Category Archives: Conservation

5 Year Review Presentation

Yesterday, July 13, 2017, we presented a 5 year review of the progress to date regarding the 25 year vision for the Park at the APA monthly meeting.  The original vision was presented to the APA at their July meeting in 2012.

The review shows progress on most fronts.  Take a look at the presentation here:  July 2017 APA meeting final

The punch line is very positive.  Also the strength of the alignment behind the original vision shows in the enormous scope and depth of the efforts made.  Five years ago one of the questions was how to make progress without anyone in charge?  Well we have lots of leaders, and each takes on what they wish to in their area of interest with few others telling them how to proceed.  The evidence suggests this approach works astonishingly well.  Alignment of all these people helps them see they are not alone, and brings NYS support when and where it is needed.

We do NOT mean to suggest there is no conflict here.   There is conflict, but it is often on single point issues that serve as a focal point for energy and fund raising.  The classification of Boreas Ponds is an example where focused conflict is real, but the future of the region doesn’t depend upon the outcome.  Much of the conflict is between advocacy groups with different points of view and different donors exerting pressure via shifting funding. In the last five years new advocacy groups have popped up.  One is a splinter from the ADK Council and ADK Mountain Club that takes on advocating for a wilderness classification for Boreas Ponds. Another is a spin-off from the ADK Nature Conservancy, a revival of the ADK Land Trust. This pattern, where a few people and a donor split from one group over some issue, and form a new group, is a common feature of conservation advocacy across the nation – we have our own version of this behavior pattern but it is not unique.

The big picture is a very positive widely diverse set of efforts that add up to great progress and reason to be optimistic.  You can check on how we track progress by looking here:  www.ADKfutures.net

 

Learnings from the Tetons and Yellowstone

We spent nine nights in the Tetons and Yellowstone in September 2016.  They are both small relative to the Adirondacks yet handle 2x the visitors.  They are managed by the Park Service. Different companies operate hotels, restaurants stores, gas stations, and such in the Park under concession agreements.  Some other observations follow and thoughts about what the Adirondacks might usefully copy are the last section.

The Tetons

The Tetons National Park is small, only 330,000 acres, but speculator.  The Jackson, WY airport is actually inside the Park so it is incredibly easy to visit.  It is about vistas, hiking, fishing, rafting and wildlife spotting.  Dogs are only allowed in limited areas.  The season is not over yet but we were told it might approach 5 million visitors for 2016.  We visited right after Labor Day. There were notable numbers of Asian tourist groups.

Camping is allowed only by reservation at designated sites.  You have to register your plans at a back country office.  If you plan on staying at campsites A, B and C you have to show up at each site on the designated day.  You are not allowed to stop early and camp somewhere because you are tired or it’s raining, snowing and so on.  Back country rangers check in on campsites daily.

Wildlife is abundant. Only hunting elk is legal and only under limited circumstances.   Roads have many viewing pullouts – signs tell you that you are approaching one.

Bears, especially brown bears, are a danger.  Instead of insisting people carry bear canisters, the Park Service installs bear-proof metal food storage bins at every picnic ground and even back country camping locations.  They are big enough for two people to fit inside and there is a latch release on the inside.  Bear spray is widely available, heavily advertised and can even be rented.  Training information about how to use it is all over the place (e.g. do not spray it into the wind).  The discourage people from thinking guns will protect them from a bear.  They encourage you to make noise when hiking, talk loudly, carry a bell, and go in groups of three or more.  The idea is to avoid surprising a bear.

Yellowstone is Just to the North

Yellowstone is 2000 feet higher and a very different ecological environment full of geysers and other hot water features.  It is 2.2 million acres, and the surrounding ecosystem adds another 22 million acres.  Ownership outside the Park is mixed private, other federal and there are small towns.  It was estimated that 5 millions would visit this year.

There is no hunting in the Park, but the the animal herds move outside the Park where hunting is big business.  The wildlife of the Park are treasured.  Herds of bison, elk and pronghorn antelope.  Grizzly and black bears.  Moose.

The same rules about camping and bears apply here are they do in the Tetons.

The big thing here is fire.  Days before we arrived, the road between the Tetons and Yellowstone was closed due to a forest fire.  It opened the morning we wanted pass, then closed abruptly again in the afternoon. Strong winds came up and the fire exploded.  Nearby by tourist facilities were evacuated and closed.  They do try to protect buildings and infrastructure, but otherwise they let fires burn using gates to close off roads when necessary (there is a whole system of gates).  You see recovering burned areas all over the Park with new pine forests of various ages growing up. Fires there serve the same purpose as beaver here, creating open lands for new plant growth in the open sun.  You don’t want to be near a forest fire, or downwind from one, but there is no special concern for the forest lost because you see it recovering all over the region.  Smoke clouds were as big as our summertime thunderheads.  The next day, it snowed 4-6 inches which helped dampen the fire so the road was re-opened as few days later.

Common Features to Both Parks

No one lives in the Park except Park staff and seasonal workers at various hotels, restaurants and campgrounds.  These people all live in dormitory style housing.  There are public bathrooms all over the area.  95% of people never get more than 500 feet from a road.  Some areas are heavily developed to handle crowds – most notably Old Faithful – but most of it is left untouched.

Areas are routinely closed for maintenance, restoration and recovery.  July and August are the busiest months of their short season.  The visitors there reflected international visitors but not notably diverse American visitors.

Traffic can back up due to two things.  Parking lots get full so waiting cars line up, causing roads to choke up.  Also wildlife sightings cause visitors to stop and this turns into a crowd rapidly. Staff is dispatched to place temporary ‘wildlife’ signs so people are aware of the cause of the delay and manage the road side areas.

What Might be Helpful to the Adirondacks?

There dominance of car touring to designated places with something to see and appropriate facilities (bathrooms, photo op pull outs, etc) suggested to me the Adirondacks could do a lot more with simple roadside vistas and pull outs.  Simple things like a sign saying “pull out ahead gave drivers time to pull safely off the road to enjoy the location.  Encouraging activity other than hiking protects the back country.

Since no one lives in the Parks, staff housing has to be provided.  It would see like summer staff housing in the Adirondacks would be a way to add more people and thereby improve the visitor experience.

Park Staff (Rangers and Naturalists) were visible and approachable in many locations.  There were trained well and able to answer most questions.  Visitor centers have staffed desks with people who knew the most recent road conditions, closures, etc.  In Yellowstone there was a Park newspaper.  The point is we found information available all over the place from staff in many locations.  Here in the Adirondacks, information is harder to find unless you know where to look.

The story of the Parks and their surrounding area is quite similar to the Adirondacks.  The core Park areas were easy for almost everyone to support from the beginning.  It was only when the Park boundaries were expanded into neighboring ranch land next to the Tetons that locals began to object.  The land was purchased in a hidden manner (like the TNC purchase of Finch) and later it became part of the Park by Presidential Executive Order.  In the case of Yellowstone, the Park has not grown in acres, but the Yellowstone ecosystem designation was expanded to some 22.2 million acres surrounding the 2.2 million acre Park and this was a root of classic conservation conflicts there.  The 22.2 million acres includes small towns and tracts of private ranch land plus other Federal land.  The Adirondack Forest Preserve included lots of scattered tracts while the two western Parks are in contiguous blocks of land.  Someday, people will come to see that the Adirondack ecosystem will be better served if our Forest Preserve was consolidated into larger blocks and the smaller disassociated scattered parcels were sold to fund contiguous land.

The Jackson airport had a new terminal with 9 gates and is served by a couple of airlines.  It makes visiting very easy.  We have the Saranac Lake Airport in the Park but it is poorly served by Cape Air to the point that mostly it exists for private aircraft of the uber rich.  However we also have Plattsburgh airport which is about to open its expanded terminal with 9 gates plus be able to handle international arrivals and departures.  There is potential to use it as a major entry point for air travel to our Park.

 

What I’ve Learned About Community Solar Farms

Community solar farms became legal in NYS in May.  I had imagined building such a facility at the Keene Transfer Station for a long time.  It is our long-closed and capped landfill, now a mowed field with a fabulous view, the garbage/recycling place and town highway operations center. Capped dumps are used for solar farms in many places so I wanted to look into doing this sort of thing here as a model for other towns to follow.  The town owns the land, it can’t be used for much else and it must remain open, mowed annually to keep trees from growing.  These solar sites need 3-phase power lines in place and Keene has this at the nearby highway department building.

Technically, there is no problem.  After all, panels are on often roof tops without creating leaks, and the problem is similar.  Like a roof, you cannot perforate the liner covering the capped area, so instead the panels are attached to racks that are held down with heavy pre-cast pieces of concrete laid on the ground.  In urban areas where this is done all the time there is no cost penalty.  Out here in the sticks, this is not normal, and equipment has to be brought in to do the work.  There is an extra DEC permit involved in using a landfill.   But with little open land owned by towns in the Park, this could be a viable option.

The problem for the Keene site is that it is too small.  These solar farms are allowed be 2mw, but we only have space for about 40% of that.  The town needs 1/3 of the site’s capacity for municipal power.  What is left can only serve about 50 homes which raises the question of who gets to use it.  A full scale site would serve 3-400 homes.

What is happening state-wide is that businesses are organizing to build such projects in all 10 power distribution regions.  They will spread the fixed costs of operations across thousands of customers. So our old landfill would be a high cost site serving a small number of residents. That is not a recipe for success.

The people who loan money for these projects are hesitant about using dumps. So we spent some time looking for alternate sites.  The town-owned open fields are all in the flood plain, and the financing people won’t fund flood-plain projects because you cannot buy insurance for them.  Other town owned land is forested and more remote.  The cost of removing a forest, and building 3-phase power lines kill the economics of using most forested land.  So businesses are leasing private open fields where power lines already in place.  These large multi-site operators will strive to offer solar PV to everyone.

Your best, cheapest, option will be panels on your own land, or roof.  Adding the cost of someone else’s land will always make community solar more expensive.  It will still be desirable for people with homes in the forest (many in our region), and it may even be 100% financed, but the cheapest option will be using your own land.

The closed, capped, Keene dump is likely still be a good site for a municipal solar PV farm.  It is being looked into.  The town uses power for various buildings, the drinking water systems (we have two), street lighting, and so on.  It may be small enough that it doesn’t need to be on the capped area. But the site is not large enough to use for a 2mw residential solar PV farm.

Other Adirondack towns may have town owned open fields to use, or larger landfills but most will find it hard to come up with a decent site.

The utility amendment to Article 14 that recently achieved first passage had all the ideas about green power stripped out of the early proposal.  Given the threats of climate change, actually giving 10 acres to each of our 102 towns for a solar site would be a wise thing to encourage. This would have needed 1020 acres out of 3 million.  It could have moved the whole Park into the fight to mitigate climate change, fostering a new sense of active environmentalism, participating in solving environmental problems larger than our own.  We have done it before with our successful fight against acid rain.  But not-in-my-backyard wisdom prevailed and our region’s leading environmental advocates decided to oppose any green power at all.    It is odd to live in a place so protected that we can’t actually participate in the great quest to save the planet.  Bill McKibben ran into the same issue years ago when vocally supported building windmills at an old mine site in Johnstown.  They were ultimately denied permits.  He left the region, and moved to Vermont.

 

Project Update – Are We Getting the Desired Future Or?

You know this pattern:  Lots of people spend tons of time and money developing a plan.  It finishes with a fanfare, then as times passed it is spoken about less frequently.  Eventually people forget about the plan.  Then work begins on a new plan, because, well, we don’t have one. So, with this post we are trying to add something different to the ADK Futures Project, a review of how we are doing vs the 2011-12 vision – remember the vision?

In 2011-12, the ADK Futures Project ran a series of scenario planning workshops.  The desired future was called the Sustainable Life, mixed with tourism and supported by the Forest Preserve.  This also turned out to be most attainable among the scenarios, largely because much of it was already underway.  The broad alignment supporting the vision was what surprised people.  Now it is February 2016.  What has happened since July 2012?  How does it compare to the desired vision?

We have been collecting data, news items, press releases, reports and such since July 2013 and now have roughly 1000 items. We associate each item to its related event(s).  Over time one begins to see trends suggesting what is getting done, and what is not. Some events have lots of news, on other events nothing has happened, and some are clearly never going to happen.

The short conclusion is, wow, we sure are making a lot of progress on a broad range of fronts. Historic expansions of the Forest Preserve have been made.  Realignment of the health care system has been done.  Building out broadband and cell service is ongoing, making progress each day.  The renewal of Champlain Valley farming is gaining momentum.  The State and private sector have invested a lot of new money in recreation and tourism facilities.  And on and on.  It is very impressive, especially given the fact that no one is organizing, coordinating, or leading all this work.   It is happening, it seems, with the willing collaboration and distributed effort of many people to get where they collectively want to go.  Maybe this is democracy in action in the most positive sense of the word.   It is actually quite incredible.

There is too much information for a post.  We have written an update that organizes recent developments by theme.  For example, Agriculture, Recreation, Energy, Transportation, Arts and Heritage, Healthcare, and more, are each separate topics, where news related to the events used in the 2011-12 workshops has been aggregated and written as a short narrative.

The update is based on data collected, organized and posted here.  You can check on the data, follow the links and find out more about the progress we have made. We try to keep ‘evidence’ to things that actually happen; not ongoing debates but how the debates conclude.  We try to keep it complete.  A grant is made.  A project is started, finished or abandoned.  The APA makes a decision.  Voters pass something.  You get the idea.  Even with this approach, we already have about 1000 items of evidence.   Let us know via email of missing data, including a link to the evidence we should cite.  Thanks!

Click here for the PDF file of the update document.

 

 

743 Items of Evidence, and Counting

If you have not seen it, please note we have been monitoring what our region is actually doing vs the ADK Futures scenarios.  You can see what progress is being made here where more than 734 items of evidence show substantial progress toward realizing the vision laid out for our sustainable future.  More evidence is added all the time.

Recall that we were surprised by the strength and depth of the aligned intentions of most people in the region?  Well, if you were surprised by that, the progress since then is actually astonishing, and I encourage you to take a look at the breadth and depth of actions already taken.  Encouragingly, no single person is organizing and driving all this activity.  The progress is made by by hundreds of people in a distributed fashion.  It is clear that the region is making real progress toward what it identified as its desirable and attainable goals.

It is a good news reading, you’ll enjoy it. Look here and click on the header called ‘category’. Then you can look through each category and see what’s been going on.

How are SLMP Issues are Addressed in Other Places?

I submitted this comment with respect to the SLMP review and wanted to post it here.

My top level comment on the SLMP review is that it should set balance as it’s prime directive, balancing human use and ecological integrity in the context of climate change.  I use the term ecological integrity because as climate change impacts the region, we need a mindset that goes beyond protection and preservation.

The forest in 50 years is not likely to be the same as today regardless of efforts we may make.  Preserving the forest as is will be beyond our control.  Climate change is a global phenomena , and you would have to assume successful global response regimes to believe ‘preservation’ is even possible.  Protection will have a different meaning.  So those words will not serve us well in the coming decades.  Thinking we can expect the forest to be stable is not remotely realistic.

I recognize this is not the same as protection and preservation, language in place now.   In the 1970s, no one used a term like ‘ecological integrity’.   At times, it will mean less recreation.  At times it will mean better science and active interventions for the health of the Forest Preserve.  It may mean we work to become hosts to greater number of species at migrations develop.

Seek to Learn from Experience Elsewhere

We Adirondackers love to think of ourselves as a model, and deservedly so.  But there is nothing like getting out of the area to see fresh, unencumbered, views of how to manage large scale tracts of public land.  The SLMP review would benefit enormously from a modest effort to see how other protected places handle similar tasks.  It could be done at a College in the region, by APA staff, one of the NGOs or a volunteer.  But, short of that, I can tease you with some observations.

Our travels have taken us to a few other places where there are  similar issues with respect to managing large areas of public land.  But I was there on vacation, not to study their land classification systems.  Still, I enquired when I could so here are a fee ideas to share.

Costa Rica

In the 1970s Costa Rica set up a system of reserves that now cover about 25% of nation.  Since then they built an entire eco-tourism industry, complete with hotels, community colleges and university level workforce training, all sorts of guide services, appropriate excursions and attractions.

Relative to the Adirondacks, the most striking feature of their public land management is a “no hunting” policy.  It is not allowed.  Even in the case of animals that are causing problems in communities (typically crocodiles) they capture them and move them to a different, safe, location.

Guided walks are common and popular.  They typically use trails that are very well maintained and heavily used, but they only cover a small fraction of a tract of land, the vast majority of which is left undisturbed.  In one area, a white water river, tour operators have camps where guests can stay for one night for a break from the river.  Private lands have been set up similarly, as reserves with a small portion developed with trails and guides.

So, my observation is that tourism is a big industry, but usage is concentrated in small portions of protected areas and visitors are often in the company of a paid guide.  The guides are highly trained and it is a respected career that young people seek out.

Chile

We visited a Park in southern Chile called Torres del Paine.  It is a spectacular, vast and very remote place, several hours drive from anywhere.  There are a handful of in-holdings that were originally ranches but are now a few hotels across a range of price points.

The landscape is very different from the Adirondacks.  Rolling hills surrounding enormous granite towers, an ice cap, glaciers and so on.  One wilderness is 600,000 acres, located right next to another one of similar size.  Much of it is classified “wilderness’ and what that means is it’s off-limits.  No one can go there, just like we keep people out of public drinking watersheds here.  They do issue occasional permits for science expeditions and the like.

Within the wilderness areas, they establish what they call ‘human use corridors’.  In these areas there are trails and a handful of locations where you can camp.  Most camping is in a controlled area where tents are set up for the season by the Park or a concession operator.  You reserve tent space in advance, the number of spaces is limited.  You do not need to bring a tent.  Options for people with their own tents exist but are limited.  The general rule is that people cannot wander off-trail, so, no bushwacking in our local terms.  Guides are very common, and often included in hotel packages.  They post a list of trips you can join each morning from each hotel.  You can go on your own, but most people don’t.

They make a big point about back country rescues:  there is no rescue outside the human use corridors.  There is no hospital to take people to anywhere nearby.  The point is be careful, don’t do anything stupid, because there is no real rescue help to save you.  There is no cell service, of course.

These rules sound severe and they are.  Mostly they are the result of bad forest fires, attributed to campers burning toilet paper.  There are small signs around saying ‘please don’t burn your toilet paper’.  It gives a whole new meaning to leave no trace and carry it out.

Italy

We recently returned from a trip to Italy that included visiting a Park in that stretches from the Appinine Mountains to the sea in an area called Cinque Terre.  The administrators of this park visited the Adirondacks last year; they have an exchange program with Paul Smith’s College.  So we visited their Park and got to see their situation.

The two regions of their Park are vastly different.  Cinque Terre is small, by the sea, and crowding of their postcard-perfect towns is their problem.  But the mountains, only 60-90 minutes away, area largely vacant with numerous mostly abandoned old villages in the hills.  We stayed in one, called Apella.   We were chatting about our town (Keene) and they asked how many people live here.  We said about 1200.  Their population is 9.  Clearly they have a different depopulation problem.  So, what they are doing, is remodeling the old houses in each village, one-by-one, slowly making each little village into a modest  hotel (think B&B scale).  It is run by a brother and sister, with their father helping out.  And it is working.  We arrived and there was a big Italian wedding in progress.   They have great environmental protection, but the place is dying economically.  So when they use the word ‘sustainable’, they are talking about survival of these tiny towns.  Agri-tourism is their response and it appears to be working, slowly.

They do have a simple land classification scheme.  Zone A.  Zone B. and Zone C.  Zone A are especially sensitive areas.  People are not allowed to visit there; if it is a water area, boats are not allowed.  Zone B areas surround Zone A and are intended to be buffer zones.  People can visit these areas, but only with guides that know the rules.  Zone C areas are generally accessible with the typical set of rules for a protected landscape.  The beauty of this for us, as visitors, is that is it easy to understand, which is important in an area with international visitors.

Summary

I wish these were more than anecdotes.  When our SLMP was written, there were no models to examine.  Ecology was a new science.  For the most part, it has been great.  But in the decades that have passed since, protected areas have been set up all over the world with various classification and management schemes.  Ecological science has developed dramatically.

I am assuming this SLMP review will have 2 phases.

First, there are two issues that arise from the Finch land acquisition that need to be sorted out.  I imagine this can be done fairly quickly and should not be hugely complicated. I think bikes are fine in appropriate areas, like old logging roads all over the Park.  I have no issue with a metal bridge, but a wood one, if costs were equal, would look nicer.  It is not a big deal.

But the second phase should be a broad, open, review of our land classification scheme.  What models have been used in other parts of the world?  Can we learn anything useful from their efforts?

We like to think there is no where else like our place.  But other numerous protected places have established world wide since the 1970s, each with management and classification schemes.  Surely a review of how other places have handled similar tasks would bring some perspective and learning to our SLMP review that simply was impossible decades ago.  We should be open minded and embrace the learning opportunity.  For small effort, we can leverage the work in the rest of the world.

 

August 16 Symposium “Toward a More Diverse Adirondack Park’

The Park’s first diversity symposium is on Saturday August 16 at the SUNY ESF Newcomb Campus from 8am-5pm.

The web site with registration information, the agenda and details can be found here.  For additional information please call John Sheehan at the Adk Council, 518-432-1770

Participating organizations include:  Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Foundation, Adirondack Futures, John Brown Lives, SUNY ESF, the Common Ground Alliance  and The Wild Center.

Here is a link to a post abut the event on the Adk Life blog.

For background, see this current report analyzing diversity in enviro groups and this article about the same issue.  It is a bigger issue than the Adirondacks, for sure, but go look at the Boards and staff of the enviro groups related to our Park for some insight about us.  It isn’t conscious, I don’t believe, but the situation speaks for itself.

The Park’s demographics are strikingly at variance with the rest of NY State, and particularly the cities, in most every dimension from age to race, to language, to sexual orientation and on down the list.  This widening gap is one possible route to failure in the Park’s future. Today we get the full attention of Albany, but there is nothing the suggest it will stay this way.  A big election, with high city voter turnout, could change a lot of things pretty quickly.

A few decades back, the issue was ‘home rule’ being trumped by excessive outside attention. But now the risk suggested by demographic trends is the actually opposite.  It is the possibility that the Park will become a largely neglected, abandoned, and increasingly irrelevant backwater of the State.  We need to find ways to make the people who visit and live here a better reflection of the state’s population.

The Park and the Forest Preserve exist at the pleasure of NY State voters.   The lofty notion that it is ‘forever’ is only actually true until an amendment on the ballot changes it.  It is not nearly the bedrock certainty that the tone of the Forever Wild language implies.

Please come join us at this symposium to share,  to think, and to learn about this challenge to our region.  Think of this as a starting point.  See you on August 16th?

Thanks to Pete Nelson for actually getting attention focused on this issue.