Posts Tagged ‘Protect the Adirondacks’
By Brian Wells
This is a story that should have had a happy ending.
A story of five Adirondack towns working with state government and environmental non-profits on an agreement to expand the taxpayer-owned Forest Preserve, improve public recreation and bring new economic growth to the area.
The Community Connector Trails agreement would have helped turn the page on decades of Adirondack Region job losses brought on by industry disinvestment and Forest Preserve expansion, and established a model for the type of common-sense, compromise solutions needed for many problems confronting the Adirondack Park.
Instead, it’s a sad story of misplaced trust and lost opportunity, ending with the towns and the people who live there getting left out in the cold.
By Harsh Vaish, Skidmore College
The Department of Environmental Conservation – henceforth referred to as DEC – has been developing plans for major community connector snowmobile trails between Adirondack communities for a number of years. Protect the Adirondacks first sued the DEC in 2013, contending the trials cause significant environmental damage and violate the Constitutional clause for the ‘forever wild’.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, the environmental organization that sued to block the construction said the litigation is about Class 2 snowmobile trails and not hiking trails. He specifically called out the Adirondack Mountain Club and Open Space Institute’s concerns “specious claims.”
A timeline of events that lead to today’s court decision:
- Protect the Adirondacks launched this lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency in 2013 alleging that Class II trails violated Article 14, Section 1, of the New York State Constitution due to excessive tree cutting and terrain alterations.
- Protect the Adirondacks and its expert witnesses undertook extensive fieldwork in 2012-13 and in 2015-16 to document abuses to the Forest Preserve. Counts of over 16,000 tree stumps on Class II trails, with diameter measurements and GPS locations, including photographs of over 12,000 tree stumps, were made.
- In the summer of 2016 Protect the Adirondacks obtained a temporary restraining order that stopped all tree cutting by the state on Class II trails after the first 34 miles of trails were in various stages of development. The DEC and APA had approved plans for a network of hundreds of miles of Class II trails in the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks.
- In early 2017, a 13-day trial was held in state Supreme Court in Albany. In December 2017 the trial judge ruled against Protect the Adirondacks. In 2018, Protect the Adirondacks appealed to the Appellate Division, Third Department, which in a 4-1 decision overturned the lower court’s ruling in July 2019. In 2020, the DEC and APA appealed to the Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were held in March 2021 at the Court of Appeals. Today, the Court of Appeals ruled 4 to 2 in favor of Protect the Adirondacks that the DEC and APA have violated the forever wild clause of the New York State Constitution.
- Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Protect the Adirondacks, Finds Cuomo Administration Violated Forever Wild Clause of State Constitution
- The Cuomo administration’s plan to expand motorized use on the public Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks by building hundreds of miles of wide Class II snowmobile trails was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court.
- This historic decision will shape Forest Preserve management for decades to come.
The eagerly awaited final report of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) is out. It was worth the wait. The report is ambitious and thorough and comes at a point in time that could potentially mark a new beginning, where we’ll start to see a leavening in the overall management of the High Peaks Wilderness in particular and the Forest Preserve in general. Or, this report could be filed away to rust, lost to time. I hope that this report sees serious follow-up and implementation.
Bringing serious reforms to the management of the High Peaks Wilderness, and the Forest Preserve, is no easy task, but the HPAG report is the most serious blueprint we’ve seen since the days of the Pomeroy Committee and Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks the 1950s and 1960s.
A few weeks ago, Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) submitted an amicus brief in Protect the Adirondacks! Inc. v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency, wherein Protect challenged the constitutionality of the state’s decision to cut down thousands of trees while building new snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve. (I am on the Board of Protect the Adirondacks! and testified as an expert witness in the trial for this litigation. What I am saying here is not endorsed by Protect.)
This litigation began in the Supreme Court in Albany and was appealed to the Appellate Division, where a crucial element of Protect’s interpretation of Article 14, section 1, of the NY Constitution, was upheld. Then the state appealed to the NY Court of Appeals, our highest court, where oral arguments will be heard on March 23. The ruling there will be final and cannot be appealed further, although it’s possible the Court of Appeals could return the matter to the lower courts. This is a historic case and will determine the future of state policy with respect to the Forest Preserve and the viability of wilderness in the Adirondacks.
Our Covid-19 socially distanced excursion last week took us to the Debar Tract on NYS Route 30, north of Paul Smith’s College and south of Malone. I wanted to see this area for myself after reading about the controversy over removal of the historic buildings on the shore of Debar Pond. (Click here for the latest article from Adirondack Explorer.)
Protect the Adirondacks has reviewed the options for the future of the Camp Gabriels complex, a former state prison in the Town of Brighton in Franklin County in the northern Adirondack Park. The site is located between Saranac Lake and Paul Smith’s just outside of Gabriels. The land that the prison complex was built upon is Forest Preserve, protected under NYS Constitution Article 14, Section 1. The prison complex was part of a state purchase in 1982 of over 224 acres. This facility has been dormant since 2009 when the state closed the prison camp.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, everyone is invited to take part in a national virtual action event. Today through Thursday, activists, performers, thought leaders, and artists will all be collaborating on a 3-day live stream. Organized by the US Climate Strike Coalition and Stop The Money Pipeline Coalition, who together are made up of over 500 organizations, have come together to organize Earth Day Live.
Photo: Students from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay march on the first Earth Day in 1970.
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.
What follows is an announcement sent to the press by Adirondack Forest Preserve advocates Protect the Adirondacks:
Protect the Adirondacks supports transition of the 55-mile-long Saratoga and North Creek Railway to a new public multi-use recreation trail. Given its location, the dominant use would be as a bike and walking trail. This new public trail from Saratoga Springs to North Creek would connect dozens of small communities such as Lake Luzerne, Hadley, Stony Creek, Thurman, Riparius, The Glen, and Warrensburg, among other hamlets and businesses, along the rail line. » Continue Reading.
In the July 2019 legal decision in favor of Protect the Adirondacks, regarding the constitutionality of excessive tree cutting by state agencies to build a network of Class II community connector snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, the Appellate Division, Third Department, ruled that the cutting of over 25,000 trees to build these trails violated Article 14, Section 1, of the state Constitution, the famed “forever wild” provision.
This article looks at the meaning of Article 14, Section 1, in light of this new ruling. (A related article dealt with use of the word “timber” in Article 14 of the state Constitution). This article looks at how small diameter trees have long been protected in Forest Preserve legal practice. Article 14 reads: “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. 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.”
By the metric of public use the High Peaks Wilderness Area, and nearby Giant, Hurricane and Sentinel Range Wilderness areas, are major successes. The crowds hiking in the High Peaks are at an all-time high. The current dismal state of many of the hiking trails does not seem to be a major deterrent to the throngs of people eager to hike one of the High Peaks.
For many people hiking a mountain like a High Peak is no sure thing and is, and should be, a challenge. There are plenty of highly used and popular smaller mountains throughout the Adirondacks that provide stunning views, but the allure of hiking a High Peak is immense.
On Tuesday New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Muller granted a motion by two Adirondack environmental groups to preliminarily enjoin the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from constructing of a new snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River until a decision is reached in an ongoing lawsuit.
The river is designated as a Scenic River under New York’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act.
The preliminary injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks! The court decision halts construction of the trail at the banks of the Cedar River for now. » Continue Reading.
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