Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Viewpoint: Require APA To Track Climate Data, Trends

APA Building in Ray Brook NYHow has the Adirondack Park Agency fared under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 executive budget proposals? The question hasn’t received any media attention for obvious reasons. It’s a mini state agency, budget-wise.

With a proposed operating budget of $5 million – just .004 percent of the proposed state budget of $137 billion – APA hardly raises fiscal eyebrows.  Budgeted for 54 full time staff, APA employs .03 percent of all state employees.

Yet, the Adirondack Park comprises one-fifth the acreage of New York State. It’s constitutionally protected wild lands are honored as a National Landmark and International Biosphere Reserve. It’s subject to one of the country’s earliest and largest regional land use planning laws. But the Park has just one legislatively authorized planning agency, the APA, congruent with all six-million acres.

So, APA’s annual budget should be more of a big deal. APA’s 2020 operating budget gains a little from 2019, but not for new staff. Its total budget gained $1 million, but that is exclusively reserved for “capital funding in order to renovate its historic headquarters in Ray Brook” according to the executive budget proposal. So, agency program capacity and employment remain flat from last year. And the year before that.

Over time, as measured by its budget, APA’s share of the state’s budget and staffing capacity is on a slow decline. When Governor Cuomo came into office in 2011, APA’s operating budget was $6.3 million for 56 full time staff. The agency has lost $1 million and several staff since then.

Going further back to 1998, APA’s budget was $3.5 million, but the total state budget then was just about half of what it is today, or $72 billion, so APA’s share of the total state budget in 1998 was larger than it is today. APA employed 60 full time staff in 1998 versus 54 today.

When I started out with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1987, I recall APA chairs and executive directors going to Albany to seek new funds for new initiatives. They were not always successful, of course.

After 1990, APA executive director Bob Glennon led efforts to revamp and update the Adirondack Park Agency Act. APA chairman Woody Cole got new funding in 1988 to staff the Visitor Interpretive Centers in Newcomb and Paul Smith’s. The next APA chairman, John Collins, sought funds to increase the agency’s efficiency, accelerate its rule-making and create its computer data base.

In the late 1990s, APA reasonably asked to add several staff for enforcing its rules across the Park’s six million acres, from 3 to 5. Over time, enforcement staff have increased to the present seven, a significant improvement from 20 years ago, but still far short of what is needed over such a large area.

Now, climate change is altering so much of what has come to define the Adirondack Park – its long snowy winters, boreal zones, frozen lakes, boggy meandering rivers, and 92 towns, hamlets and thousands of residents bordering miles of wild and scenic rivers and trout streams.

One can hope that the sole regional planning agency for the Park would be interested in gaining staff to keep track of climate change trends, to act as a clearinghouse of data measuring and assessing cumulative impacts, and reporting back to all of us annually. Not so. The last trends analysis efforts made by the APA began around 1999, ended in 2001 and did not resume.

It’s great that APA occasionally invites regional climate scientists working here to report at one of their meetings, as the agency did last winter, but that’s trivial compared with what the agency could be doing. APA employs a lot of scientific talent on its own (very small) Resource Analysis and Scientific Services staff.

Yet, the rich just got richer. With its 3,000 employees and proposed $145 million budget, DEC is proposed to gain 47 new positions to carry out the climate change responsibilities under the Climate and Community Protection Act of 2019. But DEC’s legislated role in the Park is diffused into two regional offices, not concentrated like the APA’s, which is supposed to be focused on long-range planning for the Adirondack Park as a whole.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Particularly during our era of climate change, with severe weather events affecting the Adirondack Park the state must be able to establish and track critical environmental thresholds, trends and indicators of change in one of the most important parks in the world, the headwaters of five of our state’s largest rivers.

Governor Cuomo could issue an executive order to require that APA and DEC, working with the Park’s colleges and other fine research institutions, collaborate as one park-wide clearinghouse for both data and analysis. He should require the identification of which indicators of change are most important to measure, what trends are occurring, at what rate, and task APA to issue annual reports on the state of the Adirondack Park’s climate indicators, trends, and mitigation efforts.

(The Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (and others) provide a model for how to do this. LTRPA is required every four years to update its thresholds for attaining environmental goals and standards for the Lake Tahoe Basin.)

Photo of APA Building in Ray Brook NY.

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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.

11 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Good points!

  2. James M Schaefer says:

    Dave is right, and the State is showing a blind eye to the great potential for research on the numerous ecosystems within the Park. Interactive studies of air, water, flora and fauna should be a high priority, given the increasing concern about the planet. And the Adirondacks are a perfect place for investigations. Fortunately there are some institutions inside the Park that can provide valuable information, for example the University at Albany’s Observatory atop Whiteface Mtn, serviced by the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center is in a unique position to provide current and historic weather data. Other groups might be encouraged, through private/public grants and contracts. to generate studied towards a better understanding of complex interactions happening right under our nose.
    In short, here is a great opportunity for the APA to jump start climate studies in the unique legislative and cultural setting we call “the Adirondack Park.”

  3. Balian the Cat says:

    I can clearly remember a time when an idea like this was possible. When we conducted ourselves via level headed collaboration where good ideas and thoughtful processes usually carried the day. Dave’s suggestion is without a downside. Those who would argue that the economics involved should be convinced by the long view – if we don’t spend the money on this now, the very things that make this area unique and desirable will vanish and their won’t be “other more important things” to spend the money on as what draws people to the area will be gone. Unfortunately, I am not sure we live in the level headed paradigm any more. People care more about which news network you align yourself with than they do about taking care of each other and the world we live in. Governments balance everything to the point of paralysis. I am half surprised that this thread hasn’t already been hijacked by someone foaming at the mouth to deny the need for climate science at all. I firmly believe we are at a tipping point, both with the climate and our society as well – and I worry about the direction we are leaning in.

    • James M Schaefer says:

      Please do not be so cavalier about those of us that question the long term climate crisis. My support of David was for using collaborative studies to determine facts. I think they will indeed show change but my bet is on gradual adaptation not the 10 year Armageddon. No foam here. After all it was my father who helped establish the ASRC mountain-top observatory, but like him, I choose to gather data and conduct repeatable analysis of trends. The tipping point is also the attitude of using our minds to seek understanding of these complex ecosystem issues. And like many, I think the Adirondacks are a prefect, pristine place to gently look for answers.
      And I remember his stories about how the Olympic Committee in 1932 had to bring in box cars full of snow from Old Forge to carry out some of the outdoor events in the Lake Placid “snow shadow” areas they used. Both ’32 and ’33 were snow famine years. That was NOT global warming then, just a natural phenomena that everyone worked out for the success of the event. Gradual change, I would think.

  4. Scott says:

    It seems to me more appropriate for the state’s lead environmental agency to track climate change than for a regional “park” regulatory agency to do that. “Yes , the rich just got richer”?

    • rumrum says:

      LATimes Jan 16th 1932….”Ahead of the 1932 Winter Olympics, there was no snow at Lake Placid, and it was 66 degrees in New York City.
      Rain today wiped away at the last vestiges of snow from this village’s internationally famous bobsled course, causing more grey hairs for members of the Olympic Winter Sports Committee. The Olympic winter games are scheduled to start in a few weeks, but neither snow nor ice, the committee began to wonder how the events could be conducted.”
      so when we do actually put in place measures to start tracking this stuff make sure any graphs about temps start before these 1932 dates!

  5. Boreas says:

    Can relevant data also be obtained from Mt. Washington? Do the trends there follow Whiteface?

  6. adkresident says:

    rumrum said it, in 1932 there was little snow, 1980 Olympics same issue.
    This “climate change” is just a hoax to get more money for “research”.

    • rumrum says:

      and what happened inbetween those dates? being disengenuous is not as good as being ignorant. which is it for you?

  7. roger dziengeleski says:

    There are only so many tax dollars. Spending on data collection doesn’t lead to actionable decisions. We already know green house gas emissions from use of geologic fossil fuel stores results in atmospheric green house gas increases. We know keeping geologic fossil fuels in the ground and increasing forest acres are actions which may reduce atmospheric green house gas emissions. To a large extent this requires massive life style changes from society (living smaller) but life style changes are not likely. Doing more data recording is another way of feeling like something is being done while avoiding harder actions. Please, spend my tax dollars more wisely than suggested in this article.

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