Statement of Richard Brummel to the Adirondack Park Agency 4/15/11
I sat down to write some revised comments last night after witnessing a very disappointing public meeting here. I as an environmentalist had already seen the results of defective stewardship in the Adirondack Park: the miles-long power-line scar along Route 56 I discovered one year driving north; the rampant and unanswered anti-environmentalism one encounters in the Park; the ugly new homesteads carved out of forests I pass each year; the frequent sight of logging trucks even as global deforestation is recognized as a crisis; and the reckless stream of traffic that bombards the Park and destroys its calm and its wildlife, among other issues. (continued below)
This is the headquarters of the Adirondack Park Agency, Ray Brook, NY, 6/3/11: "Seat of power" for the stewards of 6 million public acres? A match for Rolex lobbyists and platinum "planners" from Latham and Saratoga? More like: A symbol of disrepair and gross inadequacy in public management and stewardship!
But yesterday I witnessed worse – a decrepit building and grounds communicating minimal respect for what should be a tremendous environmental responsibility and trust; I watched presentations that required repeated interventions by one commissioner to clarify logical inconsistencies (for example un-grandfathered cabins being treated as such instead) and legal incongruities (for example telegraphing circumstances of violation when the Agency would not fully enforce its rules); I saw non-members like the counsel and local government counsel jumping into discussions to contradict a committee-members; I saw repeated considerations of policy issues absent any systematic scientific quantitative analysis of ecological factors (like cutting up a forest in Lake Placid with no discussion of the flora and fauna currently present that will be displaced; and reversing policy to permit continuation of over 200 condemned cabins without any ecological impact analysis discussed); and I read an Earth Day declaration that excruciatingly contorted itself to avoid endorsing the primacy of environmental protection as a value of this agency, a supposed environmental steward of 6 million acres. I could go on. The issue is that as this Agency faces large and important environmental decisions it cannot display the independence, scientific reason, vision, and wisdom to make the environmentally sound decision of “optimum” balances required by its creating legislation. Instead it seems destined to continue to roll over. This agency displays four severe problems:(1) Lack of Independence: This is a government agency suffering “Regulatory Capture”. It is very clear the Adirondack Park Agency overly identifies with the residents of the park and their representatives instead of neutrally promoting the interests of the state as a whole, as mandated by the Adirondack Park Agency Act (see footnote 1). Even a town supervisor appearing before the board yesterday told you for the past 12 years she has gotten everything she wanted. No environmentalist would ever agree. Yesterday you received a list of permits and applications that listed every application approved – but none denied. You were given no similar accounting describing the state of the ecosystems you are mandated to protect – you see your role as facilitating development to the greatest extent possible. Your 2010 annual report embraces an anti-environmentalist organization in Tupper Lake, ARISE, as a great asset to the Park community. And your chairman’s statement meekly requests that residents “acknowledge” the environmental interests the Agency is obligated to protect. Further, when it comes time for public hearings and public outreach regarding the largest development project ever in the park, again in Tupper Lake, no hearings or media outreach occurs outside the Park. Finally, no environmentalist has access to your meeting table as the Supervisors or Local Government representative does.(2) This Agency is living in a vacuum, pretending the world and its environment has not changed since 1970 and the “optimum” balance intended to be defined by the Adirondack Park Agency Act remains as it was 40 years ago. But this is not logical, because the Act defined the state’s interest to counterbalance “unrelenting pressures for development” specifically because the Park’s wild character made it “priceless” in a “national and international” context, and mandated the Agency to seek an “optimum” balance. As the Park’s resources become more unique in such a national and international context, as its ecological ‘services’ (like carbon capture) become more critical, and its environmental integrity more delicate due to global forces, the Agency must logically give more weight and shift the optimal calculation of optimality toward preservation over development. But the Agency continues to make value judgments about permit and development, and permits severe development without acknowledging new realities. Agencies like the US Forest Service express alarm about the “issues that threaten the sustainability of our forests” as well as the tremendous public support for preservation of open space instead of development in forests. The Forest Service publication “Forests on the Edge” From 1982 to 1997 10.3 million acres of nonfederal forests were converted to developed uses. (See footnote 2)(3) The Agency is not proactive but reactive. The agency seems to make no positive outreach to promote conservation as a legitimate philosophy, and does not seek to confront its critics head-on. The Agency does not engage in outreach to the state as a whole -- whose interests it is by legislative intent representing, advocating and promoting in protecting the Park's “priceless” wild character, as defined in the Act. Furthermore, the Agency does not appear to be performing any inventory of Park resources and impacts as effective stewardship would require. There appears to be only very limited advocacy and guidance to define and promulgate sustainable development in the Park over a long time frame. And there appears to be no long-range definition of what the Park and its communities should be configured as -- now 50 or 75 years post the main period of extractive economics. (4) The Agency appears to lack a systematic ecological scientific approach to its mandate. It is not seeing the forest for the trees, in enforcing its regulations and issuing its permits. As stated above, to judge by its annual report there appear to be no annual metrics regarding flora and fauna, development and pavement, air and water quality, etc. In its deliberations yesterday the Agency appeared to be missing a full weight of overall impacts of development -- increased traffic, loss of habitat, etc. The permits issued displayed no ecological calculus – number of trees lost, soil disturbed, concrete poured, vehicle-miles created, etc. Similarly the annual report listed numerous raw numbers of permits, projects, violations etc. with no reporting of ecological metrics. Indeed a commissioner had to remind a staffer yesterday that the issue in violations is indeed ecological impact. Ultimately this state of affairs must be rectified by the Legislature and Governor. But a recognition of the failings should begin in the Agency among its Commissioners who can begin the process of reform.
Submitted by Richard Brummel, email Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org
Footnote 1 The Act describes “the major state interest” of protecting the natural resources and “open space character” of the Park, in addition to an undefined concern with development. (APA Act § 801 Legislative Findings)Footnote 2 Source: http://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/faq.html (as viewed 4/13/11) Without question the degradation of the world's environment is well known. The US Forest Service has taken special interest as well -- see: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr636.pdf (as viewed 4/13/11)
Here are some relevant quotations from the U.S. Forest Service publication:
Forests on the Edge: Housing Development on America’s Private Forests"Concern about the effects of development on America’s private forests has risen sharply since the 1990s,when the conversion of forest land to developed uses reached a million acres per year. Even when we consider that some agricultural lands are converted to forest each year, Forest Service researchers estimate that, by 2050, an additional 23 million acres of forest lands in net may be lost (Alig et al. 2003)." (from the Introduction)
"The changes in housing density documented by Forests on the Edge have implications for the condition and management of affected private forests and the watersheds in which they occur. Increased housing density in forested areas and decreased parcel sizes can be associated with: * Decreases in native wildlife populations owing to decreased wildlife habitat quantity and quality, increased predation and mortality, and other consequences of human activity that change the relationships many wildlife species have with their environments (Engels and Sexton 1994;Harris 1984; Theobald et al. 1997; Vogel 1989; Wear and Greis 2002a, 2002b). * Alterations in forest structure and function that can derail ecological processes on which forests and forest dwellers depend, resulting in less biodiversity and more opportunities for invasions of nonnative species, insects, and diseases (Ferreira and Laurance 1997, Meekins and McCarthy 2002) (fig. 5). * Long-term modifications to and reductions in water quality and aquatic diversity when forests can no longer regulate the movement of storm water across the landscape, leading to changes in streamflows, increases in sediment, reshaped stream bottoms and banks, and impacts on water quality and aquatic species such as fish and mussels (Booth and Henshaw 2001, Bryan 1972, Fisher et al. 2000, Jones and Holmes 1985, Paul and Meyer 2001). * Decreases in timber production and active forest management when population densities increase (Gobster and Rickenbach 2004, Kline et al. 2004, Wear et al. 1999) (fig. 6)."(from p. 11)
Please note: There have been several formatting improvements and one or two spelling corrections inserted into this online version of the statement as compared with the paper-copy submitted to the APA on 4/15/11. One notable correction was to accurately reflect APA Act language seeking the "optimum" balance of preservation versus development of wild resources, not the "optimal" as previously written.