While applauding the state’s efforts to boost tourism, protect clean water and fight climate change, on Wednesday the Adirondack Council called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to protect the Adirondack Forest Preserve against overuse, all-terrain vehicle trespass and other threats.
The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization also called for more funding for invasive species controls, coupled with mandatory boat-washing for all boats launched in Adirondack lakes.
In addition, the Council called for enhanced funding for the park’s visitor interpretive centers, more staff at the Adirondack Park Agency, a commitment to fund an Adirondack Diversity Initiative and a comprehensive three-year, acid rain/climate/invasive species research initiative.
The organization also called on the Governor and Legislature to support new money given to the Olympic Regional Development Authority for new facilities on “forever wild” Forest Preserve lands for projects that honor and comply with current constitutional protections. While the Adirondack Council’s list of funding requests for the wilderness and communities of the Adirondacks was long, it sought no funding for itself. The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization. The Council doesn’t solicit and won’t accept government funding or taxpayer supported donations of any kind. It seeks state funding for projects that will help the park, not the organization, explained Kevin Chlad, Director of Government Relations.
Chlad began his testimony by describing the Adirondack Park to the Joint Budget Committee, which was conducting a hearing on environmental budget priorities at the Capitol. Some of the legislators are newly elected members from New York City and Long Island who may never have visited the Adirondacks. Chlad noted that the park is both the largest collection of protected wilderness in the Northeast and home for 130,000 year-round residents in 130 small communities.
Thanks to recent tourism promotion efforts, more than 12 million people are visiting our Adirondack Park every year, up 2.4 million from 2001. In that time, the staffing and resources have not increased, despite this increase in use. New York State Rangers are now averaging nearly one search and rescue mission per day, often involving many Rangers at one time, when someone has an injury and needs to be carried out.
While news stories have highlighted busy weekends in which Cascade Mountain in the High Peaks Wilderness hosted more than 1,000 hikers on its summit, this problem is far more widespread than a couple of hot spots in that region. We celebrate success in the growing popularity of our Park, but the impacts of this overcrowding trend are being felt, with negative impacts to wildlife and water quality, greater risk for those who visit, and a declining wilderness character…
The Governor has proposed adding five operations employees in support of a visitors’ center at the former Frontier Town at Exit 29 on the Northway. Ultimately, our state Forest Rangers, land managers and planners need the Governor’s help in preserving the waters and wildlands of the Park, with additional staffing, non-personal service funding and capital funding.
The Council’s other budget testimony highlights included:
Support for $10-billion Green Future Fund, urging the Legislature to dedicate to the Adirondack and Catskill parks $500 million of the $2 billion being set aside for “Parks, Public Lands, and Resiliency;”
A request to redesign and rebuild 130 miles of poor trail in the popular High Peaks Wilderness Area;
Support for at least the $33.7 million the Governor proposed for State Land Stewardship funding in the Environmental Protection Fund to support professional trail crews, summit stewards, Student Conservation Association work, and the construction and maintenance of the state facilities and recreational infrastructure;
Support for the Governor’s plan to increase NY Works funding for the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to $55.25 million, up $15.25 million this year to improve access to public lands, rehabilitate campgrounds, upgrade recreational facilities and dams, restore wetlands and repair lands damaged by overuse;
A request for a general ban on all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use on the Forest Preserve to protect it from the damage caused by what Forest Rangers call “the most problematic activity” on state lands;
Support for efforts to combat climate change through a pledge to deliver 100 percent clean power by 2040, including a Climate Action Council comprised of Agency heads and other workforce, environmental justice, and clean energy experts, to develop a “Climate Action Roadmap;”
A request to consider carefully whether wood-based biofuels are truly carbon-neutral and whether incentives to use them will have an adverse impact on the park’s overall forest health, wild character and ability to adsorb carbon from the air;
A request that the Adirondack Park Agency work with all stakeholders to update its definition of clear-cutting and do a cumulative impact analysis of such cutting on the wild forest character of the park;
Support for an additional $2.5 billion in clean water funding, plus a request to create a $100-million Adirondack Clean Water Fund to assist communities that lack the resources to repay state loans;
A request to eliminate the 25-percent cap on state Environmental Facilities Corp grant support for local clean water projects;
A request for $6.4 million over three years for a multi-partner comprehensive study of thousands of Adirondack lakes and ponds, as a follow-up to a 1985 comprehensive lake survey, to determine how conditions have changed as acid rain has declined and climate change has accelerated, while invasive species infestations and road salt infiltration have become problems;
Support for a proposed $2.5 million in funding for the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership subcategory in the Open Space Account of the Environmental Protection Fund;
Support for an increase in funding to combat invasive species from $13.3 million to $16 million;
Support for appropriations of $180,000 for Paul Smith’s College and $120,000 for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, for their management of the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Centers;
A request for $250,000 so the Adirondack Diversity Initiative may conduct six diversity training sessions per year, grow the number of affiliate groups and boost the diversity of park visitors;
A request for two additional staff at the Adirondack Park Agency (from 54 to 56; was 72 a decade ago) to conduct long-range planning, site visits and permit reviews, community and applicant outreach and enforcement of regulations; and,
Support for $70 million in new facilities and construction at Olympic Regional Development Authority venues, as long as they comply with the “Forever Wild” clause of the state’s Constitution.