Monday, November 28, 2022

Lame, Tired, And Wrong Blame-The-Park Editorializing Persists

In the Adirondacks, I thought we had moved beyond weak economic and social analysis that blames the Park for all of the problems and challenges facing Adirondack communities. I thought that many in the Adirondacks had looked at long-term national rural population and economic trends and learned that the issues facing Adirondack communities are the same issues facing Rural America – and that the first decades of the 21st Century in the U.S. have proved extremely difficult and challenging times for Rural America.

But I was wrong. A recent editorial in Sun Community News went in big with a blame-the-Park rant. Its editorial started out lamenting the closure of an Emergency Room at Adirondack Health in Lake Placid but then went all in on blaming the Park. Now, I live in a community in Hamilton County where we’re at least an hour’s ambulance drive from the nearest Emergency Room, so I get the concerns about the ER closure.

According to the editorial, the ER closure was brought about by “Too many expenses, not enough users and a shortage of staff.” These factors, they said “sound familiar because they could apply just as easily to a restaurant, a school or a souvenir shop as a medical emergency room.”

Fair enough, but then the editorial pivots to make big fact-less and data-free leaps: “And that brings us to the heart of the matter: By design, the state, in the form of the Adirondack Park, limits population density, it limits growth and it limits wealth. We grouse about this, but most of us understand the end goal, even if we don’t always agree with it.”

From here on out, the editorial was full-on blame-the-Park. The editorial provides no facts or figures or context. Nothing. In 2019, Protect the Adirondacks released a report The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends, 1970-2010, which looked at long-term economic and population trends to see if something fundamentally different was going on in the Adirondacks than in other rural areas. The answer we found was no. We found that everything going in Adirondack Park communities was the same as issues facing thousands of rural communities and counties across the U.S., from Maine to Oregon, from Montana to Alabama. The 2020s are proving to be tough times indeed in Rural America.

Without going into exhaustive detail and regurgitating the report, let’s look at recent trends from 2010-2020 that we’ve been looking at as we start the work of updating our report to include 2020. Unfortunately, given the slow pace for the release of 2020 Census data, we don’t have final results for the local Adirondack population, but it seems the Park’s population for the 61 towns that are 100% within the Blue Line experienced a 2-4% population loss from 2010, something like a drop from 101,000 to 99,000. (The prison population numbers confound this analysis, for which we need more detailed Census data to analyze fully.)

What we do know for sure is that the 61 Adirondack Park towns that are 100% within the Blue Line saw a population drop. The 31 towns that are split by the Blue Line also saw a drop from about 129,600 to 128,000. Now, some will use these data to make the case about harm caused by the Park, but the blame-the-Park crowd may want to first consider some state context. Across New York from 2010 to 2020, 703 out of 998 towns, cities, or boroughs also experienced population losses. In the last decade New York State gained a net of over 825,000 residents, almost entirely in New York City, while 70% of all towns lost population. See below for a map that shows this loss.

Note that population losses were widespread in towns throughout the Southern Tier, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, the Upper Hudson Valley, and Western New York. There’s no Adirondack Park or Adirondack Park Agency (APA) or Forest Preserve in most of these places (there’s some Forest Preserve in Central New York in the western Catskills). In the Southern Tier, who do they blame? In Western New York, who do they blame?

Also note that many of the towns outside the Adirondack Park in Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Herkimer counties, wrapping the top and western flanks of the Park, all towns that lay beyond the regulatory reach of the APA’s land use controls or the Forest Preserve protections, yet also experienced population loss. To the Sun Community News’s way of thinking, in towns outside the Blue Line the streets are all paved with gold.

Here’s some national context for the blame-the-Park crowd to consider. Across the U.S. from 2010 to 2020, 1,637 counties out of 3,108 lost population, fully 53% of all counties. These losses were racked up at a time when the U.S. gained 22.7 million people. Never before in American history had a majority of counties lost population in a decade. I repeat – this has never happened before in our country’s history. Something extraordinary and unprecedented is happening. In Iowa, 66 out 99 counties experienced population loss. Did the APA and the Forest Preserve cause that? In Arkansas 53 out of 75 counties lost population. In Illinois 87 out of 102 counties lost population. In Kansas, it was 63 out of 98; Missouri, 78 out 114; Ohio, 56 out of 88.

Even in states that saw significant population gains, their rural areas struggled. Texas gained nearly 4 million residents overall, but 145 out of 254 counties lost population. North Carolina added 1.1 million residents, yet 53 counties out of 100 lost population. Virginia grew by over 600,000 people, yet 58 out 107 counties lost population. Georgia gained over 1 million residents, yet 60 of 152 counties lost population. Even as these states gained millions of new people, their rural areas took it on the chin. Who do they blame in rural Texas? I doubt it’s the APA and the Forest Preserve.

When we look at population trends in Rural America the case is even more acute. There are 1,941 counties in Rural America, covering about 68% of the land area in the Lower 48 states of the continental U.S. From 2010 to 2020, 1,303 rural counties lost population, fully 67%.

When we look at population density alone, the Adirondack Park shares population characteristics with the most rural parts of the U.S. This is a massive land area that covers 61% of the continental U.S., yet is home to just 6% of the American population. In these 1,333 counties with similar population densities as the Adirondacks, 938 lost population, fully 70%, from 2010-2020.

If we accept the Sun Community News’s explanation, the problem in 70% of low population density counties in the U.S. that experienced population loss is the APA and the Forest Preserve. What else could possibly cause population loss? The 70% of counties in the most rural of rural areas in the U.S. that lost population 2010–2020 couldn’t possibly be experiencing impacts from broad historic economic and population trends that are driving Americans to live in urban and suburban areas at record levels never seen before. Never mind that we’re in the midst of historic population and economic shifts, decades in the making, that have concentrated population and economic growth in metropolitan areas, it must be the Park. What else could it be? Surely, there are no other currents, trends, factors, or forces in early 21st-century American life that could help to explain population losses across two-thirds of Rural America or in half of the U.S.

The Adirondack Park is not immune to the broad historic national population and economic trends that are transforming the country. The Blue Line doesn’t somehow exempt us from the forces that are changing Rural America. The technological and economic changes over the last three decades in the U.S. have homogenized Rural America in many ways, standardizing our economics, culture, politics, and populations.

The Sun Community News doesn’t bother to investigate historic trends, doesn’t seek to provide context, doesn’t provide any data or offer any independent analysis; it just dusted off the same old, yet demonstrably false, allegations that the Adirondack Park is to blame for all of the problems facing the small rural communities within the Blue Line.

When it comes to rural communities fighting to improve their viability, the Adirondacks is not alone. When it comes to trying to recruit young people, diversify our population, build up local institutions, and strengthen our local economy, we’re competing with over 700 stressed-out towns across New York and over 1,300 stressed-out counties across Rural America that are experiencing the same things.

It should also be pointed out that in many ways on the economic front, Adirondack communities are doing much better than their rural counterparts. All across the Adirondack Park today there are more jobs than people, and good jobs go unfilled. The past decades have seen job growth in the Adirondacks that exceeds that of many other parts of Rural America.

Let’s look at more of the editorial’s complaints. They write: “The Adirondack mountains are a rare, important and fragile ecosystem that we have collectively decided is worth an extra degree of protection from mankind and its money making machine. That’s fair enough. What’s not fair is that Adirondackers, whose economic potential has been artificially restricted by the state, must pay extra in the way of taxes and receive less in the way of services for the privilege.”

The property tax issue is a red herring too. Now, I get it that nobody likes to pay taxes. In New York State, property taxes are assessed based on the value of land and buildings. The state incentivizes communities to keep their property assessment rolls current so that properties are accurately and equally assessed. Across the Adirondacks there are tremendous differences in property values and the quality of local assessments. Lakeshore properties run many times higher in value than non-lakeshore properties. There are also significant differences based on location; property values in North Elba run a good deal higher than property values in Thurman.

I live in Blue Mountain Lake, part of the Town of Indian Lake, in Hamilton County. My house is assessed at $152,000. My house is in the Hamlet, on a third of an acre, and is not lakeshore. Indian Lake keeps its assessment rolls current. Nearby lakeshore properties with a similar house run three or four times as much in value. My combined school and local taxes this year were $2,675.

Over the years I have listened to the gripes of my friends in places like Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Albany, Ithaca, and Brooklyn. They complain about their local taxes, which usually run two to four times what I paid, though their houses were similar to mine, nice enough, but nothing extraordinary.

Not many year-round residents in the Adirondacks live on the high-value lakeshore properties. Those who own high value properties, who are overwhelmingly second-, third-, and fourth-home owners who live most of the year outside the Park, should pay their taxes accordingly. It’s odd that the Sun Community News is going to bat for tax grievances for non-resident landowners with fat tax bills on high-valued properties. By and large, and there is some community variation based on lakeshore frontage and Forest Preserve ownership, residents of the Adirondack Park are not being hammered on their tax bills when compared with other areas in New York State.

After blaming the Park, the Sun Community News points its finger at Albany and demands action. They write: “Here we are — losing our emergency room, losing schools, losing churches, losing employees, losing business, losing places to live, losing places to care for our kids.” And more: “Albany should understand that there are two sides to this great experiment that is the Adirondack Park. We do relatively well on the conservation side, and for this we are proud and happy. But the human side of the equation is in trouble.”

Now, I don’t begrudge the Sun Community News from taking a swing at Albany. I’ve long complained that Albany makes poor long-term investments in Adirondack Park. In the last decade, Albany spent over $800 million on Whiteface Mountain, Gore Mountain, and the Mount Van Hoevenberg Winter Sports facilities in its misguided belief in the providence of the ORDA trickle-down economy. They spent $25 million to build the Frontier Town Campground. They’re spending $26 million to build the APA a new headquarters. And let’s not forget the $6 million “mountain coaster;” man, was that ever a necessary investment by the state. Imagine investments on a similar scale in local businesses or affordable housing?

The Regional Economic Development Councils routinely allocated far more money to local governments to build highway garages and salt sheds than they handed out to local businesses. Albany refuses to adequately invest in the trails on the Forest Preserve or in personnel to manage and maintain them. The Department of Environmental Conservation spent far more money to build illegal trails than it spends on its legal trail system. Albany cuts the Adirondacks into multiple economic development zones where the focus is always tipped towards the bigger communities outside the Park.

Yes, the Adirondacks has much in common with much of Rural America as far as population trends, but we’re far different in our scenic beauty and environmental protections. Many other rural areas are not just struggling with economic contraction and population loss, but also with problems from a damaged and degraded environment. In the Adirondack Park our key asset, our foundation, is our protected, intact, and overall healthy environment, which in many ways is the key to our future as well as vital to the area’s high quality of life.

We have big challenges in the Adirondacks, enormous challenges. As I said, these are difficult days in all corners of Rural America and the Adirondack Park is no different. Affordable housing, career track jobs, distance learning, child care, rural health care, elder care, support for a Park-wide EMT system, in stabilizing and solidifying Paul Smith’s College, and municipal infrastructure upgrade needs are just a few challenges on a long list. Yet, Albany’s response has been limited, and unimaginative. For ten years, we watched local leaders salivate, including environmental leaders, when Andrew Cuomo came to town to stage his Putinesque raft races where his raft somehow always won the race. No real policies, no real investments, no serious efforts that focused on building the Adirondack economy or meeting our key challenges followed these lavishly staged photo-ops.

So it’s no wonder that in this leadership and policy vacuum we in the Adirondack Park have to listen to lazy and tired blame-the-Park editorializing. But we shouldn’t accept this. If we in the Adirondacks are to buck national economic and population trends that are changing Rural America then it’s going to take changes in how Albany assists and invests in Adirondack economic and community development and in how Adirondack communities plan and strategize for their future viability.

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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.




67 Responses

  1. Contrarian says:

    Nailed it. Communities in the Park are facing the same challenges as rural communities in outside of the Park in New York and other parts of the country. By protecting the natural environment, the state is at least preserving the tourist industry in the Adirondacks which is pretty much entirely based on that.

  2. Contrarian says:

    Though it’s a mistake to confuse anything The Sun does with journalism. It’s a conservative publication with a conservative slant to their coverage, but they’re not honest about it. And they run the press releases of politicians verbatim without the ethics of labelling them as such.

  3. Lee Nellis says:

    Thanks for the statistical update. I look forward to seeing the final version of that.

    There is no need to comment further on the laziness of the “journalism” cited here. Those who pass for “conservative” in the US of 2022 may advocate a work ethic for others, but do everything they can to avoid hard work themselves.

    But I do wonder what others of relying on Albany for help, though I know you are not advocating that as the only strategy. NY communities get more (witness the recent, very substantial grants to downtown Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake), than those in most states. In the Adirondacks – and elsewhere throughout scenic rural America – it seems to me that a radical change from the tired old story repeated here is the first step.

  4. Paul says:

    “Not many year-round residents in the Adirondacks live on the high-value lakeshore properties.” Peter, how accurate is this? Having grown up in Saranac Lake in such a property and having many friends who’s families did/do the same I am not sure how accurate this is for some parts of the Adirondacks. In fact I know many people that live on the lake in one house most of the year and have an additional lake house they use just in the summer. On the Saranac Chain I would bet that more second homes in that area are owned by “locals”. They might have it under an LLC for insurance purposes so it may not look like a local owner but I think you might be surprised.

  5. An Adirondack resident says:

    The restrictions in the “Park” may not be specifically to blame for this closure, and no one wants excessive development, but the restrictions do limit economic growth and business viability. A major problem with an outdoor tourism based economy is that it is seasonal and highly dependent on the weather. Land use restrictions limit the development of non-tourism business. Conversion of large tracts of working forest into forest preserve eliminates in-park jobs, and also eliminates income to local businesses that previously came from the owners of the leased camps located on those properties.

    • Lee Nellis says:

      Proof? Evidence? These are just assumptions. And even if one comes up with an anecdotal example of some loss, what’s the net? What if the regulations/restrictions/ public lands are attracting enough remote workers and enough investment in real estate to counterbalance any loss? No one has clear answers to that question, though the ADK economy is plagued by a housing shortage and labor shortages that suggest there is a positive balance. .

    • John says:

      The point of creating the Adirondack Park was exactly restriction of land use to preserve and protect the natural wonder of the Adirondacks. So, of course some businesses will not be viable here because their viability would destroy the park. But that is not to say that no business is viable, or that the only viable ways of making a living are those that were in place 100 years ago. In that regard, be suspicious of the term “working forest,” by which is often meant an OVERworking forest.

  6. Thank you, Peter. On point as per usual.
    Several things I’d like to note — nobody pays attention to data. Nowhere. The Sun is not the North Country exception but in line with the national rule, long recognized by mass and social media, that most listeners/readers prefer information that resonates with them emotionally. The Sun’s management appears to have chosen that approach to increase readers and advertising rates.
    Next, as far as Adk Health”s ER closure in Long Placid, at no point in the hospital’s announcement of the closure was there any mention of management practices that contributed to the closure nor of corrective measures that might have been taken to prevent or mitigate its impact. Rather cause was attributed to the Lake Placid community for not using the available services and to the staff members who left. Another example of emotionality rather than presentation of the facts underlying the ER’s closure? You decide.
    Finally, the North Country’s steady drift to the political right with its anti-intellectual platform is only half the explanation for this disdain for data — the political left appears to prefer only those that fit its own parochial if broader political agenda. It’s the consequences of this widening divide that really matter — diatribe and innuendo have displaced rational discussion which depends on consensus of what is factual and true.
    Accordingly, we appear to have lost the ability to determine who’s responsible for what, who’s hurting us and who can help — the Park, Albany or Washington or all of them. Until we regain that capacity, we’ll go on blaming whomever is nearer at hand.
    (My own usual explanation is to blame the billionaires, my preferred solution — read poetry.)
    A better New Year for all of us.

  7. Naj Wikoff says:

    By the Sun Editorial’s logic, states like Nebraska, Missouri, Alabama and Mississippi with few land protects like we in the Adks should be swamped with newcomers and charming states like Vermont shouldn’t have to over newcomers thousands of dollars to live there, but as Peter points out people are fleeing rural areas to live in urban environments – it’s the trend. What we do get is lots of visitors who spend money on lodging, for, shopping and what not that many other rural areas do not. Plus Albany invests way more money in our region than we could do on our own even sans taxes. In otherwords suburban and urban people and businesses’ tax dollars are helping maintain our roads, invest in project Peter complains about, support the state police that protect us, and what DC rangers are here. In short, we are way better off than most rural areas and our future looks bright. Many of the problems we do have, like a housing shortage, has been caused by our unwillingness to protect assets via zoning or enforce good laws in place.

  8. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Sense we are just “moving chairs around the deck of the Titanic.”

  9. Steve B. says:

    Hard to judge to what extent having a “Park” (which it isn’t really”) has additional tourist based income that many rural areas don’t see. The fact that it is a so-called park, with all the assorted protections, provides for the attractions that brings in the tourists. That is not something you see in many rural areas, that otherwise have no scenic attractions and thus no tourists, as no efforts have been made to protect the region, with those very protections providing the attractions. Yes, there are limits on zoning and development, but without that, its just a vast expanse of woods few would want to visit. The existence of a “park” is the attraction and drives the tourism.

  10. louis curth says:

    Thank you Peter for spelling out the consequences of the oft-repeated Adirondack blame game that casts a dark cloud over beneficial efforts to preserve the integrity of our Adirondacks, so that future generations may benefit and enjoy.

    You sum it up so well here: “Many other rural areas are not just struggling with economic contraction and population loss, but also with problems from a damaged and degraded environment. In the Adirondack Park our key asset, our foundation, is our protected, intact, and overall healthy environment, which in many ways is the key to our future as well as vital to the area’s high quality of life.”

  11. Bob Meyer says:

    Well said Peter! I hope the Sun editors read this and learn.

  12. James M Schaefer says:

    Well said, The private/public mix of land ownership makes the Park unique. Those of us living outside the Park with property, camps and houses inside the Park, belly annually up to pay taxes. And many of us contribute to the material support of volunteer emergency services as our budgets allow. We do so willingly because we place a high value on wilderness, mountains, streams, and beautiful places that continue to be protected and preserved. Where else in the world does every resident in a state “own” such a place to enjoy. Cheers to the Adirondacks and Catskills being kept Forever Wild.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      Well said James!

    • Rob says:

      James your right. Peter thank you for your passion and writing. The Park is not only unique to NYS but to the country. You can’t quantify tax base, jobs or lack there of or anything else in the park, its a park that’s the point. Just because there are private lands within the park doesn’t mean treat it like suburbia and bring people in. What people don’t see is the corporate machine that drives population movement and push people to flock like sheep. Look at Rt 30 Amsterdam, the place was done for but corporations create vacuums to suck people in and drive small business out (restaurants) for instance. Millions no billions go into research and market data to move people into locations they want, the Adirondacks is not one, not even Albany can control that. I work all over the country, rural and the biggest cities, the development to drive people is mind boggling, where there’s a Starbucks is a Chilis, a Target, a Panera, a Chick Filet, a Lowes, a Chipotle, Distribution centers, a chain, a chain, a chain. Warm, flat, undeveloped areas turn into a metropolis, look at the census numbers they don’t lie. 1 Major company saw opportunity nation wide for rural folk to drive Mom and Pop out, can you name it? (Dollar General) deep pockets to make a go at it. This is what I want to see entering Caroga Lake (not). Leave the park to be a park and let people enjoy it as its wonder of the world. This is the problem with the world trying to turn everything into luxury and comfort. If you want to live the rural way in the “park” than enjoy it’s peace and solace and live, if your unhappy in the park or the way its run then go live in town with the sheep and enjoy your chain food. As James said: Cheers to the Adirondacks and Catskills being kept Forever Wild!!

  13. Tom Philo says:

    Spot On! Excellent column

  14. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    I have never been convinced population numbers, and their changes decade to decade, are a meaningful metric in assessing the economic health of a community. A far better measure might be the percentage of the population living under the Federal Poverty limits. Nationally for 2020 it was 11.4% (source: “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020”, United States Census Bureau). I believe that same year it was 12.7% for New York State. Here is Johnsburg ten years ago I understand it was in excess of 40%, but is now down to about 25%.

    • Peter Bauer says:

      Glenn:

      Read our report. We use the fed Poverty Rate and Median Family Income, among other measures, to compare Adirondack Park communities with other areas in the U.S., 1970 to 2010. Updating for 2020 soon. Park performs better than most other parts of Rural America. Read it here: https://www.protectadks.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Adirondack-Park-and-Rural-America-2nd-Edition-Web.pdf

      • Glenn L. Pearsall says:

        Thx, but I believe that data is now 12 years old (2010). Time for an up-date? Especially interested by township, not county.

        • Peter Bauer says:

          We’re working on the 2020 update, but the former administration really screwed up the Census so it’s still being released in dribs and drabs. Also, it’s Census data, so we’ve been fairly skeptical of this data for individual towns like we have in the Park, which is often based on surveys/extrapolations. That’s why we aggregated areas, like the 61 towns 100% within the Park, etc., to make meaningful 1 to 1 comparisons. I’ll pull out the JBurg data, but I’d be cautious in how it’s used and how accurate it is.

  15. Boreas says:

    I believe much of the local and national trends in population is related to the needs of older residents. A trip to any “local” doctor often leads to referrals to several “non-local” doctors requiring significant travel and expense, assuming one has access to money and transportation. Simply put, seniors are likely to drift to areas that serve them better. Be it healthcare, shopping, cultural entertainment, or simply energy costs to keep the house warm.

    While I have no data to support it, as the “boomer” generation fades away, this negative trend could easily reverse across the nation. But it will require investment in rural infrastructure, which our elected representatives to Albany need to consider. For one example, this needs to include breaking up internet monopolies in our rural areas. Now that people have to rely more on fast internet connections for medical services and shopping, access is becoming increasingly unaffordable to many.

  16. Paul says:

    You can’t “prove” anything – one way or the other. That is why – like you say, there are no clear answers. You only have one scenario that exists, here you are making comparisons to other places and circumstances that are different.

    Peter say this:

    “Yes, the Adirondacks has much in common with much of Rural America as far as population trends, but we’re far different in our scenic beauty and environmental protections.”

    There are many “rural” places that you could use for an accurate comparison, again not solid proof. Ones that have similar things. Look out west. You will find places. Towns in Northern Colorado for example (the “green” on the US map). They have these similar housing and labor issues, mainly because they are growing in population. Why isn’t that happening here? I am not saying it has anything to do with land use regulations. Just saying these are the better comparisons. Beautiful places, with “environmental protection”. There is nowhere in NYS that you could really compare. Those are pointless.

  17. JB says:

    The editorial in The Sun is another example of local anxieties boiling over and being pointed in entirely the wrong direction.

    On the one hand, there are larger trends. Mr. Bauer absolutely hits the nail on the head here: “The technological and economic changes over the last three decades in the U.S. have homogenized Rural America in many ways.”

    But, on the other hand, there is a pattern of mismanagement and all around bad economic policy at the state level, which hits (often complicit) Adirondack Park communities particularly hard. Though this should be a distinct issue from the Art. 14 and the APA Act, that line unfortunately grows increasingly fuzzy.

    Both of these problems have the same solution: When faced with difficulty, instead of trying to roll back the clocks to perpetuate status quos, it’s time to acknowledge that certain models have become obsolete. In this situation, our instincts cause us to become our own worst enemies.

    Locally: Instead of blaming business woes on “limits on growth”, we should realize that the places seeing the greatest increases in economic activity (in the form of tourism) have had the most difficult time maintaining a stable workforce; and instead of blaming “limits on population density” for higher taxes, we should realize that places seeing the most development have seen the most appreciated property values. If we want to see stronger local economies, we need to diversify away from tourism; and, fortunately, there are exciting new ways to do this. Nationally: Instead of measuring success by housing turnover and migration rates, we should be doing everything that we can to encourage the opposite. Some countries that have struggled with urbanization have started to take a serious look at this, and, although we can’t roll back the clocks, I say it’s not too late for us either.

  18. Paul says:

    “The technological and economic changes over the last three decades in the U.S. have homogenized Rural America in many ways, standardizing our economics, culture, politics, and populations”

    This is a pretty broad statement, but hopefully some of the recent changes – switches to remote work (although I am not sure it is so great for our mental health) for example will boost more remote economies.

  19. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “….the ER closure was brought about by “Too many expenses, not enough users and a shortage of staff.” These factors, they said “sound familiar because they could apply just as easily to a restaurant, a school or a souvenir shop as a medical emergency room.”

    Yeah but, those restaurant proprietors, etc., don’t make near as much money as the medical profession does. Just to walk into an emergency room is a weeks pay to some. And how about procedures! Say a colonoscopy, or a hernia operation. Times them by 6 per day, or however many a day the docs perform. At $5000. a head figure it out. When ER’s close you can bet the only one’s losing out are those who need their services, not the CEO’s who, in the main, seem to operate (pun intended) by what the latest perks are which benefit them.

  20. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “everything going in Adirondack Park communities was the same as issues facing thousands of rural communities and counties across the U.S., from Maine to Oregon, from Montana to Alabama.”

    The only difference being those deep, dark, magical woods which surround those rural Adirondack communities!

  21. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “the Adirondack Park is to blame for all of the problems facing the small rural communities within the Blue Line..”

    > Let us get rid of the park! Chop down all of them woods and invest in a new form of Capital. Let us build ‘Disney World Adirondack’, let us start pouring more cement, building more houses and housing developments……..

  22. Tracy Ormsbee says:

    I agree with Peter completely that the struggles of Adirondack communities are not caused by the protections for the Forest Preserve and appreciate the years of research behind his words. However, as one sometimes clumsy editorial writer myself, I didn’t come away with the same message from the Sun editorial. I read it to mean not that the protections are to blame for the community struggles but that the state should put the same loving care into the survival of our communities that it did to protect the park’s wild lands.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      Tracy,
      Having read the Sun article I come away with a position somewhere in between what you came away with and Peter’s take on it.

      • JB says:

        I think that Tracy’s words here are a good reminder, if nothing else, that ideologies can become a distraction from realities faced by actual people. Nobody will ever get that completely right. But the crux of the problem for me whenever we start speculating about the future is that humans are not very good at it — especially in 800 words or less.

        Though The Sun calls for changes in state funding and taxation regimes, here there is also the implication that people would like to see LUP measures relaxed to facilitate business activity. And the writing on the wall is that “business” in this context is ultimately code for speculative outside investment — which is not necessarily synonymous with community well-being. In line with what Joan says, finding strength from within is usually far more productive than searching for greener pastures elsewhere.

  23. Joan Grabe says:

    I didn’t read the Sun’s editorial but it is usually a hoot ( as are the Letters to the Editor) but this is just a shopworn copy of the age old controversy between upstate and downstate New York.I am NYC born, bred and educated but I have been coming up to the Adirondacks since the early 50s in the summer as I now do decades later. The Adirondacks are still as beautiful, as cool and dry and lovely. But the towns are way better – better restaurants, stores, hotels and lots more people. It just gets better and better. I think the state could do more to improve the townships up here but the non profits are trying, beyond their capacity actually, to improve housing, child care and educational pathways. The Park Agency has it’s mission and the population has it’s responsibility to respond to local problems. In the end, we all are the solution.

  24. Colvin says:

    Excellent analysis by Mr. Bauer. If the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park were to disappear tomorrow it would do nothing to resolve the economic and social problems facing Adirondack communities. Solving those issues will require determination and creativity, not knee jerk Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve bashing.

  25. Eric Geisel says:

    New reader…I personally feel we are in a unique scenario where the voting public, via the DEC, is in position to manage a vast renewable resource that is being squandered due to a poorly written (despite well-intentioned) State Constitution. A State Constitution that has been carved apart by multiple private interests, I must add. Total neglect is a poor policy when compared to proper silviculture.

    The Sun appears to be obsessed with importing remote workers (a trend that’s failing as companies are hemorrhaging profits, for which lost productivity has played a role) and selling “The Green” Agenda, which will leave vast expanses of our Earth strip mined, and our ocean floor ecosystems destroyed over the next century as the people are forced to fund these exploitative corporations. They claim our region is a “climate safe haven”, as if we’re merely living in paradise while it’s (figuratively?) raining fire & brimstone everywhere else. I hope they appreciate their plowmen, and I’m sure they all have top of the line HVAC systems in their homes, unless they enjoy basking in the midsummer humidity coupled with the deep winter frost.

    I must ask what is meant by stating “diversify” the Adirondacks? This was mentioned in the hogwash of a training I was forced to sit through titled “Implicit Bias”. I’m not certain why everyone is suddenly so obsessed with race and sexuality. Do we not have greater things to concern ourselves with? I’m much more concerned with growing local economies while simultaneously preventing the multinational conglomerate takeover of our region. This in addition to a crumbling family structure and soaring drug abuse rates across nearly all demographics. I can’t even watch an NFL game or enjoy a fictional program without being bombarded by themes of “diversity” and “equity”. It’s getting ridiculous. I think short term rentals and lakeside/mountainside McMansions are more of a threat to our working class rural communities than any sort of “lack of diversity”…

    • An Adirondack Resident says:

      Eric Geisel you hit the nail on the head.

    • Bill Keller says:

      Man has been strip mining the earth for centuries, By ” The Green agenda” I assume you mean alternate energy sources, and electric cars, recycling, and alternate heating such as heat pumps. Some experts say we have 47 years of oil left at current consumption. Do you believe we should wait for it to run out before we develop new energy sources? What is wrong with diversity and equality? Isn’t it time we address these issues of bigotry not just in the Adirondacks but country wide? Can’t watch TV without seeing different life styles/races advertised and it upsets you? I guess the “hogwash” training didn’t help.

  26. Bob Meyer says:

    Bill,
    To quote someone else on this thread, it’s you that “hit the nail on the head“!
    Thank you!

  27. Eric Geisel says:

    I appreciate the debate. You lead your argument by showing your hand. This energy transition has absolutely nothing to do with environmental preservation. It doesn’t even have much to do with conservation, as the sheer quantity of rare earth minerals necessary to perform such transition will far exceed any sort of responsible management of natural resources in extraction locations. Not to mention the massive (and expensive) upgrades to our electric grids throughout the developed world. You’re merely looking to maintain a status quo of consumerism rather than promote a conservationist lifestyle. My issues with “Implicit Bias” training is the arrogance of such a program. Those who promote this mindset have the audacity to tell me how I do/should think. My issue with lifestyle/racial advertising themes in and around entertainment is how they are intentionally attempting to manipulate the viewer. It’s similar to product-placement and subliminal messaging; just another method of influencing the general public. By having demographics quotas in entertainment they are tipping the scales of opportunity, just as Affirmative Action and HEOP scholarships have been for decades now. This are bigoted responses to perceived “injustices”.This tells me how flawed our values still are as a society. This plays right back into the arrogance and gross consumerism that has plagued our society for generations. It’s so bad that we have our (heavily over-leveraged) government funding energy speculation. We can’t even count government spending by the billion anymore…that should frighten the common citizen.

  28. Bob Meyer says:

    Well Eric: you may be correct concerning the overreach of certain details and rampant consumerism is a real issue but, if your “answer“ is to perpetuate the old sanitized history and go back to the “good old days“ then, with all due respect, your fancy jargon is the real hogwash here.
    Progress is always bumpy and often painful, but without it civility will crumble, and democracy will fail.

    • Eric Geisel says:

      Truth be told I’m in my mid 30s; I do not recall any good days for our society. I certainly do not believe our current status resembles anything close to progress. It’s mostly just a bunch of virtue signaling, apathy, and politically-charged arguments that are overshadowing the overall decline in working class prosperity and quality of life. National employment statistics show both black and white non-college educated men have experienced a stagnant wage growth over the past 40+ years. This is frightening, especially in the era of 2% annual inflation rates. I do not believe tourism is the answer to this dilemma for our region. I also do not believe diversity solely for diversity sake is necessary. People need an emotional/physical connection with where they decide to call home. For me I was born and raised in this region. I believe the “novelty” of rural life will wear off for many of the recent transplants, especially if/when stricter short term rental regulations are put in place in many municipalities and the local tourism “industry” plateaus. It’s difficult to even predict the next two decades for quality of life as we move toward a mostly solar local energy grid in our region. It has not worked overly well around the world at similar latitudes, once the subsidies wear thin. Is a potential nuclear power plant on our horizon or can we simply tap into NYC’s giant extension cord that is being run south through the Champlain Basin? Hard to tell…good talk, though. I really do appreciate the engagement.

      • JB says:

        Many people feel this way, particularly the “next generation” in the Adirondacks. Any meaningful “progress” will need to involve and engage with these concerns. Instead, I see institutions buckling down to preserve the old status quo, even if it is being rebranded (as a desperate last resort, I think).

        The most concrete example of this is the advent of grassroots anti-tourism movements in the Adirondacks, in stark opposition to state-incentivized programs. I don’t think that tourism is going away, but I believe that in the coming years we will see a shift towards a radically different type of tourism economy — locally controlled, on local communities’ terms.

        We could also see positive changes regarding other environmental and social issues that have festered for decades. …If we can break down the biggest barrier of all — the cliché of divisive politics. For all of our focus on the historical past (whether it be “the good old days” or otherwise), we certainly are not learning very much from it.

        • Eric Geisel says:

          I think you’re absolutely correct with nearly everything you mentioned. I’ve personally always felt that tourism is not an industry in and of itself, but a byproduct of industry. Tourism in our region has been kept alive due to H1/J1 visas and low lending interest rates, not to mention relatively stable inflation rates and a perennial bull market due to (now perpetual) government intervention in 2008 and beyond. The US economy is a hollowed out shell of what it once was, and harder times most certainly lay ahead, especially with the inevitable decoupling of the Petrodollar by our fellow industrialized nations in Eastern Europe and Asia. I understand the author’s beliefs that we must protect the Adirondacks, but we also must conserve the renewable natural resources that this beautiful earth has given to us. Our forests lay in rot due to nearly a century of neglect. Conservation and preservation are two slightly different concepts. This can potentially bring new life to local working class communities. We could potentially utilize the rotting leaves as an additive for natural fertilizer and we could use draft horses in order to skid timber off state land, which would improve the market for local agriculture and also minimize damage to our forests. This is not about making a corporation rich, but about providing working families a means to earn a living, while simultaneously reinvigorating a decaying forest system. Just my two cents…

          • JB says:

            I think that the proper term for your use of “industry” here is “neoliberalism” — broad interventions across all areas of society that inhibit the mechanisms that would normally allow markets to correct. (Well, actually markets are not really self-correcting; externalities ultimately correct markets.) As far as I’m concerned, this is not a matter of working-class vs. elite, rural vs. urban, rich vs. poor, environmentalism vs. exploitation (“conservation” is a very, very complicated word). The problem is the social structures (and the roles that we play in them) that give us these dichotomies in the first place.

            In other words, it would be nice if the conditions that made establishment of the Forest Preserve necessary to begin with — to prevent economic and environmental tragedy — did not still exist today. I think that it is possible in theory to get there, too. Sustainable customary land use regimes exist — in places, hereditary land rights are still passed down, granting small numbers of people specific privileges (even, in very limited contexts, to salvage timber and rake leaves for fertilizer). But what that would look like in the Adirondacks would be so far from recognizable, so unimaginable, that few alive today would be happy about it.

            Instead, I think it behooves all of us to try to think positively. Here “to think positively” shouldn’t be thought of as “looking on the bright side” or “to think constructively”, but rather using positive terminology to understand the world, the way that it is right now, and the way that things got here, instead of dwelling on have-nots and the paranoia that ensues. Basically, we need to dismantle bad systems one step at a time.

            For example, New York State Forest Tax law sometimes allows land owners (well, certain ones) to effectively resist development pressures, but it does this by subsidizing broad swaths of the state timber economy and diverting even more state monies towards compensating counties (etc.). As a result, massive quantities of valuable hardwoods are indeed being left to rot, only that they are not sitting in forests — they are sitting in timber yards, waiting to be turned into throw-away products like pallets. (Rotting logs belong in the forest; they do not belong in piles made by underpaid sawmill workers.)

            I’m not saying that we are in a place that market interventions are not needed, but imagine the additional value that local economies could see if these policies alone were more appropriate! Assuming that the population of the Adirondack Park does not artificially grow because of (yet another) state-backed rustication program (some diversity initiatives fit this bill surprisingly well), I’d reckon that this would do more to stabilize local economies in the long run than salvage logging on all three million acres of Forest Preserve ever could. (Hence, Protect the Adirondacks has joined landowners’ rights groups in calling for Forest Tax Law reform.)

            Admittedly it has been a while now since I have read Mr. Bauer’s article here, but I think that most of the problems (or causes of problems) that he has pointed to regarding Adirondack economies fall under the umbrella cast by neoliberalism as defined. Where he gets things wrong, I think, is in tracing these lines back to a “leadership vacuum”, as if all of this is the inevitable result of the natural progression of society. In fact, there is plenty of leadership — it is just of entirely the wrong kind.

            So, in sum, I think the spirit of your arguments are very good, and something we need more of. All of us just need to go further, and have a lot more discussions like this. Glad to see them happening on the Almanack.

            • Eric Geisel says:

              I really enjoyed reading your input. I can tell that you have an education in economics just from the few short paragraphs you shared. I will actually take the concept of salvage logging a step further in that we need to gain a clearer perspective of what constitutes a “public corporation” in our State Constitution. Is the DEC (an extension of the Governor’s Office) considered a public corporation? This is a bureaucracy that can be swayed directly by the electoral process. I understand there is a court case currently underway that might clarify this a bit, but I am not certain what arguments are being put forth in this case. You bring up a concerning aspect of our logging industry. Unused timber (wasted resources) should concern us all. This is perhaps an issue with subsidizing private industry instead of managing the output via the state. Private loggers feel the need to maximize profits and private landowners don’t always have a conservationist mentality toward their land. I used to be libertarian minded in my youth, until I realized how exploitative private industry truly can be, especially when dealing in natural resources. We also aren’t exploring the options of increasing the scale of hardwood as an energy source. This could require filing a lawsuit against the state, as recent legislation seeks to obstruct the citizenry of such a valuable (and renewable) energy source. I like your use of the term “rustication”…Maoist China implemented rustication policies throughout the 60s and 70s. The only kicker was they were actually performing rural agricultural work. What would the purpose be for New York State to incentivize rural relocation for urban populations? My money is on this being politically motivated, as they sense the political winds are shifting throughout the state. Just a hunch…this is why I initially stated that diversity for diversity sake is unnecessary. We should stop encouraging our youth to leave the region upon completion of their secondary education rather than incentivize resettlement of individuals who have no prior connection with our region. The majority of my teachers told me to get away from the area after high school, something I’m sure many other students experienced throughout the North Country. Thank you again for your perspective.

              • JB says:

                I actually had considered elaborating on the “rustication” part, and you definitely asked the right question, so I might as well.

                We all probably know by now that urbanization is inevitable as nations industrialize, and for about fifty years, the predominant economic thinking on this has been that urbanization is, in essence, not economically “optimum” — there is an “urban bias” that causes the diversion of capital and workers to urban centers at higher levels than would be economically “rational” (justified by markets). As a result, the thinking goes, urban areas tend to have problems like high unemployment and housing shortages, while rural areas suffer from lack of capital and workforce shortages. Guided by these ideas, strong-handed policies have been enacted by governments around the world, primarily in rapidly urbanizing nations in Africa and Asia. Many of these have been overtly bigoted: “rustication”, forced relocation, and maybe worse.

                But of course, in hindsight, these types of policies did little to stop urbanization. And the underlying economic theory, it turns out, has not proven out. Yet, arguably, we still see policies informed by urban bias theory playing out even in our own country, despite the fact that we have been over the hump of the urbanization bell curve for a century. In New York State, the phenomenon is quite pronounced — the infamous Urban Development Corporation of the 1970s and its controversial municipal disinvestment strategies, and its “successors”, the Empire State Development Corporation and the Regional Economic Development Councils, with their Downtown Revitalization Initiatives, subsidized rural infrastructure, and much more. There is certainly a lot more to the story with “diversity initiatives”, like the Adirondack Diversity Initiative or parts of the Adirondack Council’s new initiative (I have shared thoughts about that elsewhere), but it is not difficult to see that there is in fact an ideological connection between these types of initiatives and urban bias theory, as well.

                And now, to the million dollar question: Why is this idea that the state must intervene to artificially bolster rural populations so attractive to governments around the world? As we have seen, the economics are far from solid. Is there a political angle? Certainly. Does this fit into the broader project of neoliberalism (and colonialism)? Arguably. But what do truly sustainable rural communities even look like in the first place, particularly in the Adirondacks? Maybe our standards, either from history or from an imagined future, do not in fact represent the types of economies that could survive more than a few generations without state intervention. In other words, maybe the problem is that Adirondack economies have never been “rational” to begin with. Maybe Adirondack economies have never been properly suited to the land itself.

                Obviously, there are nuances and complexities. For example, we could explore the question of why economists measure economic health in terms of mobility, movement of people and resources, rather than stability — and whether this is really a good thing. We could explore pitfalls with the way that economics, natural resource management, and even forest ecology are taught in local schools, why they are taught that way, and what alternative paradigm exist elsewhere (I actually believe that our environmental sciences programs tend to be unscientifically biased in favor of specific timber management strategies, in keeping with a long tradition of bad science). But, in the end, I think that it all boils down to some deceptively simple, and inconvenient, common sense. No formal education (or wisdom of old age) necessary!

                • Eric Geisel says:

                  Thank you for such an informative response. You mentioned plenty of historical policies for me to dig further into and your hypothesis on the lifespan of “efficient” rural economies Is brilliant. It seems especially true in a region that is not predominantly suited for agriculture, though farming is a bit more common down in my part of the Adirondacks. Even with agriculture it’s always going to be in the farmer’s interest to maximize yields while minimizing expenses, so there’s only so much opportunity available in a rural agricultural economy. Opportunities become even more scarce with illegal immigration and seasonal visa workers, just as is being experienced in the rural and coastal tourist economies. I believe there’s a direct correlation with these economic trends and our crumbling family structure here in our nation, though I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg in this equation. Divorce rates are through the roof; percentages of single-parent households are increasing across most demographics. Drug abuse and venereal disease rates have skyrocketed. Even “successful” families break apart over time: the kids move away, the parents age and eventually enter assisted living. The kids sell the estate and the cycle repeats. I know this isn’t everyone’s story, but it’s certainly commonplace. Families that live and work together seem to buck this trend, but they appear to be a minority these days. Perhaps this is natural…society tends to head in this direction. We’re far from the first civilization to fall apart. I like when you mentioned positive thought in your prior post. An individual can only make the best (or worst/anywhere in between) of the situation they have been presented. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        Well, Eric, I’m glad you’re in the debate. One of the key pieces of information is your age, and because of that your lack of perspective on many things, I am more than twice your age and have experienced and witnessed the reality of racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, misogyny and other forms of division, hate, ignorance and exclusion. If you truly believe in the idea of a more perfect union in our nation, then there really can be no place for any of this.
        As for what’s good for the Adirondacks, the park and the north country, you obviously do not have a grasp of the history of the forest preserve, the park and the intrinsic value of wilderness. You also seem not to understand that the extractive industries are a thing of the past even if there were no regulations in the Adirondacks. The dominant economic engine of the 21st century is what you call tourism in all its forms.
        Because you are so young, relatively, you have not had the benefit of seeing the cycles of progress and regressions. I have
        vivid memories of everything from the Korean War to McCarthyism to Eisenhower to the hope of Kennedy to the quagmire Vietnam and on and on.
        No system of government will ever be perfect. Just as people will never be perfect. Part of progress is learning from our mistakes and continuing to improve.
        Going backwards, will never the answer. Whether one embraces or is dragged, kicking and screaming the 21st century marches on with all its real problems and all its real promises.
        You seem like a bright, thinking person. But I think you have bought into the “good old days” nonsense that some people on this forum and elsewhere espouse.
        I would welcome speaking with you, and if you’re interested, the moderator can put us in touch. LMK
        In the meantime, I wish you and everyone else, a healthy, productive, and meaningful new year.

        • Eric Geisel says:

          I appreciate your perspective, though I do believe you are discounting mine due to my age. I’m not a newborn babe, after all. I have a wife and children and I have extensive work experience in the trades. I would dare to even call myself a carpenter these days after all my work experience, though I’ve always been reluctant to assume that title. I won’t drone on for too long about myself, but my grandfather was in the CCC and both he and my eldest uncle attended Wanakena. My next eldest uncle (who employed me throughout my early to mid 20s) made a successful career out of logging and trucking. My father was a corrections officer at a now-closed facility here in the Adirondacks, so I’ve seen that side of our economy as well. I understand the intent of the forest preserve, but I also understand how we can properly cultivate a forest system, rather than just leave it alone. Too many environmentalists advocate out of fear. There is little to fear if proper resource management is practiced. We can learn from the mistakes of the Industrial Revolution. As far as any perceived bigotry you are inferring from my comments, I can assure you that I am a firm believer in opportunity. I certainly don’t believe in equity, nor do I believe in illegal immigration. I have other social political beliefs that I’m sure will differ from many on this forum, but none of them come from a place of hatred. I do want the Adirondacks to remain rural; I didn’t even support the idea of subsidized broadband access, as this opens our region up to further gentrification. I’m certainly interested in continuing our communication. I would like keep growing intellectually and, judging from the comments on this board, I can tell you all have valuable perspectives to share. Thank you for the conversation.

  29. Bob Meyer says:

    So many interesting and thoughtful comments here. Thank you everyone.
    There has been much written about both how the Adirondacks share issues with rural America in general and what is unique to the Park. No need to replicate here.
    One thing for sure, we cannot go back to the “good old days” (which were only good for some people). Given the fundamental changes in technology alone makes it an impossibility. What we can do is learn from the past and through data driven nonpartisan analysis and action make positive changes to improve the lives of North Country people, towns & villages while safeguarding and strengthening the natural environment that is so very special and vital to the Park. There will always be disagreements about what is best for the North Country as evidenced in this and all other “controversial” threads in the Adirondack Almanack and other platforms. But common ground, dialogue, civility, compromise and respect for those with whom we disagree is the only viable way forward. It’s how democracy functions.. often messy, but it beats the alternative.
    So here’s to everyone; wishing you a healthy, happy and meaningful New Year.

  30. John says:

    Peter: Bravo!

  31. Lee Nellis says:

    After I first hopped in there, I took a two week road trip when the only reading I did was the road atlas and the interpretive signs in various parks and monuments. But I also read the landscapes through which we passed. Anyone who isn’t delighted to be living in the Adirondacks, all warts included, needs to take a trip to the cotton fields of Eastern Arkansas, say, or the feedlots of the Texas Panhandle. There is still beauty in those landscapes. The short grass prairie is full of light and life if you can still yourself enough to see that and the headwaters swamp we visited among the cotton fields is an amazing (though vanishing) ecosystem.

    What I was “reading” though was the impact of corporatized agriculture on the farms and small towns through which we meandered. Or to scale it up, as JB does, the impact of a neoliberal view of the world. The Adirondack Park is a bit of a refuge from that worldview, but cannot stay that way if its inhabitants and advocates cannot find a new story, a new story that will most likely builds from the way the folks from whom we stole this land saw it.

    And that, Eric, is why there has to be an emphasis on diversity. One worldview, especially one that treats both the land and its inhabitants as commodities, is not enough. Us white folk have, and to the benefit us so few of us, homogenized the world almost beyond retrieval. And the alternative views in our own heritage (the views of Henry George, for example) have not stood successfully against this trend because, they accept too many of the same assumptions (and also, too, because they are ruthlessly and skillfully repressed).

    There is a great deal more to unpack in this excellent dialogue. But I will wait for the next round (or let JB, Bob, and others continue here). I just want to direct Eric, who seems to have good intuitions, to the single best starting point in going (as we all must do if we are to see clearly) from intuition to understanding. Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America is still the one book one must read to begin seeing how things work (and not) in rural America. It is precisely what a younger guy who works in the trades and has a classical view of conservation needs to read. Enjoy. Also Happy New Year to all here!

    • JB says:

      Lee, this sounds like a fascinating road trip!

      The key word, to summarize this discussion, is homogenization. Any new story will need to reconcile an ever-expanding horizon of knowledge with the ever-shrinking refuges of the places that we call home.

      Too often under the predominant paradigm, “diversity” becomes merely about “breaking down barriers”; it becomes a primary driver of homogenization (via globalization, commercialization, etc.) rather than a meaningful recourse against it. On the other hand, indigenous cultural systems that maintain true diversity — the kind that prevents homogenization — are all about establishing and respecting boundaries.

      (This is a nuanced and important point: we have come to see boundaries as problems, despite the fact the genocide, ecocide, slavery and other overt injustices of all kinds ultimately stem from our disregard for boundaries.)

      Wendell Berry’s major contribution is that he proposes a viable alternative (or the beginning of one) to this double-concept of diversity as homogeneity: radical holism. (Learning how to add 1 + 1 = 2 is a radical act in a society that has forgotten basic arithmetic.) By shifting the focus towards unity and away from contradictions, he offers a powerful guiding principle for subverting bad paradigms.

      In translating all of this into some new, meaningful story, the litmus test is twofold. One: we, as Wendell Berry, must find a way to value the places that we call home and the people with whom we inhabit them that does not rely on negative characterizations (this is “positive thinking”). When we say “The Adirondacks is not … [New York City, Texas, etc.]”, our minds are already fragmented and divided by contradiction, miles from where they need to be, before we have even finished our sentence. And, two: we must not focus on singular objectives and agendas, as we often do, in lieu of the whole.

      Somehow, on this crazy road trip that we all find ourselves in the midst of, we need to find a way to integrate and learn from what we see through the window, while still remaining natives of places and communities that we increasingly cannot see for what they really are. How complex and challenging this will be all depends on us.

    • Eric Geisel says:

      I believe you are misunderstanding my vision of how we proceed. There is nothing corporatized about how I view our potential use of the abundant renewable natural resources that we have in this region. Managing resource extraction through a state bureaucracy that works for the executive branch of our government has the potential to be completely different than allowing corporate interests to destroy our land. The selling out of our land to a multinational conglomerate Imerys (operating under NYCO) was, and continues to be, a travesty. These deals are pushed forth by politicians who play both sides of the environmentalism-industrialization game. There is intrinsic value in properly maintaining a forested ecosystem, especially if our regional climate is indeed shifting toward longer periods of drought coupled with high volume precipitation events. The 2022 summer put our region at an increased risk of a widespread forest fire; is this a disaster worth flirting with due to a zealous dedication to preservation at all costs? Well…not all costs…as it has already been proven that a corporation with enough time and resources can pick apart our State Constitution.
      You also use the term “stole” in reference to the European settling of America. You are clearly using the language of those who push this dangerous agenda that those of us of European (especially Northern and Western Europe) descent need to constantly project a sense of guilt for the past two millennia of world history. I refuse to play this game. Our ancestors conquered this land, whether by force/treaty/broken promise/etc. That is the truth. Human history is filled with conquest and oppression. Our ancestors were far from the only ones who saw opportunity in the taking of another man’s land. A deeper look into American Indian history shows us they also conquered this land, only ~12,000 years prior to our ancestors. Who speaks for the men and women they eradicated? I understand these words might appear harsh to many of you, but this (among many other reasons) is why I oppose the concept of diversity merely for the sake of diversity. I do not believe in social engineering nor do I support any policies that aim to accomplish such a goal. Americans of all races and ethnicities have the opportunity to freely move throughout this land. There has been federal legislation on the books for nearly 50 years that clearly states the illegality of denying the sale of property to a qualified buyer due to their race/ethnicity/etc. There’s no need to keep pushing bigoted policies that create unfair advantages for certain demographics. Yet I’m seen as the one in desperate need of “enlightenment” in this conversation? Very interesting….

      • JB says:

        Eric, not to harp on this issue too much, but some of your thoughts about double-dealing environmentalists and globalization are essentially direct quotes from the book that Lee had mentioned. He actually read the situation remarkably well in his recommendation.

        Three more quick points.

        Personally, I have a difficult time distinguishing the type of state bureaucracies you refer to from multinational corporations, both in organizational structure and environmental or economic effect.

        Secondly, the prevailing scientific research regarding drought and fire responses in managed versus unmanaged forests, especially in our region, is trending towards the opposite of your conclusion, if anything. (This is particularly remarkable because the same “state bureaucracies” that tend to fund this type research are those that are heavily invested in commercial forestry.)

        And lastly, you are at least partly right that conquest, warfare and hegemonies have existed worldwide, even in Pre-Columbian North America. Much like us, there are indigenous people who still see something akin to warfare as a viable option to this day. But, having been walked through practices like the Great Law of Peace, for example, I’ve been thoroughly convinced of their virtues.

        (As noted above, while these types of practices encourage inclusion, they do so in a very measured and respectful manner that is quite different than any organizational diversity campaigns we see in mainstream society. They stand in contrast with, to quote Berry, “organizations [that] tend to move toward single objectives — a ruling, a vote, a law — and … [that] find it relatively simple to cohere under acronyms and slogans.”)

        Only my opinion — you can take it for what you will.

        • Eric Geisel says:

          State bureaucracies, while certainly not ideal, are still under some form of indirect influence of the voting public, especially our DEC, which is employed through the executive branch of our state.
          I would not say prevailing evidence proves your theory. I have read a report that was drafted after a wildfire in the Pacific Northwest from ~2007 that drew a similar conclusion regarding conifer plantations that were planted in the aftermath of an earlier wildfire, but the researchers even stated this outcome could have been different in a different ecosystem and/or at a different point in the growth cycle of those specific coniferous trees. I am not aware of any specific studies conducted in our region centered around our mix of deciduous and coniferous forests (which could lead to an entirely different outcome than this Pacific study). Do you have more information for me?
          You bring up an interesting dichotomy of peace/war in mankind’s history. I do believe the American Indian culture to be mostly virtuous, similar to those who drafted the Magna Carta. Mankind’s history is full of making war and peace; it’s what makes us human.

          • JB says:

            Eric, I’d agree with the assessment that, regarding Adirondack forests, we must avoid assumptions based on models from radically different landscapes elsewhere. Taking things “acre by acre” is a wise approach, as well, but “acre by acre” can hardly be said in the same breath as terms like fire ecology or climate change.

            At first glance, the fear of wildfires seems to make sense. There are plenty of historical examples of widespread, formidable fires in the Adirondacks, and these have informed forestry management on private lands, particularly regarding the fire risks associated with slash.

            On the other hand, because nearly all historical wildfires in the Adirondacks have occurred in recently-logged forests, we don’t have the types of fire ecology models that you seek for older forests. Frankly, we can’t make meaningful conclusions about debris and fire risk in natural Adirondack forests because significant wildfires are so rare in these ecosystems that we have never observed them. For all intents and purposes, we can’t model something that does not exist.

            For a very hands-on, eloquently written report on the ecological merits (or lack thereof) of salvage operations after large disturbance events, and why salvage logging may actually increase wildfire risk, see Jerry Jenkins’ “Notes on the Adirondack blowdown of July 15th, 1995” (available freely online). (There is an interesting bonus meditation on economics and aesthethics.)

            For a statistics-based global approach (generally less understandable, and frankly less useful), this just came across my desk: Au, Tsun Fung, et al. “Younger trees in the upper canopy are more sensitive but also more resilient to drought.” Nature climate change. 2022.

            Inevitably, “health” is a relative term. Looking across time, most, if not all, forest ecologists tend to think that the forests of the Forest Preserve are healthier now than they were 100 years ago. But, potentially, we can define health relative to whatever our priorities are. Bird specialists have notably argued for forest management in places to increase populations of certain species of birds and species that benefit birds. Silviculturalists tend to favor whatever species are perceived to be the most economically valuable at any given moment (in some cases, those same species eventually become some of the most economically destructive). In one talk at a botany conference that I attended last year, to an audience of some of the most famous botanists in the world, a humanities scholar even made the argument that policies towards invasive species (i.e., that we seek to exclude them) stem from a legacy of xenophobia and must be overturned.

            Whatever the priority may be, one argument that cannot be made, in my opinion, is that forest preservation modifies or interferes with processes that are inherent to ecosystems.

            Thus, what ideal are we prioritizing when we see a forest containing trees that have died from natural causes (always as a small proportion of total biomass) as something unhealthy and a demonstration of human waste and foolishness? In some cases, perhaps we are singularly prioritizing commodities. Fears about forests bursting into flames and destroying our properties may follow from that worldview, or vice versa.

            But I think, fortunately, there is room for both here. We have some of the most preserved forests and some of the most heavily logged forests in the nation. I don’t think this should be seen as a downside, but an asset. There is evidence, for example, that conventional forestry practices can create conditions for more acidic soils, and there is also evidence that commercially important tree species are not regenerating properly in the Adirondacks (perhaps related to soil acidification). Or, for example, shelterwood cutting may exert dysgenic effects upon tree populations. Without large, intact unmanaged forests, these types of relationships become very hard to tease apart, and private timber economies can suffer for it.

            In terms of state bureaucracies, point taken. The trouble is that responsiveness to the body politic alone cannot change the entrenched social structures that create the economic quandaries that we find ourselves in to begin with. Bureaucracies tend to be very good at perpetuating structures while shifting culpability.

            For now, the closest thing that we have to a recourse against the structures of neoliberalism are constitutional mandates, rather than bureaucracies. As a relatable example for you, civil rights amendments do far more to fight institutionalized racism than bureaucracies, because bureaucracies most closely represent the institutions in question themselves (and now we have it backwards, because it befalls each citizen to somehow take on institutional racism by cohering to slogans created by, you guessed it, bureaucracies). And, of course, in the Adirondacks we have, as recourses against neoliberalism, the Fifth Amendment of the federal constitution and Article XIV of our state constitution.

            But to Lee’s point, I’m not sure how much longer this will be sufficient without structural changes (I think this is roughly analogous to his meaning for “stories”). The only thing I can say conclusively is that focusing on identity (agency or “labels”), which prevents self-reflection, instead of larger patterns (structure) is the only sure-fire way to guarantee that these types of problems persist and worsen.

      • Lee Nellis says:

        I wasn’t jumping in again, but I refuse to have words put in my mouth, Eric. Scaling theft up to the level of conquest doesn’t change a thing about it. Nor is there any number of wrongs (the history of conquest to which you refer) that add up to a right.

        As for my pushing an agenda of guilt, did I say that? That’s in your head, not mine. And you need to examine why its there, why you see it in what I said – which provided no basis for that conclusion – and why you see it in current efforts to tell an accurate story of the past. Some of these efforts are indeed inept, but I have not encountered one that pushed an agenda of guilt. If you have a Bible handy, ask yourself if Proverbs 28:1 is relevant here. Perhaps you are reading guilt where there is none because you are attached to a story in which conquest and oppression are part of human nature? the same story that underlies the corporate vision you reject for the Adirondacks?

        What I said is that we need a different story and that a different story must be rooted to at least some extent in the wisdom of those who understand this landscape better than we do. You presumably agree with me on some level when you say that your vision for these mountains is not rooted in the current neoliberal corporate story. I am going to hope that means you will eventually see how comprehensively one must change one’s own story.

        It also means I hope, that you will find Wendell Berry’s understanding (also guilt free as he clearly and controversially expresses in his recent book, but don’t start there, Unsettling is still the source) to be helpful in refining your own.

        You can’t write a new story without a new understanding.

        • Eric Geisel says:

          I apologize for misunderstanding your argument. When you use words such as “stole” and “theft” you imply guilt, hence my interpretation.

          • Lee Nellis says:

            Your apology is accepted. The words I used are accurate and guilt is more than implied. But not some vague social guilt that you find it necessary to resist. Individuals, mostly long dead, should have been held accountable for their misdeeds. They generally were not, though their guilt was known to all (even Buffalo Bill Cody urged that the officers at Wounded Knee be court-martialed, which they were, though their acquittal was a forgone conclusion). Justice Marshall was quite clear about the morality of what he did in denying Native Americans the right of land ownership. Our charge is not to be tormented by guilt, but to seek justice as best we can.

            You are right, BTW, that the bureaucracy is at least somewhat constrained and responsive compared to a corporation. JB is also right if you read what he is saying as that, at a given moment, it can be hard to tell the difference.

            The impacts of forest practices are indeed hard to sort out, but nothing we know (knowledge being different than assumption) warrants a blanket condemnation of the Forever Wild Clause anymore than it warrants a blanket conclusion about any of the alternatives. What we need is a way to take it acre by acre.

            As for human history being predominantly a story of war and peace, you find yourself having to define both. That’s not easy and I am pretty confident that it is not a history of either as we now know them. And it certainly isn’t what makes us human. What makes us human (and this is one reason you must read Berry) is the day-to-day grind of – since you’re a carpenter – making sure the joins are square and the wall are plumb.

            Continue your explorations!

            • Eric Geisel says:

              My views were already deemed “Eurocentric” on this message board; can I consider yours to be “Anti-Eurocentric”? You only mention misdeeds that were committed by “the white man”…what of the torture/murder of frontier settlers during this dangerous era in history? Or, with regards to slavery, what of the African kingdoms who prospered immensely from the slave trade? Will they be found guilty in your “cour d’histoire” as well? This is why I pushback so hard against this rhetoric. It’s a dangerous game that will only continue to divide us as a society.
              I believe you’re correct regarding the acre by acre approach. This is the essence of proper silviculture. It not only depends on the economic viability of the natural resource, but also of the individual ecosystem that said resource is being extracted from.
              I believe you bring up a valid point of finding solace in one’s work. There are also sociological correlations between peace and specialization of labor, as this is believed to improve cooperation and reduce the need for competition in society. However, I must lend some firsthand experience to this belief: my thought process has become much more instinctual as I have gained experience in my field of work. I no longer have to think about the concepts of plumb/level/square nor do I have to scratch my head as I lay out stair stringers or determine the correct plumb/level angles for rafters; I simply do. The human soul still yearns for more, hence my expanding interests in much more than my daily job.

              • Lee Nellis says:

                You are fortunate to be finding an instinctual approach to your craft. My dad was like that and one grandfather. It never made them any money, but it is a blessing just the same.

                Also, you will not hear me using labels like Eurocentric for you (or anyone). Nor will you find me accepting such faddish labels Our understanding evolves as we learn. We are who we are at the moment. I suspect that you may find some of the paths you are on wanting at some point, but that’s for you to figure out..

                As for citing only the misdeeds of the white settlers (I will leave Africa to those who actually know it) I do not discount the pain and loss white folks experienced. My ancestors were among the religious refugees that the British interposed between themselves and the French in the Mohawk Valley. But I think there is an important difference between violence done in defending one’s homeland and that done in invading someone else’s. However you see it though, guilt is not a productive response.

                I will leave you with a thought: When you find yourself in a mode of resistance, you can either be stuck there or move forward in your understanding. But you can move forward only by interrogating the resistance. It is ALWAYS about you, and you need to know why. That does not mean you change your mind (though you might). It just means that you can’t gain self-awareness when you’re resisting.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        Well, Eric
        As best I can I’m going to address your latest comment in the order it was presented.
        No question that the NYCO amendment was essentially pulling a fast one. On that we agree.
        Your comment on gilt, especially by people of northern and Western European dissent misses the point.
        1: we are not going to undo the conquest of North America, but we can learn from the history, and make appropriate changes and amends to the indigenous people of our nation and continent… Much as the Canadians are attempting to accomplish.
        2: your statement about American “Indian“ history is inaccurate. They were the first people to occupy North America. They certainly had their wars of conquest amongst themselves, but they also created such things as the Iroquois confederacy, which is a very advanced model of cooperation that we can all learn from.
        Your statement that Americans of all races and ethnicities have the opportunity to freely move throughout the land and by extension have equal opportunity is just plain wrong. There may be laws on the books, but as stated before racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, and other forms of vilifying, the other are very much alive and well and thanks to the encouragement of certain former leaders, fringe groups, and other miscreants, is very much on the rise.
        The “ bigoted policies“ are not there to create unfair advantages, but to even out the playing field toward a system based on merit. Is it perfect, no can be improved, yes, but, to deny the validity of such policies is just Eurocentric, sour grapes, or worse.
        Here’s a little history for you. When I applied to university, there was a quota system to limit the number of Jews in certain schools. Needless to say, those policies were even more onerous for people of color.
        Going back to the issue of environmentalism and conservation of the Forest Preserve; again no system is perfect, but if you know the history of why the Forest Preserve and later the Adirondack Park were created, you might come to appreciate what Forever Wild clause in Article XIV has done for the people of New York State and through example the entire nation, and indeed the entire world. With the ascendancy of evidence-based statistical knowledge, as opposed to anecdotal occurrences we are learning much more about the reality on the ground and what can be done or not done for the future health of our land, people, communities, ecosystems, etc. As I mentioned, in my first response to you one way or the other. We are marching through the 21st-century, either willingly or kicking and screaming.
        I sincerely hope from this and other responses to your posts that you become more open to the changes needed in a changing world.

        • Eric Geisel says:

          Bob, I’m starting to actually look forward to these talks. I do not agree with you regarding American Indians. There is strong genetic evidence that links many of those that we label “Native Americans” to Siberian/Mongolian tribes, while other archeological evidence potentially dates Stone Age European settlement of America at 50,000 years (or more) ago. Who would have been the “natives” in this scenario? These are interesting developments in modern science. This is why I do not use the term “Native American”, as this is a relative term. Is my father’s family considered more “native” thank my mother’s? He has ancestors on my Grandmother’s side who arrived during the pre-Revolutionary era, while my mother’s family immigrated from Southern Italy in the early 1900’s.
          I fear we are not going to see eye to eye on racial relations in our society. You label my views as “Eurocentric”, as if that is some sort of vile concept. I support a colorblind society regarding legislation and opportunity. You might scoff at the laws that were passed, apparently claiming them to be inadequate. I’m unsure why you feel the need to undermine the legislative accomplishments of the Civil Rights era…how much is enough with regards to “leveling the playing field”? It appears you’re under a false impression that roving gangs of white supremacists are attempting to rob minority races of opportunity throughout our nation. I am unaware of this occurring in our society today. In fact, by pushing for “diversity” and “inclusion” I would say quite the opposite is occurring. How can we claim this is a merit-based society if we push subjective inclusion over objective opportunity?
          There is still evidence of racially based discrimination in university admissions these days, however this discrimination is now being experienced by students of Asian and European descent. Ample evidence is available that highlights this discriminatory practice, especially in Ivy League schools. Our education system is broken; young adults crushed by debt, oppressed by banks and the universities themselves. Moderate discrimination in the admissions process should be of concern, yet pales in comparison to the exploitation of our students for the monetary gain of academia and the financial institutions.
          I certainly see the value of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, however I also understand the viability of hardwood as a renewable energy source. I also have a moderate understanding of both dendrology and silviculture. I’m far from an expert in these fields, but I know enough to understand our forests are far from healthy at this point. Perhaps some of this is due to mankind’s interference of the natural ecosystem, yet mankind is capable of creation as well as destruction. Proper resource management should not be an all-or-nothing game.

  32. Bob Meyer says:

    Lee Nellis’ thoughtful post presents these issues in a unique way. I agree about the great benefit of reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. Eric, I hope you understand what Lee is saying about the need for embracing diversity. In the end, to truly learn and understand the real history (and the directions it points us towards going forward) vs. the mythical version of our history, we all need to be open to being uncomfortable.
    Change here is hard especially for those of us used to being on top as it were.
    Here’s to meeting the challenge and walking the walk of change and progress.

  33. Bob Meyer says:

    What some folks don’t get is that the creation of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park is one of the great accomplishments of the environmental movement before there was an environmental movement. It’s the attempts at eroding the true intent of Article XIV, the original charge of the APA etc by the powers of greed and the falsehoods that claim unrestrained growth and the extractive industries are the answer to the welfare of the inhabitants, towns and villages. Statistics tell otherwise. It’s tourism in all its forms that powers the economic engine of the Adirondacks.
    Frankly some of the word salads here contain a lot of bloviation
    You might want to avail yourselves of some of the knowledge and wisdom of people like Phil Terrie, Pete Nelson and further back Paul Schaefer & Clarence Petty.
    Because arguing with some here has become a waste of time I’m opting out.
    Enjoy

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