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The Time Isn’t Ripe for Truth
Enormous Wilderness Corridors Masquerading as Land Management Refinements
New York in Crosshairs for Wildlife Preservation

How many people on the street, even in areas facing preservationist pressure, would have any idea of what a “land bridge” is? A person would know what a “corridor” is, but what could a wilderness “corridor” be? A “nature corridor” in the context of city parks can be created by wiping out built up areas and city streets in favor of swamps and park space. However, familiar haunts and neighborhood connectivity will also be diminished, much as portions of Jewish neighborhoods were cut off from each other or simply wiped out when Robert Moses built the Cross Bronx Expressway, which was blamed for turning interconnected sections of communities in South Bronx into a slum. “Connectivity,” the topic of this article, cuts both ways.

And what is an “island” in the context of wildlife preservation? Is it a natural island in a lake or ocean? Or perhaps a relatively small “island” of a “hard-edged,” populated area in a vast sea of wilderness? Or, also on a grandiose scale, is it an “island” of a natural area in a sea of developed cities, farms, and villages?

Actually, from a preservationist viewpoint, it is any of these, but on one extreme it is to be remedied and the other extreme to be lauded as an ultimate accomplishment. And, of course, any natural island found in a water body is to be made completely wild. (This is a source of difficulty for a property owner when a land trust targets a family’s property on an island off the Northeast coast.)

The island of nature in a sea of development suffers from absence of “connectivity.” If you are starting to get the picture, you are ahead of my husband Peter and me in 1990, when preservationists offered a new plan for the vast Adirondack region here in northern New York to the state legislature. One of its features was that the region would comply with the concepts befitting the UNESCO “Biosphere Reserve” designation that had surreptitiously been appended to the dubious recognition of Adirondack “Park” status bestowed by preservationists on the region at the time when we moved there seventeen years earlier.

With the help of university contacts who could exploit professional courtesy to gather journal articles from Australia and England, and by personally unearthing publications at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, Peter was able to dig through UNESCO and preservationist journals that were pertinent to the designation. From the publications, he gleaned the meaning of “core areas” of a wild nature (which could be a type of island), land bridges connecting them where there had been a lack of connectivity, and, more broadly, corridors, both local and of great expanse.

In addition, he obtained the publications that radical local preservationist organizations directed to their supporters. He especially noted a diagram that the powerful group called the Adirondack Council had published where our town of Stony Creek was missing from a depiction of our area of the Adirondack region, engulfed by a state-owned land mass called the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. You don’t forget things like this.

The land mass was actually envisioned as a ten- or twenty- mile-wide wild corridor, connecting the south-central Adirondack region to the Lake George area, which was obviously to be a land and frozen water bridge for wilderness to Vermont.

Peter’s discussion of the visionary land bridge wiping out the sparsely developed area where we live was an effective illustration that formed the heart of his writing and speeches against the legislative proposal, and played a part, along with a great deal of other efforts by many others and ourselves, in killing the legislation.

However, the theory of land bridges and vast interstate, interregional, and international corridors for both animal and vegetative wildlife to exist and migrate has persisted and gained immeasurably in credibility. Generous government and private preservationist programs and backing, with accompanying technology, feed the implementation of this line of thought. The implications for the future of local people and businesses, indeed, for the existence of any potential future at all for the local population and culture, are conveniently overlooked or dealt with deceptively.

Many westerners fear the “Y2Y” program, but few northern New Yorkers have a sense of fearful awe, or even know anything about, a similar scheme applying to this state, referred to as the “A2A” plan.

The Yukon to Yellowstone (Y2Y) scheme is of obvious continental significance, but the Algonquin to Adirondack (A2A) plan seems on the surface to focus solely on bringing wolves to the Adirondacks.

Both programs have in common the desire to facilitate international migration of predators: In the west, the focus is on wolves and grizzlies, whereas in the east the focus is primarily on wolves. The wolf focus is kept under the radar in the east, because the local people are adamantly opposed to wolf reintroduction. The facilitation of cross-border migration is a soft method of reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks.

The introduction of wolves and protection of grizzlies has already cut drastically into the elk population in areas beyond the borders of Yellowstone, including parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Here in New York, if wolves were surreptitiously introduced by establishing an uninterrupted wild corridor from the Algonquin Provincial Park in Quebec, the deer herd, already reduced on account of the state’s extreme no-cut wilderness policies that diminish the diversity of wildlife in the Adirondacks, would be hard hit.

As hunting opportunities become scarcer, the local and seasonal intergenerational hunting culture would be the prime victim and the vulnerable local economy, to the extent that it has survived the state’s radical environmental policies, would be driven further into the ground. And, parallel to the damage to sheep and cattle ranching where the grizzlies and wolves now abound in certain western states, the new pursuit of sheep and goat farming that is on the edge of flourishing in New York’s North Country would be at a loss to defend itself from wolf predation.

The policies of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency are at odds with the federal and state policies to promote agriculture. On the one hand the environmental department and park agency are apparently committed to the idea of wilderness core areas restored without a trace of human habitation and connected with great international corridors for migration of wildlife, especially for predators. Yet the federal and state agricultural agencies promote agriculture with a range of supports, from subsidies to university and extension programs.

In this schizophrenic mix of government policy, in 2009 the State Agricultural Commissioner Patrick Hooker sided in court with a farmer in Essex, New York, against the Adirondack Park Agency. The Adirondack agency was roundly defeated in its attempt to extract penalties from the wealthy farmer, who built high quality housing for his management and workers.

The Greens wield immense power in New York. The Administration and the legislature are united with the preservationists in supporting an expenditure of over $50 million to acquire over 75,000 acres of productive forest to add to the three million-acre “forever wild” Adirondack Forest Preserve. The record-breaking acquisition would include over 60,000 acres of currently productive timberland that until recently was owned by the Finch Pruyn Company and sustainably logged since 1865, plus 15,000 acres to preserve Follensby Pond in Essex County. The pond is known as Philosopher’s Pond because it was the site in 1858 of a rustic camping area for ten nineteenth century Cambridge scholars, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. The preservationists would like to tie up this actively logged area, which, like the Finch Pruyn land is now enjoyed by hunters who have leases, instead of opening it to the public as is the case with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden outside Boston.

This acquisition is in line with the radical, purist vision for the region, consistent with the Biosphere Reserve plan to create an enormous core area comprised of all the state-owned land. This Biosphere Reserve plan, designed by the Adirondack Park Agency, was signed and submitted to the U.S. Department of State by then-Governor Mario Cuomo.

In the years since the tenure of Mario Cuomo, the state has acquired about 800,000 acres of conservation easements, where all development is prohibited, to add to the three million acres of Adirondack land where the state has full title. It is becoming quite clear what a vast core area is being tied up to become the heart of a key destination for wildlife migration and for wilderness dominance of northern New York and potentially New England, as I wrote over a decade ago in an exposé of the 26 million-acre Northern Forest Lands program.

New York Forest Connectivity

Not only is the drive to fill in the gaps within the Adirondack Park by acquiring additional land to convert it to “forever wild” gathering steam, but a separate effort, driven by the same environmental radicals, to expand the borders of the Adirondack Park is coming to light.

For instance, in 2008, three groups—the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, and the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks—sued to demand that the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation evaluate whether eight state parks that are outside the Adirondack Park meet the definition of Forest Preserve. These parks, which are located in counties that are partly within the “Blue Line” of the Adirondack Park, include the Higley Flow on Raquette River in Colton; Pixley Falls in Boonville; Whetstone Gulf in the Tug Hill Plateau region; and Saratoga Spa State Park, which is in the City of Saratoga Springs and includes the historic Roosevelt Baths, Gideon Putnam hotel, a concert theater, museums of dance and automobiles, and two golf courses, and is used somewhat like Central Park in New York City. If accepted into the Adirondack Forest Preserve these parks would not be under the state’s parks’ office but instead would then become “forever wild” forest managed by DEC.

The environmental groups claimed that, although a pumping station and pipeline through parts of Moreau State Park were outside the Blue Line, the water supply facilities violated the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution, which requires that Forest Preserve remain “forever wild.”

Unknown to the public, the state quietly made a settlement with the environmental groups agreeing to acquire three times as much land as was “damaged” in Moreau State Park and not to sell any of the lands in the eight state parks that will be studied.

The Adirondack Council’s spokesman John Sheehan said that the state’s review of the status of the parks is long overdue, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in November 2008. However, the spokesman for the Council said that it did not join the lawsuit because the parks are outside the Blue Line, and did not support inclusion of Saratoga Spa State Park as Forest Preserve. Since the lawsuit, financial pressure has resulted in the combining of two of the groups, the Residents Committee and the Association to Protect the Adirondacks, under a new name, “Protect the Adirondacks!.”

However, even the advances in filling in gaps with Adirondack core area of state-owned land and the plan to expand the Adirondack Blue Line are only a part of the picture. The Adirondack “core area” needs “connectivity.”

State Forests Being Converted To Wild Places

In 2010, the DEC quietly promulgated its “Strategic Plan for the State Forests.” The plan encompasses 442 state forests outside the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves, encompassing 786,000 acres. The voluminous plan was available only on the web or on CD. Few people had knowledge of the plan or the ability to comment. DEC announced after hearings were complete that there had been nine public hearings. As usual, the DEC failed to respond to significant negative comments.

The Strategic Plan formally verified the preservationist drift in state forest management under the DEC’s philosophy over recent decades. Biological diversity gained in ascendance in the plan and logging dropped even further down in priority, with the discussion of forestry dealing only with how forest harvests will be directed and restricted for environmental purposes. The plan pronounced that state forest management policy will be an ecosystem management approach. Wildlife corridors moved into focus.

The plan verifies DEC’s support for the A2A corridor, the international corridor to facilitate wolf reintroduction and to eradicate significant development within the “Frontenac Link,” as environmentalists have denoted it. This policy would restore a wilderness corridor across the St. Lawrence River and the broad international valley, which includes Massena on the U.S. side. The envisioned wilderness corridor may be the underlying reason why the long-contemplated modernized interstate highway across the top of New York never gets beyond the drawing boards. The federal raising of the elevation of the “mean high water” mark along the shores of the St. Lawrence to make shore-land unusable, the state revisions to the management of its forests in the corridor, and the state acquisition of additional timber land outside the north boundary of the Adirondack Park also point to the negative long-term agenda for the area.

The Strategic Plan includes a color-coded map depicting the entire state to facilitate the evaluation of all the land in the state for characteristics qualifying it as a wildlife corridor. With the map it may be possible to ascertain the DEC’s thinking in relation to corridors that environmental groups, including those outside the Adirondack region, have advocated in the publications circulated mainly among environmentalists.

The map, “New York’s Forest Matrix Blocks and State Forest Connectivity” (Draft, August 2010), color-codes the percentage of canopy cover within any ninety-acre area, showing areas of deep cover, especially the central Catskills, most of the Adirondacks, and most of the Allegany State Park, with red “connectivity” paths from one of these forest havens to the next so that all of the forest havens are ultimately connected with red-marked paths.

Looking at the map, consider first the connectivity from forest havens in New York State to areas across the state borders.

There are no paths leading to the two great lakes bounding New York State on the northwest. However, several paths from nearby areas of deep canopy lead to or toward the Canadian border from the northern edge of the Adirondacks, to Vermont at the Green Mountain National Forest, to Massachusetts, to Connecticut, to New Jersey at the New Jersey Highlands, and to Pennsylvania. No corridor is needed from the Allegany State Park in southwestern New York to the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania because these protected areas of deep forest cover are contiguous.

Connectivity to be created by corridors within the state is also of great importance: On the map, red connectivity lines connect the Adirondacks with a forested area west of the Catskills, with the Catskills, and with the northern edge of the Taconic Range. Further south, a number of corridors connect the Catskills, Shawangunks, and highland areas west of the Hudson to the highlands east of the Hudson.

A major corridor runs east-west, starting from the corridors connecting the Adirondacks and Catskills, then through forest havens south of the Finger Lakes to an area leading to the Allegany State Park that is criss-crossed with corridors.

Considering the DEC’s interest in this connectivity from the Adirondacks to the Allegany State Park, it is not surprising that attorney Neal Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, was quoted last July in the Olean Herald when he was at a selective policy makers’ meeting. As one of the authors, he proudly referred to the “historic” new plan to designate 85 percent of the area of the Allegany State Park as a wilderness reserve.

Grand Implications

A series of corridors in eastern New York that are shown on the forest connectivity map have interstate implications. The short corridor that is shown bearing eastward from deep state forest preserve on the east shore of Lake George has not received enough public attention. It meets another short corridor from the south bay of Lake Champlain to go due south through Washington County to a deep forest haven where Washington and Rensselaer Counties meet at the Vermont border.

This is the beginning of the corridor that continues down the Taconic Range to the Hudson Highlands in Putnam County, crosses the Hudson to the highlands on the west side of the river and leads into New Jersey. (This high elevation north-south forest connectivity corridor parallels the intensely protected Hudson River valley, which is under the direct and indirect control of the state Hudson River Greenway policy and the federal Hudson River National Heritage Area incentives.) In the northern vicinity of the high elevation corridor in Rensselaer County, pressure is being brought by The Nature Conservancy to acquire conservation easements to preserve farmland, using federal funding from the USDA Forest Legacy Program. This is another irony, considering that the DEC’s Strategic Plan indicates that farmland lacks the forest canopy to be suitable as a corridor for wildlife.

The Forest Legacy Program is the acquisition fund to which the late Congressman Jerry Solomon was so opposed that he accomplished an amendment requiring local government approval before money from the fund could be spent in any locality. He did this as Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, after I told him about the Forest Legacy Program at the time it was slipped into the agricultural legislation to facilitate implementation of the newly inaugurated Northern Forest Lands program.

For over two decades, the Hudson Highlands have been the focus of federal and state acquisition, but only since the turn of the twenty-first century has pressure been put on the New Jersey Highlands to turn these hills into wild land. Other sources beyond the scope of this article depict a continuous corridor from the Green Mountains down the Taconics, across the Hudson Highlands to the New Jersey Highlands and down through Pennsylvania along the Allegheny Mountains through Maryland, the Virginia/West Virginia border, then following the Great Smokies along the North Carolina/Tennessee border and down to Georgia. In each separate preservation campaign, different rationales are applied, such as watershed protection for the New Jersey Highlands. This grandiose corridor would accomplish wilderness connectivity of the entire Appalachian chain from Vermont to Georgia. It is the most obvious explanation for the flood of money to buy up land and conservation easements and block development from Rensselaer County to Putnam County in New York State.

By connecting the Appalachian Corridor to the Adirondacks, the short east-west corridor just south of Lake George would help facilitate unobstructed wildlife movement from Georgia to Canada. A corridor from the Adirondacks across the Mohawk Valley to the Catskills shown in the Strategic Plan would achieve the same connectivity.

The first widely published maps of the Wildlands Project appeared in Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, June 25, 1993). An article by Charles C. Mann and Mark L. Plummer depicted the radical program conceived by Dave Foreman (of Earth First! “monkey wrenching” fame) for the first time in a scientific journal, although it was not peer-reviewed. According to the article, the long-term goal of the project is to transform America to a place comprised of “an archipelago of human-inhabited islands surrounded by natural areas.” “Fragmentation” that isolates tracts from each other and increases the ratio of edge to interior area would be eliminated. The advocates of the Wildlands Project argue that large areas (the size of many national parks or even several states) with low populations, such as significant portions of the prairies and upper Maine, could be made into reserves without major dislocation. These enormous areas are said to be essential to preserve diverse habitat over a wide area so that the gene pool of large animals such as wolves and grizzlies survives.

In the 1993 Science article three maps depicted the Oregon coast, to be off limits with core refuges, buffer zones, and wildlife corridors dominating; a reserve system with tentacles encompassing much of the southern Appalachians (part of which was already designated the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve at the time); and the entire state of Florida, dominated by core areas, buffer zones, and corridors “many miles in width.”

The Biosphere Reserve program and the Wildlands Project use the same concepts of core areas, land bridges (corridors) and connectivity, and buffer zones. However, The Wildlands Project is less circumspect about the future of human inhabitants: The UNESCO project is geared to creating large, sustainable reserves as samples of eco-regions where human influence is absent. The Wildlands Project that the eco-visionaries pronounced (and for which they soon received mountains of cash from foundations based on old wealth accumulated by Northeastern industrialists) would, as stated above, eradicate most of the civilized, cultivated land in the United States to leave only “islands” of civilization around which large predators such as the grizzlies and wolves roam and migrate freely in vast wild spaces that some advocates imagine to be restored to a state of pre-Columbian biodiversity.

It appears that DEC’s Strategic Plan emphasizes the central elements of the Wildlands Project: core areas (simplistically equating the level of biodiversity with the degree of forest cover) with wildlife corridors for connectivity. The core areas, currently less developed, tend to be higher elevation, whereas the corridors are predominately valleys, and more developed with populated areas and farms. The corridors include some places where local communities are experiencing pressure resulting from restoration of wild areas and landscape preservation (which is a surrogate for nature restoration). It doesn’t take much imagination to see the grid system of corridors and core areas expand and leave ever more confined areas of human development.

The Strategic Plan is distinctive for its absence of information about the financial history of timber production or financial analysis of timber production related to the plan’s implementation. An analysis of cultural implications of the plan is also missing. The drift of the plan is toward thinking that is suited to extreme preservation.

It is important that New Yorkers look at landscape measures in terms of the scenario that state policies are geared to protecting core reserves and miles-wide corridors that would be off limits to human activity. Land use regulation akin to the Adirondack Park Agency’s zoning powers and government land acquisition facilitate the radical scenario. People in rural and some suburban communities would be well served to evaluate landscape measures with the DEC Strategic Plan’s map of forest cover and corridors and the now well-honed eco-philosophy of establishing broad stretches of wild land for wilderness connectivity in mind. It’s not “merely” the future of the communities and recreational enjoyment of the Adirondacks that are at risk.

For published article and all maps, including the New York State and the Appalachian corridors maps, please contact the Property Rights Foundation of America.

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