Friday, March 25, 2022

DEC Needs To Conduct Nationwide Search For New State Forester

The current New York State Forester at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that he is retiring in April. This position doubles as the Director of the Division of Lands and Forests, and as such is the top public lands manager in the state, supervising the management of the 3-million-acre Forest Preserve, more than 750,000 acres of conservation easements, over 700,000 acre of State Forests, and thousands of acres of Wildlife Refuges and various other properties.

The current state Forester has held this position for a quarter-century, since being appointed during the Pataki years in the late 1990s. The Division of Lands and Forests at the DEC includes, among other things, the Forest Preserve Bureau, the center point for setting Forest Preserve policy and administering public use. Given the importance of this position at the DEC, the Hochul Administration and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos must conduct a nationwide search for a new State Forester and bring in somebody with broad experience and a strong track record in public lands management.

Over the last decade, New York State has been in an untenable situation where our State Forester violated Article 14, Section 1 of the State Constitution, the famed forever wild clause. A string of DEC Commissioners also helped him subvert the State Constitution and use Forest Preserve management decisions as bargaining chips as they pursued various political objectives. As a result, obeying Forest Preserve law has been a secondary consideration at the DEC in recent years. (Click here to read the decision by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, that found that the DEC-APA violated the State Constitution. Click here to read the Appellate Division, Third Department decision, the state’s mid-level court, against the DEC-APA.)

New York State needs to make a clean break from this moment where the DEC (with the help of the Adirondack Park Agency) has trampled on forever wild. The DEC desperately needs a new leader with high levels of experience in public lands management, a proven record of advancing policies and innovative management programs for complicated public lands, who has a demonstrated track record of managing public lands openly and transparently, and who is assiduous in complying with and upholding the law.

The DEC should not follow its standard practice and either promote from within or bring on someone from an allied organization. Public lands management in New York badly needs outside professional help. The stakes for Forest Preserve management, in particular, are too high for business as usual.

The chance of getting a top-tier public lands management professional hired at the DEC is slim and runs against the dominant currents of the new Hochul Administration. Two former top Cuomo aides with years of implementing the priorities of the former disgraced Governor were just hired for top positions at the Adirondack Park Agency. DEC Commissioner Seggos has filled DEC leadership positions with individuals whose loyalty to him is their top management qualification.

The range of issues confronting the 3-million-acre Forest Preserve in the Catskills and Adirondacks in its 137th year is immense. These include developing and implementing a serious Visitor Use Management Program, bringing science to natural resource management and public use decisions, developing new public educational programs, building hundreds of miles of sustainable hiking trails, operating with openness and transparency, completing hundreds of thousands of acres of Forest Preserve Unit Management Plans that remain incomplete 50 years after the process started, developing new partnerships for trails maintenance and construction, honestly and openly accounting for state lands stewardship funding, diversifying the staffing ranks at the DEC, and getting back on the right side of forever wild.

The current administration at the DEC has been slow to act on many of these issues. The DEC needs to leaven its Forest Preserve management program. This could start with dynamic new leadership at its Division of Lands and Forests and a State Forester who upholds and defends forever wild and is an expert in public lands management.

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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.

22 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    For those that don’t know, Robert Davies is the gentleman who is retiring and it was recently announced he is becoming the ED of the Saratoga Springs land trust called Saratoga PLAN.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      You’d hope that if Peter was going to take umbrage with how this person handed their job over the years in a published essay that he’d a least have the courage to name the individual in question. Is he worried his comments are libelous so he refrained from directly naming Mr. Davies? Did he rush to publication based on rumors without knowing all of the details beforehand? The decision not to include Davies name in the essay is misleading and cowardly. I cringe every time I think about the people who ignorantly donate to PROTECT thinking they are doing anything other than feeding Mr. Bauer’s personal cash cow.

  2. Lee Nellis says:

    Thanks, Peter. Unlikely as it seems to happen, you are right. But a new leader can’t do it all alone. Leaders have to have personnel power.

  3. Boreas says:

    Without a new Commissioner will it matter?

  4. Todd Eastman says:

    Seggos is probably looking at the Building Industries of America for talent… 🙄

  5. John Grant says:

    Be patient Peter. Gentrification of such a large area as the Adirondack Park will take time.

  6. William J. Meyers says:

    Mr. Bauer: I read your article about a new NYS Forester. You state that they have violated Article 14 section 1. However you sight no specific instances. Making statements without violations is not good, I’m supposed to just blindly believe you and your statement. Please sight their most severe violations.

    Adk Wild Willi.

  7. Mick Finn says:

    I appreciate how Peter Bauer ferrets out corruption. I also find it interesting that Robe Davies’ name was not mentioned in the article.

    I have a document in my possession, secured through a State FOIL request, showing that Rob Davies signed an application on behalf of four other signatories, and I have proof that was done without the signatories’ knowledge or agreement. Was that forgery (a felony criminal offense)? I don’t know, but it should be investigated and the courts should decide. I will send a copy to anyone who provides their email address in this comment section.

    The document was the Application for Open Space Conservation for the 161,000 acres of Finch lands, signed in 2008. Spitzer, Cuomo, Pete Grannis, and Joe Martens were all involved with the acquisition.

    What’s the significance of this? If the application was in fact falsified, then the acquisition should be declared invalid. And if that’s the case, the land should be returned to private title. The State should immediately reclassify the lands for managed forests, should make reparations to the sporting clubs that were closed, rebuild those clubs, and protect easements to maintain those clubs prior to the sale to a private buyer.

    Who wants to see the documents?

    • Totally disagree with Peter again. The new forester should be a park resident. Paul Smiths College had a excellent forestry program. If I’m not not mistaken many of them still live in the area

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Paul Smith’s College has an excellent forestry program and currently has a Masters of Science in Natural Resource Conservation program which is a perfect fit for a candidate for State Forester. I personally know many alumni including the R5 forester and an administrator in Davies office who are both PSC graduates and who are both very qualified for the position.

  8. Colvin says:

    I just went back and looked at the tree cutting cases cited in this article It gives the impression that it was a slam dunk that the amount of tree cutting done for community connector snowmobile trails was unconstitutional, and that anyone with even half a brain should have known that. In fact, the trial court didn’t know it–it ruled in favor of DEC. And some members of the Appellate Division and Court of Appeals issued dissenting opinions, saying they also believed the amount of cutting was not unconstitutional. In fact, out of the twelve judges who had occasion to be involved in deciding the case, four believed that the amount of tree cutting for the snowmobile trail was constitutional. A decision that the tree cutting was unconstitutional was therefore far from a slam dunk, and shows that reasonable minds differed on the constitutional issue.

    So, what did Mr. Davies do that was so awful? He succeeded in finalizing the largest Forest Preserve land acquisition deal in our lifetime. And Mr. Davies did it in the face of a state law that says DEC can’t acquire land with certain State money if local governments affected by the acquisition object. Many local governments were hostile to the State acquiring more land, so to acquire the land DEC had to listen to their concerns, a primary one of which was that they wanted community connector snowmobile trails to benefit their winter economies. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and complain that a community connector snowmobile trail commitment should not have been made, and it was a “deal with the devil.” But when you are sitting in the chair trying to get the deal done you can’t ignore political realities, and how the Finch Pruyn and other lands would have been acquired during the past 20 years without making commitments to local governments is a mystery.

    Thanks to Mr. Davies, the public, now has access to the Essex Chain, Boreas Ponds, and other valuable Forest Preserve lands; those lands were not subdivided and sold off to the highest bidders. And as a result of Protect’s lawsuit, community connector snowmobile trails are history. Plus, Protect now holds a Court of Appeals decision in its back pocket it can cite until eternity. So, one wonders, why exactly is Mr. Bauer still complaining so vociferously? He has his cake and is eating it too. He should be thanking Mr. Davies, not castigating him.

    By the way, the muddy trail in the photo at the beginning of Mr. Bauer’s article appears to be a foot trail, not a snowmobile trail.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      CASH COW. It’s really that simple. PROTECT has afforded Mr Bauer a lifestyle that he couldn’t otherwise earn. Everyone seems to forget how we ran him out of Bolton on rails after his tenure at FUND for Lake George. Some of us were wise to his scam long before his days at PROTECT. It’s been 10 years this May we got his narcissistic and toxic behaviors out of our town. Unfortunately now he is the problem of the entire park.

      • Mick Finn says:

        Do you want to see the Rob Davies documents. Do you care about fraud?

      • Tom Paine says:

        Well said. It is amazing the silence from him and his followers about the trail work at Whiteface. Crickets. It appears Article 14 applies to certain folks and not others.

  9. Mick Finn says:

    Bauer never comments on the State Land Master Plan, which clearly states that working forests (logging) should remain intact and be supported with easements purchases.

  10. Chuck Parker Chuck Parker says:

    I would like to express my appreciation for the service that Rob Davies provided as the Director of Lands and Forest. Be it the Adirondack State Land Master Plan or other regulatory documents Rob recognized the latitude within which he had to work. Sound management principles over emotional sentiment seem to be the basis by which he worked. Did the Sportsmen agree with everything that the division he supervised did? Not always, but Rob Davies could defend every decision based on logic and regulations. He has the respect of sportsmen and conservationist.
    The best next State Forester probably lies within the NYS DEC Division of Lands and Forest and should be given serious consideration. Doing otherwise is a disservice to those that dedicated their service to the DEC and the people of New York State.
    Chuck Parker
    President, New York State Conservation Council

  11. COL (R) Mark Warnecke says:

    Mr. Bauer believes that Article 14 applies to cutting for snowmobile trails but not hiking trails. Just reviles his true agenda, which is to eliminate snowmobiles in the Adirondacks. This is further proven by his current fight to close existing snowmobile trails that were established prior to the court ruling. Yet he is strangely silent on recent hiking trails that were cut prior to the court ruling (such as Moxham Mountain). As pointed out by others here, he see’s nothing wrong with new hiking trails either. I’m sure Socrates would be interested in hearing his logic.

    For the record, I am not a snowmobiler, but I support multiple use, including uses I don’t participate in.

    It would be great see someone hired as the new State Forester who was qualified in forest management and believed in it.

    • Tom Paine says:

      I notice that part of your statement has been removed. Apparently someone can’t stand the heat in the kitchen. Yes, he does want a new forester and DEC commissioner like the old days that will follow him and his followers instructions to the letter.

  12. AdirondackWald says:

    INVITE SWISS FORESTERS TO THE ADIRONDACKS TO SHOW YOU ALL OF THE INGENIOUS WAYS TO CONDUCT FORESTRY IN AN ECOLOGICALLY RESPECTFUL WAY ! The Swiss have a more precise, complex, interconnected understanding of forest growth than Americans and their forestry operations blend in so well that they are not seen from the opposite side of a valley. They have a much higher seedling survival rate than the NYSDEC Nursery because the Swiss are so careful in lifting and planting seedlings the correct way, on the steepest mountain slopes, in collectives that merge into wind-firm clusters-all of which are planted in an incrementally smaller fractal pattern as they plant up towards timberline where the winds are stronger. The Swiss are centuries ahead of the Americans when it comes to forestry.

  13. Mick Finn says:

    Except the Swiss manage their forests. Management is prohibited under Forever Wild. Private landowners in the Adirondacks manage their forests well. The State neglects public forests.

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