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An Adirondack Spruce Grouse Victory

By: Jackie Bowen - Adirondack Council Conservation Fellow
Monday, March 19, 2018

If they could talk, the spruce grouse in the Adirondacks would say thank you! These endangered birds benefited when supporters wrote to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to object to a proposal that sought to open more than 12,000 acres to new public motorized recreation.

This fall, the DEC released a draft amendment to the Raquette-Jordan Boreal Primitive Area Unit Management Plan that proposed to construct a 1.25-mile connector road between two isolated conservation easement (CE) lands. Located in a remote northwest area of the Park, the Five Mile and Kildare tracts contain critical natural resources and significant habitats that would be greatly impacted by increased motorized recreation if the road is built.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/SpruceGrouseMale_LarryMaster.jpg

Why the Adirondack Council was Concerned

The proposed road sought to allow motorized access and increase recreational opportunities like mountain biking to both tracts. This was permitted because of specific language included in the Five Mile CE that could allow a connector road to be built. Although the Five Mile tract has historically been open to public motorized access, Kildare has not. Through the proposal, the DEC sought to open up Kildare’s 17.5 miles of existing motor vehicle roads for the first time ever.

Spruce Grouse Habitat at Risk

This was concerning for many reasons, including the anticipated harmful impacts to spruce grouse habitat. As a NYS endangered species, the spruce grouse is necessarily afforded special considerations and protections, which includes  the protection of its habitat. The bird has been found to inhabit many portions of the Raquette Boreal Forest Preserve Unit, including the Kildare and Five Mile tracts. As a species that occupies its home habitat year-round, it is paramount that its occupied sites and movement ranges are protected. Opening up the Kildare tract to motorized access would have exposed the spruce grouse’s habitat to the threat of destruction and increased fragmentation.

Wilderness Experience Threatened

In addition to threatening wildlife and habitat on the CE tracts, the road would also have brought motorized recreators to the doorstep of the Raquette-Jordan Boreal Primitive Area. A Primitive area classification signifies that the landscape is as fragile and significant as a Wilderness area, but does not quite meet the legal thresholds to be defined as such (e.g. less than 10,000 acres in size or contains structures). Allowing for this type of recreation would fail to keep the area “as close to Wilderness as possible” as the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan requires and would ruin the area’s intended Wilderness experience

Since the release of its 2020 VISION series in 1989, the Council has advocated that this area be classified as Wilderness and be designated as a Boreal Heritage Reserve due to its “exemplary boreal ecosystems of sufficient size.” As one of the most significant boreal ecosystems in the state, it is important the DEC does not encourage the threats that accompany motorized access, such as the increased and illegal use of all-terrain vehicles on Forest Preserve lands. Doing so would expose the sensitive environments, species, and wild character of this unique region to heightened degradation and destruction.

Boreal Primitive Area Management Plan Withdrawn

After receiving several hundred public comments, the DEC withdrew the draft plan. The state agency is now in the midst of drafting a new proposal that will incorporate these comments. It is anticipated to be released for public review over the next year. A new public hearing and comment period will also be hosted for the new draft.

The Council congratulates the DEC for its decision to withdraw the proposal. And thank YOU again for taking the time to voice your concerns with the plan, for you helped encourage the DEC to protect thousands of acres of sensitive lands.

 

 


Uploaded Image: /uploads/images/Jackie_Bowen.jpgJackie is the Council's Conservation Fellow. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Law and Policy, with a certificate in Land Use Law, from Vermont Law School. During her year and a half program she interned in Washington, D.C. at American Rivers where she worked with the Government Relations team to track legislation, identify federal funding sources and research tribal water rights.

In 2013, Jackie graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Anthropology. Although she enjoyed learning about the cultural nuances that influence the way people act and interact with one another, her love of this mountainous region never ceased, and, ultimately, drove her back to graduate school to learn how to help protect this unique corner of the world.

As a native of nearby Plattsburgh, Jackie grew up hiking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and camping in the Adirondacks. The ‘Dacks represent restorative and spiritual beauty and the intersectional balance between human and natural life. This is just a sliver of what propelled Jackie to become focused on not only land conservation, but on preserving the ecological integrity and wild character of the beautiful Adirondack Park.

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