ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – As owners of the largest intact temperate deciduous forest on Earth, New Yorkers have an awesome responsibility to save the Adirondack Park from the ravages of climate change. But that “forever wild” forest is also New York’s greatest weapon in the fight to prevent global overheating, the Adirondack Council told the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority recently.
The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization was commenting on NYSERDA’s draft Climate Scoping Plan, which will spell out how the state intends to combat climate change and comply with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The Act requires New York to stop emitting all greenhouse gases by 2050.
“The release of this plan by the Climate Action Council was an important step for New York to map out how it will achieve carbon neutrality in 30 years,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Recent actions at the federal level — like the Supreme Court’s limiting of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to curb the use of coal in making electricity – made it more difficult to achieve industry-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, whose impact threatens all life on earth. State action and leadership continues to be critical.”
“New York must budget its values,” said Adirondack Council Conservation Director Jackie Bowen in a letter to NYSERDA. “So far, the greatest impediment to success is the lack of funding to achieve our goals. Voter approval of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act on November 8 would help secure a portion of the funds needed. For the Adirondacks, forest protection and regenerative agriculture hold the greatest opportunities for immediate climate progress.
“Science tells us that protecting our large, mature forests is the most efficient way to remove carbon-dioxide from the air,” Bowen explained. “Wild forests dominated by fully grown trees can absorb much more carbon dioxide than forests comprised of smaller, still-developing trees. That makes the ‘forever wild’ Forest Preserve the benchmark by which all other forests should be measured in terms of climate friendliness.”
Sequestering carbon is a key role our forests play, but they also serve so many other functions in relation to climate change. They provide shade to keep streams cool for cold water fish like native brook trout, provide habitat and refuge for wildlife, filter water, keep soil intact through vast root systems, and provide places of respite for humans.
Bowen’s letter to NYSERDA asserted that New York should prioritize forest protection in its climate plans. She offered a 10-point plan for improving public and private forest conservation and management, as well as supporting sustainable local agriculture, to maximize the climate-calming potential of the Adirondack Park’s vast open spaces.
She also offered comments on the agriculture portion of the plan that were prepared in consultation with the Adirondack Council’s Essex Farm Institute, located in the Champlain Valley.
Mature forests store carbon in tree trunks, roots and branches. When those trees die on protected landscapes, they drop that carbon into the soil, adding nutrients that help new trees to grow, all while shading our waters and soils from direct sunlight.
Current Incentives Aren’t Helping
Bowen noted that New York’s current property tax laws encourage active forest harvesting on private Adirondack forests by offering tax breaks to timberland owners. Those abatement programs can unintentionally subsidize over-harvesting and should instead incentivize forest growth.
Her letter noted that “forest biomass gains in the Adirondacks are not currently in line with their potential to sequester carbon. Any discussions around forest tax law updates must acknowledge the unique role our Adirondack region plays in New York’s efforts to sequester carbon, and it is not unreasonable to expect that unique provisions will be provided for the Adirondack region.”
She also noted that there is currently no incentive for those who want to duplicate the state’s careful “forever wild” stewardship on their own forest lands.
Park Agency Needs Reform
Bowen also called for changes in the way the Adirondack Park Agency handles large, remote subdivision permit requests. Rather than allowing developers to spread homes evenly across a formerly wild landscape, new development should be clustered into appropriate locations, while the majority of the forest and wildlife habitat is conserved. Conversely, suburban-style sprawl increases automobile use, degrades forests and worsens climate impacts.
Park Can be a Model for the World
The Adirondack Park’s mix of public and private lands can be a model for other places that want to prevent climate disruptions and remain resilient in the face of larger storms and floods.
“The Adirondacks can be a model for how a large public/private conservation landscape addresses, mitigates and builds resilience to climate change,” Bowen noted. “Replicated at hundreds or thousands of large landscapes around the world, this would have material international impact.”
More Land, Fairer Energy Prices, Mycelium Among the Solutions
In addition to expansion of the Adirondack Forest Preserve via new purchases, Bowen also called for land reparations to Indigenous nations that support climate goals; for siting of new power transmission lines away from protected forests; for fairer power prices for locally generated renewable energy; for more technicians trained to install renewable energy systems; incentives for growing carbon-negative consumer products and packaging from mycelium (mushrooms/fungi); for preservation of the Adirondack Park’s dark night skies in a transition to LED outdoor lighting; and for weatherization incentives to help homeowners waste less energy.
Regarding agriculture, Bowen requested that NYSERDA:
- Make payments to farmers for climate-friendly land-management practices
- Expand the role of county Soil & Water Conservation Districts to support on-farm emissions reductions and sequestration management efforts
- Develop protocols for Carbon Farm Planning
- Develop benchmarks and monitoring for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation
- Include feedstocks grown in New York in the Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Action Plan
- Take more aggressive action to reduce emissions from controlled animal feeding operations and industrial agriculture
“The Adirondack Park contains the largest intact temperate deciduous forest in the world. It is comprised of old growth forests and future old growth forests, over one million acres of Wilderness lands, thousands of miles of pure waters, and one million acres of wetlands. The Adirondack Park is a national treasure known for its protected natural resources — resources that will be essential to helping natural and human communities of New York address factors contributing to, and remain resilient to, the impacts of climate change,” Bowen wrote. “The time for big, bold action has arrived. New York needs to begin its just and equitable transition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero percent by 2050 and increasing climate resiliency strategies now.”
Established in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. It is the largest environmental organization whose sole focus is the Adirondacks.
The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. It envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, core wilderness areas, farms and working forests, and vibrant, diverse, welcoming, safe communities. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States.
Photo at top courtesy of the Adirondack Council.