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Adirondack Conservation Pioneers, Non-Profit Leaders, Owners of Elk Lake Lodge to be Honored as "Conservationists of the Year"

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John F. Sheehan
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Wednesday, July 10, 2013

WANAKENA, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council will present its Conservationist of the Year award on July 13 here to a couple who have distinguished themselves as conservation pioneers, nonprofit leaders and Adirondack philanthropists.

“John and Margot Ernst have devoted their lives to improving the environment and the economy of the Adirondack Park,” said Adirondack Council Chairwoman Ann E. Carmel. “Their most recent major achievement was their donation to the people of New York of a conservation easement covering 12,000 acres surrounding Elk Lake Lodge in the High Peaks region of the Park.”

The donation means that the forests and waters around Elk Lake and Clear Pond, just southeast of the High Peaks Wilderness, will be protected forever from further development while it remains a private, tax-paying business and one of the Town of North Hudson’s largest employers, Carmel said.

“This easement is a crucial step in protecting the entire landscape surrounding the state’s tallest mountains and most popular wilderness destination,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “The Ernsts gave up the rights to construct nearly 300 additional homes, plus accessory buildings, on their 12,000 acres of private forests, lakes and streams in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park. To purchase such an easement would have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. But the Ernsts donated these rights to the public because they believe that conservation and economic development can thrive together in the Adirondack Park.

“The Ernsts were pioneers of conservation easements in the Adirondack Park, signing the very first one in the 1960s, which protected the shoreline and islands of Elk Lake from development,” Janeway noted. “Conservation easements are agreements in which a private landowner gives up the right to future development. Usually, the state must pay for these rights.

“The Ernsts have also granted the public access to the High Peaks Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness through designated trails on their property,” Janeway noted. “That was a generous act. But their legacy of generosity doesn’t end there. They also carried out a private land swap with The Nature Conservancy that made it possible for the state to purchase the 1,500-acre Casey Brook Tract in April, connecting the High Peaks and Dix wilderness areas via public land.”

“John and Margot are very deserving of this honor for all they’ve done and are doing to protect the ecology and strengthen the economy in the Adirondacks,” said NYS Senator Betty Little. “In all aspects of their lives -- personal, professional and civic -- their dedication is without question as they have invested immense time, energy and personal resources. They’ve earned the respect of many, and each and every warm accolade they are receiving today, along with this award.”

“John and Margot Ernst are Adirondack heroes – deeply philanthropic, engaged in social, environmental and cultural issues, and hardworking business owners. We offer our congratulations for this wonderful recognition and applaud their shared vision for Elk Lake and the way it bolsters economic, conservation and public values,” said Michael Carr, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter.

“The Ernsts don’t just talk about conservation, they live it and lead by example,” said Marcia Bystryn, Executive Director of the NY League of Conservation Voters. “They have encouraged and assisted conservation and sustainable community development, from Manhattan to the Adirondacks and all around the state.”

“By their support of conservation efforts nationally, leadership of the Adirondack Landowners Association, and exemplary stewardship of their own land, the Ernsts set the gold standard in conservation," said Ross Whaley Senior Advisor of the Adirondack Landowners Association.

Leadership and Stewardship

In addition to their support for and leadership of the Adirondack Council, the Ernsts have been leaders of the park’s other important organizations, including the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Audubon New York, the Adirondack Landowners Association, the Adirondack Museum, North Country Public Radio, the Adirondack Community Trust, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Adirondack Center for Writing, the Open Space Institute and Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation. Beyond the Adirondacks, they are the immediate past co-chairs the Board of Directors of the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. Margot is a member of the Rachel Carson Awards Council, which promotes environmental education for women, and is a member of the National Audubon Society’s board of directors.

Keen observers of wildlife and nature, the Ernsts have welcomed scientific research on their private land, ranging from loon census work to American marten tracking; migratory bird inventories to fish studies. Protecting this tract and the way it fits within a larger protected landscape bolsters ecosystem and wildlife resilience to climate uncertainty.

A 2009 ecological inventory by the New York Natural Heritage Program will serve as a baseline for future biological surveys required every 15 years by the conservation easement. Notable species and natural communities include moose, lake emerald dragonfly, blackpoll warbler, Northern bog aster and black-spruce tamarack bog.

The Award

The Ernsts will receive the “Conservationists of the Year” award from the Adirondack Council’s board of directors at the organization’s Forever Wild Day celebration at the NYS Ranger School in Wanakena, in St. Lawrence County. The award is a museum-quality, hand-carved statue of a common loon – a symbol of Adirondack wilderness featured in the Adirondack Council’s logo.

The 2012 Conservationist of the Year was U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who was honored for her work in advancing clean air regulations intended to curb acid rain, smog and fine-particle pollution.

Forever Wild Day

The Adirondack Council’s 2013 annual membership meeting (1:45 p.m.) is free of charge and open to the public, but reservations are required for the awards lunch (11:30 a.m.). Call 1-877-873-2240 for details.

At six million acres (9,300 square miles) the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It is roughly half public land, protected from logging and development by the NYS Constitution, and half private land, with 130 small, rural hamlets and villages. About 130,000 people live in the park year-round.

Founded in 1975, the Adirondack Council is the largest and most influential environmental organization in the park. Since 1984, the Council has each summer chosen a person or organization that has made an exemplary contribution to the park’s well-being to receive it highest honor.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities. The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

Previous Adirondack Council Conservationist of the Year award winners include:

The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (2011); Governors George E. Pataki and Mario M. Cuomo; New York Times editor John Oakes; NYS Attorney General Dennis Vacco, NYS DEC Commissioners John P. Cahill and Erin Crotty; Senate EnCon Chairman Carl Marcellino, Assembly EnCon Chairman Richard Brodsky; Assembly En Con Chair Maurice Hinchey; Adirondack Park Agency Executive Director Robert Glennon; Adirondack environmental activists, including Peter Borrelli, the late Clarence Petty, the late Paul Schaefer and the late State Senator and Public Service Commission Chairman Harold Jerry; and, Adirondack Harvest.

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