Thursday, April 7, 2022

Adirondack Park within NYS Climate Strategies – Barely Mentioned

adirondacks climate

It is in Chapter 19 of the NYS Climate Action Council’s Draft Scoping Plan, the chapter on “Land Use,” that I expected the words “Adirondack” or “Adirondack Park” or “Adirondack Park Agency” to get some focused attention. I was disappointed to see that the word “Adirondack” is cited in just four places within the 340-page climate scoping report, all perfunctorily.

The Climate Action Scoping Plan is the result of two years of work by the Climate Action Council, established by state law in 2019 to “establishes the path forward for New York to achieve 70% renewable energy by 2030, 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, a 40% reduction in statewide GHG emissions by 2030, an 85% reduction in statewide GHG emissions by 2050, and net zero emissions statewide by 2050. The paths to 2030 and 2050 require a comprehensive vision and integrated approach to build new programs while significantly expanding existing efforts. Each economic sector discussed in this Plan establishes a vision for 2030 and 2050 in an effort to paint the picture of the future and show the direction the State must head.”

According to the Scoping Plan, our buildings, transportation, and electrical sectors account for over 70 percent of NYS greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). But, our forests, forest soils, wetlands and croplands remove 8 percent of those GHG emissions annually by sequestering and storing carbon. The Adirondack Park has a lot of forests, forest soils and wetlands. Botanist and geographer Jerry Jenkins estimates that the carbon bank in all Adirondack forests, public and private, is about 85 tons per acre, or over 430 million tons in all.  If all of that stored forest carbon were to be released at once, it would be equal to all the carbon emissions from within the Adirondack Park over the past 750 years (Jenkins, Climate Change in the Adirondacks, the Path to Sustainability, 2010).

The Adirondack Park has two regional land use plans, one for private lands, one for public lands, or Forest Preserve.  Affecting six-million acres, nearly one-fifth of the state, these plans ought to be advantages and strengths which offer climate mitigation lessons and hope for other parts of New York State.

Unfortunately, either Adirondack Park local and state leaders are not promoting their collective regional planning experiences or are too shy in doing so, perhaps because regional planning is no longer a well-resourced, staffed and practiced division within the Adirondack Park Agency. The planning division within the APA is down to just two staff and a supervisor -down from six when I started watching the APA in 1987.

Either way, the Climate Action Council appears unaware of the Adirondack Park’s presence, much less its significance in reaching the state’s GHG reduction goals.

In Chapter 19, Land Use, the Scoping Plan states:

“The way we use land, whether for development, conservation, or a mix of uses, directly affects the State’s carbon emissions, sequestration, and storage.

  • Smart growth land use patterns reduce transportation-based GHG emissions by reducing automobile use and thus reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT);
  • sustainable land use planning and zoning can facilitate optimal siting of renewable energy;
  • and protection of forests, cropland, and wetlands is critical for natural carbon sequestration.

Deciding where to conserve land, where to develop and how to arrange and design that development constitutes the critical first steps in addressing climate change in land use. These decisions directly impact the ability to achieve carbon mitigation, sequestration and adaptation and resilience goals.”

The entire Adirondack Park Agency Land Use and Development Plan was intended to steer development where it is most compatible with the character, purpose and policy objectives of the land use zone that applies – and away from more sensitive, less development compatible areas where the “need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources is of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations” (Section 805 of the APA Act).

Clearly, the 2019 Climate Act and the current public hearings about the scope of the Climate Plan qualify as “overriding public considerations” as expressed in the APA Act.  Just as clearly, Adirondack forests, farms, and open space “affect the state’s climate emissions, sequestration and storage.”

Therefore, isn’t it fortunate that planners 50 years ago figured out ways to, imperfectly, steer most Adirondack development away from forests, farms and open space resources (In Resource Management and Rural Use zones) which are now crucial strategies and and zones to mitigate climate change?

Adirondack Park’s private zonal system, from Resource Management to Moderate Intensity Use to Hamlet, were carefully mapped and field truth-ed using hand-drawn resource overlay methods of the early 1970s. Overall, in the vast majority of the Park the zones have proven accurate all these years later.  The Adirondack Park’s wetlands are, thanks to the APA Act, better mapped down to one-acre and better protected within APA permits than in any other part of the state –  and also sequester and store a great deal of carbon.

Geographic Information Systems are regularly employed in today’s land use overlays. Could other regions of the state benefit from the Adirondack experience of applying these maps and strategies to mitigate climate change through smarter land use patterns applied across town and county boundaries? The answer, I think, is yes.

If so, it is notable that in the Climate Scoping Plan now out for public comment the Adirondack Park and the Adirondack Park Agency are granted no particular significance.

Nor does the Plan’s scope reference any of the impressive Adirondack non-governmental organizational efforts on climate, such as the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summits, the remarkable student sustainability work at schools throughout the Park, and the Adirondack North Country’s clean energy technical assistance. Over ten years ago, a comprehensive carbon budget for the Adirondack Park was completed thanks to ANCA and the Energy Smart Park Initiative. None of that work has attracted attention at the Climate Action Council.

In fact, the sole paragraph mentioning the Adirondack Park is this:

“Stakeholders that promulgate and enforce land use regulations include municipalities at every level, including cities, towns, villages, counties, and special districts. Stakeholders that guide land use policy and investment include MPOs, county planning boards, regional planning councils, REDCs, industrial development agencies and authorities, and local and regional authorities, such as the Adirondack Park Agency.”

The Adirondack Park is one of the world’s few designated International Biosphere Reserves. As a model, it’s imperfect. It deserves smarter development patterns, better ecological site planning and conservation design. Reducing automobile use and vehicle miles traveled over the vast areas encompassed by the Adirondacks is a stubborn problem exacerbated by employment and affordable housing. Protecting forests, farms and wetlands in the Park are imperfectly carried out.  APA has yet to figure out “optimal siting of renewable energy.” Statewide, substantive GHG reduction efforts will never prioritize the Adirondack region.

That said, the Park’s size, history, regional plans, forests and wetlands, on top of the grassroots climate action and energy smart community work of nonprofits like the Wild Center and Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) have much to teach the rest of the state if we are collectively to meet mandated GHG reductions. That will be among Adirondack Wild’s comments back to the Climate Action Council. To read the Climate Action Scoping Plan and for its schedule of hearings, go to www.climate.ny.gov.

Photo: Unbroken wild forest stretching north from Hadley Mtn.

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David Gibson

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 Preserve

During 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.


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24 Responses

  1. Joan Grabe says:

    Just maybe the Adirondack Park has enough designations. Perhaps we should all broaden our perspectives about the importance of the park in the grand scheme of things. Our importance is of paramount interest to us but not to the rest of the state which has it’s own environmental problems and solutions. We don’t have the population or the important politicians to go to bat for us. But the local agencies here do their very best to represent our interests and we should support them. And we should support strengthening the APA so that it can be an effective voice for us and not an adversary.

  2. Zephyr says:

    Vehicle miles traveled within the Adirondacks wouldn’t even show up as a rounding error compared to all the vehicle miles traveled in New York State, so I’m not surprised it doesn’t show up. In battling climate change we need to go for the low hanging fruit first. I suggest we start taxing companies on the number of people they force into the office each day, and then use that money to subsidize public transportation. The pandemic showed us that lots of companies can operate perfectly normally without forcing people to drive hours back and forth each day. Imagine the savings if millions of New Yorkers didn’t have to get into their cars each morning to go to work and then each evening to drive home. Not many of those workers live in the Adirondacks.

  3. Mary says:

    Forests can support renewable energy by allowing windfarms on mountaintops. The 600 ft structures would be visible. Most of the forest would be undisturbed except for access roads and the area at the base of the turbine.

    This would not be allowed within the adirondack state land.

    Solar farm development is not suitable for old growth forest land. It would seem these should be sited elsewhere .

    I think the document is not suggesting doing this … the omission of renewable energy might be on purpose … as private land outside the park will be easier to get approvals.

    I don’t think they are ignoring the adirondacks. Battery facilities, windfarms, and solar can be developed large scale outside of the adirondack park much easier.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree. Another issue with ANY type of power generation within the Park is getting the power distributed. You can’t have a power source without transmission lines. People get concerned about the windmills and solar arrays, but the impact of transmission lines and stations often is neglected. Tough to have transmission lines without damaging the flora and fauna below them. Tree cutting, pesticides, mowing, and habitat fragmentation are just a few of the impacts. I just don’t think the Park is a good place for large-scale energy extraction.

  4. Kevin Sigourney says:

    GOOD! The Adirondacks does more than most any area in the world to reduce the carbon footprint of human consumption…without any interference from us. There should never be any solar/wind farms within it’s boundaries. The large scale, so called, green energies are an atrocity to every area they go up. The carbon footprint and environmental/human health hazards of alternative energies are so much more than most folks realize! Our technology is not going to save us. The book “Technopoly” comes to mind. They idea of them saving our environment is a farce! Leave the Adirondacks alone!!!

  5. JB says:

    Thanks, David, for a much-needed and insightful perspective on the Draft Scoping Plan. If there are parallels between the local environmental crises that necessitated the creation of an Adirondack Park and the global climate crisis–and surely there are many–then there are comparatively few similarities between the strategies and philosophies underlying the APA and those of the Climate Action Council. I agree that the experience of the APA, in what has worked in dealing with these parallel challenges, should be looked to by the rest of the state. The APA’s local expertise in wetlands mapping and monitoring is a great example. The APA’s monitoring experience could also be applied more broadly to monitor land use and development–something that is not being seriously looked at on a regional scale outside of the Park, but should be, given that NY state is losing undeveloped land at a more rapid pace than anywhere else in the Northeast.

    But also, conversely, the Adirondack Park should serve as a model for what *has not* worked. An example that immediately comes to mind, even after having read only a fraction of the massive Scoping Plan, is the bureaucratic complexity of the strategy. In the Park, we have learned well by now that myriad state and local entities cannot be expected to function harmoniously toward a shared goal without mechanisms in place for serious coordination. More broadly, the Scoping Plan differs from the Adirondack Park regulatory framework in that the mechanism for implementing its strategy is almost purely economic and reliant upon the awarding or withholding of grants, subsidies, and assistance, and other state activities to build a green economy. However, here too the Adirondack experience can offer a warning. Briefly, the “carrot or stick” approach that seeks to utilize state funding as a cornerstone policy instrument has been tried in the Park and has been met with serious backlash, often leading to the perception of a state power grab, in addition to fostering double-dealing and further unneeded bureaucratic complexity. Also, the Scoping Plan’s suggestions for aggressive advertising campaigns to build the bioeconomy (Ch. 15, e.g., hashtag “#ForestryFridays”) are vaguely reminiscent of the former state tourism marketing campaign for the Adirondack High Peaks, which, as we all know, have now become something of a problem. The takeaway should be that the New York State economic development apparatus should be used with caution–especially vis-a-vis the environment–and it should not be seen as a bulletproof policy instrument by itself. What can go wrong usually will.

    Lastly, I think that there is a strong argument for the Adirondack Park as a stakeholder, rather than just a model, in the Climate Action Council’s Plan. The Park not only plays an outsized role in combating climate change; it stands to be more impacted than elsewhere going forward both by climate change itself and by the strategies laid out in the Scoping Plan for mitigating it. As a sensitive natural landscape that has been largely spared from development, renewable energy projects are poised to have an outsized impact. But also, the Adirondack approach and experience in forest stewardship is, as far as I can tell, completely rejected in the Scoping Plan. I quote from Ch. 15, “Agriculture and Forestry”: “…as New York’s forests have aged, their carbon sequestration rate has slowed. To maximize New York forests carbon sequestration potential, it is critical that forest management activities increase statewide.”

    Without debating the validity of the argument for increased forest management to mitigate climate change, it is worth noting the implications that this overriding policy on forests could have in the Park. The critical role of the Forest Preserve in carbon sequestration is apt to be ignored, potentially creating an incentive playing field that is slanted against Park towns and counties. But also, the private lands within the Park are already more heavily managed for timber than anywhere else in the Northeast outside of Maine. An aggressive statewide push to build the forestry economy and increase management for younger forests could position the Park as a guinea pig in a massive unproven experiment. Potential dangers stemming from further changes in forest composition (e.g., more beech trees and more nursery stock from non-Adirondack geotypes–with the suggestion, I might add, to be planted by “drones”), nutrient cycling, etc. in a uniquely sensitive landscape like the Park are apt to be overlooked by the consultants for the Climate Action Council–forestry experts from downstate and even an executive from International Paper. Naturalists like Jerry Jenkins, with the necessary Adirondack perspective, are not informing this Council’s Plan, plain and simple.

    Even with its committee and consultants that represent decidedly non-Adirondack interests, the Climate Action Council’s Draft Scoping Plan appears at times to be pulling against itself in all directions, while embarking down paths well-worn in the Adirondacks, for better and for worse. There are undoubtedly moments when the document excels and impresses, but without some help, there is the very real threat that NYS will stagger on climate indefinitely. Luckily for us (hopefully), the comment period has been extended.

  6. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Zephyr says: “Imagine the savings if millions of New Yorkers didn’t have to get into their cars each morning to go to work ”

    Imagine all who start up their engines remotely (even in warm weather) leave them run for ten or fifteen minutes (or longer), before they even get into them to head off to wherever it is they are going! Imagine how much more carbon emissions would not add up to the overload we are dealing with now! They don’t teach us to ‘think’ that’s for sure! Or to be visionaries!

    • Zephyr says:

      One of my pet peeves are alternate side parking rules, forcing everyone to start up their cars each morning and drive to the other side of the street whether or not there is any snow or other reason to do so. Another bad one is that communities for decades have been building new schools, post offices, and other public buildings in places that are only accessible by car. Some schools don’t even let kids walk or bike there for “safety” reasons.

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Mary says: “Forests can support renewable energy by allowing windfarms on mountaintops.”

    Immediately comes to mind regards windfarms is night birds who might fly into them, and which surely untold numbers perish because of such. I suppose no matter how hard we try to be good stewards there’s going to have to be the sacrificing of the animal-kind so that we may continue to live our lives of convenience.

  8. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The planning division within the APA is down to just two staff and a supervisor -down from six when I started watching the APA in 1987.”

    Less employees less oversight! How convenient! I just cannot help but always entertain suspicions that all of the mismanagement and understaffed agencies, etc., which benefit the environment or the “little folk”, or all that is good, is by design due to the sinister nature in men, or certain white men anyway……..to the detriment of all in the end game, which is more than slowly encroaching upon us!

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Reducing automobile use and vehicle miles traveled over the vast areas encompassed by the Adirondacks is a stubborn problem …”

    Yes, but what do we do? Turn back the ticking clock and revert to the old, simple ways? As the saying goes…”There’s no turning back.” With automobiles alone just think of the salt they use during the winters so as to not be inconvenienced. This single issue alone does more damage to wetlands and forest soils than the powers to be are willing to talk about because ‘economy’ cannot get past them. Geez! There’s so much where do we begin!

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      I think the biggest problem with the Park is its opposing goals – preservation of the forests, waters, and air while wishing to allow extraction, tourism, and human habitation and communities. The rest of the world has other (yet oddly the same) issues with these goals. Art. 14 encourages outdoor activities, but is this the same as “tourism”?? Tourism is yet another industry designed for growth, not preservation.

      So what do we do for or instead of the Adirondack Park? Maintain the tenuous status quo? Make a smaller Park with wilderness/preservation in mind and no habitation or roads? Make it a development Park and marginalize wilderness/preservation? Should Article 14 be repealed, seriously altered, or left as-is? What is in the best interest of New Yorkers – who the Park belongs to.

      I believe all of this needs to be sorted out for at least the next century to come. What do we want to leave for our descendants? A wilderness? A development, tourism, and extraction zone? Or a mix of both that are basically anathema? Someone needs to start asking these big questions of NYS citizens, not just locals, environmentalists, and developers – with the APA trying to regulate it with ever-changing administrations and goals? Balancing preservation with development was expected to have a certain amount of tension, but that was back when the country was civil to each other and compromise was still possible. Those days seem to be gone for good.

      • JB says:

        Boreas, I think that you are ultimately right about nature tourism (or at least the kind that we have seen lately). But arguably wildlands preservation and human habitation are not inherently in opposition. …Or, at least, that was a major argument at one point, when conservation design having its heyday in the Northeast (as embodied by the APA Act). (Also, with widespread conservation design, nature tourism conveniently becomes more sustainable–fewer people feel the need to “escape to nature” in a world where nature is everywhere.)

        The conundrum, as I see it, is a cultural one of our own making–at national, state and local levels. Really, the only thing that is incompatible with human habitation is endless development. We can see this in its advanced stages in every blighted urban core, every brownfield, every commercial mega-complex. Places without comprehensive land-use planning become unlivable. It’s an economic inevitability that many places in America are suddenly experiencing in full-force. But sometimes meaningful change can only emerge from times of crisis.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Kevin Sigourney says: “Our technology is not going to save us…. The idea of them saving our environment is a farce! Leave the Adirondacks alone!!!”

    I am reminded of the thinking that if we leave the environment alone it will heal itself. Tis true to an extent. If we keep going the way we continue to go the environment will lose all of it’s ability to heal itself, especially so regards global warming, as once you get to a certain temperature then systems start breaking down without the ability to continue growth, or to retain themselves. Systems will go into shock, then widespread destabilization, which will not be able to be contained unfortunately at the enormous cost to all life on this wee orb Earth us humans have called ‘home’ for so long but not forever. This is something that should have been foreseen by those who have the power to maybe make the changes so as to avert this course. But they don’t get it! Power and money and narcissism is too far imbedded in what ‘little’ minds they have, and so we all lose! Optimist me!

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    You know Boreas! You bring up what has been brought up, and continues to be brought up, stretching way back, eons… It all comes down to one thing….’Human nature.’ Philosophers have been talking about it since those days of ancient astronauts; Thoreau said what he had to say on the matter in more recent times, and even just before him, or around his era, just read the literature from back then (if you know where to find it) and look at what they had to say about this one distinctive quality in the human animal whose psyche is still stuck in cave-man mode. There’s no hope for us Boreas! Or maybe there is but I’m just not picking up those vibes anymore. One thing is for sure…we’d better get on the ball soon and decide which course we choose to take because what we’ve been doing for so long apparently isn’t working!

  12. Zephyr says:

    I have to add my periodic reminder that the overall environment of the Adirondacks is in far, far better shape than it was a few decades ago. Acid rain vastly reduced, lower population, trails are in infinitely better shape than back in the 60s when I first started hiking in knee deep mud. There wasn’t a tree at Marcy Dam that wasn’t stripped of firewood as far as you could reach. You would run into camping parties of 50 boy scouts digging pit latrines all over the place and building bonfires. The old ruins on the top of Marcy were used as a latrine. The average resident and hiker is far more respectful of the environment. Back in the day it was routine to travel behind vehicles throwing trash out the windows, and many a front yard had a pickup truck being worked on with the engine hanging from a tree limb. Out back of the house was a battery and toxic liquid dump. I remember looking at an old farm for sale and apparently they just dumped their batteries for decades behind an old stone wall. Road salt was spread on the roads indiscriminantly compared to today. Etc. Etc.

    • Boreas says:

      Perhaps, but just because various measures show an improvement does not mean that is the direction the Park is headed. Even nationally, look at the erosion of the EPA – and the APA is under attack as well. Just because rivers no longer catch fire and riversides are not lined with fish carcasses does not mean environmental controls can be relaxed. Those controls are under attack every day both in and out of the Park. It is going to take perseverance and forethought to keep things from backsliding both in the Park and nationally. That is, unless we WANT things to backslide.

      • Zephyr says:

        There are many environmental improvements that we should be thankful for, and the trajectory is a good one on many fronts. Yes, climate change looms over all, but the people of the state have shown a remarkable will to fight and improve the environment. The average kid now learns about the environment in school and in my experience is often far ahead of us old folks in walking the walk. There are many reasons to be optimistic, even with regard to climate change. We are decades ahead of where some predicted we would be with regard to building alternative energy systems, electric cars, and other technologies we need. I’m a glass half full guy.

      • Nathan says:

        just because the river is not lined with dead fish, doesnt mean there are any fish either!
        The biggiest issue~too many people, we need to stop having so many kids, we are running out resources, making too many products to keep too many happy.
        then changing the very way we make things, like no package can be used that is not actively recycled. plastic 3,4,5 ect are just not recycled almost anywhere. It is basically impossible to buy any meat without a plastic tray and wrap..thats insane!
        Make paper straws and cups for carry out like they used to do, no more plastic.

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What do we want to leave for our descendants? A wilderness? A development, tourism, and extraction zone? ”

    We talk as if it’s 1965 Boreas. Back then we had the same problems we have now, but far more added to them. Global warming makes all of our other concerns regards the wilderness insignificant when you really think about it…..because if we do start cooking like the scientists have been shouting out for some time now, and which apparently seems to be taking shape, and which also is being ignored by a school of fools, then what? As I say above:
    “once you get to a certain temperature then systems start breaking down without the ability to continue growth, or to retain themselves. Systems will go into shock, then widespread destabilization….”

    I’m not a scientist but this is what I easily deduce and it sure does seem to make sense even without thinking much about it. Experiment! Try it yourself! (not you per se!) Pluck your favorite mature, healthy green, and place it in an oven at extreme lowest warm degrees and see how long it takes for that species to wilt and brown, then die. We don’t ‘see’ Boreas! I mean sure, some of us do, but in general we’re as blind as nighttime deer with floodlights fixed on us from a bark floating on a backwoods jewel…….. just waiting to be put out of our miseries without even having a conception of the danger awaiting us. You’re futuristic thinking is on cue, which I have always thought and appreciated, but to what end! It’s too bad we don’t have magical powers where we can just wave a wand and make all things good. If I had such there’d be a lot less monsters in this world for sure. I’ve seriously been thinking about practicing voodoo, finding an effigy, buy me-self some pins and fixate my mind on ridding this world of those who terrify me!

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