Monday, October 26, 2020

Fort Drum training activities should take place on conservation easement lands

In June, the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, based at Fort Drum in Jefferson County, released a draft programmatic environmental assessment titled “Fort Drum 10th Mountain Combat Aviation Brigade and 10th Sustainment Brigade Mission and Training Activities” that outlined ambitious “air and land-based training activities” to possibly take place across nine counties in Upstate New York, including four (St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida, Herkimer) that are partially within the Adirondack Park, and two (Hamilton, Essex) that are entirely within the Adirondack Park Blue Line. (Henceforth the Programmatic Environmental Assessment will be referred to as the “PEA”).

The 10th Mountain Division is looking for remote sites and has identified the public Forest Preserve for use. These training sessions would combine air and on-ground motor vehicle activities and run for 14 days, with a 7-day clean-up period to “return the property to its condition prior to the exercise,” hence totaling 21 days each. The PEA calls for as many as six training actions a year, for a total of 126 days. Training camps require cleared areas of 5 to 10 acres, which must “be free of trees.” Such cleared areas are not widespread in the Forest Preserve in the six counties listed in the PEA, or anywhere else for that matter outside of agricultural lands, mostly outside the Park. The impacts associated with these events would be significant and long-term.

The PEA states:

Temporary off-post locations would be used in support of training scenarios, training aids (i.e., training emitters during division exercises for aviation detection), and temporary sustainment sites (e.g., providing food, water, sleep area, shower, fuel, communications). Sustainment sites would include tent structures for sleeping, meetings, meals, and maintenance of equipment. Other areas within the sustainment sites would include generators, fuel containers, fuel dispensing trucks, food kitchen, storage containers, and parking areas for supply trucks. (p FNSI-ii)

The PEA details a wide breadth of activities, but fails to show an understanding of important New York State environmental laws, the Adirondack Park, the 2.6-million-acre public Adirondack Forest Preserve, and basic management of Forest Preserve lands classified as “Wilderness” areas. Protect the Adirondacks finds the activities outlined in the PEA are best suited for State Forest areas outside the Adirondack Park, which are logged, or on state conservation easement lands, which are abundant in the western Adirondacks near Fort Drum. These state lands have large cleared areas for log landings and sorting, an extensive road system used by a range of different motor vehicles, and forests that are logged. These areas would provide remote and wild settings, yet are far from residences and popular public recreation opportunities.

The PEA does not discuss use of State Conservation Easement lands for training activities. These are lands where the state has purchased the development rights, which are basically extinguished, and limited public recreation rights, while the commercial forest management rights are held by a private landowner. Conservation easement lands are intensively logged. The air and ground training activities outlined in the PEA will have a major impact on wild places where they are staged in the North Country. These activities are best suited for managed forestlands, such as State Forests and State Conservation Easements, that have the road infrastructure and open clearings required. These areas are also remote from residential areas and possess extensive open space tracts of tens of thousands of acres. The large conservation easements north of Route 3 in St. Lawrence County may be suitable to the proposed activities detailed in the PEA. Use of conservation easement lands should be evaluated by the 10th Mountain Division.

There are major issues where the PEA fails to fully assess and evaluate the legal and ecological conditions of different lands within the Adirondack Park. Protect the Adirondacks has focused on the following three areas where the PEA failed to grapple with the legal issues involved.

Article 14/Forever Wild

The Adirondack Forest Preserve is protected by the State Constitution. Constitutional protections were provided to the Forest Preserve in Article 14, Section 1 at the 1894 Constitutional Convention (then Article 7, Section 7) and have remained unchanged ever since. The Constitutional protections for the Forest Preserve sets these lands apart from other public lands.

In the PEA there is only one mention of the State Constitution and its use is inaccurate: “Hamilton County lies entirely within the Adirondack Park and is the least populated county in New York. Because Hamilton County is located in the Adirondack Park, any development in the county is limited by the NYS Constitution, which protects the park land. Most of the park land is publicly owned. Hamilton County offers forested mountains, 77 major lakes, and countless plunging streams. The county has nine towns and one incorporated village. Tourism is the most important industry and the whole area is a favorite spot for vacationers and recreationalists.” Development in Hamilton County on private lands is regulated jointly by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and local governments.

Under the State Constitution, trees cannot be cut down or cleared to create a 5 to 10 acre clearing to facilitate the activities proposed by the 10th Mountain Division. PEA requires remote sites of 5 to 10 acres of open space in a forested setting with motor vehicle access, which are not available on the public Forest Preserve. The PEA states that the 5 to 10 acre training sites should be “Preferably grass, fields with few to no trees or shrubs.” There are very few such places, if any, in the Forest Preserve with “few to no trees.” Campers on the Forest Preserve must use only dead and downed wood for camp fires; no standing live or dead trees are allowed to be cut down. Campers are fined for cutting standing trees. There is also a significant body of case law that bars the “destruction” of trees on the Forest Preserve because the New York Constitution specifically protects Forest Preserve trees against destruction. Under the State Constitution, trees cannot be cut down or cleared to create a 5 to 10 acre clearings to facilitate the proposed training activities.

Wilderness Areas

There are nearly 1.2 million acres of Wilderness in the Adirondack Park and five of the six counties referenced in the PEA as being partly or entirely with the Park have Wilderness holdings. While the PEA references “wilderness” as existing in Herkimer and St. Lawrence counties (p 25) it fails to state that Wilderness is major land area in Essex, Hamilton, and Lewis counties. A search of the PEA only found two references to Wilderness lands.

Proposed Training Activities are Incompatible with Outdoor Recreation

The PEA states “Because training is temporary, any impacts to land use would be short-term in nature. Schools, churches, and populated areas would be avoided. It is recommended if parks and recreation areas are used, they are avoided during peak times (hunting, fishing, and boating seasons). Coordination with owner would occur prior to the start of training exercises. Impacts to land use would be adverse, short-term and minor as no permanent changes to designated land uses would be made.” This is a broad category. The Forest Preserve units in the six counties referenced in the PEA (St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida, Herkimer, Hamilton, Essex) are used by the public for outdoor recreation nearly continuously. In an average calendar year in New York, the fishing season begins on April 1st, with later start dates for different species. Some fishing seasons close in the fall, others continue through March 15th because of the popularity of winter ice fishing. Hunting seasons start in late September and run through December. Trapping seasons start in the fall and many run through the winter into March.

Outdoor public recreation intensifies in the spring in May with active hiking, camping, and mountain biking and runs deep into the fall. Winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and camping are also popular and run through the winter into late March. Snowmobiling is popular and begins at the end of hunting season in December and runs through the winter into March. In short, there are few times of the year that the proposed activities detailed in the PEA will not have negative impacts on land use, mostly on the hundreds of thousands who use the Forest Preserve each year for a variety of outdoor recreational activities.

Negative Noise Impacts

The PEA provides an analysis on “Noise” that could be generated by combined air and land training activities and states “Training exercises are short-term. Helicopter overflights associated with the training exercises would be infrequent and of a short duration. Aviators are instructed to avoid flyovers of residential areas, known wildlife refuges, and livestock. For areas where aviators takeoff, land, and hover, and during engine run-ups, receivers of noise may experience additional disturbances. The number and amount of disturbances will also be dependent on the number of aircraft involved in the training exercises. Therefore, noise impacts on human annoyance and domestic animals would be adverse, short-term, and range from negligible to minor. Noise impacts on wildlife would be adverse, short-term, and range from negligible to moderate.” While there is considerable information on noise generated by different helicopters and motor vehicles, the literature cited by the PEA on wildlife impacts is two decades old and not specifically related the terrain and habitat of the Northeast U.S. Moreover, there is little about noise intrusions into public Wilderness areas where quiet, interrupted only by the sounds of wild nature, dominates and is one of the virtues of Wilderness. Due to the limited amount of information in the PEA, it’s impossible to assess noise impacts from the training activities proposed. Much more information is necessary.

PEA Violates National Historic Register Protections for the Forest Preserve

The PEA states that “Known historic resources would be avoided. However, training exercises have the potential to impact unknown archaeological resources. BMPs [Best Management Practices] would be followed to ensure impacts to cultural resources remain minor. Impacts to cultural resources would be adverse, short- or long-term and minor to moderate.” The PEA fails to recognize that the Forest Preserve is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Clearly, the PEA should recognize this important fact. The Forest Preserve in New York was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Consider Use of Conservation Easement Lands

Conservation easement lands have grown to be an important part of the Adirondack Park landscape. The state has focused the majority of its land protection efforts for the last 25 years on acquiring over 750,000 acres of easement lands in the Adirondacks. I have always seen conservation easements as an important public policy that strategically invested state resources into protecting both the environment and economy of the Adirondacks and North Country. I’ve also always seen conservation easement lands as an important safety valve for the Forest Preserve because these lands have a road infrastructure and can facilitate public motorized recreational opportunities that are not suitable for the Forest Preserve. Ride your ATVs and cut your 25-foot-wide snowmobile trails on easement lands. The training activities outlined by the 10th Mountain Division are not appropriate for the Forest Preserve, but could be facilitated on conservation easement lands.

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Peter Bauer

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.

Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.




42 Responses

  1. John Jongen says:

    Peter, as a lifelong pacifist from the WW2 era I totally agree with your objection that the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army should not conduct military exercises in and above ADK parkland.

  2. Neither idea has merit and both should be opposed.

  3. john McCormick says:

    Should a protected/entitled minority be so selfless as to deny our troops the defenders of our freedoms the training they need to protect us in this uncertain world? I say NO! Do we what to lose Fort Drum and it’s economic worth to the North Country because of some hand wringing over some dead trees by folks who never leave there NY city couch ? Come on these are the same old saws/positions that are used to deny tax payer’s access to the tax payers land all the time! I for one can not stomach folks/organizations outside NYS sticking there nose into the business of NYS let them shoulder the heavy tax burden NYS residents carry if they want a place at the table to preach to us ! ps your vote is already stolen by the winner take all rule of the Electoral College again upstate abused by the down state interests.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      You are aware that it was the support of easterners that allowed for the establishment of the early National Parks, right? Often against the will of the curmudgeons who squatted there. Would it have been better to allow Yellowstone to be developed by the “defenders of our freedoms?” You might also note that the freedom to access pubic lands in a natural way is worth defending as well. ps the nations majority vote was completely stolen by the Electoral College in 2016. Did you rail against that?

    • Ishet Meponce says:

      well said John!

  4. Bob Bender says:

    My Dad with his best friend Paul Schaefer was very involved with park conservation many years ago. He instilled in me his love of the Adirondacks and Forever Wild ideology made while.
    Allowing this infringement would be a horrible error for the folks in the park, the land and visitors.

  5. Peter says:

    They can’t find 5-10 acre sites on the 100,000+ acre fort ?

  6. Judy H. says:

    Sonic booms over Cranberry Lake. fighter jets and military helicopters flying so low you would be able to count how many fingers the pilot was holding up if there were not traveling at warp speed. Low rumble of rockets launched at the nearby fort drum. C130s fill the air with their LOUD and lasting circlular flight. Not to mention the live military drills held at SUNY ESF Ranger School in Wanakena in the summer. Living peacefully in the beautiful northwestern Adirondacks has no shortage of reminders of war.

  7. Hiker Joe says:

    It’s not about room to setup assembly areas and helicopter parking areas. It’s about maneuver space. God forbid we ever have to fight Russia or China, our forces will have to have the skill to fight and maneuver for hundreds of miles, and know how to communicate and sustain over those distances. You can’t do that on Fort Drum…or any other bases short of Fort Hood and it’s training area. I love the Adirondacks, but the fact is the land will need to be shared to ensure we can fight and win in the next big war, which is surely coming someday.

  8. Bill Ott says:

    Is it true that the Army can legally shred the constitution of the State of New York in the name of defending the United States constitution? Being a mountain division, are they going to practice an assault on Mt Marcy and then establish a signal center there? I really don’t think so, but it would be nice to know just exactly what the army can do. I was a GI for 3 years and have a lot of respect for the service, but I like the woods more. I agree with Mr. Bauer that it would be better for the Army to locate on a conservation easement such as the Tooley Pond tract near Cranberry Lake (not a bad piece of real estate!) than air drop Humvees into the 5 Pond Wilderness, but some of those conservation easements are priceless, too. Is there any communication between the DEC or Adirondack Park Agency and the Army? And how about a link to the entire “released” PEA that I could not find online. Thank you Peter Bauer for you excellent reporting.

    • Bill Ott says:

      I finally found the PEA at “https://www.protectadks.org/problems-with-10th-mountain-division-training-proposal-in-adirondacks/”. It is 179 pages. I am stuck on page 2. Back later.

  9. Karen says:

    No comment at this time. As a resident of the ADK I find it an interesting topic to follow.

  10. Tanner says:

    Aren’t easements owned by private entities? Do they not have a say on what happens on their land? I know development rights are extinguished, but they still have final word on something like this, don’t they?

    • Greg says:

      Bingo! I was thinking the same thing. Nothing of what Fort Drum would be doing is likely afforded to NYS within the existing easements — thus it’d imagine it’d be trespassing under normal laws.

      Thus easement lands should not be treated any different than any other private lands within the parks.

      • Tanner says:

        Correct. I should have said easement lands are owned by private entities. I suppose the land owner would work with the state easement folks to determine if this activity was consistent with the purposes of the easement, and depending on the terms of the easement the state may have approval/denial authority. I agree in principle that if this activity is to be held on land encumbered by state interests (fee or easement), having this on eased lands would be preferred.

  11. Todd Eastman says:

    Why support a military that is charged with protecting the US…

    … when its training destroys the elements of American life that are supposedly being protected?

  12. Paul says:

    The lands under conservation easements that Peter describes are private lands. The state has purchased certain rights of use for these lands. Not the right to do what Peter suggests. Peter you are suggesting that the owners give permission right? Or were you suggesting that the feds could just go in there and do whatever they want on private land? Those pesky rights people have in this country!

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      The landowners may be enticed by cash to reimburse them for their inconvenience and loss of timber. Even the feds don’t have a right to play the Forest Preserve. State’s rights and all. Allowing such action on an ongoing basis without a constitutional amendment allowing it will be problematic.

      • Paul says:

        Did Peter reach out and ask them if they have any interest? If they don’t it’s a moot point. This article just makes it seem like it is something that just would be allowed. It isn’t.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      The military is no more entitled to using state lands than it is to using private lands holding conservation easements. Both are classified to protect resources.

      The scope of the training maneuvers is not compatible with the management objectives of conserved private lands and the NYS Forest Preserve.

      Peter’s point suggests that using the conserved private lands was not considered as an alternative in the military’s planning documents

      • Paul says:

        What is really the difference here between private easement lands and just other private lands? They could have asked the guy who is selling Whitney Park if he would allow it as well. Maybe Rockefeller’s have enough space at Bay Pond? You could ask the retired senator for WV? Or the family that won the “navigable waterway case”?

  13. Patrick Munn says:

    It may sound trite but really there truly is a price for freedom…. sounds like the locals don’t want to pay if it is in there back yard…

    • Boreas says:

      It isn’t a back yard – it is a public preserve, set aside by NYS to be Forever Wild”. There are military bases around the country that taxpayers paid for and continue to pay for – set aside specifically for military maneuvers. Use them. If Quebec were invading, then they would have a case. But if they insist that the Forest Preserve is the only place they can perform this ongoing training, let them do it by constitutional amendment like us “locals” would need to do if we wanted to clearcut 10 acres in the FP to create a parking lot or new ski area.

  14. Good Camp Owner says:

    More Peter Bauer rantings telling someone what they can and cannot do on land that is not his. Peter you better call 911 and tell them that someone is trespassing on property that is not yours and property that you not do you have control over….that tone you hear is 911 hanging up on you like the rest of us.

  15. Todd Eastman says:

    The law favors protecting the Forest Preserve.

    Please find the statutes that give the US Military the rights to use these lands during peacetime…

    … thanks!

  16. MARTY ROBINSON says:

    This is crossing the line in a major way and must be stopped. This is beyond maddening and does not need to take place. How much more are they going to strip from us. How much more privacy are we losing. This is an attack on all of us, our land and our privacy. Stay out of our backyards and where we go to escape these type of things.

  17. Phillip says:

    I often wonder how our ancestors felt when the Europeans began invading the land known as “One Dish One Spoon”? Perhaps how many of you feel today about the military using the land for maneuvers? All were welcome to hunt in the One Dish One Spoon area, Never to take more game then needed. Leave for others.The Europeans took all they could catch! Wiping out in short order animals such as the Beaver.Then to top things off claiming the land as Their own!
    And another thing people, The word Adirondack is a derogatory term used by the Mohawks to insult the Algonquin People.To many of us the word is still very offensive!

  18. mary says:

    Some of the biggest toxic dumps are on old army air force bases. They do not have a good track record of cleaning up. The purpose is war and that means destruction.

    I can think of things I have worked on to protect wildlife that just seem so small compared to the threat of war games. Lead fishing tackle? Who cares? how about some artillery instead!
    No garbage dumps allowed in adirondacks… seems dumb after reading this.
    Worried about salt on the roads? Get real… it is not so important now! How about building some new roads for military vehicles! Great! Clear cutting old forest growth ! great news!

    And they are not asking permission they are just notifying us and writing down objections to file away in an electronic wastebasket.

    • Good Camp Owner says:

      Mary they don’t need your permission….don’t you get it, what are you not understanding? At the core of this Summer’s protests and ones to this very day is that you have NO privilege and NO right to guide or direct anyone.

      • Gotta get our protest boots on if Army doesn’t desist.
        Der Trumper gave logging corporations the go-ahead to despoil Tongass Natl Forest in Alaska. Why not the itty-bitty Adirondacks?

        • Bill Ott says:

          Hopefully Biden can reverse that ruling.

          • Bill Ott says:

            I am referring to the Tongass Natl Forest, not the Adks. If either Biden or Trump visit the woods, I hope we get to read about it in the weekly rescue reports.

        • Steve B. says:

          Regardless of my opinion of the president, the federal government has no say in how state owned land is used. The APA/DEC and Governor can and have the authority to approve or deny this use.

  19. ANDY MIRONCHUK says:

    Why not think outside the box? Something that a real wartime situation would demand! I suggest that they could exchange an area of the Fort to be used with another state that would reciprocate and thus they (and the other staters) would be able to establish long range communications, off site logistics, and unexpected circumstances without having to resort to destruction and restoration of acreage in the Park..

  20. Ultimately, I oppose using any part of the Park to help the 10th Mountain Division prepare for another futile American war and the killing of American soldiers and innocent civilians.
    In short, this is more than issue of environmental protection but one of having our armed forces waste American lives and resources and using our peaceful forests to put American troops in harm’s way. Let them stand down!

  21. “Ride your ATVs and cut your 25-foot-wide snowmobile trails on easement lands. The training activities outlined by the 10th Mountain Division are not appropriate for the Forest Preserve, but could be facilitated on conservation easement lands.”
    If you feel this way ,why would you sue the town of Clare for allowing atvs on public roads. This why towns like Clare , Fine ,and Colton do not want to be part of the park. Peter Bauer doesn’t care about these areas and that quote proves it.

  22. Good Camp Owner says:

    Touche Shawn! Peter Bauer criticizes the “outsiders” who come to the Park during Covid, yet over half of his board of directors are “outsiders”. He directs everyone to go find a hike some place else, yet he hikes those properties…..

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