch the ADKs. NYS may end up with the only protected wilderness in the country!

      • Paul says:

        I guess letting the states decide what to do with their public land is a good way to go?

        • Boreas says:

          State land yes, Federal land no. Federal land was put aside for the sake of the entire country, not individual states.

          • Paul says:

            Our state land is protected for the entire country – actually for anyone. We here in NYS pay for it. Many trail heads in the Adirondacks often have more Canadian cars than US.

            • Boreas says:

              Indeed. We happen to live in a reasonable state. There are 49 others that don’t have constitutionally-protected public lands. The current federal lands belong to ME and everyone else in the country. I don’t trust individual states to be as diligent about protecting the lands as NYS has – nor does the federal government. The federal government has more money and power to protect the lands, albeit imperfect. There would be nothing to prevent some or all of the states from selling off the land to developers or allowing resource removal, which is what I really believe is behind the idea. With the teeth being pulled by the EPA, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the end game being played here.

        • Ryan Finnigan says:

          “I guess letting the states decide what to do with their public land is a good way to go?”

          The public land you are referring to is owned by the Federal government and has never been owned by any state in which it lies. The citizens of the United States own the land, not only the citizens of the state where the public land is located.

        • Charlie S says:

          Depends on who’s in power Paul!

      • Charlie S says:

        Isn’t it odd how those who swing clockwise in this country always seem to go against all that is good Boreas? They go against protecting our natural resources,against woman’s rights,against the poor,against minorities, against healthcare for all meanwhile they get the best healthcare our tax dollars can buy them. They go against every thing that is seemingly good for the common man and woman. A coldness emanates from just about every one I know….which is not to say they’re all bad people they’re just who they are and I’ll be darned if they can’t get past their wallets or see any thing other than their small view of the world. I’ve heard some of them say more than once, ‘You cant fix stupid.’ The irony of that statement! Every time I hear it I wholeheartedly agree.

        They want to get rid of Federal lands you say. That probably has something to do with the broccoli that grows under it. Truly I believe there is no hope for humanity so long as the Tories are in control.

  10. Charlie s says:

    Norman J. Van Valkenburgh! I have been encouraged to pull out some of his literature once again. I have admired this man’s style in writing for a number of years now….his words reach out to me. His two volume ‘Old Stone Walls Catskill Land and Lore’ are excellent books which I am going to leave out and go through beginning tonight. Thank you for mentioning this author’s name David. Happy New Year to you too!

  11. Jim S. says:

    I follow all the articles on land classification with passion. The one constant that I notice is that the vast majority of people commenting seem to be more interested in personal or economic benefits rather than protecting the resource.

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