Press Releases

High Peaks Wilderness, Vanderwhacker Management Plans "Weak" | Adirondack Council Says Plans Fall Short on Protection, APA Poised to OK Anyway

RAY BROOK, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council has advised the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation that its proposed management plans for public lands in the High Peaks region are flawed and do not comply with the master plan upon which they are based. Click HERE to read comment letter to the DEC.

“These plans appear to violate the most basic principle of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “The Master Plan requires the state to prioritize the protection of natural resources and allows new recreational opportunities only when they consistent with preservation of those resources.

“For example, these plans add many miles of public roadway to the Forest Preserve without any assessment of how this affects the legal limits for Forest Preserve road mileage,” Janeway explained. “That’s a major flaw.  Roads have a big impact on water quality, wildlife survival, the spread of invasive species, noise and litter.  Leaving them out of the scientific assessment violates the letter and the spirit of the master plan.”

Janeway said the organization had additional concerns about the DEC’s plans, and that material changes should be made before they are submitted to, or approved by, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA).  However, Janeway was also concerned that the APA was poised to approve the DEC’s plan before the DEC could make any revisions to it.

The Park Agency and DEC have separate roles in managing the Adirondack Park’s public lands.  The DEC manages public lands based on APA approved Unit Management Plans for specific areas of the Forest Preserve, such as the High Peaks Wilderness or Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.  

The APA must certify that those UMPs comply with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan before the DEC is authorized to carry out the plans.  The master plan contains basic rules for all wilderness areas, wild forest areas, canoe areas, etc.  Thus, the agencies act as a check against each other, preventing either one from reinterpreting the rules to suit a goal that is not a priority in the master plan. 

“The APA decided to hold its review jointly with the DEC this time,” said Janeway.  “They have only done this before, to save time, when there was only a tiny non-material and non-controversial change – aware that, if public comment resulted in material changes, additional opportunities for public comment would be necessary.  In this case a concurrent review doesn’t serve the public interest, advance environmental protection, or save time.”

Other concerns with the proposed UMPs, as expressed in the Council’s June 25 letter to the APA, include:

Boreas Ponds Dam Day Use Area – “a day-use area is not in keeping with the vast majority of public comments received or the science or state findings made during the classification process, which resulted in Wilderness protections for the Boreas Ponds... ‘Day Use Area’ is technically defined within the SLMP and is associated with Intensive Use Areas .. Additionally, any infrastructure built or established in this Primitive Area, such as the boat hand launch or Class VI trails, needs to meet Wilderness standards. There should be no picnic tables or similar minor conveniences located within any day access only site within the High Peaks Wilderness area.”

Gulf Brook Road Snowmobile Trail – “The … UMP fails to provide any additional assessment of the various snowmobile routes that could be implemented as a component of the community connector trail project. There are multiple viable route locations, based on geographic and environmental conditions, for a snowmobile connector route and there are more options than simply relying on the Boreas Ponds and Gulf Brook Roads as the default options. The preferred alternative does not accurately convey the amount of tree cutting needed to link the Boreas Ponds Road to Blue Ridge Road.”

Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) – “The state is making management decisions based on assumptions about visitor use rather than on well-documented and established baseline data. The LAC decision making matrix is predicated on knowing what impacts your resource can sustain and how that use (or overuse) will change over a given time frame considering a wide range of variables and factors. The state has been pretty explicit that much of that data does not exist and gathering it will take time and energy. So while we support the effort to embrace LAC within these UMPs, the lack of any relevant baseline data to support many of the proposed management actions simply shows them to be attempts at accommodating use rather than real long range planning efforts. Essentially, by implementing management actions before understanding the underpinnings of the impact, the Department is degrading the resource and then building that degradation (additional use) into the baseline date creating an artificially high threshold.”

Overall, Janeway said the DEC’s plans seemed to emphasize allowing more intensive use of the park’s natural resources coupled with a tendency to count the cost at some later date.  He said “we see much to be encouraged by and much to cheer, but there are fundamental weaknesses and substantial room to make improvements to prioritize natural resource protection and preservation.” 

He remained troubled by the implication that the APA will approve DEC’s plan regardless of whether public comments identify needed changes and improvements.

This week the DEC announced state actions that attempt to complement the proposals in the draft Unit Management Plans, to better manage increased recreational demands on state owned Forest Preserve lands and waters.  The Adirondack Council applauds many of those actions as important first steps forward to improve comprehensive management, address overuse, help communities, and safeguard people, natural resources and the wild character of the Adirondacks for current and future generations.

Founded in 1975, 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 with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities.

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 3, 2018 

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