Conservation Archive

Conservation Report

January, 2009

Outgoing Vice-Chair Gene Kaczka

It is hard to believe that this is my 16th and final conservation report. What a year the last one has been! A brief summary and a look forward is in order.

Long on the state’s wish list, the Follensby Pond Tract was recently acquired for $16 million by the Nature Conservancy with plans to resell it to the state. It is where the bald eagle began its NYS comeback in the 80s and where Emerson camped in 1858. The tract contains many ponds that can help reopen historic canoe routes. Viewed as unspoiled as the forever-wild forest, once it is acquired by the state, controversy will follow. It has a mile-long access to the Raquette River. Classification of the land as Wilderness or Wild Forest will open proposals for parking access for fishermen, launches for motorboats, and access by motorboats from the Raquette. Stay tuned and get involved.

The current financial mess and legislative and gubernatorial actions have created serious problems for land acquisition. We cheered when the Nature Conservancy acquired the Finch, Pruyn properties for $110 million and the Domtar Industries land for $23.8 million with the intention to resell them to the state. Of the $255 million appropriated for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) in the current budget year, $125 million of unspent funds were swept over to relieve the state’s General Fund. The total of “sweeps” (raids) by legislators and governors since 2002 has taken $447 million. With the current fiscal crisis, Gov. Paterson has proposed a cut of $139 million to the EPF over 2 years, beginning with $50 million this year. In response to the crisis, the usual critics of state land acquisition are against adding the purchases to the Preserve. There will be some heated debate on this issue.

A bill that would strengthen the existing bottle bill by including water bottles and return funds to the EPF passed the Assembly but got derailed in the Senate. That bill may be revived because many recyclers in New York need to buy such materials from other states to support their operations. By increasing the supply of recycled materials, the bill could contribute to the economy while helping the environment.

The APA voted 6 to 5 to reject the DEC proposal to allow floatplanes to continue to use Lows Lake for up to 10 more years under a permit system. The key to the decision was the State Land Master Plan, which indicates that the original 5-year extension was a violation of the plan. If the DEC’s alternative proposal for a 4-year conditional extension gains traction with the APA, then the ADK, RCPA and others will sue to hold the agency to it decision to comply with the Master Plan.

ATV issues continue to bubble along in the North Country. Several efforts to open roads to ATV travel in Lewis County have been turned back by the courts. In Jefferson County, a system plan has been under development and revision since 2004. A few of the legislators have been pushing for realistic information on ongoing operations and maintenance costs. In St. Lawrence and Franklin counties some towns have quietly opened roads to ATV travel and pilot programs have been approved or are in process without plans for oversight, monitoring and evaluation. How then will a pilot program be judged as a success or failure?

Negotiations between ADK and pro-ATV lobbyists improved a bill calling on the legislature to prepare a report on the benefits of creating a statewide ATV trail system. This resulted in the inclusion of enforcement, maintenance and environmental cost issues. The Adirondack Council and the ADK supported the amended bill, which passed the Senate but not the Assembly. On the other hand, ADK opposed a bill that “authorizes a governmental agency or municipality to designate a highway or portion of highway as open for travel by an ATV.” This bill did not pass the Senate.

“ 350.org” refers to a grassroots effort to raise awareness worldwide of global warming. I learned about the organization and its mission from Bill McKibben. “350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide--measured in parts per million in our atmosphere. 350 PPM--it's the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.” Unfortunately, we have passed that level and are currently at 387 ppm. To learn more about the effort, the plans for 2009, and how you might contribute, visit their website www.350.org.

The departing Bush administration is promising a lump of coal in our collective Christmas stockings by issuing a number of last-minute regulations that will adversely impact our environment. Unfortunately, reversing those regulations will require extended congressional and environmentalist efforts. For example, to get around the Clean Air Act’s requirements to control mercury, utilities have convinced the administration to institute a cap and trade program. Mercury control would have required scrubbing other chemicals from their emissions as well. What’s a little mercury in your soup?

Peter O’Shea with assume the responsibilities of Vice Chair for Conservation on January 1, 2009. Well known throughout northern New York for his strong advocacy of environmental issues as well as his work as an author and wilderness guide, Peter brings a wealth of experience to this role and the chapter’s executive committee.

Incoming Vice-Chair Peter O’Shea

These are what I propose should be our priorities for conservation.

Priority #1: Retention of EPF funds and completion of all land acquisitions currently being negotiated in Adirondack Park. Some politicians and news media are attempting to scuttle all pending land acquisitions in the Park using the specter of the dire fiscal situation now prevailing. These are the same groups that are ideologically against land preservation and now see a golden opportunity in the current fiscal crisis. I would like to see our chapter advocating that all pending sales negotiations be completed and that the EPF fund not be raided for other purposes.

Perhaps our chapter activist network can be re-activated in this matter to contact the governor and local legislators about this issue. Two facts need clarification here in any correspondence: first, the EPF is a dedicated fund completely separate from the state budget; second, these negotiations have been pending for many years. They have been been arrived at after many years of negotiations on both sides and announced by the governor.

Priority #2: Rooftop highway. The push for an interstate through our county goes on despite the fact that a study panel on the subject concluded that this ultra-expensive project is not warranted based on traffic patterns. A modified, down-sized version was put forth. This did not satisfy proponents, who will perhaps now try to latch on to President-elect Obama’s call for massive infrastructure spending. We need to take a position. The environmental and ecological damage caused by the highway would be immense.