Marking 50 years of Earth Day (1970-2020) should not pass without paying tribute to the late New York State Senator Bernard C. Smith. The late State Senator and chair of the Senate’s environmental conservation committee combined a strong moral and ethical compass with political talent and negotiating skill to protect and conserve our state’s wild lands, wild rivers and natural resources from 1965-1978. He was a steadfast and very influential Republican proponent for the environment precisely when such a Republican was needed in Albany. He worked his political skills at the State Capitol, but his love for fishing and the outdoors was expressed at his home on Long Island and in the streams and rivers of the Catskills, where he had a camp near the Esopus Creek, and on the upper Hudson River in the Adirondacks.
Every day is Earth Day. That’s what folks knew and said to each other on April 23, 1970 – and ever since. Fifty years on, April 22, 2020, it’s obvious as well as vital to act accordingly since life support systems on our fragile earth have been torn and rendered by human activity and population growth since 4/22/70. This Coronavirus COVID-19 is novel to human beings. Today’s atmospheric carbon concentrations are novel for all life on earth – and only existed some 3.5 million years ago.
Thirty-three years ago, that champion of the Adirondack wilderness, Paul Schaefer, then aged 78, first introduced me to his Adirondack library. Among the first volumes he brought to my attention – because he valued it and had read it repeatedly since he was a younger man – was the transcript of the 1894 New York State Constitutional Convention in Albany – the one that, after weeks of debate, by vote of 122-0 approved the “forever wild” provision protective of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.
Whether we seek a wilderness, park, backyard, garden or streetscape, studies show we can expect an emotional, psychological, and physical benefit from regular outdoor activity, interactions with trees or woods, waters and views, however prosaic or sublime. The more we can focus on the natural world around us, the more our powers of awareness grow and the more our minds can grow quiet.
As the First World War slowly ended, another pandemic, influenza, was spreading around the world and killing tens of millions. The impact of losing so many young people so suddenly from that flu, coming on top of so many deaths and injuries resulting from the war itself, must been extremely profound. That time of death, threat and recovery motivated many to get outdoors and to push to acquire more public lands in which to literally “re-create” themselves. » Continue Reading.
How has the Adirondack Park Agency fared under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 executive budget proposals? The question hasn’t received any media attention for obvious reasons. It’s a mini state agency, budget-wise.
With a proposed operating budget of $5 million – just .004 percent of the proposed state budget of $137 billion – APA hardly raises fiscal eyebrows. Budgeted for 54 full time staff, APA employs .03 percent of all state employees.
Yet, the Adirondack Park comprises one-fifth the acreage of New York State. It’s constitutionally protected wild lands are honored as a National Landmark and International Biosphere Reserve. It’s subject to one of the country’s earliest and largest regional land use planning laws. But the Park has just one legislatively authorized planning agency, the APA, congruent with all six-million acres. » Continue Reading.
News came from New England’s north woods last fall that a large residential and commercial development on 17,000-acres near Maine’s Moosehead Lake conceived before the Great Recession has not begun and would not move forward.
The APA-permitted Adirondack Club and Resort near Tupper Lake has also not commenced, largely for economic reasons. The developer, Preserve Associates, is being foreclosed upon, their creditors are pressing for relief, and the new mortgage holders (Crossroads LLC) are trying to figure out what to do once they acquire the 6,200 acres.
New York State’s expedient evasion of its own State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), has no better recent example than the Cedar River Snowmobile Bridge. The new bridge is being built north of Indian Lake, six miles inside the Adirondack Forest Preserve across a river designated by the State as Scenic.
A Supreme Court just rubber-stamped DEC’s actions in a ruling against Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks. There is plenty to say about how the Court’s decision (and DEC’s self-issuing Permit and Variance) sets a negative precedent for protection of Scenic Rivers under the State’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, but for the present let’s address the SEQR evasion. » Continue Reading.
At this month’s Adirondack Park Agency meeting in Ray Brook, senior APA staff presented a review of large-scale residential subdivisions permitted by APA between 2012 and today. By large-scale, they meant the size thresholds created by the APA, mirrored in pending conservation subdivision design legislation in Albany: five or more lots in Resource Management (colored green on the APA Land Use and Development Plan map), ten or more in Rural Use (yellow), and 25 or more in Low Intensity Use (orange).
Resource Management (RM) being the most protected private land use classification in the Park, I’ll restrict my post to what APA senior staff said about the four subdivision permits issued for projects of five lots or more in RM from 2012 until today. There have been four such permits issued: Adirondack Club and Resort, Tupper Lake, in 2012; Highland Farmers, Keene, in 2012; New York Land and Lakes, Bleecker, in 2015; and Barille family, North Elba, in 2017. » Continue Reading.
Noah Shaw, former general counsel for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), contributed to the drafting of New York State’s groundbreaking 2019 climate legislation. This September, he wrote an op-ed in the Adirondack Explorer, “What New York’s Bold Climate Law Means for the Adirondacks.”
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 “outlines a so-called ‘carbon offset’ program as a counter-weight to the 15 percent of emissions that may remain after all our other emissions-reducing actions are taken,” he wrote. “These will likely come from hard-to-clean-up activities like aviation, agriculture, shipping and heavy industry. New York’s most valuable carbon offset resource, also known as a ‘sink,’ is its forestland. This is good news for the Adirondack Forest Preserve.” » Continue Reading.
Credit goes to the Department of Environmental Conservation and its Region 5 facilitators for including a “break-out” session on Permits at its late July High Peaks-Route 73 stakeholder meeting at the Keene Central School. After all, the very word “permit” has been an electrified “third rail” (hazardous, indeed) topic for years.
That was not always the case, however. In 1978, the first draft of a High Peaks Unit Management Plan included a section on “individual user controls” with eight alternatives along a spectrum ranging from mandatory registration and reservation permit systems, to no controls at all. Alternative C, reservation or permit systems, stated that “through past experience the U.S. Forest Service has found that a permit system is one of the best ways of gathering user information concerning an individual management area.”
The 1978 draft UMP went on to recommend that a “free permit system should be initiated in the eastern High Peaks with no effort to limit numbers of people using the area for at least three years. Data will be analyzed. If at some time in the future it is determined that numbers of people using the area will have to be controlled, even just for certain high use weekends, the mechanism will already be in place to do so.” » Continue Reading.
I recently went back to an area where the NYS DEC Forest Rangers and Foresters had recruited us to help plant young potted and bare root trees from the DEC’s Saratoga Tree Nursery on an eroding section of Adirondack Forest Preserve. The planting took place seven growing seasons ago. How were they doing today?
Among the tree planters were Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi (Joseph Burgess) and his team of youth and adult counselors and teachers from the Green Tech Charter School in Albany and Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network or YENN, and several volunteers from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.
In order to cut a lot more trees on the Forest Preserve for new snowmobile corridors, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General’s Office have announced that they will appeal July’s court ruling against the State and in favor of Protect the Adirondacks.
That ruling by a 4-1 court majority declared that the extent of tree cutting for snowmobile trail construction, when considered cumulatively, violated our state’s constitutional limit on destruction of timber on the Forest Preserve “to a material degree” (Article XIV, Section 1, NYS Constitution, and court interpretations). » Continue Reading.
There are more than three million acres of Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks today. Yet, the most consequential New York State Court decision restricting the ways we can develop and use the “forever wild” Preserve was all about a few acres of land below Mt. Van Hoevenberg, close to Lake Placid.
There, in 1929, the state planned a “bobsleigh run or slide on state lands in the forest preserve.” About 2500 trees would need cutting to create the bobsled course for the 1932 Olympics. The lower court, the Appellate Division, Third Department, ruled that this activity was unconstitutional on grounds that this was wild forest and therefore must be preserved in its wild state, stating that “we must preserve it in its wild nature, its trees, its rocks, its streams. It must always retain the character of a wilderness.” » Continue Reading.
Some local government leaders in the Adirondack Park complain that Governor Cuomo’s 2019 picks for seats on the Adirondack Park Agency remain unconfirmed by the State Senate. They feel that these individuals have been unfairly blocked by environmentalists putting pressure on State Senators.
They can be forgiven for forgetting that this is not the first time that a Democratic Governor’s choices for the Adirondack Park Agency have been rejected by a Democratic State Senate. » Continue Reading.
Having been nominated and confirmed to the NYS Adirondack Park Agency five years earlier, Karen Feldman was named by Governor Cuomo as APA’s acting chair following the resignation of Sherman Craig in summer 2018. In Ms. Feldman the Governor had an experienced board member chairing APA and one interested in continuing on as permanent chair of the eleven-member board. Ms. Feldman appeared energetic, communicative with board, staff and the public, engaged in APA matters, politically astute and well connected.
She seemed prepared and ready to lead. One would think she would be a shoe-in to be named APA chair at any time. Instead, she resigned last month and the consequences of that decision are serious ones for the APA and for the Adirondack Park. » Continue Reading.