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 over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

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 managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Dave Gibson: Wild Forest Lands Do Need Our Help

Phil Terrie’s essay in the current Adirondack Explorer, “forests don’t need our help,” rebuts those who claim that no further land acquisition is justified because the state “can’t take care of what it already has.” Phil is absolutely correct to call the list of unmet recreational maintenance projects on a given unit of Forest Preserve, such as a trail or lean-to in rough shape, as a lame excuse for not adding additional strategic lands to the Preserve.

He is incorrect, however, in asserting that the “forever wild provision of the state constitution provides a perfect management plan. It costs nothing and provides the best guarantee possible for healthy, aesthetically appealing, functional ecosystems.”

Article 14, the forever wild clause of our Constitution, has never been self-executing. Its implementation requires both a vigilant defense to prevent bad amendments from being passed, as well as an offensive team of alert citizens and principled and funded state agencies to proactively carry out its mandate that the forest preserve is to be “forever kept as wild forest lands.” Call it field management, if you will. Over time, you can not preserve wilderness, or shall I say, Forest Preserve without actively managing ourselves, the recreational user. This prerequisite demands that we have management principles, plans and objectives in place, and that we oversee and measure the results.

I don’t mean a lean-to here, or a trail there that may be out of repair and needing maintenance, and not receiving it. What I mean is that the underlying philosophy, principles, plans and objectives for managing our uses of “forever wild” land are vitally important if you expect to still have wild, or natural conditions years hence. Remember that a part of the Wilderness definition in our State Land Master Plan (which echoes the national definition) is to “preserve, enhance and restore natural conditions.” Howard Zahniser, author of the National Wilderness Act, was inspired by New York’s Forever Wild history. He always maintained that our biggest challenge, once Wilderness was designated, was to keep wilderness wild, especially from all of us who could, and often do love wilderness to death. The same applies to the Forest Preserve. Of course, restoring “natural conditions” in a time of climate change is a significant challenge that wilderness managers are facing across the country.

Remember the way Marcy Dam used to look? Restoring that area from the impact of thousands of boot heels and lean-to campers took decades of effort. The High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan established clear management objectives of, for example, restoring native vegetation at heavily used lean-to and trailhead sites, and redistributing and limiting the heavily concentrated camping pattern that once existed. It then took additional years to actively carry out those objectives, measure their progress, and achieve the desired results.

So did the efforts led by Edwin H. Ketchledge, ADK, DEC and Nature Conservancy to ecologically restore the High Peak alpine summits. In the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, the UMP is seeking to restore wilder conditions in the central core area, and move some of the dense snowmobile traffic to the perimeter of that unit.

In the Siamese Ponds Wilderness and Jessup River Wild Forest, it will take years of well directed management effort to restore parts of the western shoreline and islands of Indian Lake to achieve “natural conditions” after decades of uncertain management and overly intensive day and overnight use. Without a Siamese Ponds Wilderness UMP, there would be no clear wild land objectives, and no timetable to achieve them. Yes, those timetables are often exceeded, but these UMPs hold our public officials feet to the fire, and accountable to the State Land Master Plan and to Article 14 of the Constitution.

Our Constitution’s assertion that lands constituting the forest preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands” are, in these myriad and laborious ways, carried out for future generations. And yes, wild land management requires financial resources and devoted personnel. That is why it was so important a decade ago to establish a land stewardship account in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Yes, these funds are insufficient, so a stronger public-private partnership for Adirondack wild lands is needed.

Lost so far in the debate over whether and how to acquire some 65,000 acres of Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve is the good thinking that should be underway about how to best manage these lands as wild lands, for their wild, ecological and recreational values. Assuming that some day these lands will be part of the Forest Preserve, time and effort needs to be devoted now to management planning that may help keep these lands as wild as possible, preserving their ecological integrity while planning for recreational uses that are compatible with the paramount need to care for these lands as part of the Forest Preserve.

For example, public access will need to be closely managed if wild land and natural conditions are to be preserved, enhanced or restored. During a visit sponsored by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, I was impressed, for example, with the extensive logging road network leading to the Essex Chain of Lakes south of Newcomb. This beautiful chain of lakes offers a fine future canoeing and kayaking attraction in the central Adirondacks, as well as an ecologically interesting and important aquatic resource.

State and private natural resource managers are giving quite a bit of thought, as they should, to how and where the paddling public might access the chain of lakes. Closing off some of the roads to motorized traffic, turning these into narrower trails, and requiring paddlers to carry or wheel their boats longer distances to enter or leave the lakes would create or restore wilder and more natural conditions along these sensitive shorelines, conditions which would appeal to paddlers from across the Northern Forest and Canada. Special fishing regulations may also be required to preserve the fishery long treasured by the private leaseholders here. The same level of planning thought will be needed to assure or restore both wild and natural conditions at Boreas Ponds, the Upper Hudson River and other former Finch lands and waters that merit Forest Preserve status.

Photo: Paddling on the Essex Chain of Lakes, south of Newcomb, NY, as guests of The Nature Conservancy.

 


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dave Gibson: Reform APA Project Review

The Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) adjudicatory public hearing is finally underway. The ACR project was first introduced as a conceptual Adirondack Park Agency (APA) application in 2004. Seven years later, it is still massive, involving 719 dwelling units spread over 6,200 acres near Tupper Lake.

Hearing witnesses gave ample evidence last week that show APA’s staff decision to deem the ACR application complete in the fall of 2006 to have been premature. In reference to the applicant’s repeated failing to produce any kind of serious wildlife or natural resource studies, a key witness for APA, retired director of regulatory programs Mark Sengenberger, noted that APA can only ask for additional information and not receive it so many times. Wildlife habitat was a key piece of that missing information, Sengenberger said. As other witnesses revealed, also missing was any rigorous assessment of alternative designs of the development.

The costs of not requiring comprehensive data before deeming such a complex and controversial application complete are considerable. Between the applicant, the APA and the hearing parties, millions of dollars have been spent over six years in pre-hearing phases of the ACR without arriving at any deep understanding of the site to be developed. There are also big gaps in understanding the reliability of infrastructure and financing data in the application. Countless person hours have been spent at APA struggling to get information out of this applicant. I suspect that several legitimate requests from citizens to send other Park projects to hearing were denied, in part, because APA is such a small agency and ACR has consumed too much of its human and economic resources since 2004.

Dr. Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist and witness for Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, stated last week at the hearing: “we are forced to spend time at this hearing debating the lack of biological data, which should have been compiled and assessed before deeming the application complete, while instead this hearing should be discussing the implications of a robust set of ecological information that actually informs how and where to site development.”

In characterizing the proposed layout of development on the ACR site, Dr. Klemens stated “this is classic sprawl on steroids.” The ACR spreads negative ecological impacts out across the landscape, he stated. He added that by compacting the design to be less fragmenting of the landscape, many objectives would be met, both economic and ecological. Less money would be spent simply reaching the site with infrastructure, for example, while the impact or zones of influence of development on sensitive areas would be smaller. His testimony revealed a well known process to successfully build housing in sensitive landscapes that involves developing a complete understanding of the project site first, mapping that information, and only then developing plans for housing which avoids the most sensitive areas and maintains the integrity of ecological processes.

This could have happened for ACR, but unfortunately this application does the very opposite, he noted. Only the APA can determine why they allowed this to happen, he stated. Asked whether or not there is sufficient biological and ecological information in the application for the APA to reach a determination of no undue adverse impact, Dr. Klemens stated “there is insufficient data to make such a determination.”

Asked whether the APA could merely place conditions on a defective application which purport to “mitigate” adverse impacts, Dr. Klemens said “a defective application should never be conditioned. It should simply be denied without prejudice, and the applicant given time to develop that information, and resubmit the application.”

Dr. Klemens is the Planning Board chairman for a town in Connecticut. In that capacity, he said he often imposes expectations on developers working within a complex, ecologically important site to identify and map sensitive resources prior to laying out development sites. “Understand the site first, and from that understanding develop plans for housing or other development.” In fact, he noted, in his experience fast-tracked applications are those that have developed good biological and natural resource data. That way, conflict is reduced, development occurs in the less sensitive places, and money is saved. The “train wrecks” result when a process does not allow for understanding natural systems in the first place, like the ACR.

In responding to cross examination, Dr. Klemens took time to explain his view that his testimony is not about whether or not development should or can take place on the ACR site. It is very likely that development is compatible with areas on the site, he said. The “real issue involved in this hearing is the amount, intensity and lay-out of that development. That’s the key.”

How can the APA use the ACR experience to improve its project review? One way is to mimic the way its sister agency, DEC, as well as many town and county planning boards utilize the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Act. After determining that a project may have one or more significant environmental impacts, a step known as a positive declaration of impact, the lead agency in SEQR must require an environmenal impact statement (EIS) of the developer. Project scoping invites the public to comment on the proposed topics to be covered by the EIS. “The purpose of scoping is to focus the EIS on the most relevant issues and potential impacts, including means to avoid or minimize those impacts; the lead agency may thereby ensure that the draft EIS will be a concise, accurate and complete (emphasis mine) document adequate for public review” (from: www.dec.ny.gov).

Think of the APA application process as a version of SEQR, and the APA’s review as a kind of EIS. Before deeming an application complete, the agency could invite the public to help APA undertake project scoping in order to ensure that an application actually and thoroughly answers key questions, and provides the information required for a comprehensive review of impacts. If that process were used, there might be more meaningful constituent participation with APA and fewer “train wrecks” like ACR, where so much time is spent at an APA hearing debating the paucity and reliability of information and data needed by the commissioners to reach a sound, post-hearing decision. In fact, I remember several APA commissioners suggesting this very reform of their own project review of large projects in 2008, following their approval of the FrontStreet application in North Creek. I have yet to see positive results from their suggestions.

Photo: Dr. Michael Klemens points to a map of ACR during his testimony at the public hearing last week.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Commentary: Oversight Needed for Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are real property arrangements designed for the insider. Specialists predominate before and after an easement is consummated in private, including the negotiators to the terms of the easement (the seller, donor, buyer, or grantor and grantee and their lawyers), the appraiser of the easement’s value, and an ecological specialist who conducts baseline surveys of the land in question. There is rarely, if ever, a public meeting to discuss the details of the easement. The public may learn about easements through after the fact press releases, but their specific provisions and public benefits may be unclear for years. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Dave Gibson: Elected APA Commissioners?

Brian Mann has raised a proposal to allow Park residents to cast ballots and elect the five Park resident APA Commissioners, which would require a change in the law which requires the Governor to nominate, and the Senate to confirm all eight of private citizen members of the agency. I happen to believe that the current law remains the most equitable and practical way to ensure a proper diversity, array of statewide and park talents and commitments to the purposes of the APA Act. Be that as it may, Brian’s is hardly a new idea.

I found some interesting quotes from early APA Chairmen who were answering a question posed to them in 1981 at a conference. The question from a member of the audience was: “If one of our main goals is to win the acceptance of the Adirondack people, wouldn’t it have been a good idea earlier on to include local representation and to have the commissioners elected, or to give the local people some other access or resources in dealing with the agency”?

One of the most interesting resources from which to follow the thinking and trends of the Adirondack Park Agency in its early history are the printed records of the Conferences on the Adirondack Park, 1971-1981, published by St. Lawrence University. SLU faithfully captured every word spoken at those June conferences held on their beautiful Camp Canaras campus on Upper Saranac Lake.

Just about every conference in those years featured the views and reports of APA Executive Directors and Chairmen, along with those knowledgeable in Adirondack wildlife research, tax policy, land use planning, Forest Preserve, water quality, invasive species, great camp architecture, and much more. The costs of publishing these printed records of the conference in the era before computerization eventually became prohibitive, but SLU’s Camp Canaras conferences continued for another 15 years or so, and I always felt they were “must attend” events. The content, entry price, company, and shoreline scenery were all outstanding.

How did former APA Chairmen Richard Lawrence of New York City and Elizabethtown and Robert Flacke of Lake George answer the above question which was posed to them on that summer day of 1981? The answers are found in the printed proceedings of St. Lawrence University’s 1981 Conference on the Adirondack Park. Richard Lawrence served as chairman of the APA from its beginnings in 1971 until 1975. Robert Flacke succeeded Dick Lawrence as chairman in 1976 and served until 1978.

Robert Flacke: “I think the history of land use controls give us the answer to that…if 51 percent of any type of a voting body has a parochial interest, whether it is in a village or a town or a county or region then essentially those are the only interests that will be forwarded and protected. That is what happened with the (Lake) Tahoe experiment (in California). There was an equal voting strength between the two bodies and there was no overriding concern. Now, the basic question was asked in the Study Commission on the Adirondacks: Are the Adirondacks an area of statewide concern? The answer was affirmative. The program goes beyond the interests of the people who are here, although the interests of the people who are here are very, very important. Therefore, the balance that was established, I think, is the proper balance… One must maintain, then, a statewide interest if one continues to believe that the resource is important for all the people of the state.”

Richard Lawrence: “I might add just one other point. We have, of course, elected representatives in the legislature such as assemblymen and state senators. Yet this is a fact of political life that not one of our local representatives is here. Andrew Ryan, Glenn Harris or Senator Ronald Stafford could not possibly be reelected if they would support and go all out for the Adirondack Park Agency. That is a simple fact of life. If they choose to be in office they simply cannot believe very strenuously in land use planning. Perhaps ten years from now there will be a different answer. That is the name of the game now.”

Later on, in response to a statement from Park resident that “the thing I am most worried about is that the Adirondack Park Agency may disappear. I do not want it to disappear because I do not want to lose any of this,” Robert Flacke continued, “That brings out the fundamental question of membership in a land use agency. Land use control started with the Park Avenue experiment in New York City, but the lowest level of government, when you look back in the history book, has always been unable to perform adequately in land use controls because of the very issue that you bring out. If a town board gets involved in land use questions, its members then become subject to very grave social and economic pressures… I can remember during my tenure as town supervisor certain councilmen had to make a decision that they felt very strongly about. It may have gone against certain other economic interests. A fellow that ran a gas station came to me one day and said ‘I’m going to go broke because all my customers are telling me that if I don’t vote that way they will go elsewhere for their gas.’ This essentially says that when you are involved in land use, you have to have an insulated body generally at the next level of government, whether it is county or regional. I think time will tell that economically the local people are not destroyed (by the APA), but benefited, if in a different way.”

Photo: Above, looking out on Upper Saranac Lake from the SLU Camp Canaras campus, 1991 Conference on the Adirondacks; Below, a panel at the same conference.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Dave Gibson: Less Pigeon Holing, More Story Telling

Today, the experiences, views and outlooks of wild land advocates and foresters are often pigeon-holed as necessarily antithetical to each other. I don’t hold that view, and neither does Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. For evidence, read Dan’s “December Wood” essay. We were both mentored by Paul Schaefer, one of the most effective advocates for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks during the 20th century.

Paul had many outdoor debates during the 1950s with former Finch, Pruyn executive Lyman Beeman. The two men saw a tract of forest and viewed its potential quite differently, of course. Yet, they both respected each other’s point of view and recognized, as we do today, that foresters of all kinds share with wilderness advocates a deep love for the land, for productive soils and for stewardship over a long period of time, on a human time scale anyway. Good wood grows on good wood, some say. And sometimes a conservationist has got to make some money cutting trees.
What brought this to mind is one of the most interesting stories I ever heard from Paul Schaefer. One day in January, 1991 he was reminiscing about the great depression and World War II, when the bank withheld his assets from his construction company. Then his bank closed, and would not allow any withdrawals, forcing Paul to take on odd jobs in order to feed his family. Then came severe restrictions and shortages on the building materials he used as a homebuilder, and the cost of a house became very dear, preventing him from doing a lot of building.

One day during WW II, Paul read in the daily newspaper in Schenectady that the county airfield, mostly undeveloped at the time, needed to be transformed into a bombing range and military airport. Trees had to be cleared there, pretty big ones at that. Paul read this and went over to Scotia to take a look. He found about ten state or county workers clipping goldenrod with handclippers. He went in and spoke with the person in authority and asked “you want someone to cut trees for you don’t you?” Yes. “What are they cutting goldenrod for?” “They don’t have the skills to cut trees,” came the answer. “Well, you’ve got your man here,” Paul replied.

Paul needed the help of some Adirondackers, so he got in touch with George Morehouse in Bakers Mills to come down and give him a hand with the tree cutting. Each week, Paul would drive up Route 9 to Bakers Mills (at least a 2.5 hour trip one way in those days), pick George up and drive him down to Scotia and the two of them would cut for days at a time. George would stay at Paul and Carolyn Schaefer’s home at night. There were no chain saws available. They required a cross-cut, two-man saw.

“We worked together really smooth,” Paul told me. They cut and they cut. One day, Paul and George got a saw wedged in the tree. They left it, took up another saw and went on cutting. Years later, Paul recovered that wedged saw, all rusted except the blade in the bole of the tree, which was gleaming. “If you want your blade to remain nice and shiny, keep it in a piece of oak or something,” Paul advised. That blade was a part of Paul’s memorabilia destroyed when his barn burned down in the early 1960’s.

One day, after many hours of cutting, George Morehouse said he had to get home. Paul offered to let him stay overnight and drive him home tomorrow. No, I got to get home today, George said. Paul, dead tired, drove George back to Bakers Mills and all the way back. He was so tired on his return journey that he almost failed to stop at a railroad crossing. He put on his brakes a foot before the train roared past him.

So that’s the way Paul Schaefer, the wilderness advocate, guide and homebuilder, got by several years during World War II by selling some of this wood from the airport as lumber and firewood, and turning the little airfield in Scotia, NY into a military facility.

Photo: Paul Schaefer at his Adirondack cabin, c. 1960, courtesy of the Paul Schaefer Collection, Adirondack Research Library.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Dave Gibson: Tupper Lake and the APA Act

It is noteworthy to read local supporters of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort expressing their full faith in the NYS Adirondack Park Agency’s ultimate review of that proposal. The Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and ARISE (a Tupper Lake nonprofit) were quoted this week as saying “let the agency do its job.” Meanwhile, these organizations deride the efforts of others – “outsiders” – in the public hearing as obstructing the agency’s work.

Four years after it was ordered to adjudicatory public hearing by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the proposed subdivision and second home development known as the Adirondack Club and Resort encompassing 6400 acres near Tupper Lake may finally get the close scrutiny it merits. The hearing, encompassing a dozen interrelated issues and over three dozen parties, should begin this spring. The group I work with, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, is one of those parties.

The Chamber’s apparent embrace of the APA Act and its implementation through this public hearing is both interesting and gratifying: interesting because Tupper Lake rejected sharing local land use controls with the APA in the early 1990s because it might lend legitimacy to the APA legislation that the Chamber now apparently embraces; gratifying to hear because the APA Act mandates the very statewide concerns that “outsiders” can help to bring to the table.

The APA Act states “continuing public concern, coupled with the vast acreages of forest preserve holdings, clearly establishes a substantial state interest in the preservation and development of the park area. The state of New York has an obligation to insure that contemporary and projected future pressures on the park resources are provided for within a land use control framework which recognizes not only matters of local concern but also chose of regional and state concern” (Section 801, APA Act)

Reflecting as it does 150 years of statewide concern for the Adirondacks, the Act and its regulations anticipate statewide interest in the upcoming ACR public hearing, and mandate that the APA take those interests into account in its review. One of the biggest statewide concerns is that two thirds of the ACR proposal involves large second homes across Resource Management lands “where the need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations” (Section 805, APA Act)

That public can come from Tupper Lake and from anywhere else within the boundaries of the state, or beyond. Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks and others seek to help represent the broader public’s interests to “protect the delicate physical and biological resources, encourage proper and economic management of forest, agricultural and recreational resources and preserve the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park” (Section 805).

There are still many others who want to focus on the local benefits and burdens of this proposal. The proposal if permitted and carried out to its full extent would carve out a new, sprawling development hub miles from current service providers in the village.

All need to bear in mind that whatever comes out of the hearing and agency review will have an effect on the entire Adirondack Park. This may be a precedent setting decision, and hundreds of thousands of people around the state will watch and examine its results carefully. The last time such a large subdivision and second home development was proposed in 1972, APA was a new and untested agency. I suspect the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce back in 1972 viewed the Agency as “outsiders.” Judging from the Chamber’s news release this week, the Agency and local perspective on the Agency from Tupper Lake has matured since then. The local and regional economy is rough today, but it was also rough in 1972. Second home subdivisions consume more of the environment, demand far more services and draw far more energy than they did in 1972. Meanwhile, one big thing hasn’t changed since that year – the APA Act, which has been amended just once in 38 years.

Photos: Hearing parties at the ACR field visit, May 2007; and visiting the beaver dam holding back Cranberry Pond.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forest Rangers: Ambassadors for the Wild

As the ice clogged rivers, streams and trails of the Adirondacks thaw, there are many things to look forward to. Wildflowers and spring migratory birds are tops on my list. The sound of running water is another.

Seeing a Forest Ranger in the woods may not top my list, but it’s pretty rare sight and very important to those woods and the public which recreates or works there.

Last year the NYS DEC Forest Rangers celebrated 125 years of care and custody of our wild lands like the NYS Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills. It was an historic occasion far too few of us took note of. We may never need to depend upon a Ranger to get us safely out of a wild forest or off of a wild river but, as they say, you never know. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dave Gibson: Little’s Forest Preserve Logging Amendment

I’ll risk it and take the bait in responding to Senator Betty Little, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward and others concerning a proposed constitutional amendment to permit logging and forest product utilization on newly acquired Forest Preserve.

Their simplistic ecological arguments for the amendment, such as wanting to see more rabbits on the Forest Preserve, or expecting that logging the Preserve would help the climate are being made up as they go along and will not withstand serious scrutiny. I prefer to focus more on their constitutional hurdles.

The Senator is clearly motivated to keep the Finch lands and Follensby Pond out of the Forest Preserve. Unstated may be a desire to maintain certain leaseholders occupying the Finch lands – such as the politically influential members of the Gooley Club west of the Upper Hudson. These are at least rational positions to take and, while I have a different viewpoint, I can respect theirs. They will also attempt to accomplish their objective of keeping the lands out of the Forest Preserve through legislation, and one would think that an easier step than a constitutional amendment. Perhaps they think not.

They apparently believe a good way to accomplish their objective is to create a separate class of Forest Preserve that on some date certain, after a constitutional amendment is approved by the voters some years hence, and after new Forest Preserve is acquired will permit the practice of forestry on the new land. They may feel that the public would accept this, knowing that the existing three million acres would still be “forever wild.” They may believe that all they need to do is neatly sidestep a sticky clause in Article 14, Section 1 of the Constitution, and exempt new lands from its provisions. That clause states: “nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

But that’s not all they have to do. Theirs is no technical amendment. By attempting to exempt only new Forest Preserve from the strictures of Article 14, they must amend all 54 words of Section 1 of Article 14. They must roughshod over the very constitutional language which voters have refused to change – despite given numerous opportunities to do so – in 116 years.

Perhaps they are betting on a constitutional convention virtually doing away with Article 14 as we know it, and I’d say that’s a poor bet.

Section 1 unifies the Forest Preserve. Its first sentence states that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” A simple exception clause for new acquisitions after some date would not do the trick. “Hereafter acquired” means just that. “Forever kept” means forever. The words pertain to any lands owned before, or acquired after the effective date of Section 1 of January 1, 1895. They were reaffirmed at the 1938 and 1967 constitutional conventions, and on many other occasions in the 20th and 21st centuries through passage of over 30 limited, site specific amendments which nonetheless preserve the overarching language of Section 1.

The second and final sentence of Section 1 is just as problematic for the Senator. “They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” Allowing DEC, a public corporation, to supervise and control logging on newly acquired Forest Preserve would constitute a clear taking of the lands. The legal agreements to permit logging activity by private parties on any parts of the Forest Preserve might likely constitute a lease, further violating that provision. The third and final clause of that sentence – the one that the Senator may think is the only hurdle – speaks for itself.

I conclude that pretty much all 54 words of Section 1 would need to be amended, rewritten and stripped of their present and historic meaning in order to achieve a separate class of Forest Preserve managed for forest products. The public may be willing to make occasional, limited, site specific amendments to Article 14 for worthy objectives that both meet a legitimate public purpose and enhance the Forest Preserve. However, the voters have demonstrated over a very long period that they are unwilling to make substantial changes to the “forever wild” policy because the Forest Preserve as now constituted provides such enormous benefits. It is the envy of the world. It distinguishes New York from all other states and from all other nations. It is woven into our social fabric, as well as our laws. It provides billions of dollars in ecological and recreational services. It pays taxes for all purposes. The voters would be especially unwilling when the reasons for doing so, on economic, ecological, social and public policy grounds, are so questionable.

Prior to 1983, Senator Little’s amendment might have a better public policy rationale and more public appeal. That was when the conservation easement legislation was approved that permits the State to acquire rights in land without the land becoming Forest Preserve, and which has been so effective in keeping forest management and forest employment alive in the Park, which are the stated objectives for the amendment. Putting more resources into effective programs like this would be the more realistic way to achieve them.

Photo: Article 14, Section 1, NYS Constitution.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dave Gibson: Wilderness is not a ‘Special Interest’

Ed Zahniser is the son of Howard and Alice Zahniser (Howard was chief author and lobbyist for the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964), and Ed’s essay “Wilderness and our Full Community of Life” is now on the Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve website. It was written as a public address, but also stands on its own as an exciting piece of writing.

Re-reading Ed’s presentation gives me goosebumps because it ties together so much of the human experience. As he makes clear, wilderness is not about natural resource management, ecology, or Adirondack State Land Master Plan guidelines, as important as those are to keeping and restoring of wild places through the management of human use. As Ed says, wildness causes us to think about right relationships with the broader community of life.

To see wilderness is to see ourselves, as his father Howard Zahniser described it, as “dependent members of an interdependent community which gains its energy from the sun.” It is “where we feel most keenly our interdependence with all life.” Most keenly. We can feel also this in our backyards, in our parks, in our guts after a rich meal. But wild places are set aside in law to help us to come face to face with this interdependence in a very real way.

Thinking about what that word interdependence means leads one to recognize how little we know about the land as a whole community of life, not dissected under the microscope, but connected to us. Ed compares the Hubble Space Telescope looking at galaxies spiraling outwards with soil layers and organisms spiraling downwards. If there was ever a “4 G network,” it is in the soil. It is even in the teaming mites and bacterial life on our heads! Towards the end of her life, my mother thought wildness was coming a bit too close to our house, as foxes and deer moved ever closer as the result of a kind of re-wilding going in the neighborhood. Well, it turns out wilderness was always that close – even closer.

Experience with the wild really is a humbling experience, and that humility is critical to our Christian traditions as well. Ed traces today’s wilderness ethic to many biblical stories and traditions, to Christ himself wandering in the desert, and the spiritual purification, and the finding of “right relationships” to man and the universe which many people have found there.

One of those humbling days for me was in the Split Rock Wild Forest near Essex and Lake Champlain. Gary Randorf led Ken Rimany and me on a ski trip there with six inches of powder on top of an icy crust. Gary flew uphill; we edged our way up, slipping constantly. From white and red pine plantations, we moved into mixed hardwood forest and occasional glades of hemlock, and then scrub oaks and red cedar near the cliff face above Champlain. Huffing and puffing (Gary was resting easy); we watched bald eagles circling, meeting in mid-air, their talons hooked together in an aerial spiral. A raven checked on the eagles. The sky above was a deep blue. Wow. What a wild moment.

We headed into a deep ravine, following the sun in its southern arc to Champlain’s Barn Rock Bay. Gary explained that here huge rock ballast was cut and slid on great bridges and docks into waiting ships. We tried to comprehend, and all we saw was thick hemlock above us. Here another of our great human enterprises was swallowed up by the unmoved, unimpressed earth organism. Knowing what was once here and how many people sweated, or bled to create this enterprise is an exercise in humility. Now, animal tracks, mouse, deer, bobcat accompanied our ski tracks up the ravine, as we scrambled after Gary, finding him again after a wonderful swoosh back to the parking lot.

Fundamental to Ed’s essay, then, is that wilderness is not a special interest, but part of a core interest in the human condition which is constantly seeking “right relationships” with others and with communities, human and more than human. Protection of wilderness is part of a broad movement which included women’s suffrage and civil rights, and today’s struggle to spread economic justice and opportunity and the search for spiritual meaning in our lives. Ed, like his parents, has read widely and thought laterally as well as deeply about these matters. His presentation connects us, lessens the divides between us and our worlds. Enjoy it.

Photo: Ed Zahniser


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dave Gibson: Park Partnerships

The South Downs emerged from under the weight of 1000 years of English history to gain National Park status in Great Britain in 2009. Never heard of it, you may say. Well, William the Conqueror came here one day in 1066, and changed our English and American history forever.

Nearly a millennium later, no one did more to achieve a National Park for the South Downs than Paul Millmore of Lewes, Sussex (Paul’s home is contained within the Park) who campaigned vigorously for the National Park for decades. He joined Adirondack Wild the last week of December, 2010 in Adirondack Park’s Keene Valley for part of our Dialogue for the Wild. In this case, it was community discussion about the South Downs, and to exchange notes about parks and protected areas on either side of the Atlantic.

First, a bit about Paul Millmore. He is a rural planner by trade, and a pioneering international conservation consultant. He is the author of the National Trail Guide to the South Downs Way. For over 20 years, Paul has consulted widely in North America and in the Adirondacks on a wide range of conservation topics, including planning, countryside management and tourism, heritage trails and walking paths, ranger services and stewardship, cultural and natural resource inventories, conservation record-keeping and more. He last spoke in Lake Placid in 2001 about “Citizen Lessons in Environmental Discovery.” As you can see, Paul can relate to the Adirondacks pretty easily.

As Paul’s slides of the South Downs moved along, the audience of about 25 in Keene Valley’s Congregational Church (Van Santvoord Room) received a crash course in South Downs ecology. On the Downs proper, there are rarities everywhere, rare butterflies, rare plants, all low to the ground, with the sky above, not trees or shrubs. These rarities are here because of sheep, and infertile soils. Remove 1000 years of sheep grazing, or unnaturally fertilize these great downs, and you lose biodiversity. This ecological wisdom requires a shift in our mindset, as we in northeastern North America might tend to view sheep, and infertile soils as bad for rare life forms. However, we might see a parallel in Adirondack low elevation boreal rivers. These low fertility boggy riverbanks, if allowed to gain nitrogen from a warming climate and hastened decomposition, would be overrun by shrubs and trees, shading out the rarities. Thus it is that on the South Downs, grazing keeps the land in ecological balance.

The Downs are often symbolized by the dramatic 30-miles of steep chalk cliffs facing the English Channel, symbolized by the “Seven Sisters” shown here. Created out of the calcium rich bodies of small sea creatures, this wave cut escarpment of chalk is, as Paul points out, the only true wilderness in the South Downs – indeed, in all of England. The Adirondacks may have far more wilderness, but far less human history! Along the escarpment is the South Downs Way, one of the great countryside walks in all of England.

Paul went on to describe Countryside, as defined in English law. By law (1948) and tradition, housing and industrial development is concentrated in Great Britain within hamlets, or towns or cities. The countryside outside of these zones is simply not available for such development. There is no private property right to develop it. Despite it being private land, there is a public right to access it, so long as that access is appropriate and does not harm the private owner. Here lies the great tradition, and burgeoning tourist attraction and economic benefit of countryside walking from inn to inn, from town to bed and breakfast, and back again. This business is critical to the life of the South Downs. It is also critical to know that these countryside “parks” are locally managed.

As for the culture and nature divide, Paul is a lumper, not a divider. From his viewpoint, all forms of culture and all forms of nature in the countryside (and the town) deserve our attention, our concern, our protection, our stewardship. He knows there are important lines not to cross, and knows that our wilderness has its own critical cultural, as well as legal and spiritual importance. Yet, he reminds us that we are part of nature, so our culture and its history are critically important. Paul views the Adirondack “debate” as pointless. Embrace wilderness and human cultural history together, he urged. Don’t forget the mining history and centers at Mineville, for example. Celebrate it, preserve it, just as you preserve the High Peaks Wilderness.

Remember, too, he reminded us, to measure the economic benefits of wilderness and cultural and historic centers throughout the Adirondacks. Measure and report these results to government on a regular basis. These may be the ultimate “received bits of wisdom” from our much older English cousins across the pond.

As for the South Downs National Park itself, Paul sees this is just the first and most logical victory. The Park is managed by local people, not by London, and Paul is one of the many locals who have moved from Park creation to Park stewardship. Stewardship money must be locally raised, he argues, and he has successfully raised a lot of it himself. In one example, he persuaded the reluctant local powers that be to screen with native vegetation an enormous parking lot built for Countryside walkers and sightseers. He did this by writing the first check to acquire the necessary tree seedlings, and by shaming hundreds of others to write their own checks. The trees are now mature and screen the sun’s reflection off hundreds of automobiles, which would otherwise have been visible from thirty miles away. Imagine the visual impact from Owls Head, Hurricane or Cascade Mountain of a 15-acre, unscreened parking lot at Rt. 9N and 73 in Keene!

Now, Paul has other campaigns in his sights, including the first marine sanctuary in Britain on and off the South Downs coast. Also, he will fight for ecological restoration of the only undisturbed estuary in all of England. The River Cuckmere forms a beautiful meandering floodwater through the Downs, cutting through the escarpment down to the sea. Yet 19th century Englishmen cut a straight channel before it reaches the sea to stop it from flooding. This cut has sealed the meander off from nutrients, and starved the floodplain of its potential richness. Bird life and all life forms suffer. These days, the economic value of biodiversity and birdwatching far exceeds losses from floodwaters, so don’t count Paul Millmore out. More ecological and cultural gains, on the South Downs and elsewhere, are within his determined reach.

Photos: Above, The Seven Sisters, coastline bordering the English Channel and part of the South Downs; Below, Paul Millmore, successful advocate for the South Downs National Park in Great Britain, and friend of the Adirondacks.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dave Gibson: Common Road Salt is Toxic

Outside my house, and in the forest back beyond the land is carpeted with crystalline beauty, affording quietude, serenity, thermal shelter for critters, and some nice ski runs. Out on the county road, just two hours after the recent storm the pavement is bare – right on schedule with transportation departments’ standard for road maintenance and safety. To accomplish it, a corrosive pollutant will be laid down in quantity – 900,000 tons of road salt will be used across the state this winter according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) website. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Elk Lake: The First Adirondack Conservation Easement

The signing of an important conservation easement last week protecting a large percentage of the former Finch, Pruyn lands reminds me of a visit I paid to Paul Schaefer in March, 1990. At that time, Governor Mario Cuomo had proposed an Environmental Bond Act, which required legislative approval before going to the voters (it was ultimately voted down). How was the bond act being received in the legislature, Paul asked. I gave him the news that it was having a rough reception politically. Paul remained optimistic. The bond act was important because it would permit the purchase of conservation easements in the Adirondacks, and that should be enough to tip public support in its favor, he felt.

Later that year, Paul formed Sportsmen for the Bond Act. It was one of many highly focused organizations he created in his lifetime. This effort, one of the last he personally led, revealed an evolution in Schaefer’s approach to Park conservation. Since 1930, Paul had fought for any appropriation that would add more Forest Preserve, public land protected as “forever wild” by Article 14 of the NYS Constitution that would eventually be classified wild forest or wilderness. He persuaded many organized hunters to support his wilderness philosophy. But he also came to believe that many private holdings in the Park should be available for active forest management, which he viewed as complimentary, both ecologically and aesthetically, to adjacent “forever wild” Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Dave Gibson: Naturalists Help Keep the Lights On

It’s certainly getting frosty out there, and that’s particularly true for the state’s environmental centers, educators and interpreters.

I first wrote about the closing of the two Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers and the loss of their naturalist staff last June, and the good news that the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) would run programs at the Newcomb facility in 2011.

Comments back to me said, to summarize, “it’s nice, but get real. In this recession, we have no time to worry about frills and luxuries like environmental education.” I thought I could make a better effort at stating my case.

Most of these “retired” state naturalists are skilled environmental interpreters – meaning that they, to quote a classic definition of interpretation, are skilled at “revealing meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, first hand experiences and illustrative media, rather than simply conveying factual information” (Interpreting our Heritage, by Freeman Tilden).

In essence, these professionals relate parts of the natural world (or the historic or cultural worlds) to something deep within the personality or experience of the visitor, resident or student. What they reveal provokes people to respond, not to yawn. This provocation, in turn, causes visitors to the VICs, Wild Center, Adirondack Museum, or Five Rivers Center to appreciate what they are seeing or experiencing more intensely.

That intensity of appreciation can lead to a desire to understand the details, or a whole ecosystems. These people may develop into aware, informed, understanding, active environmental managers, conservationists, or historians. These activities can and do change the world in ways large and small, and it often begins through good interpretation at a State Park, Visitor Center, or Museum.

Like all layoffs, these at Christmastide are bad enough for the individuals and families involved, like the forced departure of naturalist Ellen Rathbone from the Newcomb VIC, from her park community and from Adirondack Almanack as she seeks new opportunities beyond New York State. We hope New York’s loss will be Ohio’s gain. But the loss of veteran naturalists and educators in NYS is felt statewide.

For instance, a veteran educator at NYS Parks was just laid off after 26 years of successful efforts to link environmental education to improved stewardship of all 150 State Parks. The response of officials in Albany is predictable. “It’s too bad, but we have to cut these naturalist jobs just to keep most Parks open next year.” Keeping the lights on, the golf courses open, the bathrooms plumbed, the roads cleared are a priority. So is keeping the lights on in our eyes, hearts and minds. What these educators do can have real-world, stewardship implications.

For example, this particular naturalist developed a Bird Checklist system for all State Parks back in the late 1980’s. That was considered a “nice” thing to do. A decade later, the awareness those checklists created helped activists to fight off a proposal to construct a large trucking haul road through breeding bird habitats and wetlands of Saratoga Spa State Park. Fifteen years later, these intact wetlands still feed Great Blue Herons, and Kayaderroseras Creek, which in turn has developed into a premier canoeing and kayaking destination.

Thinking ahead, the opportunities for future environmental education employment – and the services those people provide – are shrinking. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is closing two of their three Environmental Education Centers – Stony Kill Farm in Dutchess County, and Rogers EE Center in Sherburne, Chenango County.

The closing of these facilities is big deal for many families for whom these centers and their professional staffs represented learning opportunities, career advancement, family fun and happy memories – to say nothing of community meeting space – at no expense just miles from their front doors. As far as I can tell, the electric lights are still on at Five Rivers EE Center in the Capital District, but I’m not sure about the learning lights, meaning the staffing.

Who will provide those “provocational,” interpretive services to our young people and families in 2011, or 2021? More and more, we hear of the crisis of “wired” kids staying indoors, who are not exposed to the confidence-building, skills-building that outdoor experiences and unstructured playtime provide. We need more adults to share our outdoor heritage, not fewer.

The system of centers supporting this activity around the State is frayed. But there is hope. My hope is founded on the efforts of people who have picked up the fallen baton, such as SUNY’s Paul Hai, who is committed to keeping the Newcomb Interpretive Center open for continuing cultural and environmental interpretation under the auspices of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

It will take time for that facility and others in Newcomb and elsewhere to gain their footing after the loss of so many experienced staff. But there are people like Paul and institutions like ESF out in their communities who are determined not to lose a chance to change someone’s life, or to turn them on to the Adirondacks, or anywhere else with the potential to reveal both our landscapes and parts of ourselves. Let’s work with SUNY’s Paul Hai, or Paul Smith’s College and many others to keep the “lights on” for the fragile network of Adirondack learning centers, museums and interpretive facilities.

Photo: Paul Hai, right, of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry with Tom Cobb, left, retired Preserve Manager with NYS Parks, former staff with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, and a director of Adirondack Wild: Friend 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.



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