Thursday, February 2, 2023

PROTECT Challenges DEC’s Road Rebuilding in Wilderness

On January 20, 2023, Protect the Adirondacks filed a lawsuit challenging the reconstruction by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) of a previously closed and reclaimed road in the High Peaks Wilderness Complex. DEC’s road construction activity in the High Peaks violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (Master Plan) which prohibits roads in Wilderness areas.

In 2019-2020, DEC implemented a Road Reclamation and Rewilding Project that involved decommissioning and reclaiming former logging roads on newly purchased lands in the MacIntyre East tract in the High Peaks Wilderness. DEC undertook this work pursuant to an approved 2019 Work Plan that authorized use of heavy machinery, which is allowable under the Master Plan in Wilderness lands within three years after classification to remove non-conforming structures such as roads. In 2021, DEC reversed course and, without a Work Plan, began undoing its prior reclamation work and reconstructed one section of road. Heavy rains in December 2021 limited how much of the road that DEC was able to rebuild before winter set in, but by our measurements DEC managed to rebuild nearly one mile of a former logging road.

In 2021 and 2022, Protect the Adirondacks conducted field inspections to document the extent of the road reconstruction (see reports here and here). We reported our findings to DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) (see letters hereand here). The APA, without sending staff to the site to investigate, declined to bring an enforcement action for this violation of the Master Plan and Wilderness Area protections. Since the APA declined to take any action, Protect the Adirondacks was left with no other option other than to challenge DEC’s unlawful road rebuilding project in court. The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting any further road construction by DEC and directing it to reclaim and rewild the rebuilt road in accordance with the 2019 Work Plan.

“This case places protection of Wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park front and center. In 2021, DEC made the remarkable decision to undo and reverse its road reclamation and rewilding project in the High Peaks Wilderness Complex by reconstructing nearly one mile of a previously reclaimed road in the MacIntyre East Tract. Roads are prohibited in a wilderness area, and DEC’s reconstruction of the road violates both the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the High Peaks Wilderness. Regrettably, the Adirondack Park Agency refused to take any action to address this blatant violation. Consequently, Protect the Adirondacks is turning to the courts to ensure that the High Peaks Wilderness continues to provide the Wilderness experience that the public expects and deserves,” said Christopher Amato, Conservation Director and Counsel at Protect the Adirondacks, the lead attorney on this case.

The MacIntyre East Tract was formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn and Company, and was purchased as part of the Boreas Ponds deal. A UMP amendment was approved in 2018, which did not authorize retaining any of the roads in question in any form. In 2019, the DEC authorized a Work Plan for reclamation of abandoned logging roads in the MacIntyre East tract area. The Work Plan stated: “Work will be completed to remove culverts, bridges and reclaim the road surface, on grades. This project will improve the recovery of the natural resources and enhance the Wilderness Experience of future users.”

The Work Plan further stated: “The intent of the work is to remove the larger infrastructure of the road system, hasten naturalization and support a future trail system. By removing the bridges and allowing the road system to start the recovery process, we provide a blank slate for the future of trail development. By designing the trail system from the start, to be a hiking trail system and not relying on using old roads, the Department is situating itself to create a sustainable trail system that blends with the forested surroundings and enhances the hiker’s overall trail experience.” The intent of the Work Plan was clearly to dismantle and reclaim the existing logging road systems in the MacIntyre East area.

DEC claims that the 2019 Work Plan authorizes its road reconstruction, yet there is nothing in 2019 Work Plan that authorizes DEC to reverse its road decommissioning and reclamation work and to reconstruct a previously reclaimed road.

Click here to read the full lawsuit.

Click here to see lawsuit Exhibits.

Click here to see pictures of reclaimed roads and the sections of road rebuilt by the DEC.

“This was a weird episode at the DEC. Top leaders at the DEC in Albany simply made things up and ignored long established rules, policies, and the law to rebuild a road in a Wilderness Area. In 25 years of monitoring the state’s Forest Preserve management I’ve never seen anything like this fiasco before,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director.

In May 2021, the DEC and APA were found by the state’s highest court to have violated the State Constitution’s Forever Wild clause by constructing extra-wide snowmobile trails on Forest Preserve lands classified as Wild Forest. Unchastened, just a few months later, DEC subverted the Master Plan by reconstructing a road on Forest Preserve lands classified as Wilderness. In both cases, the APA stood by and did nothing to protect the Forest Preserve from DEC’s unlawful actions.

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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 was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). 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, has two grown children out in the world, and 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 Threads.




38 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    Protect DOESN’T want to work with the DEC or APA. They just want it there way or the highway & if they cannot agree on anything, off to court they go. I wonder how many judges they have on speed dial or bought off!!!

    • Peter Bauer says:

      Ben — We’ve done what we could to draw attention to this management fiasco for nearly 18 months. If the APA had done its job, had undertaken an enforcement investigation to hold the DEC accountable for multiple violations of the State Land Master Plan and established policy, had actually gone out and visited the site, we would not be in court. When a state agency breaks the law, and another state agency with statutory oversight responsibility refuses to do its job and looks the other way, we’re left with no other option than going to court.

  2. Ryan Finnigan says:

    What part of “No roads in Wilderness” does the DEC in Albany not understand? By acting this blatantly they deserve to be held accountable in court.

  3. Todd Eastman says:

    The legal staff at the APA and the DEC must love being dragged into court…

    … and being proved wrong…🙄

  4. Walt Paul says:

    Dear Adirondack Almanac Editor

    Your stable of guest contributors seems repetitive and very shallow…how much can one take of Mr Peters pontification. Your blog would provide better education, awareness and discussion to it’s audience if you broaden and provide more diversified expert perspective.

    Walt Paul

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Walt, submit your own article…😎

      • Chuck Parker says:

        I believe Walt is correct in many of the the contributors are repetitors and that is ok. It is also true about most that write replies seem to come from the same group of people. and that is ok, I guess. What is not captured is the ones that read these articles and disagree with the premise of the article and do not reply as it just causes a never ending barrage of comments.

  5. Tim says:

    I would love to hear the DEC and APA response to any of this issue. But now we’ll probably just hear, no comment because it’s in court.

  6. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Private land that had roads so was not a wilderness area.

    • Steve B. says:

      Its property purchased, with segments that were appropriate for wilderness designation. The decision as to what portions of this property became primitive and what became wilderness was a long process with a lot of user input. That decision was thus made after taking into consideration all that input. That decision is a done deal. Any old roads in a new wilderness area should have been left abandoned for nature to reclaim. The DEC decided to not let nature takes its course and instead to undertake new road construction. No private citizen or company would be allowed to do that without the APA being all over them, why should the DEC be any different. What gives them the right to break state law ?

  7. Raymond P. Budnick says:

    Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Why do you call out the DEC, yet ignore the horrendous damage to the wilderness done by the repeated use of seriously eroded hiking trails?
    You want to restrict other’s, but you won’t restrict yourselves. Hypocrites!
    The moose cares not for the road being built. Nor the fisher, nor the martin nor the spruce grouse nor the loon. Nothing is being harassed nor extirpated.
    Wilderness is but a term until tangibly proven. With or without the road, it is still wilderness. Your gluttony for sole possession of all of our lands will be your very undoing.
    We all would like more land in NY’s possession for all to enjoy. Enough! You complained not, nor pined away when Finch, Pruyn managed the land. You have more now than ever! Yet, you aren’t satisfied and quibble with the very entity that brought it to you. You spoiled brats! Stop hiking your over used wilderness trails! Decry the effect of the 46’rs. Outlaw your dirty heard paths! You insolent stubborn hypocritical brats!

    • Boreas says:

      There are laws, and there are people who ignore them. If a law is unjust or illogical, change it – don’t condemn people trying to hold authorities accountable to follow the law. A society can’t just follow the laws they agree with.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      Commenting Policy
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      Disagreement is a key part of discussions, but we’ll remove comments that harass or attack a community member with a different perspective. If you disagree with someone, state your reasons why. Please be respectful toward other community members!
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      You must use a name or nickname—some identifier—to comment here.

    • geogymn says:

      ” You have more now than ever! ” Really?

    • joe coon says:

      I understand your frustration. The Adirondack park is way over restricted. The laws should be reviewed for better conservation. I’m a conservationist, not a preservationist. I’m not opposed to managing the park now that we know what best suits wildlife. I would love to see laws changed for more controlled burning or wildlife management areas, instead of preserve that suits porcupine red squares and nothing else.

  8. Chuck Parker says:

    Many of Peter Bauer’s articles are hard for someone like me to read as he seems to cherry pick through the State Land Master Plan to defend his position and ignores what the other side takes from the Mater plan to defend their action. There are sections in the SLMP where trail work can be done as long as it does not do any harm. There is diversity available for the lands with in the Adirondack Park per the SLMP. Much more diversity than what some would have us believe.

  9. Boreas says:

    Mr. Bauer is not a journalist for Adirondack Almanac. He is doing his job for Protect. I am sure AA would post articles with differing views/agendas/opinions as soon as they are submitted. Where are they? I would love to read them as long as they are fact-based.

    For instance, what efforts are afoot to review/replace Art. 14 instead of complaining about it? How long will back-room politics between villages/DEC/APA continue to prevail prior to land purchases? Which agencies are doing the job in their Charter and which ones essentially wander in the Wilderness?

  10. Ralph williams says:

    They should have just let the roads reclaim themselves. The original work to reclaim the roads was awful and amounted to digging trenches in the road. Those trenches created in unpleasant hiking experience in my opinion. They have also attempted the same things around the whole bores pond loop to which I also find pleasant and unnecessary. I would not recommend the boreas pond hiking experience to anyone. Stop messing with the roads and let nature run its course. Protect should be more concerned with the states use of machinery in the first place when they tried the re-naturalize the roads the first time.

  11. EDP says:

    It’s amazing that there is still such outrage that an environmental organization such as Protect, would act in defense of laws and guidelines already established in the NY State Land Master Plan. Yes, folks can question whether their resources and focus are as committed to enforcement around non-motorized trail issues, but it seems like the anger and energy should be directed at those committed to contesting and changing the constitution, or at least, arguing the nuances/interpretation of the MP. It would be great to see those contributions and opinions from other stakeholders. I don’t imagine AA is censoring those submissions, rather they just don’t exist.

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Walt Paul says: “Your stable of guest contributors seems repetitive and very shallow…how much can one take of Mr Peters pontification. Your blog would provide better education, awareness and discussion to it’s audience if you broaden and provide more diversified expert perspective.

    Shallow is in the eye of the beholder! I disagree with you on this matter as the guest contributors on this site are very informative, educational, astute, broad-based, diverse, and most certainly a large air of expertise radiates out of the things they narrate. Were you more open-minded you’d easily see things the way I see them regards this matter Walt.

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “I would love to read them as long as they are fact-based.”

    Facts don’t matter to many people Boreas. This was brought to the fore fifty-fold ever since that last guy was in office. This cannot be in the best interest of what these same people claim to want to ‘make great again.’

  14. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Raymond P. Budnick says: “Your gluttony for sole possession of all of our lands will be your very undoing.”

    Peter Bauer with his sympathetic chords and vision regards our sacred Adirondacks, who goes out of his way with his time and efforts to do something to protect them (which so few of us have the energy or wherewithal to do) so that there might be something left of them for future generations….is a glutton! Go figure. Next we’re going to be hearing that Peter is an extreme left-wing radical. This is what happens when you try to do good in a society devoid of enlightened souls!

  15. Joan Grabe says:

    Peter Bauer has done a Herculean job protecting the Adirondacks plus he is an excellent writer who keeps us informed about various issues. The Adirondack Almanac is focused on news within the Park and some issues are highly contestable. Hence the Comment space which, sometimes, is more fun than the article and sometimes more cringeworthy. But it is a public forum where we can all comment and the range of opinions is thought provoking. I arrived here when the ill fated ACR was being proposed in Tupper Lake. The amount of hatred and contempt expressed against groups like Protect and the Adirondack Conservancy
    – groups that had legitimate questions about the scope and financing of that proposed development -were regarded and are still blamed that the project came to an inglorious end. But with this current law suit, which I am sure will be settled out of court, is correct. Someone ( and it is better to be a recognized group) has to remind some folks to stick to the plan.

  16. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The amount of hatred and contempt expressed against groups like Protect and the Adirondack Conservancy.”

    It’s much wider than this Joan. It’s a way of life for select groups in society who seem to thrive on it, many of whom admit openly their love of God….. in the same sentence as their vitriol mind you. I just heard the same (again) on the radio this morning from one of our erected leaders. It’s pitiful really and it makes one wonder, ‘what next?’

  17. I have said this before. We have two parks. The first is the high peaks / southern and central Adirondacks. The second is the area to the west and north. I would bet that Mr. Bauer would love to see the eradication of people in this part of the park. The state need to stop buying land in these areas or when buying property give it a new classification so people can do something besides just walk on it and local business can survive

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Shawn, how do you propose to help local businesses thrive in your alternative reality…

      … much of rural NYS is more dire economic straights than communities within the Blue Line?

      Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

      • Alternative reality??? Come to Fine NY. I am not sure where you live or what your connection to this area would be. My family has been since the early 1900s. You and I can go for a drive off route 3 and I can show you people that don’t have jack shit. Peter Bauer sued the town of clare to stop atvs from driving down a freakin black top road By the way Clare is one of two towns in the 70s that wanted not to be under APA jurisdiction.
        To answer your question , Make a classification that allows motor vehicle access on future state land purchases

        • Todd Eastman says:

          How exactly does motorized access produce more income for Fine than promoting silent sports?

          How do you propose making life better for those who have “jack shit” by encouraging activities other than walking? Wouldn’t increasing the Town’s economic viability simply raise the property taxes on these jack shitters?

          What is currently restricting allowed motorized use within the Park that is already permitted?

          • Look at the money snowmobiles bring in the towns. If atvs, motor bikes had access to trails all year you would see small businesses start to pop up . If environmental nuts really wanted to see diversity in the park , allow motorized access. Urban people might want to do more than walk for miles down old logging roads looking at beach shrubs I’m pretty sure this would help us jack shitters here in Fine. I will be the unofficial spokesperson for the jackshitters of the park. Open up some trails and change the direction of the park and will do our best to pay our property taxes. WTF is a silent sport ???
            Sounds like a money maker in Fine

            • Ryan Finnigan says:

              If it’s such a struggle to get by in your area, which I belive ìt is as you say, how can people possibly afford atvs, dirtbikes, utvs, etc. as recreation vehicles in some of the poorest parts of the state?

              • You are missing the point. If tourism is supposed to be our economic engine then the real everyday residents of the park who don’t live in the glamour areas should have a opportunity for a tourist based livelihood. As for us hard off residents don’t worry about us. We have been taking it for 50 years so I am sure we will still be here another 50

                • Steve B. says:

                  I only pay partial attention to the ATV issue, but from what I’ve seen, it appears the park severely limits ATV and quad usage on dirt roads within the blue line, including riding on logging roads. Yet they seem to have far less stringent policies against snowmobiles. I think neighboring states, such as Maine and NH are much more open to ATV and quad use, regulating them but also allowing them in many areas for recreational use. Not sure why NY is so limiting. Maybe they could adopt some of the policies of Maine or NH.

                  • Boreas says:

                    Steve B,

                    The answer to why NYS has different positions WRT motorized access is rooted in Article 14 and the Forest Preserve philosophy. Adirondack Park regulations do not apply statewide, and it is a different entity from a State Forest. A State Forest is managed differently than the Forest Preserve, and motorized access is viewed differently. Motorized access is more restricted where soils are easily damaged and erosion can affect the water quality, which was the major consideration when the Park was envisioned and created. Different land classifications were developed within the Park to manage human activities according to land/forest/water types. But these restrictions are not statewide, despite what some people would like you to believe. “State Lands” are a patchwork of varying land types and uses. For better or worse, other states may not recognize these differences, depending on what they foresee as the level of protection needed.

                    In general, the Adirondack Park was created primarily for land/forest/water preservation and not for motorized access and human recreation. When the Park began, human access and recreation was via feet and not wheels. Perhaps Art. 14 has outlasted its usefulness, but it requires a State constitution amendment with every change, or if it is to be repealed entirely. There currently doesn’t seem to be much interest statewide in the repeal of Art. 14. NYS residents are beneficiaries of a land ethic that peaked nearly 150 years ago. The Park is often taken for granted because it has “always been there”, but it doesn’t just take care of itself since people also live here. The difference between how the Park is managed and other states’ management of their land is what makes the Park unique.

                    • Save Fine says:

                      I think Shawn has a great point and Steve gets bogged down in the technical aspects of the constitution that will struggle to be updated as the save the wilderness side will use their organized funding and technical network to undermine any reasonable modifications that that should have been considered long ago with the huge additions of former private lands. Some or most of which were purchased for the state and held for them because they were not permitted at that time. With the elimination of the private property that was logged and had a reasonable portion of forest regrow that supported a diversity of wildlife from birds to prey to predator to a slowly dying environment that does not support a diversity of use that could support economic development, not to mention vehicle access for emergency or the elderly and handicap to enjoy some of the most beautiful and unique areas that there are.
                      It is hard to see the slow, painful death of the most beautiful part of the Park when it could be protected and shared with simple moderation.

  18. Molly says:

    Ryan, from the perspective of someone living in a rural area said atv is a tool not so much a recreational vehicle.
    I don’t own one personally but keep in mind these are towns where blowdowns, power outages etc are common and alot of folks heat with wood –

    Regarding the economic/recreational side of things, take a look at Verrmont and the VAST trail system

  19. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Shawn Typhair says: “Look at the money snowmobiles bring in the towns. If atvs, motor bikes had access to trails all year you would see small businesses start to pop up.”

    Money! It’s always about money! Money, money, money! Truck everything else!
    The birds the bees and the trees,
    Cut them down we just don’t care,
    Give us our atv’s,
    Screw the frogs, the newt the bear!

    So what happens once all the damage is done, which comes in increments but most certainly does come? When there’s no silent places left because noise and the smell of fumes sooths some of us? We all lose is what! Future generations lose! There’s always going to be the need for jobs. Jobs is why some of the Alaskan wilderness, some of the last pristine places on earth, are up for grabs by the corporations now as we rant here on this site. Or so Mike Dunleavy will try to convince Alaskans such, that it’s about jobs. Sure, there’s some truth to the ‘jobs’ thing as people do need to work, but it is far more sinister by design than it is the disposition to do good unto others I assure you….all in the name of capital gain for a very few which is what it is always about! I’d wager a years pay Dunleavy’s got the smell of oil all over him.

    I suppose this back and forth pro and con regards road building in the Adirondacks is all for naught as we do face some more serious issues, not the least of which is global warming, which soon or late we’re going to have to get serious about. I have my doubts we’ll ever come to that, especially the way we’re going-on here about a longing for motors over wilderness….. Thank you Peter for all you do to protect that most sacred of havens the Adirondacks. Whenever it is you stir up a heap of anger on this list, know that you must be doing something right! Keep on!

  20. Tom Paine says:

    After the ruling on the McCulley/ Jack Rabbit trail, one has to wonder how many town and county roadways have been illegally seized and closed by NYS for the benefit of the Environmental lobby. The tip of an iceberg. Can someone point out in Article 14 where theft and illegal confiscation of land is allowed?

  21. Bobojones says:

    I enjoy reading all these experts on Art XIV, FP and SLMP legal parameters. Fact is ATVs are allowed on roads in wild forest areas in the FP under the SLMP. The Bauers of the world want you to think atv’s are prohibited but that would be wrong. ATVs can cause real resource damage when permitted in the wrong place (why not allowed on trails like snowmobiles) but there are occasions that a short distance over a road in FP may be the most environmentally sensitive alternative.

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