ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – The past year has been a period of great change and emotional strain for the Adirondack Park’s natural wonders, its residents and its visitors, according to the Adirondack Council’s annual State of the Park report, entitled Stressed and Challenged.
“This year’s report is a bit different than those in past years,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “We spent more time considering the impacts of government decisions on the future of democracy and human rights than we have needed to before. Conservation demands a basic respect for all life, a desire to constantly improve our relationships with other people and the natural world. Those are not priorities in places where democracy is absent or endangered.”
“Around the nation, the disruptions of the pandemic have been amplified by political upheaval,” reads the opening letter of State of the Park 2022, written by the report’s author John F. Sheehan, the Council’s Director of Communications. “People on both extremes of political debates perceive imminent doom and are calling for extreme actions. As it did during the Great Depression and World War II, leadership demands a steady hand and a confident willingness to bring people together, not divide them.”
Fear and discord are being stoked by a fossil fuel industry that senses its loss of power and is working to forestall its inevitable replacement by renewable energy. By electing people who will echo their falsehoods, the industry has set the stage for today’s extreme attempts at political gaslighting, the report notes.
State of the Park 2022 also pointed to successes in dealing with stress and challenges, including the recently approved Inflation Reduction Act and bipartisan infrastructure bill, on the federal level, which represent Congress’s first efforts to combat climate change and restore an economy that was distorted by the pandemic. On the state level, New York’s Climate Action Plan and Visitor Use Management Framework funding provided hopeful opportunities to cope with climate impacts and better manage crowds on wild lands and waters.
On the local level, towns worked to make themselves more sustainable by building affordable housing, protecting water quality from poorly treated wastewater and protecting recreational lands.
“We have an opportunity to vanquish that fear and restore our government’s role in protecting nature and public health,” said the letter Janeway asked Sheehan to write to introduce the report. “We can do this while promoting inclusion and social justice. As in the past, the Adirondacks can lead the way to a brighter future for all. That’s why this report criticizes the actions of public officials who took advantage of fear to sharpen the edges of our political divide and prevent progress. We also praise those who found a way to bridge political gaps. We favor education over ignorance, cooperation over kneejerk opposition and civil liberties over authoritarian crackdowns. We believe that securing liberty and justice for all will make us truly indivisible.”
At six million acres (9,300 sq. mi.) the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier national parks combined would all fit inside the Adirondack Park. It is also the world’s largest, intact temperate deciduous forest and home to 87 rare, threatened and endangered species, most of the old growth forest — and 90 percent of the motor-free wilderness — remaining in the Northeast.
State of the Park is a 32-page illustrated report on the actions of local, state and federal officials that helped or harmed the Adirondack Park over the past 12 months. The report is broken into more than 100 topic summaries for which officials are granted a thumb up or a thumb down.
State of the Park also includes a Report Card on whether officials accomplished the major priorities of the previous years, and a Spotlight section calling attention to the good deeds of individuals and other not-for-profit organizations.
The centerspread of the publication was devoted to the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, proposed for approval by the voters on Election Day, November 8, 2022. The report explains the benefits of the proposal and urges voters to remember to flip over their paper ballots and vote “yes” on the bond act.
An assessment of progress in 2022 on goals established in 2021:
Preserve Wilderness: Thumb Down – Opportunities still exist for actions to implement the 2021 court victory in the Protect the Adirondacks! case against the state, to protect the 33,000-acre Whitney and 14,000-acre Follensby Pond properties; encourage rewilding by removing obstacles to wildlife movement, including obsolete power dams, fencing and roads; and reestablish military training boundaries.
Improve State Wildland Protections: Thumb Up – Real progress was made implementing recommendations of the state’s High Peaks Wilderness Overuse Advisory Group report with more “Leave No Trace” education, sustainable trails, permit tests, visitor use management, research, stewards and funding. Opportunity exists for more Forest Rangers and staff.
Protect Clean Water: Thumb Up – State officials moved ahead with the approved road salt task force, implementing the new invasive species law, new funding for wastewater treatment/septic infrastructure, and strengthened state legislative protections for wetlands.
Defend the NYS Constitution: Thumb Up – Voters approved the “Environmental Bill of Rights” Constitutional Amendment in November 2021. The State Legislature successfully defended the integrity of the Forever Wild clause (Article XIV). Opportunities were missed to improve Article XIV and address several site-specific issues.
Science and Climate Change: Thumb Up – Progress was material at the federal and state levels, with new policies combating and adapting to climate change and startup funds to support science; and a new state climate action plan. Opportunities exist to better support forests and farms, climate jobs and clean energy.
Adirondack Park Agency: Thumb Down – While some remain hopeful, little progress was visible on an updated ecological agenda by the summer of 2022. A new Governor, APA staff, board chair and legislative interest offer opportunities to reform and strengthen the agency and address threats and opportunities. A new headquarters was funded.
Enhance Park Environmental Funding: Thumb Up – The Governor and Legislature approved for voter consideration in November 2022, an expanded $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act, increased the Environmental Protection Fund by $100 million to $400 million, and moved to increase spending.
Support Communities: Thumb Up – Investments increased for building more vibrant communities, expanding broadband and communications; efforts expanded to generate local jobs affordable, housing and childcare options.
Foster Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Safety: Thumb Up – Funding for and efforts by the Adirondack Diversity Initiative expanded, along with more opportunities for all communities to enjoy the Adirondacks. There are opportunities and a need to do much more.
Highlights from sections
In her first full year in office, Gov. Kathy Hochul “calmly steered the ship of state amid the chaos that followed both the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the revelations of corruption and misconduct that led to the resignation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August of 2021. Through it all, Gov. Kathy Hochul stood calmly and firmly on the side of democracy and the rule of law. She insisted that investigations be completed, then stayed out of them. Rather than simply demonizing opposing viewpoints and fomenting the anger and frustration that divides many political rivals, Hochul worked with State Legislators on solutions to emergent crises. Together, they reached agreements on major issues and reconvened in June to address widely held grievances over recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that threatened public health, civil liberties and human rights. Significantly, she refused to allow any of those crises to shake her commitment to conservation and environmental protection.”
Both houses won praise for approval of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act, which goes to the voters for final approval on Nov. 8; adopting the Biden administration’s 30-by-30 plan for nationwide wild lands preservation; $600,000 for a Visitor Use Management Framework similar to those used at national parks; $8 million to address heavy use; new wetlands protections; new pesticide restrictions; clean water grants that protect rivers and cushion the impact on local property taxpayers; prevent pollution in urban neighborhoods already overburdened with industrial and transportation-based pollution; celebrating and commemorating the Adirondack Park’s role in securing voting rights for Black state residents; increasing funding for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative; and the nation’s first moratorium on mining cryptocurrency with fossil fuels. Both houses earned a “thumb down” for approving partisan redistricting maps that were thrown out by courts, leading to a confusing array of primary elections and last-minute changes that confused voters. Each house’s individual actions were rated as well.
The Supreme Court of the United States earned a thumb down for its ruling overturning the Obama era Clean Power Plan, which had already been repealed, so it could make a political statement. Other federal judges won praise for restoring vital provisions of the Endangered Species Act, ruling that the act applies to gray wolves; and for requiring real-world emissions testing for wood-fired heating units for which buyers can gain clean-energy incentives. State judges earned thumbs up for offering public hearings on important land-use concerns after the Adirondack Park Agency failed to do so.
Atty. Gen. Leticia James won thumbs up for urging the Legislature to approve a grant to initiate a new Survey of Climate in Adirondack Lake Ecosystems ($500,000 was approved), and for working with other Northeast states to gain federal action to curb diesel truck emissions.
Local governments won praise for controlling septic and stormwater runoff; helping protect wilderness from overuse; creating affordable housing options; supporting renewable energy; running hiker shuttle buses to divert crowds away from overused areas of the Forest Preserve; improvements to water systems and outdoor recreation; and traffic calming. Some local officials drew criticism for poor fiscal management and oversight.
Dept. of Environmental Conservation
The DEC received thumbs up for a good first year working with the Adirondack Mountain Reserve to pioneer a parking reservation system that provided public access to or across private lands while helping to control damage to one of the park’s most sensitive and visited locations; control of invasive species via its boat inspection network; new protections in other high-use areas of the Adirondack and Catskill parks and smaller state parks; hiring new coordinators for Forest Preserve management; continuing a public education campaign about responsible use of public lands that includes local organizations and businesses; new funding to land trusts; new rules on truck emissions; attempts to prevent new invasive fish from entering Lake Champlain; new electric car chargers at Adirondack campgrounds; new controls on methane leaks from oil and gas facilities; a new task force to determine how to build snowmobile trails between communities without violating the constitutional ban on destruction of the Forest Preserve; refusing to renew a permit to mine cryptocurrency at a fossil fuel plant; and, for sounding an alarm about poor dam safety statewide. It earned thumbs down for approving ATV use on a road in St. Lawrence County; ignoring its obligation to protect the habitat and prepare for the return of the gray wolf to the Adirondacks; ignoring its responsibility to prevent untreated sewage from reaching Adirondack lakes and rivers; and for not objecting when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency closed four air-quality monitoring stations in Upstate New York.
Adirondack Park Agency
Won praise for sending a potential developer back to the drawing board by requesting more information before declaring a permit application to be complete for a 355-acre resort in Jay; for finally agreeing to measure and limit new road mileage added to the Forest Preserve as required; for issuing public notices of new applications in time for interested parties to participate in the review; and for helping its board better regulate solar power installations. It earned criticism for refusing to hold adjudicatory public hearings on extremely controversial proposals, including a mine in a residential neighborhood, a chemical herbicide application in a drinking water supply, and a new septic system in a wetland next to a lake with chronic algal growth. It also earned criticism for refusing to support legislation designed to give the agency new tools to prevent suburban sprawl on the park’s wildest lands and authorize the transfer of development rights, and for failing to measure the carrying capacity of public lands before approving new, potentially damaging recreational uses.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer won high praise for his negotiations leading to Congress’s approval of the nation’s first legislation to curb greenhouse gases and improve carbon sequestration nationwide. The Biden administration won praise for substituting federal action plans for inadequate state proposals that were supposed to control the most harmful air pollutants; moving to reinstate federal rules on deadly mercury emissions; enforcing the Clean Air Interstate Rule and “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act; improving national stream protections; fighting climate change and protecting endangered species; moving to protect 30% of the nation’s forests by 2030 (30-by-30); and a new incentive for electric buses that could bring many new jobs to the Plattsburgh region. U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, won praise for efforts to protect clean air and fund the science that regulators need to protect the Northeast from harm. The U.S. military won praise for taking it easier on the Adirondack Park’s wildlife and residents’ and visitors’ eardrums. Senate GOP members and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, earned criticism for blocking clean air legislation and funding and for weakening the Inflation Reduction Act. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, earned criticism for voting against the federal infrastructure bill that included much-needed local public works projects. Stefanik also voted against the Inflation Reduction Act that includes bold, historic and needed action and funding to address climate and health crises, and generate green jobs within and beyond the Adirondacks.
State of the Park also includes sections on the actions of other state agencies, a “Spotlight” section praising the work of other organizations and individuals, and an awards page listing those who have won special praise from the organization and why. Finally, the last page of the report sets forth the organization’s priorities for 2023.
Priorities for 2023
Pass the Bond Act: Gain New York voter approval for the $4.2-billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act.
Combat Climate Change: Adopt an effective Statewide Climate Plan inclusive of protections for the Adirondacks, and advance local, state and federal climate actions.
Invest in Science: Increase and spend funding for research and monitoring, the Survey of Climate and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems (SCALE), and wilderness visitor use management framework (VUMF) protections.
Secure Federal Support: Secure federal science funds and policy to protect clean water, clean air, wildlife, wildlands, and communities.
Advance Protection of Clean Water: Protect water from road salt, aquatic invasive species; curb wastewater; improve septic system regs. Promote Adirondack Park Agency reforms
and watershed scale planning.
Preserve Wildlife and Wildlands: Advance the preservation of wilderness, rewilding and wildlife recovery plans, state land stewardship, and Article XIV, Section 1 the “forever wild” clause of the NYS Constitution. Expand state and partner staffing including doubling and
diversifying the numbers of rangers, stewards, trail crews and educators.
Expand Support for Justice, Equity, and Inclusion: Expand the Adirondack Diversity Initiative and Adirondack Council efforts in support of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and expand and diversify support for the Adirondacks.
Foster Sustainable Farms, Forests and Communities: Ensure environmental protections include support for working farms and farmers, and climate-smart forestry. Foster more diverse sustainable and vibrant communities and solutions to housing, childcare, and communications challenges.
Most Comprehensive Report
Janeway said that the Adirondack Council’s State of the Park Report was the most detailed and comprehensive report on any park in the United States.
“Our world-class park deserves world-class oversight and management,” said Janeway. “The Adirondack Council interacts with public officials on every level of government, from the park’s nine village boards to Congress and the White House. Most importantly, we are non-partisan. We give credit and find fault with the actions of Republicans and Democrats alike. Our freedom to publish a frank and unvarnished critique of the actions of public officials is due to the support we receive from private citizens inside the Park, in New York, across the United States and around the world. We rely upon private support to maintain an independent voice for the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.”
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 provided by John Sheehan, Adirondack Council’s Director of Communications.