Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy – Ethics’

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Phil Brown: The Ethics of Feeding Wild Birds

A few years ago I saw my first gray jay—one of the Adirondack Park’s boreal birds. I had read that the gray jay, a member of the crow family, is known for its boldness in stealing scraps of food from humans. Hence, it has been nicknamed “camp robber.”

I saw the jay in the dead of winter on my way to Mount Marcy. I had skied up the Van Hoevenberg Trail as far as the junction with the Hopkins Trail, about 1.2 miles from the summit. There, in the shelter of the spruce and fir trees, I stopped for lunch—a peanut-butter sandwich with raisins.

As I ate, I noticed the gray jay on a branch about fifteen feet away, eyeing my sandwich. When I held out a crumb in my palm, the bird flew down and grabbed the offering. It then returned to its perch and continued looking at me, cockeyed. So I offered another crumb and another one after that. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Locating Backcountry Campsite: Science or Art?

At the end of a long day of bushwhacking the backcountry, including crawling over blow downs, thrashing through thick hobblebush and balancing over crumbling beaver dams, it is time to locate a camping site for the night. Unfortunately, finding an acceptable camp site can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the backcountry experience especially when bushwhacking through remote and wild areas within the Adirondacks.

One mistake to avoid is bushwhacking late into the early evening hours and not giving yourself enough time to adequately locate a good site to set up your camp. There is simply nothing worse than searching wildly about for an adequate campsite at the end of an exhausting day of bushwhacking as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. Be sure to stop early enough in the late afternoon to find a nice site and give you enough time to set up and enjoy the early evening hours. Typically I plan on stopping around 5 PM while bushwhacking to give myself the appropriate amount of time without having the feeling of being rushed.

The most frustrating part of locating a good campsite is finding a level enough area for a shelter so as to avoid sliding to one corner and tossing and turning over a back-breaking tree root. Avoid areas appearing completely level as puddles can form there and waking up in a pool of water during a late night thunderstorm can place a real damper on a good night’s rest. A shelter should be placed on crowned site in such a way as to move any possible rain water away from, instead of under your shelter.

When bushwhacking through remote areas abandon the notion of finding one of those perfectly level and open areas typically found along an established trail system. These spacious camp sites near trail systems were artificially constructed from many years of human use and are almost non-existent in the remote backcountry. Even if such sites once existed in these remote areas during the bygone logging days they have long ago been reclaimed by vegetation.

When setting up your campsite try to do as little site modification as possible. Any shelters should be placed in areas devoid of any vegetation, if such a place can be located in the Adirondacks. Any sticks, logs and/or rocks removed from the site prior to setting up the camp site should be placed nearby where they can be retrieved and replaced when leaving the site. The leave no trace ethic should apply to one’s campsite as much as any other aspect of your outdoor experience.

Most people prefer camping near water for the awesome views and the ease of transporting water to their camping site. Regardless of being far away from a trail system or not, the rule of being 150 feet from any source of water is still in effect. Since few journey into the backcountry with a measuring tape, a rough estimate of this distance is necessary. In my experience, distance estimates have a reciprocal relationship to the beauty of the waterfront view. Unfortunately being near water also means being surrounded by hordes of biting insects.

Safety is always a concern in the backcountry and choosing a campsite is no exception. One should always scan the tree canopy for snags that could become a widow maker while you sleep. Do not forget to scan the canopy for dead branches that could come crashing down on you and turn a night’s sleep into a permanent slumber. This is a greater concern in mature forests where giant trees tower over your campsite can hide a few large dead or dying limbs.

Choosing a campsite in the backcountry is more of an art form than a science. In the Adirondacks, the rough terrain, thick vegetation and often soggy soils makes locating an acceptable campsite a challenge. Give yourself an adequate amount of time to search for a comfortable site where you will get a much needed night’s rest. And if the site turns out to be less-than-stellar, just remember, you are only visiting and there is always a chance you will do better next time.

Photos: Camping sites in the Pepperbox Wilderness.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Phil Brown: Aristotle and the Land Purchase Debate

Recently, Adirondack politicians have intensified their effort to block the state’s acquisition of Follensby Pond and some sixty-five thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company.

In the past two weeks, the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board and the Franklin County legislature adopted resolutions opposing the purchases. The Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages is expected to vote soon on a similar measure, and it stands an excellent chance of passing.

The opponents say the purchases would cost forestry jobs, force traditional hunting clubs to disband, and in general harm the local economy. But their ace in the hole is the claim that the state simply cannot afford to buy these properties. » Continue Reading.


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


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.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chain Saws in the Adirondack Wilderness

When we needed to do an early-season ski tour for the Adirondack Explorer, we opted for the Hays Brook Truck Trail north of Paul Smiths, which needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable.

On December 7, four of us from the office spent a good part of the day gliding through fresh, fluffy powder on our way to the Sheep Meadow at the end of the truck trail and to Grass Pond via a side trail.

With snow adorning the tall pines, the forest was serene and beautiful, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s available online.

Apart from two fairly steep hills, the truck trail traverses gentle terrain suitable for novice skiers. It’s a fun outing anytime in winter.

The biggest difficulty we faced was getting past two nasty pieces of blowdown about three miles from the trailhead. In one case, we thrashed through the woods to get around a large tree fallen across the trail.

Blowdown is something skiers and hikers put up with in the Adirondacks. It’s not a huge deal. Still, when I skied to the Sheep Meadow again with my daughter the day after Christmas, I was glad to discover that someone had cut through the blowdown with a chain saw. Hat’s off to whoever did it.

As we continued down the trail, it occurred to me that the doer of this good deed would have broken the law if the blowdown had been in a Wilderness Area instead of a Wild Forest Area. (The Hays Brook Truck Trail lies within the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.) Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation forbids the use of chain saws in Wilderness Areas except from April 1 to May 24. DEC can grant permission to use them from September 15 to April 1 as well, but this is not usually granted for routine blowdown such as we encountered on the Hays Brook Truck Trail.

I understand the rationale. A Wilderness Area is supposed to approximate nature in its primeval state. No motor vehicles, no snowmobiles, no bicycles, no motorized equipment.

As much as I support this management objective, I couldn’t help wondering what harm would have resulted if someone had cut through this blowdown even if it had been in a Wilderness Area. If the job were undertaken on a weekday, it’s possible that no one would have been around to hear the chain saw other than the person running the saw. In any case, the short interruption of natural serenity would serve the greater good. Although a few people who happened to be nearby might be bothered briefly by the noise, skiers would benefit all winter from the clearing of the trail.

I am not suggesting that forest rangers and others be allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness Areas anytime and anywhere. I do wonder if the regulations should be loosened somewhat to permit more clearing of trails before and during the ski season. I don’t have a specific proposal. I’m not even sure the regulations should be loosened. I’m just throwing out the idea for discussion.

Photo of the Sheep Meadow by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Warren: Protecting Our Open Forests

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.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Do Bikes Belong in Wilderness Areas?

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) last week approved a management plan for the Moose River Plains that allows for mountain-bike use on a corridor between two Wilderness Areas.

As the Adirondack Explorer reported last week, the APA had been asked to vote on reclassifying as Wilderness about fifteen thousand acres of the Moose River Plains Wild Forest and add it to the adjoining West Canada Lake Wilderness, while leaving a Wild Forest corridor between the two tracts to allow mountain biking.

Neil Woodworth, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s executive director, objected to maintaining a Wild Forest corridor within a Wilderness Area.

In a letter to the APA, the club argued that leaving a corridor of Wild Forest would be tantamount to allowing a prohibited recreational use in a Wilderness Area. “To arbitrarily carve out a ‘Wild Forest’ corridor for mountain bike use in the middle of the proposed West Canada Lake Wilderness Area completely defeats the purpose of the Wilderness designation,” the letter said.

Partly as a result of this objection, the APA amended the proposal to make the bulk of the fifteen thousand acres a separate Wilderness Area. So instead of having the corridor run through a Wilderness Area, it will run between two Wilderness Areas.

Of course, the facts on the ground remain the same. We’ll just be giving a different name to the new Wilderness Area. Nevertheless, Woodworth said it’s an improvement.

“It doesn’t make a lot of difference on the ground, but it’s a principle that I feel strongly about,” Woodworth said. “We shouldn’t be putting non-conforming-use corridors through the middle of Wilderness Areas.”

I’ll throw out two questions for discussion:

First, is this a bad precedent, an example of “spot zoning” that undermines the principles of Wilderness management? Another recent example is the decision to allow the fire tower to remain on Hurricane Mountain by classifying the summit as a Historic Area even though the rest of the mountain is classified as Wilderness.

Second, should mountain bikes be allowed in Wilderness Areas where appropriate? The corridor in question follows the Otter Brook Road and Wilson Ridge Road, two old woods road now closed to vehicles. Advocates contend that there is no harm in allowing bikes on old roads in Wilderness Areas. Other possibilities include the logging roads in the Whitney Wilderness and the woods road to Whiteface Landing on Lake Placid.

Bonus question: what should we name this new Wilderness Area?

Photo by Phil Brown: Otter Brook Road.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Adirondack Development: A Naturalist’s View

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.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Origins of Friends of the Forest Preserve

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

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


Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Adirondack Bouldering Unethical? Illegal?

Glacial erratics are part of the Adirondack landscape. On just about any trail, you can find one of these boulders left behind by retreating glaciers eons ago.

In places, you can find collections of giant erratics. One such place is near Nine Corner Lake in the southern Adirondacks—a major attraction for those who practice the art of bouldering. The guidebook Adirondack Rock describes Nine Corners as the largest boulder field in the Adirondack Park, with more than a hundred “problems” (mini-routes) on about fifty boulders.

Regular Adirondack Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler writes about Nine Corners bouldering in the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. You can read the story online by clicking here.

Last week, I posted the link to the story on Adirondack Forum’s rock-climbing section and was surprised that it touched off a debate over the ethics of bouldering.

As hikers know, boulders are usually covered—at least partially—with lichen, moss, ferns, and other vegetation. As Alan’s story notes, climbers often scrape off vegetation when creating routes.

A few people on Adirondack Forum suggested that removing vegetation from boulders is wrong.

One poster wrote: “There are few things more beautiful in the forest than a moss cloaked, polypody fern capped erratic—I know I’d be exceptionally ticked if some climber came along and ‘cleaned’ the moss and other vegetation off of a boulder, which undoubtedly took centuries to accumulate. ‘Cleaning moss’ strikes me as a selfish act of vandalism.”

Another contended that cleaning boulders violates regulations against removing or destroying plants growing on state land.

The critics raise valid points. To play devil’s advocate, however, one could argue that removing vegetation from portions of a relatively small number of boulders in the Adirondack Park does little or no harm to the ecological system. I can’t imagine too many people are bothered by it, as most visitors to boulder fields are boulderers. At the same time, bouldering gives great pleasure to those who do it. Applying the principles of Utilitarianism , you can make a case that removing vegetation to facilitate bouldering is, on balance, a good thing. It adds to the sum of human happiness.

Anything we do in the Forest Preserve creates some impact on the environment. Hikers create erosion, trample plants, disturb wildlife, and so on. But these impacts are small, and no one suggests we should ban hiking. The question is how much disturbance of the natural world is acceptable.

What do you think? Do boulderers go too far?

Photo by Alan Wechsler: A climber at Nine Corners.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Follensby Pond Highlight of Wild Center Event

What do violet variable dancer, Johnny darter, magnolia warbler, peppered moth and painted turtle have in common? Each is among the more than 430 species recently cataloged during a “BioBlitz” event at Follensby Pond. Learn more about this BioBlitz and The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) recent purchase of the historic Follensby Pond property on Friday, August 20th, 2010 from 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

The day will include a number of events for the whole family, plus a short film on Follensby Pond and a talk by Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy at 1 pm. Carr will discuss Follensby as a unique conservation legacy. In addition to large-scale habitat protection, the tract offers cultural ties to the development of a uniquely American conservation ethos as the site where, in 1858, the leading intellectuals of the day retreated for the “Philosophers’ Camp”.

A BioBlitz is a rapid inventory of critters, plants, fungi, dragonflies—you name it. It provides the perfect excuse to look for the wild things—whether common or rare, large or small, in your own backyard or in a vast forest. It’s also a way to call attention to some of the intricate parts of the working ecosystems that give us clean air, fertile soil, and fresh water.

“We usually hear the word “biodiversity” in regard to rainforests with their vast number of species. Yet the diversity of life in our own backyards is phenomenal,” said Jen Kretser, Director of Programs for The Wild Center. “We are excited to host this event.”

The upcoming fun and educational event at The Wild Center will include hands-on activities – starting at 10:30 am with a bird walk – for people of all ages led by experts in various fields including mushroom identification, wildflowers, aquatic insects, moths and butterflies, small mammals and reptiles. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, get some field tips on how to look for and identify wild things, and try out some tools of the trade. Display tables, activities, naturalist walks, demonstrations, and more will be part the day.

A short film of the Follensby Pond BioBlitz will premiere at 12:30 pm as part of this special event. “It was truly inspiring to see scientists, naturalists, and students deeply engaged in discovery at Follensby Pond,” said Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which purchased the 14,600-acre property in September 2008. “Not only will this film convey the collective enthusiasm shared by the participants, it will also help to introduce people to a very special property that has been capturing the hearts and minds of adventurers and intellectuals alike for more than a century.”

“This event truly epitomizes the goal of the Adirondack All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) to bring scientists and citizens together in sharing their passion for the incredible diversity of life found in the Adirondack Park. I can’t think of another event where you will have some of the State’s experts in so many different groups of organisms all working together in the same place. Whether it’s dragonflies, fungi, or black bears you’re interested in, this event is sure to satisfy and inform,” said David Patrick, Director for the Center of Biodiversity at Paul Smith’s College.

The Wild Center, the Adirondack All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory project at Paul Smith’s College, SUNY ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center at Huntington Forest, and The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter are pleased to offer this event in celebration and recognition of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.

The Bioblitz movie premiere and Follensby Pond lecture are free and open to the public. All other events and exhibits are free for members or with admission. For a full schedule please visit www.wildcenter.org

Mini-Bioblitz Schedule of Events at The Wild Center

From 10:30 am to 3:00 pm, peruse displays in the Great Hall and outside stations featuring different taxonomic groups surveyed during the June 18th and July 9th BioBlitzes that took place at Follensby Park. Participate in hands-on activities perfect for all ages. Experts on moths, small mammals, plants, and more will share the research and surveying techniques used to assess plant and wildlife diversity within the Follensby Pond property. See live specimens like the ones found during the BioBlitz.

10:30 am Local birding expert Brian McAllister will lead a walk down The Wild Center trails in search of as many different bird species as possible. The walk will result in a list of all birds sighted and heard on the property, using the same methods employed in the Follensby Pond ATBI.

At 11:00 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm, staff-led Animal Encounters in the Great Hall will introduce you to reptiles, a bird, and a mammal that you can find in the wild in the Tupper Lake region. Meet live representatives of Adirondack animals that were counted during the Follensby Pond BioBlitz.

11:30 am Join noted author and naturalist Peter O’Shea for a trail walk highlighting the aspects of the 2010 BioBlitz. Learn some of the plants and animals surveyed in the Follensby area that you can also find on The Wild Center grounds and consider the vast diversity of plant life throughout the region.

12:30 pm Join us in Flammer Theater for the premier of the BioBlitz film shot on location at Follensby Park this summer. Beginning with an introduction by Dr. David Patrick, Director of the Adirondack Center for Biodiversity. See scientists in action as they survey Follensby Pond for particular taxonomic groups and share their contagious enthusiasm, and get a look at this beautiful property currently closed to the public.

1:00 pm (Revised) Join Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy for a talk about Follensby Pond as a unique conservation legacy.

2:00 pm Mushrooms are popping up all over the place at The Wild Center! Mycologist Susan Hopkins will take you on a tour of fungi. Search for mushrooms and other fungi found on-site and then compare these to some specimens found at Follensby Pond.

3:00 pm Naturalist John Sayles will share tips and hints on identifying plants specimens as well as look at natural succession during this walk.

Throughout the day there will be outdoor stations on identifying Adirondack Ferns, Aquatic insects, and Dragonflies.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Commentary: Firetowers and Wild Lands Management

I love fire towers – and fire wardens. They remind me of my youth and the excitement of finding a firetower and firewarden tending it, and weaving stories around the campfire about the fire warden living on the flanks of a wild mountain.

Interpreting Adirondack cultural and environmental history from a firetower is important work being undertaken by wonderful volunteers and some Forest Rangers in the Adirodnack Park. Our Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) acts in the spirit of an educational and interpretive force for the Park by participating actively in the restoration and educational use of the 20 or so firetowers in Wild Forest areas, such as the Bald Mountain Fire Tower above Old Forge and Inlet, Hadley Mountain in Saratoga County, Azure Mountain in Franklin County, Wakely Mountain firetower in Hamilton County, and many others. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bill Porter: Friend of Wildlife, Ecology, and Education

The weather was pleasant at the Long Lake pavilion, and the dialogue at this year’s Common Ground Alliance stimulating enough. Then, my thoughts strayed to the fire tower on top of Goodnow Mountain, and what I could see from it. So, off I went. This being my first hike of the summer, I took my time and climbed the fire tower just as dramatic clouds and welcome summer rains moved in, allowing glimpses of the scintillating lake country, and High Peaks Wilderness to the north. Out below me was Lake Harris, the Newcomb VIC, Rich Lake, Arbutus and and Catlin Lakes on the 14,000-acre Huntington Wildlife Forest, one of the world’s best and longest running experimental forests.

Some of my most interesting moments in the Park have been in the Huntington Wildlife Forest with Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) faculty who helped me gain some understanding of dynamic predator-prey interactions in the central Adirondacks. A lot of the prey constitutes tasty Adirondack hardwoods, consumed by its predator, white-tailed deer, which in turn faces its great killer each winter – deep, long snowpack. Dick Sage, Ranier Brocke, and Bill Porter generously provided us with many ecological insights, such as how to do shelterwood cutting of forests on private lands to benefit wildlife, insights from decades of faculty-student work at this unique wildlife field station.

Indeed, those three stalwarts from ESF might remind us that we could have more “common ground” in the Adirondacks if we consciously recognized our collective fascination with the Park’s wildlife, and thought about working together to benefit from this common passion.

I especially wish to thank Professor Bill Porter, who will soon leave his professorship at ESF for new adventures at the University of Michigan. I was fortunate to join the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks when four of its board leaders considered visits to Huntington Wildlife Forest as essential background education for any staff that sought to protect the Forest Preserve and the Park. Prof. Bill Porter not only welcomed these engagements with advocates for the Park, he pushed his small staff to schedule as many as possible.

The very first speaker I ever invited was Bill Porter, at Paul Schaefer’s behest, in 1987. Bill spoke about the fact that the central Adirondack black bear, that lover of berries and veggies, was also adept at catching and eating white-tailed deer fawns in the spring. He presented an image most of us had never thought about, the black bear as ambusher and meat-eater. It was the first of many presentations about Adirondack wildlife that made people sit up and take notice. It dawned on me that to get people into a stuffy room and out of the beautiful Adirondack outdoors, make wildlife your topic.

As Bill’s responsibilities increased, he pushed all the harder on his public communications. He went on to chair the Adirondack Research Consortium, and made the College’s wildlife research more accessible. His presentations on wildlife ecology were fun and interesting. Remember the gas molecule theory in high school, he would ask his audience? Most people would squirm uncomfortably. Well, forget it when it comes to deer biology. Ah. We relaxed. Deer, Bill informed us, do not simply disperse from areas with lots of deer to fill the least concentrated areas of their habitat. Females, or does have a complex social structure called kin groups which greatly effects their affinity for an area, and includes their faithfulness to the places where they were born. So, deer are not distributed uniformly on the landscape at all. Central Adirondack deer societies, like our politics, are local.

Bill Porter’s ability to convey the broad story lines and myriad details of Adirondack wildlife ecology have never failed to amaze me. Later, I learned what an excellent strategist he is. Porter had long believed NYS DEC was flying blind when it came to managing the Forest Preserve because they lacked a thorough digital inventory using GIS (geographic information systems). ESF had the equipment and skilled students to help digitize the data and train DEC in how to access it for more informed public lands management. What Bill needed were advocates to push DEC and the Governor’s staff to fund the work, and make use of the data. With Audubon, the Association, ADK, WCS and Adirondack Council, Bill found his advocates. Here was a partnership to improve understanding and management of the Park’s Forest Preserve we all could believe in. In the last ten years, the GIS project has resulted in greatly improved State Land inventories and much stronger working relations between academia, DEC and private advocates for the Forest Preserve.

This success was followed by Bill’s visionary creation, backed by ESF President Neil Murphy, of SUNY ESF’s Northern Forest Institute, acquisition of Masten House above Henderson Lake as a future wilderness training center and ESF’s decision, announced last month, to manage the Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Center in 2011.

So, thank you, Prof. Bill Porter. I will miss you. You have made my Adirondack experience so much more meaningful. You have made partnerships for the more than human world tangible and productive. Thanks to your efforts, young people with your thirst for knowledge and passion will be communicating in new and exciting ways about Adirondack wildlife for years and years to come at the Northern Forest Institute, the Masten House, and the Newcomb VIC.

Photo: The view from Goodnow Mountain, Rich Lake in the foreground.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dave Gibson: Remembering Paul Schaefer

I was privileged to know Paul Schaefer for nearly a decade at the close of his life. He was my early mentor in all things Adirondack. In 1987 I was fortunate to have been selected executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the organization Paul served as a Vice-President. Each Friday I would try to stop by his house to learn more about his and Adirondack history. John Warren’s piece about the Moose River Plains suggests the great influence Paul had in preventing the Plains from being flooded by the proposed Higley and Panther Mountain dams.

Among the highlights in my career was seeing Paul presented with the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award in 1994 – just one of many recognitions he received in 65 years of tireless, leading work for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks.

For those who don’t know, Paul Schaefer’s coalitions not only preserved the Moose River Plains, but 30 other valleys from inundation by dams in the 1940s and 50s; saved the Upper Hudson River from four large dams in the 1960s, the largest of which would have flooded the valley all the way to Newcomb; and fought and achieved designated Wilderness and Wild, Scenic and Recreational River legislation in the 1970s, among many other achievements.

Paul Schaefer hunted white-tailed deer every fall in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area near his Adirondack cabin, a hunting club which he founded in 1931. He always credited the sportsmen and women of New York State, and their organized clubs united within the NYS Conservation Council, for providing legions of people who would stand up to save wild Adirondack habitat threatened by the dam builders, and to support wilderness preservation.

Joe Martens, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s Secretary for Energy and the Environment, called me one day in 1994 to give me advance notice that Paul Schaefer, then 85, would be receiving the Governor’s award, and asking for background. Joe knew Paul pretty well himself. It was decided to present the award as part of a well-attended conference we were sponsoring in honor of the Centennial of Article XIV of the NYS Constitution (known as the Forever Wild clause). The conference was to be held at the YMCA Silver Bay Conference Center on Lake George.

On the big day in early October, the conference was going full-tilt with speakers and panelists. Bob Bendick, then a DEC Deputy Commissioner, was in the middle of a presentation when we all heard the whop-whop-whop of a helicopter over by the lake. Everybody knew the Governor was arriving, and Bob understood it was pointless for him to continue. “I feel like the warm-up band to the Rolling Stones,” he told us, and everybody made for the doors. Out on the great lawn above Lake George stood the State chopper, blades still rotating. The Governor emerged with his small entourage and, surrounded, slowly made his way to Morse Hall where the award presentation would take place.

All were in their seats, chaos had given way to order, and introductions made. The mood was electric, the applause for the Governor resounding. His speech was pure Mario. Joe Martens had prepared him well. Departing frequently from his prepared remarks, the Governor humorously and eloquently painted a picture of Paul Schaefer and all he had contributed to the Adirondacks, to the wilderness of the great Empire State. The Governor also humorously reminded us that even those Republicans in the North Country who might be inclined to vote for him that fall would suffer a “palsy” when they reached for the Democratic lever.

When he was done, Cuomo asked Paul to join him on the podium to accept the award. All his life, Paul instinctively knew when to make a stand, and when to speak. A year earlier, in 1993, Paul rose to speak after Governor Cuomo during a bill signing ceremony on Lake Champlain. The audience had held its collective breath at this breach of protocol, but to Paul this was simply getting in critical points at the right moment – when they would be remembered.

Now, Paul took the stage to present Governor Cuomo with, of all things, a beaver gavel! Paul’s friend Ken Rimany had fashioned this for Paul, taking a beaver chew as the gavel’s head and fashioning it tightly onto a stick from a beaver dam, and then writing the words of Article 14 on the gavel’s head. Paul told the Governor how all his life he had admired the beaver, the state’s finest and sole wilderness engineer, and that only the beavers, meeting in secret, could have engineered this gavel for the Governor. Cuomo smiled but, not to be outdone, he responded “any beaver can make a beaver gavel, Paul, but only a Governor can present a Governor’s award.”

The exchange made, the Governor departed, leaving us to wonder about his political fate, and leaving Paul time to gather with some friends to tell tales and, as Paul was inclined to say, “add it all up.” It was Paul’s final award. He died on July 14, 1996 following surgery on a knee he had damaged decades earlier while investigating caves along the shores of the Upper Hudson River during his successful efforts to preserve the Hudson Gorge from flooding. He and his wife Carolyn are buried in the Keene Cemetery. His spirit has inspired all of us who knew him to continue his work and extend his legacy on behalf of the New York State Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.

Photo: New York Governor Mario Cuomo presents the Governor’s Environmental Achievement Award to Paul Schaefer in 1994.



Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.