UNESCO Catskill Biosphere Reserve Plan
Put to Sleep
Supporters allege "misinformation" and slander opponents
UN involvement in Catskill preservation was secretly planned
for many years
Under public pressure, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development withdrew the official application to the U.S. Department of State for the 2.5 million acre UN Catskill Biosphere Reserve. The application dated December 16, 1994 was the product of years of quiet planning since 1986 by the Man and Biosphere Reserve Program at the Department of State and the Catskill Center, a well-connected preservation group based in Arkville.
Had the public furor not developed, the application would have been approved perfunctorily, as the lengthy proposal was only needed to document the application and approval stage of the long process. Forty-seven Biosphere Reserves are already designated in the U.S. of a total of 324 in 82 countries.
The first public notice of the application was Catskill Daily Mail's publication of a brief article in December by Bob Gustafson. The article was significant because of two reasons: Contrary to the pretense of spokespeople for the Center when the controversy mounted later, it has been the standard practice to keep the Biosphere Reserve designations secret until they are approved by the UN because preservationists fear that the idea of UN involvement in local land-use planning would arouse the public's ire.
Such fears are well-grounded. In 1987 local residents stopped the International Biosphere Reserve around Voyageur's National Park in Minnesota and Canada. Once information started to get around the Catskills, Charles Cook, the State Senator whose district covers the region, publicly questioned the designation. In February the Greene and Delaware County Legislatures passed resolutions in opposition. In April, Senator James Seward said he was opposed.
"As benign as it may seem, it could grow into such an unwieldy monster in such a short period of time," said Raymond Christensen (R.-Davenport), chairman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors. Ulster County was ready to pass a resolution when legislators heard the application was withdrawn. Many towns passed resolutions in opposition.
Congressman Gerald B. Solomon, whose district includes part of the proposed biosphere reserve, and U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato penned a joint letter to the Department of State on June 9 asking for a confirmation that the application was withdrawn. Representative Solomon had already written to the Department of State declaring that "It is imperative that the State Department consider the views and interests of the local communities within these counties before further action is taken on this matter."
On May 30, the Catskill Biosphere Committee sent a letter withdrawing the application to Dean Bibles, the chairman of the U.S. National Committee for Man and Biosphere Program.
"Because of the public misunderstanding and opposition to the proposed Catskill Biosphere Reserve, we request that the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program withdraw the Catskill application from consideration," wrote Janet Crawshaw, the executive director of the Catskill Center. Glenn D. Hoagland of the Mohonk Preserve, Dr. Sherret Chase of the Olive Natural Heritage Society and Dr. Richard L. Wyman of the Huyck Preserve also signed the letter.
Late in May, it was reported that Dean Bibles advised Senator Cook that the program was "not going anywhere." On June 17, the Department of State sent Representative Solomon a letter stating, "The Catskill Center's application for nomination as a biosphere reserve was withdrawn per their request on May 30th and will not be presented to the U.S. Man and Biosphere Program National Committee."
The designated biosphere area would have included Greene, Delaware, Schoharie, Ulster, Otsego and Sullivan Counties, together with half of Albany County. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which administers the City's water supply, and the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were involved in the application and would have been co-managers of the biosphere reserve.
A big feature weighing in favor of the reserve designation in the application was the City restrictions on the watershed lands comprising a significant area of the Catskills. A 22-page supplement by DEP about the virtues of watershed regulations would not weigh in the Biosphere Reserve's favor with the people in the region, however, who have already been up in arms for three years about the City's plans to tighten its watershed regulations and with DEC's plans to acquire more land in the watershed.
The only "local" involvement was Dr. Chases's group in Olive. No public meeting was held until months after the application was submitted.
Public outrage and the beginning of distortions
When the Catskill Center finally held a meeting in Kingston on April 22 about the Biosphere Reserve, Ms. Crawshaw was greeted with anger. But the meeting was orderly, as reported by nearly all observers. One by one, local people made statements in opposition to the U.N. involvement in the Catskills.
Sherret Chase circulated a letter stating that "a large and noisy group from the Adirondacks and Prattsville disrupted the meeting." This statement cannot be verified. The only person from the Adirondacks who attended was David Howard, the editor of the national Land Rights Letter. The Catskill Biosphere Reserve designation is major news to private property rights defenders. Prattsville, Downsville, Esopus, and other Catskill Mountain towns were represented.
Innuendos of slander
Dr. Chase's letter about the Biosphere Reserve wove a fiction around militia in the Catskills, supposedly tied to Utah, being the instigation of the opposition to the Biosphere Reserve.
Speaking of World War II, he wrote "Here in the Catskills, there are hate groups of paramilitary structure: bush bullies. Some of the leaders of these groups received their funding and encouragement from local fascists, others from European fascists including the Nazi Government itself."
He wrote of the fearful emergence today of militia in "Utah, Texas, Michigan and other parts of the country." At the end of the long letter, he shifted to the present day Biosphere Reserve debate, and libeled Senator Cook and property rights efforts centered in the Adirondacks by stating that the Senator's staff was making "partisan hay at the expense of the United Nations... by promoting falsehoods disseminated by a group from the Adirondacks and their mysterious 'connections' in Utah."
A founder of the Catskill Center, Dr. Chase is considered a distinguished person and is highly educated.
He was among those who sought an "Adirondack Park" style commission for the Catskills in the 1970's and must be disappointed at this second momentous defeat 20 years later. Dr. Chase could not be reached for comment.
The May 5, 1995 Mountain Eagle (Tannersville), article by Paul Smart carelessly stepped over a line editors usually shun:
"Now, it turns out that much of the language utilized by (many of those) against the Biosphere project came from the same sources uncovered in recent investigations of the Oklahoma City bombing. There are two basic roots for the information and language currently being used to justify nay-saying throughout the region.
"First off, there's the relatively young New York Property Rights Clearinghouse ...
"But there's more. Seeking to defend he (sic) and the Delaware County Board of Supervisors' anti-Biosphere stances of late, Delhi Town Supervisor Ray Christiansen has recently started disseminating tracts provided by Environmental Conservation Organization of Tennessee and Environmental Perspectives of Maine..."
When questioned, Mr. Smart gave no explanation for his claim that the Oklahoma City bombing's roots were traced to any property rights organization. (The true explanation of how he knew of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.'s New York Property Rights Clearinghouse is mundane. We sent him a copy of the Clearinghouse and Positions on Property at the request of an Eagle reader.)
Although Mr. Smart did not formally retract his statement, shortly afterwards he published a fair, in depth interview with this editor, clearing distancing opposition to the Biosphere Reserve and regional planning from hate mongering, and giving credence to the Constitutional property rights effort to improve government.
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