On a fall Saturday afternoon in the early 1990s some friends and I met up with wilderness coalition leader Paul Schaefer (1908-1996) at his cabin. Deciding to spend the night with him at the cabin, we drove Paul into North Creek for something to eat. We tried the area’s hotel. One of the hotel staff took a look at Paul’s red plaid hunting jacket and asked him if could change into something more formal. At that, we turned heel and, walking across the street, the side bordering on the Hudson River, entered Smith’s restaurant. Paul was immediately comfortable, having eaten here many times. Someone greeted him, a fellow deer hunter who remembered him. We took a booth and Paul ordered a steak.
I and the organizations I work for have been environmental advocates for the Adirondack Park’s wilderness and wildness for a long time, and that may appear to and sometimes does put me in opposition to some serving in Park local governments. I respect local government leaders for the very difficult jobs and responsibilities they bear for their residents. Therefore, I try not to act disrespectfully to any in local government when I advocate for park wildlands and related policies.
My respect for those serving in local government grew when Adirondack Wild became engaged with a conservation biologist named Dr. Michael Klemens and we learned that Michael also served as his town’s planning board chairperson. When Dr. Klemens advocates for applied science, ecological site analysis and conservation design of residential or commercial developments, he is also highly cognizant of the planning needs of his community, the state of its infrastructure and fiscal condition, and the steps that a developer needs to go through to gain permissions and local board approvals.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve conveyed its annual awards to five Adirondack residents on Friday, September 24, 2021, at Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek.
The Paul Schaefer Wilderness Award was conveyed to recently retired Adirondack Park Agency natural resource planners and supervisors Walter (Walt) Linck and Richard (Rick) Weber. Both men are residents of Saranac Lake. For the past 20 years, Linck and Weber steered the APA in Ray Brook toward the protection and preservation of the natural resources of the Adirondack Park’s state lands, the Forest Preserve. Their high standards employed to enhance management plans, private land permits and wild land policies across the Park admirably reflected the legacy left by the 20th century’s foremost Adirondack wilderness coalition leader Paul Schaefer (1908-1996), Adirondack Wild’s award states.
The nonprofit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has written to the NYS Adirondack Park Agency asking the agency to comply with its own public comment policy by inviting verbal public comment at the Agency’s remote October meeting. The webcast meeting takes place on Thursday Oct. 14.
The agency’s response to Adirondack Wild’s request, so far, has been that they would “take it into consideration.”
Governor Hochul has announced a Government Transparency Initiative which requires all New York State agencies to submit plans this month on how they will improve transparency. That order obviously includes the Adirondack Park Agency. Given that order, APA should be allowing the public to sign up and speak directly to the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision-makers during their regularly scheduled webcast meetings.
Hemlock grove of old trees, Wilcox Lake Wild Forest
As my friend and I hiked underneath groves of large eastern hemlock trees in the part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve called Wilcox Lake Wild Forest we thought about what this forest is and the vast ecological system – the community of life – that the forest and we are are interdependent parts of.
What towered above us, hemlocks well over a century in age, are dwarfed in scope by the vaster yet unseen root and fungal synapses and microbiota that sustain this wild forest in the soil beneath our feet.
The watershed feeding Tenant Creek flowing downslope of the trail we were on is one of thousands upon thousands of watersheds, large and smaller, whose ability to store and slowly release water were once under threat by deforestation and which motivated passage in 1894 of New York’s “forever wild” provision in its State Constitution, now encompassing 3 million acres in both Adirondack and Catskill Parks. Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, more than 100,000 acres in size, is part of that forever wild system.
Here are a few excerpts from past Adirondack conferences preparing audiences for climate change, severe weather events, and consequences.
Photo: Post Hurricane Irene streambank and instream restoration efforts on the E. Branch Ausable River. Photo by Dave Gibson
September, 1989: George Woodwell, global ecologist and then director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, from an address at the Ausable Club, St. Hubert’s, Keene:
By cutting vast tracts of the world’s forests without replacement, humans are seriously adding to the atmospheric pool of CO2 and diminishing the natural background modulating effect of the earth’s lungs – our forests. A 25% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the mid-19th century, if allowed to continue at present rates, will have a severe impact on our climate. It, in addition to even more dramatic increases in methane and other greenhouse gases, will inevitably lead to global warming and climatic changes on a large scale. Ecological and societal changes, many of which may drastically affect the Adirondack Park, are sure to follow.
Many, many years ago I entered graduate school at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, CT. My graduate interests lay primarily in water resources, so I searched that first semester for a lead professor/advisor in that vast field – and, due to recent retirements, found none.
As luck would have it, a Ph.D. candidate hosted a course in basic wetland hydrology 101 that fall. He was young, energetic, no nonsense kind of person, a stickler for getting out in the field and measuring things like water flow, water inputs, outputs and what was going on underneath our feet and the wet soils he was interested in. He took us to interesting places called bogs, fens, and cedar swamps requiring hip boots. We saw great swamp trees, like tupelos or black gum. We brought back funny looking, stained sketches of bogs and fens, with arrows showing what we thought was the direction of water flow pointing in various directions. I learned that a fen was a kind of boggy wetland where surface and/or ground water flowed through, introducing minerals and oxygenated conditions and thus making a fen somewhat less mineral impoverished than a bog lacking such through flow.
Forest Preserve stakeholders meet with DEC staff to discuss management alternatives, Essex Chain Lakes, 2012. Photo by Dave Gibson
The NYS Court of Appeals ruled on May 4 of this year in favor of plaintiff Protect the Adirondacks and against the State of New York, deciding that Snowmobile Community Connector trails as planned, permitted, and constructed by the Department of Environmental Conservation during the first term of Governor Andrew Cuomo violated the “forever wild” clause, Section 1 of Article 14, NYS Constitution.
It took the DEC until June 30 to formally respond to the Court’s ruling, and that formal response came in the form of an internal DEC memorandum issued by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and handed out at a recent meeting of the DEC’s Forest Preserve Advisory Committee on which I serve as a representative of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.
In his first paragraph, Commissioner Seggos wrote that:
I was hiking in Hamilton County recently when one of my companions spoke of the days of the Perkins Clearing land exchange (1979), a publicly supported amendment to Article 14 of the NYS Constitution which led to a significant land exchange between the State of New York and International Paper Corporation north of the village of Speculator.
We spoke of that land exchange as not only highly sensible and pragmatic for both sides, but also a classic Adirondack “win: win” result for the public’s Forest Preserve and for private forest industry.
Perkins Clearing Exchange: The confusing checkerboard pattern of state-private land evolved over many decades around Perkins Clearing (named after Isaiah Perkins, who owned a deer hunting camp here in the late 19th century). It was finally ended after 1979. Ownerships were consolidated, clearer boundaries established. Unbroken ownership blocks facilitated better land management. Both parties gained roughly the same acreage. The state’s Forest Preserve gained a little over 10,300 contiguous acres, International Paper gained just over 7,100 contiguous acres.
The State Legislature has just adjourned, but on a good many nights this past month I grew sleepy watching legislative TV or legislative proceedings on the internet. For the non-debate pieces of legislation, meaning when the legislative majority is not allowing minority debate on bills, the viewer is treated to the following exchanges in a monotone, one after the other: The speaker or his representative, or the Senate president or her representative: “The clerk will read the bill.” The clerk: “a bill to” …whatever it does. The speaker or his representative: “The clerk will read the final section.” The clerk: “this act shall take effect immediately.” The speaker, president or their representative: “The vote: 63 in favor. The bill is passed.” All of that has taken less than ten seconds. Next.
News on May 29 comes from the Times Union’s journalist Wendy Liberatore that the late Marylou Whitney’s husband John Hendrickson plans to apply for an 11-lot subdivision of Whitney Industries land in Long Lake.
Unable to sell the 36,000-acres in one fell swoop, Hendrickson tells the TU journalist that he will change the name to Whitney Real Estate and try for a permit allowing one private, two-three-thousand-acre estate on each of 11 lakes, leaving him, he estimates, with $238 million. Such sales would average $6600 per acre. That seems a bit high, but he’ll have the chance to find out.
Adirondack fiftieth anniversaries abound. While visiting the Adirondack Nature Conservancy website this week I am reminded of this chapter’s founding fifty years ago. Like the legislative formation of the NYS Adirondack Park Agency, an Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy was one of the 181 recommendations of the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks, which reported to Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the public in 1970.
The commission’s final recommendation, #181, read: “an Adirondack Nature Conservancy to encourage gifts in the Adirondack Park should be established by private interests.”
That is all it says.
The NYS Court of Appeals has just decided by a 4-2 majority, that New York State agencies under Governor Andrew Cuomo have violated Article 14, Section 1 of our State Constitution by impermissibly constructing snowmobile community connector trails through the ‘forever wild’ Forest Preserve, removing rocks, grading the trails, bench cutting the trails, and cutting thousands of trees.
Bitter comments about the court’s decision notwithstanding, snowmobiling continued in the Adirondack region during the years while this case was being appealed by state agencies up to New York’s highest court, and will again.
In the just-approved 2021-22 state budget is a $3 billion-dollar environmental bond act, subject to voter approval in November 2022. If approved, it may make a small dent in the $60+ billion needed statewide to upgrade our state’s old water and sewage treatment systems. If approved, it may help to do even more than we are doing today to prepare and make more resilient New Yorkers and their villages, towns, counties and cities for the more frequent and more severe weather events that will continue during a warming climate. And it may help to create more incentives to protect intact forests in private ownership to offset our carbon emissions.
If approved, maybe a tiny amount, relatively speaking, perhaps as little as a few hundreds of thousands of dollars from the $3 billion could go towards an independent evaluation of how well the Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation are fulfilling their respective, but also overlapping missions.
This also being the 50th anniversary of the Adirondack Park Agency, the question should be asked: has there ever been an evaluation of the agency’s current and past performance visa vi its legislated responsibilities and jurisdiction? The answer is a qualified no.
The non-profit Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve applauds the announcement by Commissioner Basil Seggos of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation of a pilot reservation system for accessing selected trails from the privately-owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve located off State Rte. 73 in the Town of Keene.
“This pilot program for the upcoming High Peaks Wilderness hiking season is part of a critically needed set of user management tools for both the DEC, the Town of Keene, and the adjacent, cooperating private landowner, the AMR,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson.
“We have been calling for a pilot reservation system for a number of years to reduce Wilderness congestion, restore wilder conditions, and increase both hiker education and public safety. Now, we wish to thank the High Peaks Strategic Advisory Group, the DEC, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, the Town of Keene, and other stakeholders involved for their study of the problems, and for their upcoming cooperation and commitment to initiate this pilot beginning on May 1.”