The Adirondack Park’s success is “threatened.”
The Adirondack Council’s annual State of the Park report has a gloomy and foreboding cover featuring storm clouds gathering above a mountain summit.
That’s because the Adirondack Park is a national treasure whose future success is clouded by an approaching storm of threats.
Decades of success in the Adirondacks are threatened by acid rain and smog from the Midwest impacting the forests, waters and communities of the park, due to lax Trump administration enforcement of clean air rules.
Newly protected public lands could be compromised if proposed intensive use and motorized recreation proposals are approved. A proposed rail road junkyard could damage local water quality, as well as the park’s wild character. Successful policy prioritizing natural resource protection is now being tested.
Meanwhile, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to expand the High Peaks Wilderness to include the strongest protections for Boreas Ponds remain unrealized.
In addition, powerful forces are aligning themselves to promote a constitutional convention that threatens the greatest and most effective forest conservation law in the world – the ‘forever wild’ clause of the NYS Constitution (Article XIV, Section 1).
All of these threats come at a time when we should be celebrating the Adirondack Park’s 125th birthday, and recent positive Cuomo administration actions, not lamenting the escalating threats to precious natural resources and wild character.
Despite these threats, it is also a time to celebrate how far the park had progressed since it was first created and count some recent successes as well.
We look back and applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State for leadership, record funding ($2.5 billion) for clean water infrastructure, a commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, combating invasive species, authorizing a $300 million Environmental Protection Fund for the second consecutive year and record investment in communities.
There is much that Adirondack advocates have applauded as officials celebrated the 125th anniversary of the creation of the Adirondack Park in 1892. The park contains millions of acres of restored forests and waters, whose purity and wildlife are protected by the strongest conservation law in the world. Iconic Adirondack loons, once rare, are common again. Heritage trout, moose and bald eagle populations are rebounding. The Park economy is stronger than in years.
The Adirondack Council is an independent, non-partisan, not-for- profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of New York’s 9,300-square-mile Adirondack Park – the largest park in the contiguous United States.
The Council doesn’t accept government grants or taxpayer-supported donations of any kind. It has been publishing its State of the Park Report since 1986.
State of the Park 2017-18 is a 24-page, illustrated report that analyzes more than 100 actions and decisions by local, state and federal officials over the past year. Each is rated “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” along with an explanation of how each helped or harmed the Adirondack Park. It is available free online at http://bit.ly/2yG9Rkp.
For the first time, the Council also published an online addendum to State of the Park, reviewing dozens of important issues that didn’t fit into the 24 pages of the printed report.
Sections of the report containing addition information are marked with instructions on how to access the addendum online.
On major, park-wide issues, State of the Park 2017-18 contains three “thumbs up” and four “thumbs down” ratings. Leading the thumbs up on the more positive side, state government went out of its way to Help Communities with grants and loans for a variety of purposes; Combat Water Pollution with grants and loans for new infrastructure; and, Fund Conservation. Earning “thumbs down” were the priorities of Expand Wilderness; Protect Forests and Wildlife; Address Threats from Off-Road Vehicles and Strengthen Agencies.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo won praise for providing money for clean water grants to park communities and for his work on climate change. He received thumbs down for his reluctance to rebuild state agencies that lost key personnel in the great recession, and for not giving the Park Agency adequate staffing or the leeway it needs to make independent fact based decisions.
The Legislature won praise for approving a Constitutional Amendment that would create a small land bank for municipal health and safety projects on local roads that cross the Forest Preserve. It will be Proposal 3 on ballots statewide on Election Day (Nov. 7).
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the only state official to earn only thumbs up ratings in the report. The Attorney General won unanimous thumbs-up for his work challenging proposed roll-backs of federal rules cubing carbon emissions, acid rain and smog proposed by the Trump administration.
The Department of Transportation earned a “thumbs down” for discarding without notice 50 years of limited highway sign clutter on the Adirondack Northway by erecting business signs including signs advertising Geico Insurance.
Local Governments in the park’s 12 counties, 92 towns and 9 villages won praise for protecting water quality through new wastewater treatment facilities, plus programs to limit road salt contamination and invasive species infestations. A few local government officials received a “thumbs down” for being part of an effort advocating that motorized and/or mechanized access be allowed at Boreas Ponds. The 20,500-acre tract includes the largest and most sensitive potential new wilderness acreage to enter state ownership in more than a generation.
The Dept. of Environmental Conservation won praise for completing the Raquette Lake land swap authorized by a 2013 Constitutional amendment; and, for an interim recreation plan for Boreas Ponds that protects the interior of the property from public motorized uses. DEC earned a “thumbs down” for proposing management plans for public lands that emphasize intensive and mechanized recreation over the protection of public resources.
The Adirondack Park Agency earned a “thumbs down” for creating “the greatest public uproar in its history” when it failed to propose a wilderness classification (no mechanized travel) alternative for the Boreas Ponds and a buffer zone to the south. APA board member Chad Dawson of Syracuse won a “thumbs up” for pressing the DEC to stop proposing intensified recreational uses of the Forest Preserve without counting the ecological costs.
Some of the strongest criticism in the report was reserved for the Federal Government, where the Trump Administration put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the hands of fossil fuel advocates from Oklahoma; attempted to delay rules to curb mercury and other toxic emissions; cut the research budget for acid rain monitoring; and, said he would repeal the nation’s new greenhouse gas reduction program (Clean Power Plan) and back out of the Paris climate agreement. U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, and John Faso, R-Kinderhook, received a joint thumbs-up for bucking their party and voting against the GOP-backed Ozone Standards Implementation Act. The bill would delay approval of rules designed to save thousands of lives each year. U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, received a “thumbs up” for securing federal grants that will help park communities to rebuild aging water and sewer facilities.
The annual report on the state of the Adirondack Park not only celebrates past success and assesses threats, it makes suggestions for navigating forward. The report concludes with seven 2018 priorities. These are opportunities to address threats and protect the legacy of the Adirondacks for all.
In its Tip of the Hat section, the Council praised the work of other not-for-profit organizations for their efforts on behalf of the park, including Paul Smith’s College and its Adirondack Watershed Institute for coordinating invasive species controls in lakes across the park. More than 30 additional organizations and companies also won praise.
Founded in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose members live in all 50 United States. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, and vibrant, rural communities. The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.
Photo: 2017/2018 State of the Park Report.