The Meaning of the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve
By Peter J. LaGrasse
Chairman, Stony Creek Board of Assessors

Thirteenth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights
“The Adirondack Park: The Idea, The Experience, The Future”
Holiday Inn at Lake George, Lake George, N.Y.
October 17, 2009

The awakening for me that the Adirondack Park Agency had taken a radical turn toward eliminating the population of the Adirondacks was the release of the study commission report, The Adirondacks Park in the Twenty First Century. This report was released in 1990.

The commission recommendation number 165 proposed removing all houses and man-made structures outside of hamlets that were visible from the highway, or setting them back 200 feet.

This shocking finding was an assault on the culture of the Adirondacks. I called it cultural genocide. The commission had numerous “hearings” where the report was presented to the public. These were presided over by George D. Davis, the executive director of the commission. It was clear that this particular recommendation, to remove houses from view of highways, was predominate and Mr. Davis preached a hard-edged hamlet, beyond which there would be no visible signs of mankind.

My wife and I had to learn more. We got a rare copy of the detailed two-volume Technical Reports that expanded on the concepts of the commission recommendations. It was here that I saw the concept of Biosphere Reserve, in “Technical Report 17,” which stated:

“The unique biological diversity character of the Park adds an important dimension to the value of the Adirondack Park to the state, as well as to the nation and the rest of the biosphere. The inclusion by UNESCO of the Park in the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve is a reflection of the global significance of its biological character. Because of its uniqueness, the Park’s biologic diversity is of utmost importance to the character of New York State’s natural resources.”

The commission recommended: “Implement the Biosphere Reserve concept through land use planning, public education, natural resource management, cooperation and coordination and program development.” (Recommendation number 205, p. 84)

I am going into some details on this because we are seeing depopulation in the Adirondacks. We are seeing the state buying up vast tracts of land and conservation easements, and more land being lined up by The Nature Conservancy for future flips to the state. We are seeing road closings, snow mobile trails reverted to the forest edge, viable development proposals being squashed, upward classification of state-owned land to wilderness. There are people here who are experts on all this. I see this in the context of the Biosphere Reserve concept, and this talk is to focus more on this, for if you know the thinking of the enemy, you can defeat him.

What is a Biosphere Reserve? The simplest literature I have on this is a map foldout that I got from the United Nations bookstore in New York City. It says that a Biosphere Reserve is a multipurpose protected area established to conserve species and natural communities and to find ways to use environments without degrading them…Still not too clear.

Technical Report 17 states more clearly: “Maintenance of biological diversity is considered imperative to preserving a healthy global ecology and even life on earth.” Also: “Humans are the primary force causing the present loss of biologic diversity.”

So we have it: The Biosphere Reserve concept is an extreme environmental concept. Man is to blame for global warming, or cooling, or whatever. As long as we (the elitist environmentalists) have free reign in the Adirondacks to create biodiversity, life on earth is preserved. Isn’t that what they are saying? There is no place for man in this system; man is the problem. Of course this is rubbish. That is why they are keeping this under wraps, and that is why I feel we have to expose it at every turn.

There are three zones to a Biosphere Reserve: the core area, the buffer zone, and the transition area.

The central area with the least or no disturbance is the core area. Around the core area is a buffer zone with strictly limited use designed to protect the core from disturbances. The transition zone is around the other two, and is designed to support the activities, or lack of activities, in the core and buffer.

“The core area consists of examples of minimally disturbed ecosystems.” (foldout map)

“A core area has secure legal protection, and only activities that do not adversely affect natural processes and wildlife are allowed.”

In the state (Adirondack Park Agency) application to UNESCO for designation as a Biosphere Reserve, the question is asked as to the legal protection of the core area and buffer zone. The state answer is that these areas are protected primarily by ownership and secondarily by cooperative agreements and administrative regulation. The state is saying that it intends to control the core by owning it in fee simple, or in conservation easements restricting development and allowing only lumbering, or by administrative regulation, which means restricting development permits.

Proponents will say this is all voluntary and for academic research. What we are seeing is that the overwhelming economic and legal might of the state is bearing down on the individual and the entire landscape of the Adirondacks.

Let’s check the UNESCO application for uses and activities in the core area, what the state intends to allow in the core. Aside for environmental research done by specialists, the only other uses allowed were tourism/recreation, fishing, and hunting. When asked what activities have significant adverse influence in the core, the answer was “Increased recreational use and unauthorized ATVs and snowmobile use.” (Question 17.1)

The shocker here is that the core is ALL the state-owned land. I studied the small map attached to the state application to UNESCO, and carefully drew every line and area on the small map onto this larger map.* This larger map is a 1985 vintage state-owned land map given to me by Susan Allen. I like it because all the state land is one color and all the private land is unshaded. As a result, you immediately know whether land is state or private. The result of this study was shocking. All the state-owned land is in the core area, even when it is shown quite fragmented, pieces here and there. The core also includes areas of high activity like Gore Mountain or Prospect Mountain; these do not sound like prospects for undisturbed areas to me.

The buffer zone comes next. The foldout map states: “In the buffer zone uses and activities are managed in ways that help protect the core.”

Question 17.2 in the application to UNESCO asks the order of priority for various listed uses in the buffer zone. The scale is from zero to five, five being the most important. Residential development rates a 3, along with berry picking. Environmental research and tourism rates a high 5, forestry a 4, long term environmental monitoring rated a surprising low 2. If the Biosphere Reserve is supposed to save the earth, which they claim it will, it would appear to me that such an effect would show up in the buffer zone and long-term environmental monitoring would be welcomed. Well, so much for these hare-brained concepts.

Now for the second shocker: All of the land not state-owned within the blue line is buffer zone. (The white on the APA map is lakes, not classified.)

The Biosphere Reserve is in total conflict with the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) law. The buffer zone includes lands that are classified by the APA as Hamlet, Moderate Intensity, Low Intensity, Rural Use and Resource Management areas of the Park.

Hamlets are for “sizable permanent, seasonal and transient populations with a great diversity of residential, commercial, tourist and industrial development.”

Likewise, Moderate Intensity use areas are where “relatively intense development, primarily residential in character is possible, desirable and suitable.”

The law is similar for Low Intensity. None of this justifies a rating of 3 on a scale of 0 to 5 for residential development. A rating of 3 out of 5 does not sound like “possible, desirable and suitable.” A rating of 3 out of 5 sounds more like undesirable and unsuitable. The Biosphere Reserve application reveals a fundamental conflict with the entire foundation of the APA law insofar as land use.

Even in the core area there is a conflict between the Biosphere Reserve guidelines and the original 1972 APA State Land Master Plan. Wild Forest areas allow for man-made structures, lean-tos, nature trails, trail head construction, parking, car top boat access sites, horse trails, even horse barns, dams, docks, storage sheds, phone lines, roads, jeep trails, snow mobile trails, fire towers, and ranger stations. The Biosphere Reserve core area allows for no man-made structures of any kind.

The transition area is the most curious of all. I mapped it on the road maps here.** Most of the transition area is in Vermont.

What has happened in the ensuing twenty years since the Biosphere Reserve designation? The very nature of the core area, coupled with another concept, that of the land bridge, has created a frenzy or state buying of land to add to the state-owned-land holdings.

Recommendation 196 of the study commission report states: “To maintain and enhance the biological diversity of the Adirondack Park and surrounding areas key land bridges should be identified and protected both in the park and around it. This will allow the natural dispersion of indigenous plants and animal communities.” Technical Report number 19 states, “500,000 contiguous acres are necessary for a viable population of black bear.” The land bridge would join areas of habitat.

The segmented core area of 1989 has obviously caused the environmentalists to want whatever privately owned land intervenes between state-owned-land holdings. I see that the new land acquisitions will be added to the core, whether they be in fee or conservation easements.

Let’s look at some of the recent major land purchases. In 1998 Champion International sold 29,000 acres in fee simple and 110,000 acres sold in conservation easements to the state. That means that on the conservation easement lands the development rights were sold to the state, but the seller could still harvest logs, maybe with restrictions on logging practice. These lands are in the northwest part of the park, an area that until then had had small amounts of state-owned-land holdings. The land along the St. Regis River, the East Branch St. Regis river, the Deer River, and the South Branch Grass River were purchased in fee simple. The remaining parcels were sold in conservation easements.

In 2004 International Paper sold the state conservation easements on 255,000 acres in nine counties. A good portion of this land is around the Whitney purchase near Little Tupper Lake. The Whitney sale of Little Tupper Lake itself consists of 15,000 acres in fee simple and 36,000 acres of a single conservation easement. All this is northwest of Blue Mountain Lake. Look at the 1985 map of state-owned-land and you see that these purchases essentially remove all large blocks of land in this area from private ownership.

Another area of land purchased from International Paper is in Hamilton County south of Indian Lake, north of Lake Pleasant.

Another portion of the sale from International Paper is north of Old Forge.

In 2008 Finch Pruyn sold 161,000 acres to The Nature Conservancy. The conservancy is planning to sell 65,000 acres in fee simple to the state, and sell conservation easements to the state for the remaining 92,000 acres. A good portion of this land is in Hamilton and Essex Counties along Route 30 near Newcomb and Tahawus. There is another large plot of Finch Pruyn land at Indian Lake.

So you can see that the state purchases are working effectively toward one giant core area, and giving further impetus with each acquisition to buy yet more blocks of land that might be adjacent or between acquisitions already purchased. ##

 

Editor’s notes:

* Here, the speaker pointed to two full-size maps that were displayed on boards:

1. A multicolored, complicated Adirondack Park Agency map of all land use classifications, on which he had superimposed all the state acquisitions in fee simple and conservation easements that he discussed..
2. A privately produced map (from Susan Allen’s family’s company) that clearly showed state-owned land several years ago, before the time of the purchases the speaker discussed. In this way he demonstrated that the state purchases of privately held land were filling in the spaces between the existing state-owned land and making continuous blocks.

** Here, the speaker pointed to a pair of road maps, the northern part of New York and all of Vermont, mounted on the same board.

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Back to:
PRFA Property Rights Conferences Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Preservation vs the Future of the North Country Government Land Acquisition
Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites - NY  PRFA Home Page Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites

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