There were hints last week that it would happen, but it’s official, Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) Chair and Open Space Institute (OSI) President Joesph Martens has been nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to head the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Martens has quite a legacy already in the Adirondack region. Under his leadership OSI secured protection of the 10,000-acre Tahawus property and most recently the 2,350-acre Camp Little Notch in Fort Ann. Martens also spearheaded OSI’s involvement in the Nature Conservancy’s 161,000-acre Finch Pryun purchase. » Continue Reading.
Taking a look at the discussion on Phil Brown’s piece yesterday – largely a debate over whether we should open roads in wilderness areas to mountain bikes and other uses – I found myself thankful that there are still a few people like Dan Plumley and Adirondack Wild who have a larger and deeper understanding of what wilderness is and why it’s important. Here’s some of what Plumley had to say in that discussion:
“It is all too easy for us to think of our own recreational desires first and forget about the long term goals of gaining, over time, truly wild conditions of relatively intact wilderness protected by law and our state constitution. Given the biodiversity values, the potential for moose, possibly wolf and mountain lion recovery eventually, watershed preservation and truly remote – by foot and paddle – experiences without mechanized vehicles (including like it or not, mountain bikes), these rare opportunities are too important for the future to short cut.” » Continue Reading.
On Saturday I went skiing on the Burn Road in the William C. Whitney Wilderness. It’s one of those ski routes that don’t require a lot of snow, ideal for early-season outings.
My ski trip was uneventful. I enjoyed a few glimpses of Little Tupper Lake through the trees, saw lots of snow fleas and several deer beds, and discovered an unusual outhouse decorated with paintings of evergreens. When the warming snow started clumping on my skis, I decided to turn around after three and a half miles.
The state bought Little Tupper Lake and surrounding lands—nearly fifteen thousand acres in all—from the Whitney family in 1997. After the purchase, there was a public debate over whether the tract should be classified as Wilderness or Wild Forest. One of the arguments against designating the tract Wilderness—the strictest of the Forest Preserve land classifications—is that it just didn’t look like wilderness. The woods had been heavily logged and were crisscrossed with logging roads, of which the Burn Road is only one. And then there were the buildings on the shore of Little Tupper.
The anti-Wilderness folks had a point. Skiing the Burn Road is the not a breathtaking experience. The above photo of snowy evergreens shows one of the more attractive scenes from my trip. Most of the forest is skinny hardwoods. A wide road cut through a logged-over forest is a far cry from my idea of pristine wilderness.
But let’s face it: there is very little pristine wilderness in this part of world. The Forest Preserve is full of evidence of human history: abandoned woods roads, rusting logging machines, foundations of farmhouses, old orchards, even gravesites. If we were to require that Wilderness be free of all signs of the human past, we might end up with no Wilderness at all.
The aim of Wilderness regulations is not always to preserve wilderness; perhaps more often than not, it is to restore wilderness. In time, the trees will grow big, moss will cover the crumbling foundations, and nature will reclaim the old roads.
Skiing back to my car, I was cheered by the thought that in fifty or a hundred years, this wide road may be a narrow corridor passing through a forest of stately yellow birch and red spruce. Skiers of the future will thank us for restoring this place to its natural condition.
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.
The Adirondacks is prone to powerful windstorms, isolated tornadoes, and occasional hurricanes, derechos, and microbursts. Perhaps the second most destructive of these in modern Adirondack history (next to the 1998 Ice Storm) occurred in November, 1950.
The Big Blowdown brought heavy rains and winds in excess of 100 mph. In a single day – November 25th – more than 800,000 acres of timber was heavily damaged. The storm caused a complete shutdown of the roads and trails across large swaths of the park, a historic suspension of the State Constitution, a temporary glut in the spruce market, and a political impact that continues to this day. » Continue Reading.
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.
Adirondack hunters often contend that the region’s white-tailed deer population is falling, and they blame the decline on the forever-wild Forest Preserve and the influx of coyotes.
But an article by George Earl in the current Adirondack Explorer reports that the deer herd has been growing in recent decades and appears to be at near-record numbers.
For years, the conventional wisdom has held that the Forest Preserve is poor habitat for deer—or at least not as good as logged land. Logging creates openings in the forest for new vegetation, which is good food for deer. But Ed Reed, a state biologist, argues that the Forest Preserve is better habitat for deer than once thought. The reason, he says, is that the woods in the Preserve are maturing, and in mature woods, openings often appear as a result of “forest decadence.”
“The pre-colonial forest was not an unbroken stand of huge trees,” Reed told the Explorer. “It was a very diverse mixture of young and old trees, with openings created by fire, wind, and dying old trees.”
Reed predicts the deer population will continue to grow as the Forest Preserve ages. » Continue Reading.
As Adirondack Park Agency Chairman I ask the same question everyday, “How do we change the tone of local and regional discussions regarding the environment and communities of the Adirondack Park and its relationship to the Adirondack Park Agency?”
By tone, I refer to discussions that take place along Main Streets, at soccer games, town meetings, and the diverse places Adirondackers and visitors discuss the Park, its past, present and future. In my work as Chairman, I respect the long history of public involvement regarding property ownership, business interests and personal interactions with the agency. The Community Spotlight series, visiting communities and attending public hearings broaden my understanding of how the public views the agency and the management of public and private lands. The agency is charged with administration of the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act, and the Freshwater Wetlands Act. Clearly, these statutes, particularly in terms of public and private land protection—influence how people live and work in the Park. They also contribute to the exceptional environmental quality, open space character and rural heritage of the region recognized not only nationally but throughout the world.
Changing the tone will require acknowledgment of the APA’s longstanding and legitimate role established by the New York State Legislature for Park planning, policy and regulations, a role many stakeholders see as a partnership for success. As we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, a decade that includes the 40th anniversary of the Adirondack Park Agency Act, it is high time to move beyond differences and embrace opportunities where environmental planning and stewardship gain their rightful place as a fulcrum to build and sustain economies and communities across this amazing place. Ignoring this perspective prolongs divisions that weaken the competitiveness of the Adirondack Park.
From the creation of the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park, New York State has demonstrated a profound interest and engagement in the sustainability of the Adirondacks for the benefit of all New Yorkers. For those of us who live and work here, that underscores the challenge of how to maintain the value of place and quality of life with the need to attract growth to ensure Adirondack communities remain viable. These tensions exist and in economically challenging times seem even more formidable.
Democracy empowers debate, contradiction, disagreement, and the acknowledgment and acceptance of different beliefs. Our biggest challenge is not allowing differences to undermine the combined interests we share and distract from the very real urgencies facing the Park. It would be naïve to ignore the need for improved infrastructure, economic diversification, and job creation, affordable housing, retaining schools and youth, increasing private revenue investment, and invasive species control. Addressing these issues requires commitment from citizens, municipal government, not-for-profits, and state agencies—all working together towards a shared goal.
To truly change the tone we must work together in partnership to promote what makes this region unique and worthy of investment. Collectively we must better inform investors that the Adirondacks are not closed to business but in fact eight agency approved business parks await their arrival. It may mean accepting the fact the Forest Preserve attracts millions of visitors and billions of tourism dollars. Changing the tone means realizing we are not alone confronting current economic trends and globalization.
While the past is an important footnote to the present, it should not be the narrative which defines the public discussion or the agency response to the present and future. Together, in our interactions, communication and understanding of the important balance between economy and environment, we have the ability to shape the future. At the agency, we are committed to changing the discussion to one of how to improve efficiency, outreach and regulatory reform for the betterment of the Adirondack Park. To change the tone is to recognize the need for an honest dialog between opposing views with a commitment to reconcile differences and achieve solutions.
North Country Public Radio‘s Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann has apparently begun campaigning for the election of some Adirondack Park Agency (APA) commissioners. One of his first public forays into the debate came in August at the Adirondack Museum during a presentation he called “Adirondack 3.0” – billed as a lecture on the “reinvention of the Adirondacks.” His latest came on the NCPR blog in a piece entitled “Yes, some Adirondack Park Agency commissioners should be elected“. Read the whole piece; but here’s the gist of Brian Mann’s argument:
“A far better way to choose in-Park commissioners would be to hold direct, Park-wide elections, allowing Adirondackers to cast their own ballots and make their own picks.
Imagine for a moment the kind of democratic debate that would ensue. Locals would have a chance to discuss openly their concerns, their desires, and their ambitions for the Agency.
Supporters of strict environmental protection inside the blue line would be forced to find electable candidates, who can engage communities directly, reaching out and making their arguments.
They would have the chance to do some educating, but they might learn a few things themselves about local attitudes toward conservation and the outdoors.
Opponents of the APA’s broad mission, meanwhile, would be forced to go beyond ad hominem attacks and zingers.”
It’s hard for local media to not be part of a story. Any reporter worth their weight in salt knows that they frame the discussion of their story from the start. For example, Brian Mann isn’t calling for an expanded role for the APA, or for requiring those towns who still have no serious zoning and planning in place to enact them. What he is calling for are elections to decide the future of the Adirondack Park, America’s most important state park.
I suspect Mann’s arguments are authentic and genuine, but I think it’s the worst idea to come up the pike since David Paterson tried to stop paying local taxes on state land. It’s no surprise they share the same flaw – they seem to forget that the Adirondack Park isn’t a political entity with competing constituencies, it’s a unique natural place with a statewide, regional, and even national historical and cultural significance. Despite the occasional angry bumpersticker to the contrary, the Adirondacks is a park, and an important one.
That park, the country’s largest National Historic Landmark, is all of our responsibility to manage and maintain. Offering an opportunity for one special interest group to use their media and financial friends to get their candidate elected in an attempt to dominate decision-making at the Adirondack Park Agency threatens to destroy an already weak institution; the only institution holding official responsibility to protect the Adirondack Park – our last public wilderness in the east – from over-development.
Perhaps advocates of elections for APA commissioners don’t appreciate the two great forces at play in these mountains. On one side, the constant march of development that has left this small part of the Eastern United States a virtual oasis of woods in a sea of a suburbia of 100 million people. On the other side is the natural world itself, which for millennia had staved off the harshest scars of development by being remote and rugged.
The battle began to shift after the Civil War as we abandoned our fear of the woods and came to revere them. Travelers, once forced to travel on foot or by rough road, were soon arriving by steamboat and rail, and by the 1950s, some roads were choked with cars.
In the 1960s, the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) opened a pipeline for development to move north and the accompanying second home market spread a kind of dispersed suburbia into the heart of the Adirondacks.
It was in response to this turn in the long arc of Adirondack history that the Adirondack Park Agency was established in 1971. Its purpose was to limit the worst of the development excesses in the Adirondack Park – excesses that were just then beginning to take hold.
So by geography and history this place was marked-off and it now remains the only wilderness park there will ever be as the 100 million people that surround us continue to multiply.
It shouldn’t need to be said that we have a duty to the eastern half of America not to screw it up by turning it over to a regularly scheduled local media circus fueled by special interest money.
UPDATE: Brian Mann has a thoughtful response to this post over at The In Box.
People who oppose the state’s acquisition of land in the Adirondacks often complain that the state can’t manage the forest it already owns. So, the thinking goes, why buy more?
That argument always struck me as risible. Forests can manage quite well without our help. They did so for eons before homo sapiens existed.
I assume, then, the critics mean that the state has done a less-than-superb job creating and maintaining recreational facilities on the public Forest Preserve—trails, parking lots, signs, and the like. In this, they have a point. It was driven home to me last weekend when I paddled the little-known Onion River. » Continue Reading.
John Bird Burnham (1869-1939) visited the Adirondacks for the first time as a guest of the Rev. George DuBois family. It was during one of these visits to the family’s camp in St. Huberts that he fell in love with the Reverend’s daughter Henrietta. They were married by her father in the family chapel in 1891. That year, John Burnham joined the staff of Field and Stream, writing articles about game protection.
Burnham is best remembered as an ardent conservationist. In 1898, he purchased a home in Willsboro, New York, which he operated as the Highlands Game Preserve. He served as a member of the three-man commission that codified the state’s fish and games laws, and as the first President of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, Burnham was instrumental in the effort to ban hunting deer with dogs in the Adirondack Park. His friends and colleagues included Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. He is less well known for his career as an Essex, N. Y. candy maker. » Continue Reading.
Definition: “A conservation easement typically consists of permanently enforceable rights held by a land trust or government agency by which the landowner promises to use property only in ways permitted by the easement. The landowner retains ownership and may convey it like any other property, subject to the easement’s restrictions. Conservation easements have been made possible by enabling legislation in virtually every state” (from Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform by Jeff Pidot, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2005).
Society has many expectations for large tracts of forest under conservation easement. The list often includes some form of public recreation on private ownership, sustainably harvested timber and pulp, biological diversity including diverse watchable and huntable wildlife, recreational leases, drivable roads, protected streams, ponds and wetlands, shared taxes, timely enforcement of the rules. If that list is not long enough, some believe that these protected private lands can be managed to help slow or mitigate a changing climate that is likely to continue to warm for centuries, even if Homo sapiens cut emissions dramatically in order to maintain current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which we are not.
During a winter 2009 workshop about Adirondack conservation easements, it was reported that there were 737,000 acres under some form of state conservation easement in all of New York State, with 98% occurring in the Adirondack region. An additional 100,000 acres were being negotiated. According to Regional Forester Tom Martin, in DEC Region 5 (two-thirds of the Adirondack Park) there were 365,000 acres under conservation easement with 113 different landowners in 2009. 340,000 of those acres were certified by third-party certification systems such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
During the workshop, Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society offered his opinion that easements in the Northern Forest have achieved a basic goal to conserve biodiversity. Jenkins’ report Conservation Easements and Biodiversity in the Northern Forest Region (2008 by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Open Space Institute) provides important background and recommendations. As Jenkins stated at the workshop, conservation easements negotiated in the future should also address the issue of carbon emissions, which have global consequences.
If conservation easements are to address climate issues, landowners must be provided with the information and spectrum of management options. Forestry management plans which utilize low grade trees as biomass feedstock are on the “front lines.” To satisfy the Chicago Climate Exchange, forests need to be FSC certified.
Certification provides the standards and incentives to capture this low carbon energy source and the practice of low carbon forestry. Would easement lands qualify for carbon offset markets? Jenkins noted that the dollar value to landowners may not come solely or even primarily from carbon offsets, but from the avoidance cost of replacing fossil fuels as primary heat source in the northeast. As Jerry Jenkins put it, “how much money can we save the local school board by putting in a wood chip boiler in place of the old oil burner? How can those savings be translated into financial benefits for the landowner?”
In September, 2010, the Adirondack Park Agency sponsored a field visit with the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner and manager of lands under conservation easement, Lyme Timber. Lyme’s land manager Sean Ross led the APA to lands they have harvested north of Tupper Lake. Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley and I went along. These foresters manage blocks as large as 15,000 acres. Lyme owns 250,000-acres in the Adirondack Park.
In general, Lyme views the conservation easement positively, as well as the rigorous certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Ross made the case that the Adirondack Park’s protected status, including laws and publicly-owned Forest Preserve, were strong incentives to engage in easements and certification. Lyme’s field operations must be audited each year by the FSC or one of its third party certifiers. As Sean told us, FSC certification is an expected cost of doing business these days.
Why is Lyme in this forest land business? Trees are adding diameter and value yearly. This steady return on investment jumps when a large cherry or maple grows into a larger diameter class. Lyme’s markets are wherever they can find them – the Ticonderoga mill, nearby biomass plants, Canada and the world.
If he had the power to do so, what would he change about the conservation easement? Sean Ross said that he might take small parts of a given parcel out of the easement, and put other areas in it. Other than this, he saw no need for change. In answer to other questions, Sean Ross noted that fragmentation of land ownerships across the Northern Forest is making it challenging to manage lands for forestry. Asked if Ross could estimate Lyme’s minimum viable tract size, Ross stated it was around 10,000 acres.
Were there any collaborative efforts to conduct ecosystem-based, wild land planning for wildlife and ecosystem integrity on these lands, such as wildlife corridors? In response, Ross noted that Lyme was able to get a grant through DEC to hire a wildlife biologist that is exploring these issues for their Adirondack lands. He noted collaboration with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon New York.
Lyme also participated in the 2009 workshop. During that meeting, its representative noted the time pressures to complete contracts, and to assess what’s important to conserve in a conservation easement. On the other hand, biologists at the workshop felt that on large forested tracts several field seasons were required to survey and document rare or unique ecological communities.
The 2009 workshop concluded by identifying the following needs and tasks: • Studies to indicate whether easements in the Adirondacks are truly meeting stated ecological, economic and social objectives. • Studies of how easement lands respond to climate change. • Methods for compensating landowners for achieving easement objectives • Funding for baseline documentation and monitoring programs for both land and aquatic resources. • Completing a conservation easement registry program, already required by law.
Photo: Sean Ross of Lyme Timber addresses questions during APA-sponsored field visit in September. Photo by Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild.
I was watching a Sherlock Holmes mystery the other day titled The Second Stain. Holmes’ deductive reasoning solves the theft of a letter that, if placed into the wrong hands, would result in a diplomatic and military crisis. The bumbling Inspector LeStrade provides the critical clue when he asks Holmes to inspect a “mere trifle,” the blood-soaked carpet which lacked any corresponding stain on the floor immediately beneath. “There is nothing more important in solving crime than attention to mere trifles,” one can hear Holmes’aside to Watson. So, I am thinking this weekend of a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, an author of mysteries in his own right, and one of the State’s most important conservationists and public servants, Norman J. Van Valkenburgh. Norm acquired for us all magnificent tracts, both large and smaller, of wilderness placed on the market in the Adirondacks and in his beloved Catskills during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Just as important, Norm has written numerous histories about the Forest Preserve and how its tracts of land came into public ownership. In many cases, he was directly responsible. » Continue Reading.
You know, we aren’t half lucky, those of us who live in the Adirondacks. I drove home this weekend to visit my folks, and even though they don’t live that far away, and I do go home a few times each year, I still find it stunning to see all the development that has taken place during my lifetime, especially in the last ten years. Fields that were pastures, land that was once forested, all now converted to housing developments, strip malls, car dealerships, storage units. I read an article recently about the houses that are going up on the mountainsides up around Keene and Keene Valley, and how the creation of these homes, with their driveways and parking areas, altered the watershed(s) enough that streams at the base of the mountain(s) are no longer filling.
This in turn has a direct impact on the invertebrate life that lives in those streams, invertebrates that not only feed the next level in the food chain (fish, amphibians, larger invertebrates), but invertebrates that also clean the water by filtering out particulate matter. The impacts of a single house go beyond its immediate footprint on that mountainside.
When a house/airport/mall/road, is built, the patch of land it covers is “removed” from the surrounding landscape. Anyone who gardens knows that the vitality of the soil is the key to a good garden. It is also the key to a healthy ecosystem. When we cover the ground with impermeable surfaces, it cannot be good for the life that was once there. If water can no longer penetrate that patch of ground, then the life that once lived there either dies or moves away.
At the Newcomb VIC we have a recorded dramatization of the congressional meeting at which the 14th Amendment, the Forever Wild Clause, was created. It plays in the background in one of the exhibits, and staff sitting at the front desk can hear those parts in which the actors are making loud, emphatic points. Certain phrases stick out, like the gentleman describing how logging has led to erosion, where the water, now unimpeded by vegetation, “sweeps down the mountain, carrying away the soil…ruining our rivers and destroying our commerce!” For those who don’t know, one of the driving forces for creating the Adirondacks Park, and the enclosed Forest Preserve, was to protect it as a watershed. Okay, it was to protect the water source for the folks downstate, but still, the point is that even then they knew about the importance of the watershed.
In my line of work I often hear people grouse about the restrictions that are put on development within the Blue Line. But one only needs to drive beyond this invisible boundary to see just why such restrictions are important. Every year more and more open space is converted to developed land. New homes are built faster than people can occupy them. Roads are built, shunting ever more rainwater and snowmelt (with their attendant pollutants) into streams at accelerated rates.
I know that I lean towards the green side of philosophy, but I like to think it is because I try to look at the bigger picture and keep an eye towards the future. We are but one species living on this planet, and as far as we know, it is the only habitable planet in the neighborhood. How selfish it is of us in the here and now to create/destroy things for our own wants and desires without taking into consideration the impact it will have on those whose time has not yet come. Just because we are of “greater intelligence” than those invertebrates filtering the streams, ponds and rivers, does that make us more important? Truthfully, I think those invertebrates are contributing a whole lot more to the betterment of the planet than we are.
But I know I am not above my fellow humans, for I also drive a car (although I drive the most energy efficient vehicle I can), I live in a development (although I have filled my yard with native plantings, and I do not treat my land with chemicals so I can have the perfect lawn), and I own way too much “stuff.” I do try, however, to make decisions that have the least impact possible on the land around me. Would I like a bigger house? Yes, but I don’t need a bigger house. And I think that is what it often comes down to: need vs. want. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
I know that living in the Adirondack Park can be a hassle. It is often a long drive to the grocery store, or to get new pipes for the ruptured pipe under the kitchen sink. And it can be well over an hour to the nearest hospital in an emergency (I used to be an EMT, and believe me, an hour plus in the back of an ambulance can seem like a lifetime). With unemployment in my future, finding a replacement job will be well nigh impossible. But, despite these drawbacks, I know that the Adirondack Park is a very special place and not one I would change to accommodate a few whims. I moved here knowing the limitations. If I wanted conveniences, I would live somewhere else.
As a naturalist, I hope that the integrity of the Park and the Forest Preserve, lasts in perpetuity. An intact ecosystem is important, and even though we see ourselves as pretty advanced here at the beginning of the 21st century, I’d be willing to bet that in a couple hundred years (or less) we will have discovered even more about how important it is. With all our advanced knowledge, we do not hold all the answers yet. By keeping this bit northern forest intact, we may find that we’ve done the planet a greater service than we ever could have dreamed.