In the News  Archive

Ex-DEC Official Disagrees With Essex Chain Plan

The Adirondack Almanac
April 26th, 2013
by Phil Brown

A former top official in the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says the department’s proposal for managing the Essex Chain of Lakes will jeopardize the region’s natural resources.

In the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Christopher Amato calls for classifying the Essex Chain as a Canoe Area, a designation that would prohibit the public use of motorboats, floatplanes, and motor vehicles. DEC has proposed classifying the area as Wild Forest, which would permit motorized access.

Amato’s proposal is closer in spirit to proposals by the Adirondack Council and Protect the Adirondacks to classify all or most of the tract as Wilderness. Motorized use is also prohibited in Wilderness Areas. But Amato, who served as DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources from 2007 to 2011, contends that the Canoe designation is a better fit.

“The Canoe Area classification is designed to promote and protect water-based recreation and fisheries—the two outstanding attributes of the Essex tract,” he writes in a Viewpoint article in the Explorer.

A Canoe designation would give DEC more latitude in managing fish populations, including the administrative use of floatplanes and motor vehicles. The Essex Chain contains trout and landlocked salmon.

Under DEC’s  Wild Forest classification plan, private floatplanes would be allowed to land on one of the lakes in early spring and late fall and dirt roads would be kept open to allow motor vehicles into the interior of the tract. Department officials say they are not proposing that the lakes be open to motorboats. However, the plan does not specifically ban them.

Amato contends that DEC’s plan will lead to overuse. “DEC’s proposal—which would allow intrusive motor-vehicle and floatplane access to much of this wild area—would put the tract’s natural resources at risk and drastically alter its relatively untrammeled nature,” Amato writes.

Amato resigned from DEC to join a law firm in Albany. He told me that when he left DEC, the department was planning to designate the Essex Chain a Canoe Area. DEC officials deny there was such a consensus.

Although both the Adirondack Council and Protect want the Essex Chain designated a Wilderness Area, their plans differ substantially. The council proposes a 72,480-acre Wild Rivers Wilderness that would encompass not only the Essex Chain, but also a long stretch of the Hudson. Protect is proposing a 39,000-acre Upper Hudson Wilderness. Under their plan, some interior roads in the vicinity of the Essex Chain would remain open. DEC is calling for creation of a Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, but it would not include the Essex Chain.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, had once proposed that the Essex Chain region be a Canoe Area. He now backs Protect’s proposal, but he said Amato’s proposal is a good fallback. “I think ADK could live with a Canoe Area classification for the Essex Chain,” he said.

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