Posted on August 1st, 2012 4 comments Add a comment >>
Protect the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Council, and other green groups have started an online petition to encourage the state not to back out of an agreement to purchase sixty-five thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve.
In its petition, the environmentalists contend that “a small but vocal group” is pressuring Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to keep the lands in private ownership.
“This proposal undermines a carefully balanced project that is a sound investment both in the local economy and in the environment and in the ecological integrity of the Adirondack Park,” the petition asserts.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn in 2007. It has since sold ninety-two thousand acres to a Danish pension fund, subject to easements that prohibit development and allow some public access.
Many local leaders argue that most of the lands earmarked for the Forest Preserve should follow the easement model, thus allowing forestry to continue and hunting camps to remain.
Members of the Gooley Club have been among the most adamant opponents of deal. The club is located near the Essex Chain of Lakes, which is slated to enter the Preserve. George Earl wrote about the club’s fight in article that appeared in the Adirondack Explorer in 2011. Click here to read that story.
Other natural gems that would become part of the Preserve include the Boreas Ponds, a long stretch of the Hudson River, OK Slip Falls, and Sugarloaf Mountain, a potential rock-climbing venue.
DEC officials have repeatedly said that they have no intention of backing out of the deal.
Other sponsors of the petition include Adirondack Wild, Audubon, and the Sierra Club. They intend to present the petition to governor and DEC later this year.
The petition has been online for a few months, but the council sent out an “action alert” this afternoon, asking people to sign up by Monday, August 6. Scott Lorey, the council’s legislative director, said the drive is winding down. To date, the online petition has gathered more than 4,900 signatures.
Click here to add your name to the petition.
Posted on June 11th, 2012 6 comments Add a comment >>
The logging road to Madawaska Flow and Quebec Brook, waterways acquired by the state in 1998, is closed to the public, the Adirondack Explorer has learned.
I intended to drive to Madawaska on Sunday to take photos for a paddling guidebook and was surprised to find the gate locked. A sign indicated that the road was closed on June 4 and that public access was prohibited.
The road provides the only motorized access to Madawaska Flow, the centerpiece of a 5,800-acre tract known as the Madawaska Flow/Quebec Brook Primitive Area. The area is used by birders, paddlers, and hunters.
Dave Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said a private landowner, Winston Towers, closed the road but did not give a reason other than to say the land will soon be put on the market.
DEC has conservation easements with public-access rights on the timberlands bordering Madawaska (known as the Santa Clara Tract), but the beginning of the road crosses non-easement lands.
“DEC is actively seeking a solution to this issue and seeks to reestablish public access to Madawaska Pond in the near future,” Winchell said, adding that the agency considers this a priority.
Normally, visitors reach Madawaska by driving nine miles over a dirt road that traverses commercial timberlands. The road starts on Route 458 in the town of Duane.
“The road is the only public-access road to the Santa Clara Easement Lands and Madawaska Flow,” Winchell said. “DEC has a public access right of way in another location, but there is no road; it would have had to been built.”
It’s possible to reach Madawaska Flow by paddling upstream on Quebec Brook from Blue Mountain Road, but travelers must carry around rapids.
Posted on April 30th, 2012 3 comments Add a comment >>
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has come out in favor of reopening the rail line between North Creek and Tahawus, which some environmentalists argue would violate the forever-wild clause of the state constitution.
In a letter to the Federal Surface Transportation Board, Schumer said the line would provide “much needed economic development and jobs in the Adirondack Region.”
Iowa Pacific Holdings bought the line last year from NL Industries and wants to use it to transport waste rock from the closed NL mine in Tahawus at the foot of the High Peaks.
The green group Protect the Adirondacks contends that reopening the line would violate Article 14 in the state constitution, which decrees that the public Forest Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Fourteen miles of the tracks run through the Preserve.
Iowa Pacific has applied to the Federal Surface Transportation Board for common-carrier status, which would give it the flexibility to carry passengers and service other businesses along the route. However, the rail company insists it doesn’t need the board’s permission to transport the waste rock.
As reported in the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer, both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation also support the application for common-carrier status. The Explorer also ran a debate on the issue. Links to the debate and the news article be found at the end of this post.
Following is the text of Schumer’s letter to Daniel E. Elliott III, the board’s chairman:
“I write in support of Iowa Pacific Holdings’ reapplication to the Federal Surface Transportation Board to receive common carrier status on the Tahawus line of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway between North Creek and Newcomb, New York. This project will support much needed economic development and jobs in the Adirondack Region of New York.
“Recommissioning the Tahawus Line represents an opportunity to support the transportation needs of multiple businesses along the railway while reducing unwanted truck traffic through New York’s Adirondack Park. The decrease in truck traffic would reduce dust and pollution within one of our states great natural treasures. Reconstruction of the rail line and ensuing economic activity from its completion will generate economic activity that will benefit the region for years to come.
“I urge you to quickly move ahead with the approval process for this critical infrastructure project, as the application has garnered significant local support. I thank you for your attention to this request. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions.”
In a news release accompanying the letter, Schumer says Iowa Pacific would employ fifteen to twenty people during reconstruction of the rail line. Once the line reopens, the company expects to haul 100 million tons of waste rock a year.
Charles Morrison, a retired DEC official and member of the board of Protect the Adirondacks, said Schumer’s letter–as well as a similar one sent by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand–are the result of an intense lobbying campaign waged by Iowa Pacific.
“As public officials serving the people of the State of New York, both Senator Shumer and Senator Gillibrand are sworn to uphold the state constitution,” Morrison wrote us in an e-mail. “It is certain that if they had been given the full facts about this matter … about how the State went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court about the Tahawus rail spur in the 1940s in defense of the Forest Preserve and Article 14 of the State Consitution, they might have written a different letter, or none at all.”
Posted on December 21st, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
A longtime conservationist has been named assistant commissioner for natural resources at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Kathleen Moser was picked to replace Christopher Amato, who left the post earlier this month after four and a half years on the job.
Moser’s new responsibilities include oversight of the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan applauded the appointment.
“She’s a capable person and has a good knowledge of the Forest Preserve, especially in the Adirondacks,” he said.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, got to know Moser when she was head of the eastern New York chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
“She worked very hard with us to promote the Environmental Protection Fund and was an important ally as we tried to secure funds for land protection,” Woodworth said.
In recent years, Moser has worked for the World Wildlife Fund as well, according to her LinkedIn profile. Just before taking the DEC job, she had served on the boards of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy and the Capital District chapter of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Moser has two degrees from Duke University, a bachelor’s in botany and a master’s in forest productivity.
Posted on December 1st, 2011 3 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Council wants the state to purchase or otherwise protect a 2,257-acre parcel near Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain that is on the market for $2,275,000.
Dubbed Burnt Pond Forest, the tract lies just southwest of Poke-o-Moonshine, bordering state Forest Preserve. It is being marketed by LandVest, a real-estate company that deals in timberlands the Northeast.
In an online brochure, LandVest says the property contains six peaks, several trout streams, an eighteen-acre pond, and a trail system. The brochure touts the property’s timber value but also suggests that the pond would be suitable “for the development of a recreational cabin or second home.”
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said the environmental group would like the state to either purchase the property outright or buy an easement that would forbid development. “We would like to see it protected as forestland with public recreation,” he told the Explorer.
The council first called for the protection of this land in 1990, in one of its “2020 Vision” reports, subtitled “Realizing the Recreational Potential of Adirondack Wild Forests.” Written by the guidebook author Barbara McMartin, the report recommended a variety of land acquisitions to expand the Preserve’s Wild Forest Areas. (A companion report focused on Wilderness Areas.)
McMartin, who died in 2005, recommended that the state purchase 3,660 acres north and west of Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain, a popular hiking and rock-climbing venue. She said Poke-o, which the state owns, “is just one of a cluster of mountains with exposed rock ledges, the nucleus of what could be a splendid hiking and climbing area.”
The Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century also recommended in 1990 that the state acquire land around Poke-o. The commission was headed by George Davis, who also oversaw the publication of the council’s 2020 Vision reports.
Burnt Pond Forest overlaps the tract eyed by McMartin and the commission. A comparison of maps suggests that more than half of Burnt Pond Forest’s acreage was targeted for the Forest Preserve.
Champlain Area Trails (CATS) also wants the state to purchase or protect the land on the market. Chris Maron, the group’s executive director, said the property is ideal for hiking and cross-country skiing. He noted that it would provide an alternative hiking route to the fire tower on Poke-o-Moonshine’s summit.
Dave Spiers, a LandVest broker, said the investment group that owns the property would be willing to sell tract to the state. “They’d be open to anybody who wants to make an offer,” he said.
It appears, though, that Burnt Pond Forest is not on the radar screen of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Asked if DEC would have any interest in purchasing the property, spokesman David Winchell replied in an e-mail that the department is not familiar with it.
“The owner has not approached us about selling it to the state,” Winchell said, “nor is the parcel listed as a specific priority project in the Open Space Conservation Plan.”
Sheehan, however, noted that the state has expressed interest in protecting land in the Champlain Valley, where Poke-o sits. He said the council will urge DEC’s regional open-space committee to take steps to protect Burnt Pond Forest.
Given the state’s dismal fiscal condition, some Adirondack politicians have called for a moratorium on the acquisition of land for the Forest Preserve. Sheehan, however, said the parcel in question is small enough that the state may be able to afford it. If not, he said, an easement could be acquired for less than half of the purchase price.
Click here to read LandVest’s marketing materials and view photos of the property.
Click here to read my article on Adirondack Almanack about other timberlands marketed by LandVest.
Posted on November 29th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Christopher Amato is resigning as the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s assistant commissioner for natural resources. He said will return to practicing law in the private sector or go to work for the state attorney general.
Amato told the Explorer that he expects to remain in the Albany region, where he lives. He said he will stay at DEC for “at least a week” longer.
“It was time for me to move on,” he said. “I very much enjoyed my time here.”
Amato had been in private practice before joining DEC four and a half years ago. Earlier in his career, he worked as a lawyer for six years in the state attorney general’s office.
As assistant commissioner for natural resources, Amato oversaw many decisions involving the management of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Asked to list a few of his accomplishments at DEC, Amato mentioned the unit management plan (UMP) for the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, which he described as a model for balancing various uses of the Forest Preserve without harming the environment. Among other things, the UMP established an Intensive-Use corridor for car camping and a new Wilderness Area where all motorized access is forbidden.
“The Moose River Plains is like a microcosm of the entire Park,” he remarked.
DEC is notoriously decades behind in drafting UMPs for all the Forest Preserve tracts in the Adirondack Park. A few years ago, Amato wrote a Viewpoint for the Explorer in which he argued that DEC should streamline its UMP process by consolidating planning for neighboring tracts. Under such a scheme, for example, DEC would write a single plan for the High Peaks, Dix Mountain, Giant Mountain, Sentinel Range, and McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Areas.
Amato still believes the UMP process needs to be improved. He suggested today that DEC could draft one management plan for all Wilderness Areas and include appendices for dealing with specific problems in the individual Forest Preserve units. “So much of these UMPs are a lot of the same [information],” he said.
DEC was supposed to finish all the UMPs in the 1970s and update them every five years.
“How are we ever going to get the staff and the time to do the five-year reviews?” Amato said. “At this point, it’s an unrealistic expectation.”
One of the biggest controversies of Amato’s tenure erupted when DEC postponed enacting a ban on floatplanes landing on Lows Lake. The action upset environmentalists, but Amato stands by the decision.
“The Lows Lake floatplane decision was important,” he said, “because there is a real necessity to encourage the type of recreational activities that rely on the Forest Preserve. If the state is going to be the owner of huge tracts of land, it needs to support uses of the Forest Preserve that are consistent with people accessing it and enjoying it. For me, floatplanes are part of the picture.”
After a three-year delay, the Lows Lake ban will take effect next year. Amato said DEC is finishing a report that will explore other opportunities for floatplane operation in the Park.
Amato leaves as DEC continues to work on two major land acquisitions for the Forest Preserve: 65,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands and the 14,600-acre Follensby Park. The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought the lands in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and plans to sell them to the state.
Despite the state’s financial problems—and some opposition to the deals—Amato said DEC remains committed to the purchases. He said DEC has been meeting with hunters, fishermen, hikers, paddlers, and other user groups to discuss how the state will manage the Finch, Pruyn lands (which will be purchased first).
Amato also has been a champion of paddlers’ rights. After I paddled through private property on Shingle Shanty Brook and encountered no-trespassing signs and a chain, Amato tried to negotiate with the landowners to allow public access. After the negotiations failed and the landowners sued me, DEC and the attorney general’s office joined the suit on behalf of paddlers. The case is still pending.
Posted on November 20th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Local officials in the Adirondack Park have long complained about the amount of land owned by the state in the Park. The state constitution decrees that this land, the Forest Preserve, “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” In other words, no development.
The critics see this as bad for the region’s economy. Environmentalists, however, argue that the Preserve attracts tourists and boosts the economy. This debate shows no signs of letting up.
During the Pataki administration, the state started saving vast tracts of timberlands not by acquiring them for the Preserve, but by purchasing conservation easements. Such easements prohibit development but allow logging and usually permit at least some public recreation.
As a result, the local officials have added a new phrase to their vocabulary: “owns or controls.” For example, Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, recently wrote an op-ed piece asserting that the state “owns or controls” 75 percent of the land in the Park.Keith McKeever, the spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, sent out a lengthy rebuttal, calling Monroe’s figure “grossly inaccurate.” But McKeever’s figures can be questioned, too. He says the Forest Preserve encompasses 2.5 million acres and 43 percent of the Park. But those figures don’t include water, much of which lies within the Forest Preserve.
So just how much land does the state own and how much does it control?
First we need to correct the oft-heard claim that the Park comprises 6 million acres of private and public land. Actually, it’s 5,821,257 acres, according to the APA website. If you’re rounding, make it 5.8 million acres.
David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says the Forest Preserve totals 2,732,975 acres. This works out to 47 percent of the Park (up 5 percent since 1973).
In addition, the state holds conservation easements on 664,443 acres, according to Winchell. This works out to 11 percent of the Park.
Ergo, the state “owns or controls” about 3,397,418 acres, or 58 percent of the Park. This will rise to 61 percent if and when the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the state complete deals in the works to save the former Finch, Pruyn lands and Follensby Pond.
All this assumes, of course, that DEC’s figures (and my math) are accurate.