Posted on January 27th, 2012 Add a comment >>
In North Country Public Radio’s blog the In Box, Brian Mann describes the proposed redistricting of the New York State Senate as a naked power grab by Republicans (click here to read his post).
He writes that the plan “is really designed to do one simple thing: maintain a fragile GOP majority.” He points out that it pits six Democratic incumbents against each other in re-election races. “Meanwhile, not a single Republican lawmaker faces serious disruption or an intra-party battle,” Mann says.
In other words, it appears to be a classic case of gerrymandering.
I’m sure many of you know that the term gerrymander is derived from Elbridge Gerry, the Massachusetts governor in 1812 when that state’s Senate districts were redrawn to favor his party. One of the districts was said to resemble a salamander (though the contemporary cartoon at right depicts it as a dragon).
I looked to see if there are any salamanders in our Senate’s redistricting proposal. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the districts do not appear all that oddly shaped. Evidently, the boundaries alone do not reveal the behind-the-scenes machinations.
One glaring exception seems to be the 47th Senate District on the western fringe of the Adirondack Park. It stretches 145 miles from south of Utica in central New York to Massena on the Canadian border. At its narrowest point, in the town of New Hartford, the district is less than four miles wide.
Now represented by Joseph Griffo, a Republican from Rome, the proposed district includes eight towns wholly or partially in the Adirondack Park: Clifton, Fine, Croghan, Watson, Greig, Lyonsdale, and Forestport.
Is this an example of Griffomandering? Not really. The proposed district is not that different from Griffo’s current district, which was drawn in 2002. Nor is it radically different from the district drawn in 1992.
Nevertheless, as you might infer from the above map, it has be the oddest-shaped Senate district in the state. It sort of resembles an upside-down prawn from District 9 (the movie). Perhaps it’s been that way since 1812.
Posted on January 26th, 2012 Add a comment >>
Little, a Republican, will continue to represent Adirondack communities in Essex, Franklin, Clinton, Warren and Washington counties—all located in the eastern or northern Adirondacks. She also will pick up six towns in St. Lawrence County, five of which are in the Park. (Essex County is the other county located entirely in the Park.)
Dan MacEntee, Little’s spokesman, said the senator is disappointed to lose Hamilton County, as well as two towns in southern Washington County, but overall she is satisfied with the redistricting proposal.
“Comparatively, when you look across the state, this is a district that changes very little,” MacEntee said.
MacEntee expects that the issues in the St. Lawrence County towns are similar to those in Little’s current district.
The demographics are almost the same. The population of her current district is 299,603 and is 92% white. The population of the proposed district is 293,101 and is 94% white.
Veteran Senator Hugh Farley, a Republican from the Schenectady area, would pick up Hamilton County under the redistricting plan as well as the Adirondack towns of Ohio and Webb (home to Old Forge) in Herkimer County. Even so, it appears Little would still represent the majority of Park residents.
The map shows Little’s proposed district. I added green dots to the towns she would pick up and red dots to those she would lose.
The plan must be approved by the state legislature to take effect. Governor Andrew Cuomo would have a chance to veto it.
Posted on January 23rd, 2012 20 comments Add a comment >>
The state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to allow more hunting and/or trapping of bobcats in many parts of the state, including the Adirondacks.
In a draft five-year management plan, DEC reports that the state’s bobcat population—now estimated to be five thousand—has been growing, especially in the Southern Tier. Roughly twice the size of housecats, bobcats prey on a variety of species, from small voles to white-tailed deer.
DEC says up to 20 percent of the state’s bobcats (i.e., a thousand animals) could be killed by hunters and trappers each year without hurting the population. In recent years, sportsmen have harvested between four hundred and five hundred a year. Under its proposed plan, DEC estimates that this tally would increase by less than a hundred, still well below the critical threshold.
As indicated by the map above, the trapping season in the Adirondacks and the rest of the North Country would be extended. The season now runs from October 25 to December 10. Under the plan, it would be extended to February 15. The hunting season will not change.
The trapping season in the Adirondacks had been shorter than elsewhere to protect fishers. Since the fisher population has rebounded, the department feels that rationale no longer obtains.
The plan also calls for extending both the hunting and trapping seasons in central Tug Hill to February 15.
In the biggest change, DEC wants to initiate hunting and trapping of bobcats in much of the Southern Tier, where the population has increased dramatically over the past decade. “What began as occasional sightings along the New York/Pennsylvania border has progressed to large numbers of observations, trail camera photos, and incidental captures and releases by trappers,” the proposed plan says. “Over the past five years there have been 332 bobcat observations documented in the harvest expansion area.”
DEC also seeks to allow hunting and trapping of bobcats in the region just north of New York City.
The public has until February 16 to comment on the proposal.
Click the link below to read the plan (PDF file).
Posted on January 20th, 2012 8 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency voted 10-1 today to approve the controversial Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest development ever to come before the agency.
Several commissioners said they had concerns about the project—including what they described as the developers’ optimistic sales projections—but they concluded that it fell within the APA’s regulations.
The commissioners agreed with the agency’s staff that the resort would not cause an “undue adverse environmental impact” and expressed hope that it would boost the fortunes of Tupper Lake.
“This brings the opportunity of economic development to Tupper Lake, something that’s badly needed,” said Commissioner William Thomas.
Tupper Lake residents in the audience applauded when the decision was announced, and several thanked the board afterward.
Preserve Associates plans to build a 719-unit resort on 6,200 acres of forestland near the Big Tupper Ski Area. The development will include so-called Great Camps, single-family homes, town houses, a sixty-room hotel, a restaurant, shops, a health spa, and a marina. Preserve Associates also intends to expand and renovate the ski area.
Michael Foxman, one of the principal developers, began his quest for an APA permit eight years ago. At the time, he said, he was told the process would take eight months. Had he known it would take as long as it did, he added, he probably would not have pursued the project.
Foxman still needs to obtain permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health and work out a financing deal with the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency.
After the APA vote, Foxman said he hopes to break ground in 2013. Preserve Associates plans to begin the development by selling Great Camp lots east of Lake Simond and work their way west toward the ski area. Asked if he has any buyers lined up, Foxman replied, “We have people we have been talking to for five years. Some are still interested, some might not be.”
Richard Booth was the only commissioner to vote against the permit. He called the developers’ sales projections—and thus the benefits to the community—unrealistic. He also faulted Preserve Associates for failing to undertake a comprehensive survey of wildlife on the property. Finally, he contended that the development is not compatible with the agency’s guidelines for Resource Management lands.
Most of the development will occur on lands classified as Resource Management, the strictest of the APA’s zoning categories. The agency’s Land Use and Development Plan defines Resource Management as open-space lands whose “primary uses” include forestry, agriculture, and hunting. However, the plan allows the construction of single-family homes “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” The APA has never defined “substantial acreages” or “small clusters,” but Booth asserted that the design of the Adirondack Club and Resort, spread over thousands of acres, disturbs Resource Management lands “in a way that I think is not necessary and not acceptable.”
Environmental organizations such as the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild pressed Preserve Associates to come up with an alternative design to cluster the development more. Many of the complaints were aimed at the Great Camps, most of which will be built on lots ranging from twenty to a hundred acres. Because the thirty-nine Great Camps will be scattered throughout the tract, critics argue that they will fragment the forest and disturb wildlife habitat.
Preserve Associates stuck to its design, with several modifications, but it did agree to prohibit any further subdivision of the Great Camp lots. In the end, the changes were enough to win the support of the Adirondack Council.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got enough,” said Brian Houseal, the council’s executive director.
Houseal said the council wanted Preserve Associates to refrain from developing the lands east of Lake Simond, which border the 14,600-acre Follensby Park. The Follensby tract is owned by the Nature Conservancy, which plans to sell it to the state sometime in the next several years.
Adirondack Wild, however, remained fiercely opposed to the project. David Gibson, one of the group’s founders, called the APA vote “the most significantly bad decision they’ve ever made in the [twenty-plus] years I’ve observed this agency.”
Gibson said much of the development should have been moved from Resource Management to lands classified Moderate Intensity Use, a less-stringent zoning category. “There were so many other [design] alternatives with 6,200 acres to get it right,” he said.
Gibson said he did not know if Adirondack Wild would challenge the decision in court.
Another environmental group, Protect the Adirondacks, also opposed the project as designed.
Posted on January 13th, 2012 7 comments Add a comment >>
After six years of public debate, the Adirondack Park Agency’s staff has written a draft permit for the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, finding that the resort would comply with the law if it meets all the conditions of the permit.
The APA board, which is scheduled to vote next Friday, could approve the draft permit, approve it with modifications, or reject it. Among other things, the board must decide whether the project will cause an “undue adverse environmental impact.”
Two environmental activists disagree on whether the project as described in the permit passes the test.
Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said he is happy with the changes required by the draft permit. “The developer has designed the project within the existing regulations,” he said.
Houseal said he is especially pleased that no further subdivision will be allowed on the land occupied by the so-called Great Camps. As a result, he said, the fragmentation of wildlife habitat will be limited.
“The changes imposed by the APA will probably avoid undue adverse environmental impact,” Houseal said. “Is that a win for the environmental community? Yes.”
But David Gibson of Adirondack Wild contends that the board should reject the permit. Most of the Great Camps will be built on lands classified as Resource Management, where typical uses are forestry, agriculture, and recreation. Residential development is allowed only “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” Gibson said many of the Great Camps will be built on fifteen- or twenty-acre lots. “It doesn’t meet the criterion for Resource Management,” Gibson said. “Most of the Adirondack Club and Resort could not be defined as being on substantial acreage or in small clusters.”
Gibson also said the developers failed to conduct a thorough study of wildlife on the property. Houseal, however, pointed out that the draft permit now requires the developers to undertake an amphibian study.
Adirondack Wild wants adjudicatory hearings reopened to address wildlife impacts and other issues, but Houseal disagrees.
“It’s time to have a decision here,” Houseal said. “I appreciate Adirondack Wild’s motion to put it back in the hearing, but we need to have a decision.”
Preserve Associates wants to build a 719-unit resort—a mixture of single- and multi-family homes—on some 6,200 acres near the Big Tupper Ski Area. It would be the largest development ever approved by the APA.
Despite writing a draft permit, the APA staff did not make a recommendation to approve or reject the project. APA spokesman Keith McKeever said this was due partly to the complexity of the project. “It’s up to the board to make a decision,” he said.
If the developers win the APA’s go-ahead, they will still need to obtain water-quality permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and financing approvals from the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency. Houseal argues that one lesson of the drawn-out process is that permits for future projects should be considered together, not separately.
Click here to download the draft permit and conditions.
Posted on January 13th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
In his latest Birdwatch column for the Explorer, John Thaxton said we might see an influx of snowy owls this winter. The man is a soothsayer.
Snowy owls live in the Canadian tundra, but once in a while they migrate south in great numbers in search of food. This is one of those “irrupution” years.
National Public Radio reported last week that snowy owls have been sighted in many states this winter, from Maine to Washington State and as far south as Oklahoma.
Jim McCormac, a biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, told NPR that the owl’s movements are influenced by the lemming populations in the far north. Most likely, he said, “there was a superabundance of lemmings this year up in the Arctic. And there were so many lemmings that the owls in response will lay more eggs, so there’s a lot more young owls. And so there’s not enough food to get through the winter, so a lot of them come south.”
Before Thaxton wrote his column in early December, there already had been three sightings in our region. Larry Master, a Lake Placid birder, said snowy owls are usually seen during irruption years along the edges of the Adirondack Park, including the Champlain Valley. They also may frequent the St. Lawrence Seaway. “Snowy owls are birds of the open tundra and don’t feel comfortable in woods,” Master said. “I’ve never seen one in the Tri-Lakes area, although a friend saw one a few years ago on the Whiteface Inn golf course–a one-day wonder.”
Although the irruption is good news for birders, they should be careful not to stress the owls. McCormac noted that when snowies arrive this far south they usually are emaciated and hungry. “Photographers, avid birders, give the birds a lot of distance, don’t disrupt them, cause them to fly, things like that because that’s another peril that they face,” he said.
With their white plumage, snowy owls blend in with the arctic landscape. Given our dearth of snow this winter, they might find it difficult to camouflage themselves in these parts.
Posted on January 11th, 2012 4 comments Add a comment >>
Wildlife biologist Paul Jensen will give a lecture on “Big Cats of the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain Lake at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, January 29.
Jensen will talk about the historical distribution of mountain lions, Canada lynx, and bobcats in the Northeast and how these species may be affected by changes in the landscape and the climate in the years ahead.
Mountain lions and Canada lynx no longer live in the Adirondacks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Last year, however, officials confirmed that a mountain lion struck by a car in Connecticut had passed through the Lake George region. The cat had migrated east from South Dakota.
Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with DEC, has been researching martens and fishers in the Adirondacks as part of a doctoral program at McGill University in Montreal.
The Adirondack Museum is sponsoring the lecture. Because of construction at the museum, the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts is hosting the event. Museum members and children of elementary-school age or younger will be admitted free. The fee for others is $5.
For more information, call (518) 352-7311 or visit www.adirondackmuseum.org.
Posted on January 6th, 2012 2 comments Add a comment >>
I recently wrote a blog for Adirondack Almanack about an art exhibit featuring the work of Anne Diggory, who often paints Adirondack landscapes. When asked which of her Adirondack paintings was her favorite, she replied that it was a scene of Panther Gorge as seen from Mount Marcy.
I thought people would like to see the painting, so I posted it above.
Diggory painted two studies of the scene in 2001—one a watercolor, the other acrylic—while visiting her daughter Ariel, who was then a summit steward.
“The watercolor set the composition and the smaller one (along with photographs) set the color,” she told me in an e-mail. “I had really liked how the sky felt like a roof, with Dix just about touching it.”
Note the boulder in the foreground. At the time, Diggory was painting a lot of boulders for her Sisyphus Series. Sisyphus was the Greek king condemned to push a huge boulder up a hill; each time he got near the top, it rolled back down, and he had to begin again. It doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend eternity, but Diggory has a different take. “There is the idea that Sisyphus actually enjoyed going up and down: just think what he could see each time,” she said.
The painting, called Boulder at the Top, is not part of the current exhibit at the Blue Mountain Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibit, titled “Turbulence,” will run through Saturday, January 28. The gallery is located at 530 West 25 Street in Manhattan.
You can view more of Diggory’s work on her website.
Posted on January 5th, 2012 Add a comment >>
We’ve seen many photos of the Adirondacks taken on blue-sky days with puffy clouds or during sunsets when the horizon is ablaze with red, orange, and purple. We’ve seen far fewer taken in the middle of a blinding blizzard or horrific rainstorm.
If you have one, you might submit it to Teton Gravity Research’s Gnarliest Weather Photo Contest. The winner and three runner-ups will win some pricey Gore-Tex gear.
TGR, a maker of a maker of ski and surf films, is accepting photos online. The public has a chance to influence the outcome of the contest: the judges will consider only the twenty-five photos that receive the most Facebook “Likes” through February 5.
Josh Wilson, who often shoots for the Explorer, submitted the photo above. He snapped it while on a ski tour in the French Alps in April 2010. Josh and his friends, led by a local guide (“a real bad ass”), had climbed the Col de Aiguille Crochues, descended in a storm, and then climbed the Col du Berard, where the photo was taken. The skier on the right is Matt Young of Lake Placid. The skier in the background is their guide, Yannick Graziani.
Josh, who lives in Saranac Lake, said the second descent ended in Switzerland. “The ski day consisted of a bus ride, a tram ride, a ski-lift ride, skinning, hiking, skiing, and then taking a train back to where we started,” he said.
The whole tour, which took six hours, was done in a whiteout.
Fortunately, the gang enjoyed some good weather as well, as evidenced by the inset photo.
The photo below shows the Le Massif de Aiguilles Rouges, the scene of the whiteout ski tour. The group climbed almost to the summit of the highest peak on the left and then descended the other side. They climbed again to a ridge behind the large rocky peak on the right side of the photo.
But Josh won’t win any prizes in the Gnarliest Weather Photo Contest for these two photos.
If you’re on Facebook and like the whiteout photo, Click here. Or perhaps you have one of your own to submit.
The top winner will receive a Patagonia Primo jacket and Patagonia Primo pants, both made of Gore-Tex fabric. The three runner-ups will receive a Gore-Tex jacket, hoodie, or gloves, all made by Burton.
Posted on January 4th, 2012 Add a comment >>
We finally got a bit of snow in Saranac Lake. Not enough for backcountry skiing, but enough to get you thinking about it.
On my lunch hour yesterday, I hiked Baker Mountain and took the photo above. The few inches we got might be enough to ski on golf courses, the Whiteface highway, and a few of the easier trails in the region. I hope to check out the trail to Moose Pond later in the week.
This is a good time to remind people that the Adirondack Ski Touring Council regularly updates cross-country-ski conditions online. It reports that Nordic centers near Lake Placid have some trails open.
Here’s the report on backcountry conditions:
“Whiteface Highway skiable, although there will be short stretches that have been blown clear of snow. Marcy Dam Truck Trail possibly skiable with caution. Main Loop at Henry’s Woods on Bear Cub Lane just barely skiable. With 5 inches reported at Paul Smiths, the Hayes Brook and Fish Pond truck trails are finally skiable, although caution definitely advised on the first hill on the Fish Pond Truck Trail. Lake ice on Avalanche and Lake Colden crossable. No other ice should be assumed to be safe, although the cold Tuesday night has probably made many lake crossable. On the higher summits, finally enough for snowshoes above 3,000 feet; but with much ice under the snow, traction aids will be very useful, if not required, on steep trails getting to that elevation. Definitely be prepared for winter conditions on any of the higher summits. Meadow Lane, access to the Marcy Dam Truck Trail, closed to vehicles for the winter.”
One shortcoming of the council’s report is that it concentrates on the Tri-Lakes Region (Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake), so you rarely see accounts of conditions in other parts of the Park, such as Old Forge or Cranberry Lake.
Let’s hope we get some real snow soon. It is January, after all.