Public comments needed on deeply flawed draft amendments to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan that sets management guidelines for the Forest Preserve

January 14, 2016

The Adirondack Forest Preserve, owned by all New Yorkers and protected in the State Constitution as “forever wild” since 1895, is an internationally recognized treasure. It is managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), under the supervision of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). The document governing how both the APA and the DEC manage the Forest Preserve is the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP), written by the APA in 1972 and last revised in 1987. The APA is currently now considering major revisions to this plan for the first time in a generation.

On balance, the changes the APA is proposing will create long-term damage to the management of the public Forest Preserve. The is the first effort in the modern management of the Forest Preserve over the past 40 years to weaken the APSLMP, not strengthen it.

Click here to read PROTECT’s public comment letter.

Changes proposed will set in place an inexorable path for weakening Wilderness areas.

The APA has proposed a series of changes and is taking public comments until January 29, 2016. More information is available here at the APA website.

The APA is proposing five sets of changes to the APSLMP:

1. Changes in the APLSMP to allow public bicycle use and/or motor vehicle use by state agencies for management and maintenance purposes in the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive Areas. The APA has three alternatives for consideration: 1) No Action Alternative would make no changes to current management of the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive Areas; 2) Alternative 2A would allow public bicycle use in the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive Areas; 3) Alternative 3B to allow public bicycle use and motor vehicle use by state agencies for management and maintenance purposes in the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive Areas.

2. Changes in the APLSMP to allow public bicycle use and motor vehicle use by state agencies for management and maintenance purposes in all 39,000 acres of Primitive Areas. The APA has three alternatives for consideration: 1) No Action Alternative would make no changes to current management of Primitive Areas; 2) Alternative 3A would allow public bicycle use in all Primitive Areas; 3) Alternative 3B to allow public bicycle use and motor vehicle use by state agencies for management and maintenance purposes in all Primitive Areas.

3. Changes to amend the APSLMP to allow use of non-natural materials for construction of the new bridge over the Cedar River, principally for snowmobiles.

4. Amend Wild Forest Guidelines in the APSLMP to allow non-natural materials for construction of bridges using the federal “Minimum Requirement Approach.”

5. A series of “ministerial” edits and revisions to the APSLMP to update names and dates as well as other more substantive and controversial changes.

PROTECT has reviewed all of the proposed changes and has identified the most important matters for public comment.

Proposed Amendments Violates Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for APSLMP: The 1979 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) governs the amendment process for the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP). This EIS states that “Wilderness is the cornerstone of the Master Plan.” Moreover, the protection of Wilderness is the central organizing and management principle in this EIS, due to how little Wilderness we have in New York and east of the Mississippi River. The EIS states that the state should seek every opportunity to expand Wilderness.

Unfortunately, the APA is not seeking to expand Wilderness here. Nor, is the APA seeking to manage the Forest Preserve in a way that maximizes Wilderness. The APA is doing the opposite, in effect, by seeking to expand the base of motorized and mechanized Forest Preserve lands. The shift in the use and management of Primitive Areas will have long-term impacts. The APA is taking public comments on an option to allow public bicycle use and motor vehicle use by DEC personnel for management and maintenance purposes in Primitive Areas.

Our review of the PEIS finds that the APA simply has not undertaken the necessary analysis to, in effect, create a new Forest Preserve classification through a Primitive area that allows bicycles and motor vehicles. These are significant changes that will fundamentally redesign a major Forest Preserve classification that manages 39,000 acres.

Deeply Flawed Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: The SEIS promulgated by the APA to support the APSLMP changes is deeply flawed. This SEIS is particularly weak in assessing the impacts of the proposed changes to Primitive Areas. Simply put, the SEIS has not taken a serious look at the current state of public bike recreational use on the Forest Preserve, despite the fact that the APA is seeking to expand public bicycle use on the Forest Preserve.

Particularly weak in the SEIS is the “Adirondack Recreation Industry Profile” section that provided data about public recreation preferences for the whole Adirondack Park and economic data about tourism impacts in Essex and Hamilton counties. The APA is seeking to change the Primitive classification to allow bicycle riding on former logging roads on recently acquired new Forest Preserve lands, something that is not currently allowed on these lands.

Many comments have been provided previously to the APA calling for a serious study of bicycle impacts, both environmental and economic. First, PROTECT has consistently urged the APA to look at the levels of bicycle riding on other roads in the Forest Preserve open for bicycle riding to ascertain use levels and public interest. The APA should study public bicycle use on the many Forest Preserve Roads, such as those in Wild Forest areas, such as the Ferris Lake Wild Forest, Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, Black River Wild Forest, Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest, among other units, in comparison with the specially designed bike trail system in the Wilmington Wild Forest. It is our understanding that the specially designed bike trail system in the Wilmington Wild Forest, which provides a narrow trail, single-track riding experience, is vastly more popular than the Forest Preserve dirt and gravel road experience. Many who have ridden the former logging roads of the Essex Chain Lakes area report sandy roads with lots of loose rocks that do not provide a pleasurable bicycling experience.

The main problem is that SEIS seeks to make fundamental changes to a major Forest Preserve area with no bicycle use data. These decisions are very important and should not be undertaken in a data free zone.

PROTECT Opposes Changes to Primitive Areas: APA proposals for changes to Primitive areas is to either make changes to allow bicycle use and management and maintenance by the DEC using motor vehicles in just the Essex Chain Lake-Pine Lake Primitive Areas or to make these changes for all 39,000 acres of Primitive Areas. The APA may make changes just for bike use or for bike use and motor vehicle patrolling and maintenance.

These are potentially major changes. This effort seeks to move a huge chunk of the Forest Preserve from the motorless Wilderness side of things to the motorized Wild Forest side.

The APA proposal to move either just the Essex Chain Lakes-Pine Lake Primitive Area extends uses allowed in the motorized Wild Forest areas into what is supposed to be Wilderness-like Primitive lands, which is a 39,000 acre land base.

PROTECT opposes special rules for different Primitive Areas. The current Type and Type structure has worked well for 40 years and should be continued without change.

Primitive lands are Forest Preserve areas identified as lands that one day could be upgraded to Wilderness (think the Lake Lila model) or lands that have some permanent constraint that preclude Wilderness classification (think Valcour Island on Lake Champlain which will never grow to meet the minimum 10,000-acre Wilderness Area requirement). The APA calls these Type 1 and Type 2 Primitive Areas. Today, there are 40 Primitive Areas and 22 are identified as Type 1. Interestingly, though the Essex Chain and Pine Lake Primitive Areas were created in 2014, the APA has never said whether they are Type 1 or Type 2.

Basic Guideline 1 for Primitive Areas, which sets the management standard, states: “The primary primitive management guideline will be to achieve and maintain in each designated primitive area a condition as close to wilderness as possible, so as to perpetuate a natural plant and animal community where man’s influence is relatively unapparent.” Basic Guideline 2 states “No additions or expansions of non-conforming uses will be permitted.” A decision to allow bikes and motor vehicles in Primitive Areas does not conform to these management objectives.

What this means is that the APA is creating a new kind of Forest Preserve classification. Call it Primitive-lite or Primitive Type 3; it’s a fundamental shift away from managing Primitive lands as essentially Wilderness. It also means, for all practical purposes, that these lands will not be upgraded and classified as Wilderness at some future point

The changes proposed for Primitive Areas undermines the long-term protections for the Forest Preserve and will greatly weaken the Forest Preserve.

1.3 Million Acres of Wild Forest Areas Suitable for Mountainbiking and Motorized Management: Today, across the Forest Preserve there are 1.3 million acres classified as Wild Forest, which provide ample opportunities for mountainbiking and management by the DEC with motor vehicles. The Wilmington Wild Forest has specially built mountainbiking trails systems. The DEC has also started the process to create such networks in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest area. We should not extend these uses into the 39,000 acres of Primitive Areas that should be managed as Wilderness.

This is a typical former logging road on the Essex Chain Lakes tract. The APA is seeking to change Primitive Areas to allow bicycle use on these roads and management and maintenance by state officials using motor vehicles. This would fundamentally change Primitive Areas, which are supposed to be managed as Wilderness lands. This is a typical former logging road on the Essex Chain Lakes tract. The APA is seeking to change Primitive Areas to allow bicycle use on these roads and management and maintenance by state officials using motor vehicles. This would fundamentally change Primitive Areas, which are supposed to be managed as Wilderness lands.
 
No Changes for Cedar River Bridge: There are many problems with the proposal to change APSLMP requirements that bridges on the Forest Preserve be constructed with natural materials. First, PROTECT believes that the construction of the Cedar River Bridge, as outlined in the Essex Chain Lakes Complex UMP, is illegal and violates the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act and APSLMP. Given current litigation, the APA should not undertake any action on this matter until this litigation is resolved.

Second, PROTECT has urged the APA to take a hard look at this issue and to complete a study on all the various bridge designs currently in use on the Forest Preserve as well as bridges used in wild areas in other part of the U.S. This is a complicated matter and the APA should undertake a real analysis through a much better SEIS on this issue.

Develop “Minimum Requirement Approach” Program for the Adirondack Forest Preserve: PROTECT urges that the APA-DEC develop its own version of the federal “Minimum Requirement Approach” policy for bridge designs. While there are some good ideas and practices in the “Minimum Requirement Approach”, we should develop a similar document for the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

Major Problems with Ministerial Changes: Several proposed “Ministerial Changes”, referred to as minor changes, are quite substantive and far-reaching and require evaluation and assessment through inclusion in the Supplement Environmental Impact Statement. Many of these recommended changes should have alternative provided. These are:

1. Changes to the “Conservation Easements” section are major changes, not minor changes. APA is making a legal determination without proper review. APA states that conservation easements “remain in private ownership” due to less-than-fee ownerships. This is a major decision that merits a fuller analysis in the SEIS. On vast swathes of the more than 750,000 acres of conservation easement lands, the State of New York pays 65% or more in local taxes. Conservation easements are not simply private fee title lands, they include an enormous public ownership.

2. Change to “Administrative Personnel” is major change, not a minor change. This change constitutes a major expansion in the number of people included to hundreds, if not thousands of people.

3. Creation of a new “Bike Trail.” This is a major change as it’s a new type of trail on the Forest Preserve. The APSLMP lists “roads”, “foot trail”, “horse trail”, “snowmobile trail” and two kinds of “cross country ski trails.” Adding a “bike trail” is important. Moreover, this definition needs to include language, similar to other trails, that a bike trail should have the character of a foot trail.

4. The APA proposes to delete all deadlines for the removal of all nonconforming uses on the Forest Preserve by certain dates. Though the APA and DEC have failed to meet the various deadlines in the APSLMP, these deadlines should not be deleted. These deadlines should be updated and the APA should recommit itself to ensuring that these nonconforming uses are removed and the natural resources of the Forest Preserve protected.

5. The APA proposes to change Wild Forest Basic Guideline 5 to remove the preference that “care” should be taken to “separate” various recreation uses and to remove a list of these potentially conflicting uses. This is a big change and should not be made without proper analysis.

6. The APA proposes to change the “Designation of Travel Corridors” section to change “Remsen to Lake Placid railroad” to “Remsen to Lake Placid” right of way. This is a subtle yet major change and merits further analysis in the SEIS and alternatives.

7. The APA needs to update the “Wilderness Statistical Parkwide Totals” section. Whereas the acreage of Wilderness Areas has been updated with new classification hearings, there has been no thorough list of nonconforming uses. This should be done, For instance, PROTECT finds almost 7 miles of nonconforming and illegal roads in Wilderness Areas, yet the revised APSLMP lists just 2.73 miles.

These are all serious matters that require greater analysis and scrutiny through considerations of alternatives and analysis in a Supplemental EIS.

This is part of the Crane Pond Road in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area. This road remains open, though it was long supposed to be closed. This picture shows a jeep stuck in the mud in late August 2014. Soon after this time, the DEC brought in tons to gravel to fill this stretch of road that runs through a wetland. This is a prime example of an unresolved nonconforming use. This is part of the Crane Pond Road in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area. This road remains open, though it was long supposed to be closed. This picture shows a jeep stuck in the mud in late August 2014. Soon after this time, the DEC brought in tons to gravel to fill this stretch of road that runs through a wetland. This is a prime example of an unresolved nonconforming use.
 
Public Comments Needed by January 29, 2015

Please submit a letter today. To send you own comment use the contact information here:

Mail:

Kathy Regan
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
PO Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977

Fax: 518-891-3938

Email: SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov

 

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