Almanack Contributor David Gibson

David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fiscal, Public Services Issues Plague ACR Project

There are many important issues for adjudication of the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) when the public hearing eventually begins, but perhaps the most telling will be ACR fiscal, public services, energy, housing and community impacts. These issues are incorporated in two questions which the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) ordered to go to adjudicatory public hearing way back in February, 2007. And that was a year before the great recession started to be deeply felt.

Here are two of the ten issues for adjudication which the APA ordered three and a half years ago:

Issue No. 5: What are the fiscal impacts of the project to the governmental units should any phase or section of the project not be completed as proposed? What is the public vulnerability should the project either fail or not proceed at its projected pace related to on and off site infrastructure? Or on private infrastructure that may be subject to eventual operation by the town? What is the ability to provide to provide municipal or emergency services to any section in light of the road design or elevation?

Issue No. 6 requires the consideration of the burden on and benefits to the public. What are the positive and negative economic impacts of the project (including fiscal impacts) to the governmental units? What are the impacts of the project on the municipal electric system’s ability to meet future demand? To what extent will conservation mitigate demand impacts? What are the assumptions and guarantees that the Big Tupper Ski area can be renovated and retained as a community resource? What are the current and expected market conditions related to available housing for the project workforce? What are the impacts of the project on the local housing market?

Any one of these questions deserves to be the subject of a lengthy report, and hopefully each of them will be deeply plumbed and closely scrutinized by the APA and others during the hearing. Remember that in 2006 – a full two years before the recession hit – Tupper Lake retained a number of independent experts on these subjects to advise the Town about burdens and benefits from the ACR. The developer was to pay for their services. These were good moves on the town’s part. Collectively these consultants were known as The Hudson Group, and each individual in that consulting group had a particular expertise. I am confident the APA and the Town have kept their reports and will enter relevant parts into the hearing record. I do recall reading them in 2006. The consultants poured over the original ACR application which, despite the applicant’s assertions, in my opinion has not substantively changed much over the course of five years. The consultants found, at least preliminarily, serious deficiencies or concerns. Some of the consultant concerns I remember reading about were:

1. the applicant’s analysis of market demand for the resort
2. The applicant’s math when it came to underestimating project cost and overestimating developed property values and sales.
3. the high tax burdens posed by the high level of public services which the resort would impose
4. Payments in lieu of taxes, which could shortchange Tupper Lake taxing districts in favor of bond holders.
5. Reduced state school payments that could result based on the state formula which rewards areas with overall low property valuations (which the high values of resort homes would skew upwards).

There were many other topics and concerns raised by the consultants. The Hudson Group was never allowed to finish their work. As I recall, Michael Foxman didn’t appreciate a lot of what he was reading in the preliminary reports and stopped paying the consultants. While the Town did try to get him to release more funds, that effort was mostly fruitless. The media, as I recall, devoted little coverage to The Hudson Group reports. It was left to concerned citizens and organizations to delve into them.

Given three years of recession, one wonders how The Hudson Group would respond now to the current ACR application. Just 50 or so housing units have been cut from the ACR project since 2006. There are at least twelve additional Great Camps proposed now than were proposed in 2006. Further, in a letter made public this fall, the NYS DEC has raised innumerable concerns about ACR’s incomplete and deficient descriptions and assessments of stormwater and sewage treatment. There still is no certified professional engineering study of how sewage will get to the village plant miles and a causeway away from ACR. It is probable, therefore, that the costs of sewage and stormwater have just gone up dramatically, along with the potential future burdens on the town for operating and fixing this infrastructure as it ages.

With housing and market demand still deeply impacted by the recession, we find the developer of the FrontStreet resort in North Creek – permitted by APA in 2008 – cutting way back on his commitments for upfront infrastructure construction and service payments, original demands wisely made by the Town of Johnsburg which contrasted markedly with the absence of demands made by Tupper Lake on Michael Foxman et.al. According to the current Adirondack Explorer, FrontStreet developers have completed only one building out of the 149 units approved by the APA in spring, 2008.

One of the municipal topics given the least attention when the ACR was sent to hearing in 2007, and one given the most attention in the FrontStreet permit issued by APA a year later, were energy costs and demands, a carbon budget for the development, energy efficiency and energy performance. Here is a very rich area for investigation at the ACR hearing. What is the “carbon footprint” of the proposed ACR? How much carbon dioxide would be released simply from clearing the trees and bulldozing the soils around the building and road/driveway sites, to say nothing of heating, cooling the homes over time? How much carbon dioxide would be absorbed if development were clustered, and forests preserved intact, or harvested and sustainably managed as a source of alternative biofuel to displace use of heating oil? Even if built to LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) standards, how much electrical power would these resort dwellings really draw from the new 46-kV line to Tupper Lake, and thus what are its real impacts on future demand and electric capacity?

I urge the APA and others to give all these questions a hard look with expert testimony at the hearing. I think that was the expectation of Agency commissioners in 2007 and I hope it remains so today.

Photo: From summit of Mt. Morris, looking at chairlift, Tupper Lake marsh, Rt. 30 causeway, Raquette River and in center mid-distance, Cranberry Pond. This was taken on the only field trip offered by the applicant – in spring 2007.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gary Randorf: Photographer, Teacher

Few people combine so much heart, artistry and teachable strategy as Gary Randorf. This influential, heroic Adirondack photographer and conservation advocate is about 73 now, but he will always be a young man at heart, and he’s still keeping in touch with his many Adirondack friends. I feel fortunate to have interacted with him over the years.

Gary has influenced so many people to look not once, not twice but again and again at the Adirondacks, or any landscape that has such arresting wilderness beauty, subtlety, inhabited by people feeling a deep sense of place. Actually, Gary was teaching when you didn’t realize it.

Early in my time with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Gary led a lobbying trip to Albany for the Adirondack Council. He never explicitly taught me how to lobby. He simply took me from office to office, talking as we went. As I recall, Gary was pushing the Legislature to increase funds for land acquisition in the State, and for Park planning at the Adirondack Park Agency.

The Senate Finance committee, chaired By Senator Ron Stafford, was a tough nut to crack. Gary always took the time to sit down with even the most hostile, or seemingly hostile, staff member. On this occasion, a very senior staff member of the Senate Finance Committee started to lecture Gary. Our cause that day was not very important, he said. We were a very small fish swimming in a very large ocean called the NYS budget. Furthermore, people in the Adirondacks were not interested in more land acquisition.

I thought he was brusk and rude to someone of Gary’s stature and experience. Yet, Gary calmly persisted, giving him pertinent information, asking the committee for its consideration, showing him photographs of the areas he was talking about, and hoping the staffer will join Gary in the Adirondacks at his next opportunity to see what was at risk. The staffer ended up smiling at the thought of a field trip. I have never forgotten that effective style.

A few months later, in August 1987, Gary was working for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for a second stint (he and Clarence Petty worked for the APA in the ‘70s, documenting and field checking the Park’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers). On this occasion, Gary was photo documenting the development of the Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs).

I met Gary at the recently cut-over lands destined to be the footprint of the VIC at Paul Smith’s. Gary was giving suggestions to a crew of Camp Gabriels prisoners on how to build boardwalks through the wetlands below the VIC site. He was also taking lots of photographs. Gary has such an eye for scenery, lighting and mood. Two years later, the VIC opened, with Gary’s photographic talents on display, including his photographic exhibit of the marsh as it changed its appearance over the course of a full year.

I enjoyed other rare, precious days with Gary and friends over the years. He left notes on his door – “make yourself at home” – and he always made you feel exactly that way, as he took us to places he had been many times before, but was seeing with fresh eyes. Along the way, the book he had worked on for so long, The Adirondacks: Wild Island of Hope, was finally published. His inscription of my copy meant a lot to me: “Long-time fighter in the trenches for the Forest Preserve.”

In the book’s foreword, Gary writes: “I will share with you how I enjoy the park and introduce you to its natural history because I believe that you must know and understand a place before you can be talked into saving it.” That is so characteristic of Gary’s teaching method. He continues, “The world is watching. We are and will continue to set an example of how to do it – that is, saving a wilderness that includes people. If we fail, we fail not only our state, our country, and ourselves, but also the world.” Wild Island of Hope is no mere picture book. It seeks to teach how we only understand what we appreciate, and only seek to protect what we understand.

I last saw Gary in 2009 thanks to his friends Dan Plumley and John Davis, who brought Gary to a training seminar designed for college students to apply their academic curriculum to real-world challenges of wilderness preservation in the Park. Dan opened the training and invited Gary to follow.

With disarming frankness, Gary talked about his Parkinson’s disease, and how he believed he was afflicted because of the years of exposure to pesticides as a young man earning a living in western New York. He then reminded the students how close the Park had come to widespread, unregulated aerial spraying to kill black flies in the 1980s, and recounted the difficult but rewarding work to stop this aerial assault.

Several students were amazed that spraying for black flies had been practiced, or even been considered in the protected Adirondack Park, which led to an excellent discussion about gaps in legal protection at the state and federal levels, and how current generations must build on the work of their predecessors. The job is never done.

Photos: Gary Randorf speaking to students at a 2009 Adirondack Park Stewardship Training seminar, and in a group photo after the session.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Dave Gibson: A Greenhorn at Hunting Camp

When I was wet behind the ears, in an Adirondack sort of way, Paul Schaefer took me to the sturdy cabin at the edge of the wilderness that he had built sometime in the early 1960s in the Town of Johnsburg. Paul had located his cabin, named Beaver House, on high ground with a distant view of Crane Mountain, but in the shadow of Eleventh or Cataract Mountain which lay in silhouette immediately to our west. It was November and somewhere below Eleventh Mountain in the gathering gloom of a wilderness afternoon lay a hunting camp populated with men who Paul had recruited into the Cataract Hunting Club years earlier. In fact, the original club members, including fathers and grandfathers of the current generation, dated to around 1931 when Paul hired a teamster to take them in by horse and wagon. In 1987 they were still going in that way courtesy of local teamster Earl Allen.

By 1987, the knees of the 78 year-old conservationist and hunter Paul Schaefer no longer supported his tall frame on the several mile tramp over rough terrain to reach the Cataract Club’s camp on Diamond Brook. So Paul did the next best thing. He sat in Beaver House before a roaring fire talking about the history of the region, its people, conservation history, hunting experiences, and the Siamese Wilderness he knew so well.

A light rain was falling outside, but the light was fading much faster. I was really getting comfortable in the warmth of that room, listening to Paul, when out of the blue he said: “now, Dave, reach into the pocket of my jacket and take out the piece of paper.” I gave him the paper. “I need you to hike into the wilderness and hand over this camping permit to the boys in camp. If the ranger shows up and they don’t have this permit, they could be in a lot of trouble. So, you’d do me and them a big favor by hiking in there.” My heart jumped. I had never been into hunt camp before. “How do I reach their camp, Paul?” Paul gestured with his big right hand, his head cocked, emphasizing. “Go down the trail here to the junction, and then follow the wagon trail west, keeping the mountain always on your left. A mile in, you’ll reach the height of land. Stop right there. A tall red spruce stands ahead on a rise. Don’t go past it. Bear left, keep the mountain on that side and follow the stream down another mile. You can’t miss it. And tell the boys I may try to go in there tomorrow, but I’m not promising.” He gave me a rain slicker and a flashlight, and a hearty “You’ll be back in no time.” With the camping permit in my pocket, my heart pounding, but my voice full of confidence, I headed out the cabin door.
The rain was falling steadily, and afternoon light had all but faded as I tried to determine if I had reached the height of land. I had gone up and down. Height of land seemed a frustrating matter of impression in these big woods. Trying to keep the mountain in sight I veered left and trusted to luck. I suddenly realized my jeans were soaked through. Trudging on, the trees were noticeably larger, including red spruce. How could horses drag a wagon full of gear all the way back here, I remember asking myself. But I was on a mission for Paul. Stumbling on and on down the rough wagon trail, crossing innumerable small streams, I finally smelled wood smoke. Excited, I went uphill into some balsam and spruce, following my nose. In the gloom below, the long tent appeared. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had made it. I heard muffled laughter. Then my mouth dropped. In the glow of my flashlight, a huge antlered deer hung from a pole. I found the tent entrance, pulled the tent flaps open and walked in. I remember the hissing of those kerosene lamps. All conversation ceased, as ten hunters looked up at me from the chow they were eating on a long table. “Gosh, Dave,” someone said, “you look kind of wet. What can we do you for”? “Guys, Paul sent me in with your camping permit.” At that, I reached into my jeans and out came the paper, dripping wet. Nobody said a word. Bill broke the silence. “Give this to me straight. Paul sent you in here tonight to give us that?” I nodded. The tent erupted in roars of laughter. Dave got up and gave me something warm to drink and a place by the stove. The good natured kidding went on for a while. I felt a whole lot better about life and a bit dryer, and with new found confidence headed back to the cabin. I did leave that permit. The cabin lights were like a port in a storm as Paul welcomed me back with that enormous handshake, and a plate of food. “Take a seat and tell me how the boys are doing.” As I ate, I knew that I had passed some test that mattered to Paul, the first of many to come.

Photos: Cataract Club members Dave Conde, Bill Townsend and Doug Miller (l-r) at Beaver House before heading into camp; Beaver House, the cabin Paul Schaefer built near the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Commentary:Camp Gabriels Deal Requires Constitutional Amendment

Of all the recent press about the State’s attempted sale of 92-acre former minimum security prison known as Camp Gabriels in the town of Brighton, nothing has yet been written about the small problem of the NYS Constitution which says that the lands of the state now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve, as now fixed by law…shall not be leased, sold or exchanged” (Article 14, Section 1).

Are the 92-acres of Camp Gabriels, in fact, Forest Preserve lands which the State unconstitutionally used for purposes of a minimum security prison? And, despite their developed condition, can the State now simply dispose of them like any other “surplus” property? » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Commentary: Towns Have Authority to Build Better

I am dismayed by the level of development that many towns tolerate before anything actually gets permitted and built.

In my area outside of the Park in Saratoga County, you can drive by road frontage denuded of trees, with soil blowing in the wind and find out that the town had never issued any building permits or final site plan approvals. Instead, the town simply looked the other way while the developer engaged in so-called “preconstruction” activity, such as excavation for water, sewer, utilities, roads, or for so-called site investigation such as test pits for septic tanks.Years can go by, and nothing is done to remediate the soils, the waters, the landscape, while nothing gets built.

Towns are not mandated to look the other way while developers “preconstruct” before actually building under some kind of permit. They have plenty of legal leeway to say “no” to excavating lands where there is as yet no legal permission to build. The Town Law grants towns full rights to refine the conventional definition of a subdivision to include preconstruction activity, and thus to regulate that activity.

For about thirty-forty percent of development in the Park, at least, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will not allow developers to preconstruct before receiving a permit to develop. APA defines subdivision to include any “grading, road construction, installation of utilities or other improvements or any other land use and development preparatory or incidental to any such division.”

I thought of this with respect to the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR). Outside of the Park, an ACR-scaled development might still be under local permit review while all sorts of roads, excavations, and perforations of the land were actively underway for lack of any town regulation. One may be safe in presuming that the APA Act will keep graders and backhoes off the lands of Oval Wood Dish in Tupper Lake unless and until a permit is granted following the scheduled adjudicatory public hearing and review of the hearing record.

The levels of engineering scrutiny of an ACR-type development just increased. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has told the ACR applicant that individual stormwater prevention plans for all of the project’s components parts must be completed and must be more rigorous in order to meet new DEC standards which seek to protect smaller waterbodies from downstream sedimentation and pollution. Those standards are statewide, not Park standards, so I hope that they will be equally enforced elsewhere.

I was taught in school that urbanizing an area by hardening it, paving and sewering it resulted in some remarkable changes in the run-off, or discharge of storm water. “An average peak runoff rate for rural parts of basins …was about 30 percent of the rainfall intensity, while on the impervious areas it was approximately 75 percent,” with the precise effect dependent on the nature of soils and extent of impervious area (Water in Environmental Planning by Dunne and Leopold, 1978). Definitions of urbanization differ, but a majority of rainfall simply runs off when surfaces are paved, or even when they are hardened and grassed over.

Thus, DEC is requiring the ACR applicant to better define what is going to run off and what changes that will have on downstream water quality, since many surveys show that preserving natural ground cover significantly decreases the necessary amount of water treatment, and visa-versa. Preserving natural ground cover is the best and most economical way to prevent flooding and stormwater pollution. Even that great builder of levees the Army Corps of Engineers agrees. They studied the Charles River in Massachusetts and determined that the same flood prevention effect could be achieved by either buying $10 million worth of wetlands or spending $100 million for engineered flood control measures.

There are many other examples of permissive legal authority which are rarely exercised. Another part of the state’s Town Law (Article 16, Section 278) gives a Town Board authority to require its Planning Board to seek an alternative or clustered subdivision plan. A developer like Michael Foxman, for example, could be required by the Town and Planning Boards of Tupper Lake to present alternative ways to develop, including unconventional subdivision which minimizes the amount of cleared land, the number of roads, which clusters homes and which reserves large blocks of contiguous forest – thus minimizing development costs. It will prove interesting in the public hearing and afterward to see how aggressively APA pushes the applicant to present a true alternative design. The Town of Tupper Lake has that same power. Given the burdens this development is likely to pose for Tupper service providers it would seem wise to invoke it.

It’s questionable how many towns exercise this permissive authority to require an examination of smarter growth under the state’s Town Law. None have in my admittedly limited experience. My Town of Ballston, Saratoga County, has yet to respond to my suggestion that it invoke the Town Law to require the Planning Board to seek more creativity in a proposal to build 400 homes on old agricultural and beautiful swampy woods. When and if they do, I may have somewhat higher expectations for Tupper Lake.

Photos: APA staff and Preserve Associates lead a 2007 field trip to the site of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort at Cranberry Pond below Mt. Morris; Below, Cranberry Pond’s beaver impoundment, where stormwater, sewage and snowmaking issues for ACR concentrate.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The National Adirondack Debate of 1932

It is fitting that the Lake George Land Conservancy has created a John Apperson Society of friends and donors. Through his work for a wilder Lake George and Forest Preserve throughout the Adirondacks in the first half of the 1900s, Apperson, the General Electric engineer, gave heart, body and soul to healing what he considered the ills of industrialized, over-engineered society – to the extent that Apperson acknowledged that Lake George was his wife, and the Lake’s islands were his children. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Dave Gibson: Review Board’s Attacks on APA Unjust

Commendations to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for its recently released Policy Perspective found on their website [pdf]. It is a substantive policy update and, for a government report, a pretty strong communication piece to the general public as well as to “stakeholders.”

What I especially liked about the APA report and Chairman Stiles cover letter are that:

A. They strongly make the case that the environmental quality of the Adirondack Park is a fundamental prerequisite to a stronger economy.

B. They state in several places APA’s fundamental statutory purpose, upheld by older and very recent court decisions, which is “to serve a supervening state concern transcending local interests.”

The only problem is it’s reactive, not proactive, genesis.

The restrained but pointed cover letter from APA Chairman Curt Stiles to Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board (LGRB) Executive Director Fred Monroe makes it clear that Policy Perspective is in reaction to the LGRB paper released two weeks earlier under the kind of catchy headline most nonprofit advocacy groups dream of using, APA: Under the Influence and in Need of Detoxification.

Now, which report do you think the media covered? You’re right! Under the Influence wins the coverage. Of course, LGRB led with its report, and APA reacted, which makes one hope that the APA could be more proactive, and issue substantive annual policy updates about what they are doing to fulfill their mandate.

Section 804 of the APA Act requires the Agency to “report periodically to the governor and the legislature on the conduct of its activities but no less than once a year, furnishing a copy of each such report to the clerk of the county legislative body of each county…and to the review board.” The APA’s published annual reports have probably fulfilled this minimum requirement, but in all honesty these tend not to be overly substantive.

LGRB’s Under the Influence admirably served its statutory purpose of “periodically reporting” about the administration and enforcement of the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan to “the Governor and the Legislature, and to the country legislative body of each of the counties.” Of course, I take issue with much of what the LGRB reports says, and how it says it.

In terms of content, I’ll select just three of the many topics covered in these reports:

1. Does the APA, as the LGRB alleges, sneakily expand its authority by secretly issuing regulations at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve? No. I remember the exhausting TAL (Technical Advisory List) meetings of APA stakeholders following the 1995 report of the Task Force on the Administration of the APA. If there was ever a never-ending “stakeholder” review process on regulations, APA demonstrated it from that day to this. LGRB attended every one of those meetings, and influenced the outcomes. Then, Governor Pataki introduced GORR, the governor’s office of regulatory reform. Every draft APA regulation undergoes months of additional scrutiny.

As to the 2010 boathouse regulation (which was under review for nearly a decade), at the last moment APA bent over backwards for developers, wealthier shore land owners, and the LGRB. The regulation should have been far stronger on behalf of all the other critters that use the shoreline, but who don’t answer to the word “stakeholder.”

2. Is there truly “no official local government role in the APA appointment process?” That is what the LGRB claims. Actually, LGRB has pretty effective influence, as the evidence bears out. All eight citizen commissioners must be confirmed by the State Senate. In thinking about the late Senator Stafford and now Senator Little, it’s hard to say that the Adirondack local government interests are poorly represented in that elected body. And many of those confirmations have been for deeply rooted Adirondackers. John Stock of Tupper Lake served the APA for decades. John was the chief forester for Litchfield Park and I remember the pride with which local leaders viewed his participation on the agency. Former APA Chairs John Collins and Bob Flacke were deeply involved with affairs in Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake and Lake George respectively, and still are. Today, former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Bill Thomas, Lake Pleasant Town Supervisor Frank Mezzano, Webb activist Lani Ulrich, and North Elba businessman Art Lussi comprise four of the eight citizen APA members and all enjoy strong local government support.

The Town of Minerva’s viewpoint apparently didn’t matter to the LGRB. Minerva voted to endorse Gov. Paterson’s nomination of Pete Hornbeck, one of that Town’s esteemed residents, a former member of its planning board and a successful businessman. LGRB didn’t like that nomination, and Senator Little has so far blocked Hornbeck’s confirmation.

Twelve years ago the LGRB was given a non-voting role at the APA table each month, and invited to comment on every agenda item at every meeting. Other organizations and individuals, lacking a statutory role, wait for Friday afternoons every month to communicate in person to the Agency.

Requiring the governor to select solely from a list of people endorsed by local governments in the Park would be dismissive of the interest all New Yorkers have for consideration of people with a broad array of talents, life experiences and motivations to uphold the intent of the APA Act.

3. Are APA enforcement fines against violators regularly unfair and egregious, as LGRB alleges? No. First, there are many potential violations out there, and only a handful of enforcement officers. The facts in APA’s report suggests that most violators who come to the agency’s attention want to do the right thing, and most APA enforcement staff want to work with these people in a respectful, fair and personal manner to heal environmental damage. Civil penalties in 2009 ranged from $100 to $4,000. LGRB hardly makes a strong fairness case here. The cases LGRB raises concern not the “little guy,” but a few high profile landowners whose purpose is to wage a legal and public relations campaign against the APA.

Photo: Whiteface Mountain in early November


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Climate Change: What We Owe The Pine Martin

I saw my first Adirondack pine marten (Martes Americana) the other day in Newcomb. I was on a marked state trail through Wild Forest, and came to a sizable stream fresh from the recent rains. A log seemed conveniently placed for me, but I hesitated. Knowing I would have wet feet, how badly did I wish to go on? Then I looked up. The marten was staring back at me from the opposite bank.

Give way! Hadn’t I seen the marten crossing sign, he seemed to be saying? The marten loped downstream, and took the next log across, paused and vanished. The animal was larger than I had imagined, redder, too, like my face flushed with excitement. The photo above is not of this animal. It is one of the many fine photos in the public domain provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

When I got home I remembered reading in Jerry Jenkins’ Climate Change in the Adirondacks (2010, Wildlife Conservation Society) that Adirondack martens are isolated by a hundred miles and more from cousins in New England and Canada; and that they can outcompete the larger fisher only by having an advantage in deeper snow. When the number of days with snowpack decline, as they are doing, the fisher may gain a competitive . There is already a 15-30% decline in the number of days with snowpack since I was in grade school c. 1970.

Do we have obligations to ensure Adirondack martens survive, because of their intrinsic worth, and so that our successors experience the same excitement I felt? Many might agree on the moral obligations. Fewer might agree on whether we have legal obligations. Fewer still might agree that those obligations, moral and legal, apply to our leaving the legacy of a planet at least as healthy as the one we now live on.

The hard realities and impacts of the warming oceans and shrinking ice which are already turning so many societies, human and more than human, to survival mode all over the world does challenge a boundary between moral and legal justice concerning future generations. This is because the global science is uniformly advising us that today’s pace of warming is the result of emissions in the 1950s and 60s and 70s.

Given the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of atmospheric change, we make climate decisions today that are likely to make life support systems much less functional for people – and martens – 100 years hence. This is a debt we are piling up far more ominous for society than fiscal imbalance.

Many philosophers have thought about current debts to future generations, and more than one has lived in the Adirondacks. One who did, and who regularly acted on his thinking, was the Reverend Woody Cole, Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1984-1992, and a resident of Jay. Woody died recently. He spoke to an Adirondack audience in St. Huberts (Ausable Club) in 1991 about his view that we have an intrinsic duty to protect life forms built into our evolutionary past. Here is an excerpt of what he said:

“In nature, each organism has its own uniqueness in the way it finds to procreate, to endure, and to associate with its habitat. Each organism has evolved its complex way of capturing the energy of the sun and of maintaining its species population, building up its genome or genetic code so that it can adapt, keep going; and keep struggling in a universe that is supposed to be running down.

These millions of organisms evolved from symbiotically derived relationships with other species within ecological systems both over space and time. Contemplating this billion year old record is awesome; biota helped to produce the thin layer on this planet known as the living biosphere. …it is unique in this universe, and of value intrinsically, in and of itself, beyond mere utility for human satisfaction….

Thus it is that the conservation of ecosystems can be seen as an ultimate good, a moral obligation for observers who have been nurtured and sustained by the diverse biomes that up Earth’s biosphere. As creatures capable of appreciating inherent values, we now have a moral imperative as human organisms to protect the rich biotic ecosystems that perpetuate the life systems of the planet.

As suggested by the anthropological – cosmological principle, we have a duty to insure that complex life will be available for eventual transmission into the universe itself. But first we must conserve our own planet’s diverse ecosystems.”

Photo: Pine Marten, Erwin and Peggy Bauer, USFWS.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Adirondack Conservation Easements: Trends and Expectations

Definition: “A conservation easement typically consists of permanently enforceable rights held by a land trust or government agency by which the landowner promises to use property only in ways permitted by the easement. The landowner retains ownership and may convey it like any other property, subject to the easement’s restrictions. Conservation easements have been made possible by enabling legislation in virtually every state” (from Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform by Jeff Pidot, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2005).

Society has many expectations for large tracts of forest under conservation easement. The list often includes some form of public recreation on private ownership, sustainably harvested timber and pulp, biological diversity including diverse watchable and huntable wildlife, recreational leases, drivable roads, protected streams, ponds and wetlands, shared taxes, timely enforcement of the rules.

If that list is not long enough, some believe that these protected private lands can be managed to help slow or mitigate a changing climate that is likely to continue to warm for centuries, even if Homo sapiens cut emissions dramatically in order to maintain current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which we are not.

During a winter 2009 workshop about Adirondack conservation easements, it was reported that there were 737,000 acres under some form of state conservation easement in all of New York State, with 98% occurring in the Adirondack region. An additional 100,000 acres were being negotiated. According to Regional Forester Tom Martin, in DEC Region 5 (two-thirds of the Adirondack Park) there were 365,000 acres under conservation easement with 113 different landowners in 2009. 340,000 of those acres were certified by third-party certification systems such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

During the workshop, Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society offered his opinion that easements in the Northern Forest have achieved a basic goal to conserve biodiversity. Jenkins’ report Conservation Easements and Biodiversity in the Northern Forest Region (2008 by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Open Space Institute) provides important background and recommendations. As Jenkins stated at the workshop, conservation easements negotiated in the future should also address the issue of carbon emissions, which have global consequences.

If conservation easements are to address climate issues, landowners must be provided with the information and spectrum of management options. Forestry management plans which utilize low grade trees as biomass feedstock are on the “front lines.” To satisfy the Chicago Climate Exchange, forests need to be FSC certified.

Certification provides the standards and incentives to capture this low carbon energy source and the practice of low carbon forestry. Would easement lands qualify for carbon offset markets? Jenkins noted that the dollar value to landowners may not come solely or even primarily from carbon offsets, but from the avoidance cost of replacing fossil fuels as primary heat source in the northeast. As Jerry Jenkins put it, “how much money can we save the local school board by putting in a wood chip boiler in place of the old oil burner? How can those savings be translated into financial benefits for the landowner?”

In September, 2010, the Adirondack Park Agency sponsored a field visit with the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner and manager of lands under conservation easement, Lyme Timber. Lyme’s land manager Sean Ross led the APA to lands they have harvested north of Tupper Lake. Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley and I went along. These foresters manage blocks as large as 15,000 acres. Lyme owns 250,000-acres in the Adirondack Park.

In general, Lyme views the conservation easement positively, as well as the rigorous certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Ross made the case that the Adirondack Park’s protected status, including laws and publicly-owned Forest Preserve, were strong incentives to engage in easements and certification. Lyme’s field operations must be audited each year by the FSC or one of its third party certifiers. As Sean told us, FSC certification is an expected cost of doing business these days.

Why is Lyme in this forest land business? Trees are adding diameter and value yearly. This steady return on investment jumps when a large cherry or maple grows into a larger diameter class. Lyme’s markets are wherever they can find them – the Ticonderoga mill, nearby biomass plants, Canada and the world.

If he had the power to do so, what would he change about the conservation easement? Sean Ross said that he might take small parts of a given parcel out of the easement, and put other areas in it. Other than this, he saw no need for change. In answer to other questions, Sean Ross noted that fragmentation of land ownerships across the Northern Forest is making it challenging to manage lands for forestry. Asked if Ross could estimate Lyme’s minimum viable tract size, Ross stated it was around 10,000 acres.

Were there any collaborative efforts to conduct ecosystem-based, wild land planning for wildlife and ecosystem integrity on these lands, such as wildlife corridors? In response, Ross noted that Lyme was able to get a grant through DEC to hire a wildlife biologist that is exploring these issues for their Adirondack lands. He noted collaboration with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon New York.

Lyme also participated in the 2009 workshop. During that meeting, its representative noted the time pressures to complete contracts, and to assess what’s important to conserve in a conservation easement. On the other hand, biologists at the workshop felt that on large forested tracts several field seasons were required to survey and document rare or unique ecological communities.

The 2009 workshop concluded by identifying the following needs and tasks:
• Studies to indicate whether easements in the Adirondacks are truly meeting stated ecological, economic and social objectives.
• Studies of how easement lands respond to climate change.
• Methods for compensating landowners for achieving easement objectives
• Funding for baseline documentation and monitoring programs for both land and aquatic resources.
• Completing a conservation easement registry program, already required by law.

Photo: Sean Ross of Lyme Timber addresses questions during APA-sponsored field visit in September. Photo by Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Norm Van Valkenburgh: Conservation Hero and Sleuth

I was watching a Sherlock Holmes mystery the other day titled The Second Stain. Holmes’ deductive reasoning solves the theft of a letter that, if placed into the wrong hands, would result in a diplomatic and military crisis. The bumbling Inspector LeStrade provides the critical clue when he asks Holmes to inspect a “mere trifle,” the blood-soaked carpet which lacked any corresponding stain on the floor immediately beneath. “There is nothing more important in solving crime than attention to mere trifles,” one can hear Holmes’aside to Watson.

So, I am thinking this weekend of a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, an author of mysteries in his own right, and one of the State’s most important conservationists and public servants, Norman J. Van Valkenburgh. Norm acquired for us all magnificent tracts, both large and smaller, of wilderness placed on the market in the Adirondacks and in his beloved Catskills during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Just as important, Norm has written numerous histories about the Forest Preserve and how its tracts of land came into public ownership. In many cases, he was directly responsible. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Origins of Friends of the Forest Preserve

Today’s paddlers on the South Branch of the Moose or West Branch of the Sacandaga Rivers, or hikers, loon watchers and snowmobilers along numerous winding forest trails in the Moose River Plains or Ferris Lake Wild Forests would be fifty feet underwater if the mid-20th century dam proponents, and their state sponsors had held sway.

Citizens who valued these Adirondack valleys for their wildlife and wildness opposed them. One of those organizations was Friends of the Forest Preserve, founded in 1945 by Paul Schaefer. I write this on September 13, his birthday. This history of the founding of the organization is contained in Schaefer’s book, Defending the Wilderness: The Adirondack Writings of Paul Schaefer (1989, Syracuse University Press). » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dave Gibson: On Common Ground

The political reality in America today is certainly distressing. We elect too many Republicans and Democrats who feel unable to reach across the party aisle towards each other, or to be even seen with one another for fear of being unelectable in their primaries. The same polarization can be found dividing environmental and conservation circles. Fortunately, I’ve known quite a few Adirondackers who relate to the person, not the label, and who share the Adirondack woods and waters as common ground. I wanted to write about two of them.

Last night I read an entry in my journal about DEC Regional Director Tom Monroe’s retirement dinner in Lake Placid in early 1994. Tom had been Regional Director since the 1970s, still a time when DEC Regional Directors rose to that position through the civil service ranks, and who had considerable autonomy as a result. Put another way, these Regional Directors were forces unto themselves. That all ended by the time Tom Monroe retired. For good or ill, his able successors have been appointed by Commissioners, and ultimately answer to Governors, and enjoy far less autonomy.

I had gone to the dinner with my friend and associate Tom Cobb, who at the time was Park Manager with the State’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and Trustee of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, and who is now a Director of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. Both Tom and I – and many others from all ends of the conservation spectrum – respected Tom Monroe. Environmental leaders sometimes had their reasons to distrust him. I remember an environmental colleague advising me “just make sure he is truly retired”! However, the respect came from the fact that Tom Monroe was completely his own person, and was seen to treat people equally, without favoritism. Tom did not suffer bullies easily, and there are many interesting stories about his time at DEC. This quality of perceived even-handedness brought a diverse crowd to his dinner. In my journal, I write: “I feel pretty good about going to a farewell dinner that brought together the likes of Bob Purdy (Supervisor of Keene), Peter Paine (member of the APA), Roger Dziengeleski (Woodlands Manager of Finch, Pruyn and Co.), Senator Ron Stafford and Tom (Cobb) and I in one place.”

These qualities of Tom Monroe reminded me of a woman attending his dinner who was beloved by sportsmen and women, and respected by elected leaders. She died late last year. Nellie Staves of Tupper Lake was a deeply rooted Adirondack conservationist who made friends and influenced people wherever she went. Elegant at an evening dinner one day, warmly clad to inspect her traps the next, she was comfortable being Nellie Staves. Like Tom Monroe, Nellie didn’t mind in the least whom she was seen with. I first met her in 1988 when, in a memorable few words to the Adirondack Park Agency, she made the case why wildlife mounts deserved to be a part of the soon- to- be opened Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smith’s. Her presentation earned her an audience with Governor Mario Cuomo at the dedication of the VIC the next year. Years later another Governor, George Pataki, would dedicate the Wild Center (Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) with its founding director, Nellie, at his side. In 2007, I was so grateful to Nellie for coming up to me after a fractious meeting about the Adirondack Club and Resort at the high school. “Good to see you in Tupper Lake, Dave,” she beamed.

One day at an Adirondack conference on Upper Saranac Lake, Nellie opened the back of her car and she invited our staff member and photographer Ken Rimany to look in: there were some of the world’s most beautiful depictions of wildlife drawn not on canvas, but on bracket fungi (“toadstools,” she said) once growing on great, craggy Adirondack trees. Ken was overwhelmed with her artistry. From that time on, their friendship grew and he was introduced to members of her family. With Ken’s encouragement and help, her artwork came to be featured in The Conservationist magazine – not once but several times.

Thanks to Nellie, we were introduced to some fine Adirondack people from diverse perspectives whom we learned to respect, people who shared Nellie’s sense of humor and gift for storytelling. What hearty laughter she induced in all who knew her. Thanks to Nellie, we learned not to take ourselves too seriously, to observe closely and be receptive to the unexpected. From her, we learned that those who know the most about the Adirondack woods, from its wilderness to its wildlife, to those who work in those woods also care very deeply about the future. Nellie helped us remember that those who log, fish, hunt, trap, create or teach in the Adirondacks have one great legacy to pass on: caring, understanding, knowledgeable, talented kids growing up on these lakes, or on the trails.

Photo:(Nellie Staves outside Tupper Lake High School


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dave Gibson: Return to the Moose River Plains

A summer day. The road to the Moose River Plains from Limekiln Lake is free of traffic this morning, the sun’s rays have not yet turned the evening dew to dust. As I drive down the shaded road I think about the work of local people from Inlet who dug and placed sand on these roads to give the heavy logging trucks enough traction on the steep sections.

Dick Payne, former Inlet Police Chief, left me memorable impressions of working the Plains in the “old days.” Since 1964 when the Gould Paper Company sold this land to the people of the State, the land is Forest Preserve. As the cicadas begin to whine from the trees, I try to remember another group who hiked in via the Red River valley to discover what was at risk from the Higley and Panther Mountain Dams on the South Branch of the Moose River. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Commentary: The Adirondack Club and Resort

Michael Foxman invariably exudes confidence in his proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, and elicits great loyalty from many in the community who have a legitimate interest in reopening the Big Tupper ski center.

For all that, in my five years of observation he is one poor negotiator. Since the first conference between Mr. Foxman, APA and potential parties to a public hearing in April 2007, he has been unable or unwilling to substantively negotiate two major problems with what he wants to do: the lack of a permanent open space protection component in his proposals and his inability to allay concerns for water quality impacts from sewage, stormwater and steep slope development.

He blames “the process” for his inability to make much forward progress. From the beginning in 2005, he proved unable to win the trust of his neighbors, including abutters of Oval Wood Dish who happen to provide much of Tupper Lake’s drinking water. His payment in lieu of taxes scheme raised questions about fairness to taxing districts and residents. He paid for independent economic consultants ordered by the Town, and when he didn’t like their concerns, he temporarily stopped paying them. Despite the great recession, he seems supremely confident in his plan, the market value of the properties, resort markets, sales projections, and, ostensibly, the great tax boon this will be for Tupper Lake some day.

Fourteen months of mediation, the process he favored, resulted in useful exchange, yet few results. Overall, in the forty-two months since the hearing was ordered, he is not even close to a permit, or shown through detailed engineering how to get water onto the mountain and waste water off of it, or how he will pay for miles of infrastructure for a second village in Tupper Lake – for second home owners.

Once he exercises his option to acquire the bulk of the land from Oval Wood Liquidating Trust, Mr. Foxman may re-sell the properties to others. He will only exercise the option with that invaluable APA permit in hand. That permit can only be issued based on review of a lengthy public hearing record. That record will be developed at great expense over many months, and rests upon the ten hearing issues raised by the APA in its Feb 2007 decision to go to hearing, but undoubtedly other issues will be shown to be highly relevant, including energy, and wildlife impacts. The Law Judge in the case has to rule on each additional issue. Weeks of discovery, the process by which the parties to the APA hearing gain access to pertinent documents, are likely. Finally, it seems no hearing can start until the APA finds that Foxman and the LA Group have done the necessary engineering studies and completed detailed drawings of the water, stormwater, sewer, electrical and road systems.

Apparently the applicant has now delivered these to the APA, only to raise other impediments to starting the hearing process, principally his alleged future right to access and build on the Moody Pond Tract over lands owned by The Adirondack Conservancy. Meanwhile, the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency and Legislature must rule on the private bonds to pay for the tens of millions in new infrastructure.

ACR is not the biggest threat in the history of the Park. Horizon Corp would have built 10,000 homes in Colton, Ton-da-lay several thousand just north of Tupper Lake. That was all when the APA was brand new. After lengthy legal action, State objections to water supply and quality issues, and economic downturns, these behemoths were never built. Yet, this is the largest project to go to an APA adjudicatory public hearing, and tests the APA’s interpretation of the Act severely when it comes to the purpose of Resource Management lands, energy issues and fiscal and other burdens and benefits on a local community.

Were Mr. Foxman an experienced, well financed and Park-aware negotiator, had the housing bubble not burst into full recession, were the APA less risk averse, the public hearing called in 2007 might be over and a decision already reached.

My hope: a productive community dialogue on the future of these lands would occur. The housing component of the project would be downsized and largely concentrated around the base of Mt. Morris on good soils and with easier access for village services, with a wide protective buffer around Lake Simond and over 2000 acres of the project area, including Cranberry Pond, permanently protected, publicly accessible open space, a mix of conservation easement and Forest Preserve. Certified forestry, and public recreation would be encouraged, skiing started without the need to sell 38 (or whatever the number is now) great camp lots, posted signs few, and full taxes paid. My vision is hardly the right one, and may be unachievable. I do know that we are at least another year away from the APA’s review of any public hearing record.

Photo: View from Mt. Morris looking towards Tupper Lake.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Commentary: Forest Preserve – Forever Taxable?

The approximately three million acre, publicly-owned and “forever wild” NYS Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks is taxable for all purposes. Since 1886, that’s been the law. How can we make sure such tax obligations are paid, forever? I want it that way, and so do many others.

The law says that Forest Preserve lands shall be valued for tax purposes as if privately owned (Section 532a of the Real Property Tax Law). Late 19th century lawmakers recognized that downstate economic and other benefits of protecting upstate watersheds in the Adirondacks and Catskills more than justified waiving the State’s exemption from being taxed. And thus it has been ever since. » Continue Reading.


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