Almanack Contributor 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 PreserveDuring 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.


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.


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.



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