About 50 years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was charged to create these physical and natural resource inventories and project lists for more than 50 chunks of forest preserve in the Adirondacks. Former Gov. George Pataki tried to kick start these plans back in 1999. He called for them all to be finished in five years. Nearly 25 years later, about 782,000 acres still don’t have plans.
Why is this important? Without a plan, no major projects can be done in a unit. For a place like Lake George Wild Forest, which has no plan, that means the DEC cannot build a marked trail up Rogers Rock. It cannot reroute the trail up Prospect Mountain, which DEC has already called “dangerous to hikers.” The William C. Whitney Wilderness has no plan, either. Campsites there cannot be moved, which some said needs to be done to protect sensitive shorelines and habitat.
Adirondack Explorer’s reporter and writer Gwendolyn Craig has authored a fine article this month titled “The Long Wait for Forest Preserve Plans,” referring to the lack of unit management plans (herein, “UMP”) for some significant Forest Preserve Wilderness areas, like West Canada Lake and William C. Whitney, and for a group of Wild Forest areas, such as Lake George, Ferris Lake, Wilcox Lake in the southern half of the Park, and Debar Mountain and Chazy Highlands in the northern half.
The APA Act of 1973 “directs DEC, in consultation with APA, to develop individual unit management plans for each unit of land…classified in the master plan…All plans will confirm to the guidelines and criteria set forth in the master plan and cannot amend the master plan itself.”
Craig’s article accurately points out many staffing and budgetary shortfalls, policy hurdles and other challenges in completing UMPs in order to comply with the master plan (and updating them). DEC Lands and Forests has suffered from serious personnel and other cuts since the late 1990s. There were a few, but far too few, young DEC professionals appointed around 1999 to respond to then Governor Pataki’s announcement to complete all UMPs within five years. They worked diligently and drafted UMPs but as the new century began discovered that their superiors were unable to provide them with clear, enforceable policy with respect to controversial matters such as the expansion of roads, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles in classified Wild Forest areas.
DEC is encouraging public comment on the draft Adirondack Foothills Unit Management Plan (UMP) and will accept comments until September 15, 2023. The proposed plan advances recreational opportunities while protecting natural resources on State Lands in Oneida and Herkimer Counties.
The September/October issue of our magazine is out, and in it you can read about unit management plans. It is difficult to make any sentence sound exciting with the phrase “unit management plans” in it, but here’s why they are important. “UMP’s,” as they’re often called, are inventories of physical and natural resources in an area of the park. They also include a list of projects the state Department of Environmental Conservation wishes to accomplish. No UMP? No project. This includes hiking trails, campsites, water body studies, ski trails, parking lots—any variety of recreation or natural resource protection projects.
We found that hundreds of thousands of acres in the Adirondack Park are without UMPs. That includes Lake George Wild Forest, one of the most accessible places in the park. That means the eroded trail up Prospect Mountain cannot be rerouted. A designated trail up Rogers Rock cannot be made. The William C. Whitney Wilderness, dubbed by the state the “crown jewel of the Adirondacks,” is without a UMP, too. The state is relying on a stewardship management plan from the ‘90s, which some say isn’t protective enough.
If you aren’t already subscriber, you can sign up for our bimonthly magazine here: https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/subscribe. The article includes the map below, provided by the DEC, which shows the status of these plans across the park.
The following is commentary from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
Recognizing the initial efforts of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, which issued an interim report last week, Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson had this to say: “An advisory body of diverse stakeholders, all volunteers, has been meeting distantly during the pandemic but nonetheless has reached consensus on recommendations to address some key existing pressure points in the High Peaks Wilderness region. During these tough times, that is an impressive accomplishment.”
However, Adirondack Wild is concerned that the group’s recommendations should be connected to the 335-page, approved 1999 DEC High Peaks Wilderness Complex Unit Management Plan, or UMP. “Almost every one of the advisory group’s interim recommendations, including expanded use of Leave No Trace, Human Waste, Education and Messaging, Trail Inventory and Assessment, Data Collection and Visitor Information, and Limits on Use can be traced back to policies and actions in the adopted Wilderness UMP. Yet the interim report makes no mention of the UMP and that’s a worry,” Gibson added.
Adirondack Wild believes that ignoring the High Peaks Unit Management Plan invites management and user conflicts. “The UMP, which took years of stakeholder efforts and was adopted by the Adirondack Park Agency and DEC, is the coordinating document that ties otherwise disparate management activities together to benefit an enduring Wilderness resource. We know the UMP may need to be updated to meet current challenges. The Advisory Group ought to be devoting part of its time to recommend specific parts of the UMP that require updating,” he continued.
To quote from the DEC’s High Peaks UMP, “without a UMP, wilderness area management can easily become as series of uncoordinated reactions to immediate problems. When this happens, unplanned management actions often cause a shift in focus that is inconsistent and often in conflict with wilderness preservation goals and objectives. A prime objective of wilderness planning is to use environmental and social science to replace nostalgia and politics. Comprehensive planning allows for the exchange of ideas and information before actions, that can have long-term effects, are taken.”
“One concern we have is that the task force has recommended that the Limits On Use pilot study be conducted on private land adjacent to the High Peaks when, in fact, it is the overused eastern High Peaks Wilderness – public land – that is in need of a well-designed pilot program limiting use. The 1999 UMP called for a working group to develop a camping permit system, with any decision to implement based upon public input and UMP amendment. That was never done. A pilot program on private land over the next three years further deflects time and attention away from a critical High Peaks management tool that ought to be tested on public land.”
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, membership organization which acts on behalf of wilderness and wild land values and stewardship. More on the web at www.adirondackwild.org.
Photo: Crowding on Cascade Mountain, eastern High Peaks Wilderness by Dan Plumley/Almanack archive
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