Action Alert: Submit a Public Comment by February 27th and help protect the Forest Preserve.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is holding a public comment period on a new draft Commissioner’s Policy on Forest Preserve Work Plans. The DEC prepares a Forest Preserve Work Plan for projects it undertakes for construction of trails, campsites, lean-tos, boat launches, among many other different kinds of facilities. The DEC’s new draft Work Plan policy marks a big step forward for improving openness, transparency, and accountability. Public comments will be accepted until 5 PM on February 27, 2023.
The new draft Work Plan policy stems, in part, from the Protect the Adirondacks’ 2021 legal victory to uphold the Forever Wild clause in the NYS Constitution. PROTECT has been advocating for these changes around Work Plans and state management for some time. This new draft policy includes a number of important reforms for Forest Preserve management. Overall, PROTECT supports the new Work Plan policy. This policy is necessary to improve management to protect the natural resources of the Forest Preserve and to provide an array of outdoor recreational experiences.
At the end of 2021, the DEC organized the Forest Preserve Trails Stewardship Working Group, which includes representatives from PROTECT, other environmental groups, local government, and trail builders from the Adirondacks and Catskills. The Working Group has been a plodding process so far, but its first accomplishment is the development of a new draft DEC Policy on Forest Preserve Work Plans.
This policy includes a number of reforms and improvements, which are detailed below.
1. Article 14 Compliance: The draft policy sets out that the first step for any proposed Forest Preserve activity is a written assessment of the constitutionality of the project. This is the first time that DEC has developed a policy for ensuring that the work that it undertakes on the Forest Preserve complies not only with Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, but also with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP), the Catskill Park State Land Master Plan, the Environmental Conservation Law, and DEC rules, regulations and other policies.
Currently, DEC does not have a written policy or process for analyzing the impacts of its proposed activities on the Forest Preserve, and it does not have any clear procedure for ensuring that what it does on the Forest Preserve lands is in compliance with the “Forever Wild” clause in Article 14 of the NYS Constitution. The new Work Plan policy changes that and commits the DEC to a public assessment of Article 14 compliance. This is an important milestone in the state’s Forest Preserve management.
This assessment must include an evaluation of the amount of tree cutting, removal or destruction, the degree of alteration of the existing Forest Preserve terrain, and the impacts of the proposed project on the wild state and wild forest character of the Forest Preserve.
2. Public Transparency for Forest Preserve Management: Here’s how a Forest Preserve management activity is undertaken on the Forest Preserve, whether to build, repair or re-route a hiking trail, build a new bridge, or construct a campsite, among many other activities. In theory, work on the Forest Preserve is vetted and approved through the creation of a Unit Management Plan (UMP). The 2.7-million-acre Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks is divided into several dozen Forest Preserve units. UMPs spell out management actions for things like the location of campsites or roads or trails, but they are not used by state agencies to assess compliance with Article 14, the Forever Wild clause in the State Constitution, which protects the Forest Preserve.
Once the UMP process is completed, the DEC develops Work Plans for individual projects that detail how a trail or campsite will be constructed, among various other activities. This process used to be shrouded in secrecy but is now being opened up. PROTECT and others had urged the state for years to open up the Work Plan process to greater transparency and public scrutiny. Last summer, DEC started posting draft Work Plans in the Environmental Notice Bulletin, along with a public comment period. In the past draft Work Plans were not provided unless a Freedom of Information request was filed.
The new policy requires public noticing, review, and comment on all draft Work Plans. This new policy also codified the new public process where the public can scrutinize proposed projects during the planning stage through public noticing and comment. Public exposure is a big step forward.
3. Description of the Proposed Project: The new policy includes a requirement for a full description of a proposed project, location, map, and design information if necessary. It will be very helpful to Forest Preserve oversight, and public accountability, that all of this information is provided in a consistent format going forward.
4. Assessments of Intended Outcomes and Alternatives: The draft policy includes a description of the intended outcome for a proposed project. This is also important for Forest Preserve oversight. and public accountability. An assessment of alternatives is also necessary because that will help to explain the proposed project to the public and show the choices facing public lands planners and managers. By making this type of information easily accessible greater public involvement will be stimulated.
5. Description of Measures to Avoid, Minimize, and Mitigate Impacts to Natural Resources: The draft policy also includes requirements to detail measures undertaken for a specific project to minimize and mitigate any impacts. Again, this is important information for the state to provide to the public.
Submit Your Public Comment Today
Public comments are needed by 5:00pm on February 27, 2023.
Please write your own comment letter to the DEC by February 27th or you can use the form below to send a comment electronically.
Here’s where to submit your own letter:
NYSDEC Division of Lands and Forests
Albany, NY 12233-4254
By email: ForestPreserve@dec.ny.gov
Here are talking points for your letter on the draft Work Plans policy.
Please accept these public comments about the draft Forest Preserve Work Plan Policy (draft Commissioner Policy) that was published in the January 11, 2023, Environmental Notice Bulletin. The draft work plan policy includes several important provisions that will help to protect the 2.7 million acres of Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and we urge the DEC to adopt the draft policy with the following comments in mind.
- DEC needs to establish a process for ensuring that its activities on the Forest Preserve comply with Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, the Adirondack State Land Master Plan, the Catskill Park State Land Master Plan, the Environmental Conservation Law, and DEC rules, regulations and policies. A clear procedure for analyzing and demonstrating Article 14 compliance is an important and much-needed improvement over the status quo.
- Express support for the required analysis of whether a proposed activity complies with the “Forever Wild” clause of Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, which should include an evaluation of the amount of tree cutting, the degree of alteration of the existing Forest Preserve terrain, and the impacts of the proposed project on the wild forest character of the Forest Preserve.
- No work should be allowed (except ordinary maintenance of existing structures or improvements that does not require tree cutting or earthwork) unless the work is identified in an approved Unit Management Plan (UMP); expansion and modification of existing structures or improvements should not be permitted in areas of the Forest Preserve that do not have an approved UMP.
- Express support the inclusion of an analysis of alternatives, a statement of desired outcomes, and details about the steps to avoid, minimize, and mitigate negative impacts to the Forest Preserve from a proposed project.
- Draft Work Plans should be posted on the DEC’s website and noticed in the ENB, and the public should be given at least 30 days to comment before DEC proceeds with undertaking the proposed work.
- Final Work Plans, including a record of public comments received on the draft Work Plans, should be posted on DEC’s website by year and region to create a publicly accessible repository for Work Plans for all state lands.
Thank you very much.
Submit an Automatic Email Public Comment to DEC
Use the form below to submit an automatic public comment via email to the DEC:
This public comment period is closed.
Thank you very much for your help to defend the Forest Preserve.