It’s mud season again in the Adirondacks. During mud season, we are all warned by our NYS DEC to stay off designated hiking trails in or near the High Peaks or Giant Mountain Wildernesses at this time of the year because the scarce, thin, organic soil at higher elevations so easily comes off on our boots and leaves nothing on the former trail but boot holes and pools of water. Save our vulnerable soils, plants and trails. Come back later in May or June, we are asked, when conditions are drier. The request makes plenty of sense.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) last held an adjudicatory public hearing in 2011 – the kind of hearing that involves sworn testimony and cross-examination of evidence before a law judge, followed by a full hearing record on which to base a judicious, carefully examined, evidence-based decision. That 2011 hearing was for the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort subdivision and development near Tupper Lake. In the eleven years since, and despite the many hundreds of permits issued by the APA since, including many large, regional projects, not a single adjudicatory public hearing has been convened by the APA.
It is in Chapter 19 of the NYS Climate Action Council’s Draft Scoping Plan, the chapter on “Land Use,” that I expected the words “Adirondack” or “Adirondack Park” or “Adirondack Park Agency” to get some focused attention. I was disappointed to see that the word “Adirondack” is cited in just four places within the 340-page climate scoping report, all perfunctorily.
The Climate Action Scoping Plan is the result of two years of work by the Climate Action Council, established by state law in 2019 to “establishes the path forward for New York to achieve 70% renewable energy by 2030, 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, a 40% reduction in statewide GHG emissions by 2030, an 85% reduction in statewide GHG emissions by 2050, and net zero emissions statewide by 2050. The paths to 2030 and 2050 require a comprehensive vision and integrated approach to build new programs while significantly expanding existing efforts. Each economic sector discussed in this Plan establishes a vision for 2030 and 2050 in an effort to paint the picture of the future and show the direction the State must head.”
The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks had hired me the previous winter. It was now the spring of 1987. Windows and doors were again opening to the hope and then the reality of spring’s warmth. The director of the Schenectady Museum William (Bill) Verner had given me, practically rent free, a desk and telephone from which to begin work as the Association’s first executive director in over 60 years.
It helped that Bill was a member of my board of trustees, and that his knowledge and love for the Adirondacks and Adirondack history from a home base in Long Lake was long and deep.
Over the course of time, the Adirondack Park Agency’s permit practice has drifted too far away from what the 1973 Agency Act and the State Environmental Quality Review Act require.
The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) requires any State or local agency that undertakes, funds, or approves a project to evaluate the actual or potential environmental impacts of the project prior to taking final action. SEQRA clearly sets forth the state’s policy that adverse environmental impacts of proposed actions be fully considered and either minimized or avoided.
An agency must identify all areas of relevant environmental concern with respect to the project, take a hard look at them, and provide a reasoned elaboration for its determination as to whether the action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment. The agency must require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if the proposed action may have any significant environmental impacts.
Many organizations introduce their work with the words “were it not for the volunteers, we could not…” That can be justifiably said of the Adirondack Research Library (ARL), formerly part of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (AfPA).
This largest Adirondack collection outside of the Adirondacks launched in 1979 as part of Union College’s Schaeffer library. It then moved and in 1985, courtesy of then Museum Director Bill Verner (formerly curator with the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake) occupied a corner of the Schenectady Museum. In 1988, ARL became a committee of the nonprofit Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (1901-2010). Following the untimely and sad death of Bill Verner, in 1989 the Schenectady Museum’s next director told us we had to move out. So, for the next 15 years the AfPA and ARL rented space below a dental laboratory in Schenectady. Suffice it to say, that situation was less than ideal. We made the best of it but dreamed of better opportunities. Much better opportunities.
As one who paused this week to listen to the Environmental Budget hearing in the State Legislature’s Ways and Means and Finance Committees, one could not help but notice the budget winners and losers. In a year when state revenues are up and available resources seem bottomless, just staying even appears as a loss.
Climate: Few members of the State Legislature asked probing questions of state officials. Most of the day was spent in testimony related to meeting the goals, objectives and specific greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019. Now that the enormous scope of work to meet the state’s 2030 and 2040 emission reduction targets has just been drafted and released for public comment, will there be enough DEC and NYSERDA staff to implement the Act? Good question.
After a dozen years, Terry Martino is retiring as the executive director of the NYS Adirondack Park Agency. Terry is an admirable person who has had a difficult job of balancing the pressures from APA applicants, staff, members and the Cuomo administration – and much else.
But for more than a decade she – like many others – loyally saluted as a member of Team Cuomo, the Governor who:
- put up those banners in Ray Brook that the Park was Open for Business;
- weakened both the Private Land Use and State Land Plans;
- weakened the APA and was satisfied with token environmentalism on its board;
- steered APA further off course from its mission as a planning agency in an era when climate change accelerates the urgent need for better land use planning.
Adirondack Wild and I have been among those who heralded the NYS Court of Appeals ruling in May that the only way for the Department of Environmental Conservation to construct snowmobile community connector trails in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve was through a constitutional amendment.
On July 18, 2019, Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) was signed into law. To quote from the NYS Climate Council website, “New York State’s Climate Act is the among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.
“The 2019 law creates a Climate Action Council charged with developing a scoping plan of recommendations to meet these targets and place New York on a path toward carbon neutrality.”
The Climate Council’s scoping plan is supposed to be released for public comment at the end of December. In an early December interview with WMHT-TV’s New York Now, Climate Action Council co-chair Doreen Harris (president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA), spoke of the careful accounting of carbon emissions that the state’s law requires.
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.
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