A coalition of Adirondack conservation organizations is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to support environmental agency spending and capital investments that protect clean water, preserve open space, fight climate change, and ensure visitor safety during the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn.
Environmental spending stimulates the Adirondack economy, a region predominantly dependent upon outdoor recreation and tourism. Trails and campsites have been overflowing this year with people looking for a safe place to recreate during the pandemic. This has resulted in a record number of search-and-rescue missions, and a notable increase in human waste and trash along trails and parking lots. Environmental spending also protects natural resources and visitor safety from increased visitation.
“It has been shown over and over that New York State gains when it invests in the land, waters, wildlife and people of the Adirondack Park,” said David Gibson, Managing Partner for Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “Pitting this regional economy against its environment has never worked because it’s a false choice. The two are thoroughly intertwined. New investments in our Forest Rangers, forest and trail stewardship, conservation design of development and clean water are more than made up through recreational spending, part- and full-time residency, education and research.”
“The public Forest Preserve has seen unprecedented high recreational use this year, from the mountains around Lake George to the High Peaks to Rondaxe Mountain in Old Forge. During the COVID pandemic outdoor recreation was a safe activity that provided emotional relief as the beauty and power of nature helped tens of thousands of people and families through these trying times,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. “The Environmental Protection Fund supports land protection in New York, and is a vital piece New York’s environmental spending. The overcrowding and high use showed us that we need more Forest Preserve lands like the 36,000-acre Whitney Park that is up for sale right now. Whitney Park was listed in the original EPF law in 1994 and have been at the top of New York’s land protection priority list ever since. In our hour of need the Forest Preserve proved indispensable this year and we need to make sure that the Forest Preserve is strengthened by key purchases to be enjoyed by current and future generations.”
Additional funding was dedicated in this year’s state budget with the intention of ramping up efforts to address overuse around the Adirondacks. Visitation has continued to increase despite the closure of the Canadian border. Additional funding is needed for additional Forest Rangers and Assistant Forest Rangers, trailhead and summit stewards, trail repair and construction projects, and more, the groups said.
“New Yorkers have flocked northward seeking safe recreation during the pandemic,” said Michael Barrett, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Those with less experience have learned, some the hard way, that there are other great risks associated with traveling in the Wilderness unprepared. Forest Rangers conduct more than one search and rescue operation per day on average in our state, most of which occur in the Adirondacks. Our understaffed Rangers led the initial COVID-19 response, are assisting with wildfires out west, and oftentimes leave one rescue-in-progress to begin another on busy weekends. They need our help.”
Covid-19 has stood as the primary threat to public health this year, but other environmental threats have continued.
The organizations urged Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders not to turn a blind eye to other public health threats while dealing with this virus. Climate change and water pollution have not paused during the COVID crisis. The Governor and legislative leaders have shown leadership on these fronts, they said, adding that this leadership must continue to make progress. There is money already approved in the budget and the state should get it out the door to give the Adirondack economy a boost, they said.
Other major areas of concern expressed by Adirondack organizations have been centered on racial justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. National news items have focused attention on racial prejudice and incidents that occurred in the Adirondacks this year. The Adirondack Diversity Initiative — An effort funded by the Environmental Protection Fund — seeks to combat racism and foster inclusivity in the park’s 130 small, rural communities.
“In addition to the ongoing pandemic, our country has continued to struggle for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. This struggle has taken place across the United States, including the Adirondack Park,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “The Adirondack Diversity Initiative, funded by the State’s Environmental Protection Fund, has taken up important work towards fostering a more welcoming and inclusive Adirondack Park. We all need to continue to do more to make the park more welcoming to all.”
Environmental funding supports a diverse array of projects and programs in the Adirondacks that preserve and enhance a quality of life for residents and a tourism experience for those who visit. In challenging economic times, this funding is needed more than ever.
Adirondack groups agree that State environmental staffing cannot afford to be cut in these challenging economic times. The Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation were disproportionately cut during the last recession, and have not been restored. Their job has grown with clean water projects, fighting climate change, rescuing record numbers of injured hikers, and more.
Crowds of hikers in the high peaks of the Adirondacks on Columbus Day weekend 2016. Photo by Nancie Battaglia