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.
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.