Clear Waters, New York Water Environment Association, Inc., Spring 2004, Vol. 34 No. 1
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Adirondack Environmental Agencies and Organizations: Conflict versus Progress

The Adirondack Park is among the nation's greatest parks. However large the total area may be, the park is not contiguous; it is made up of small forests and wild area preserves that are located within a large, noncontiguous area of small communities (or vice versa depending on your perspective). Due to this park and community intermingling, state and federal government agencies seem to be under high scrutiny by local government and environmental groups. There are the usual government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, that work towards each of their own mandated agency goals through the processes of permit approvals or rejections and permit compliance monitoring. At the same time, environmental organizations and some local governments will either support an agency's progress or stand behind a goal that may be the opposite of an agency's goal. What are these roadblocks doing to the "environmental state" of the Adirondack Park? The population and economy in the Adirondacks is growing each decade. At the same time, many environmental quality aspects of the Adirondack waterways are degrading directly with this growth and overuse of the park and its surrounding environment.

Some of the key government agencies in the Adirondacks are the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Adirondack Park Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation is key to the state's tourism and economic development efforts by operating water recreational facilities, campsites, nature centers, and many other facilities. The Adirondack Park Agency (APA), whose goal is to develop long-range land use plans for both the public and private land areas within the park, is probably the most predominant agency in the Adirondack Park. The APA administers the state's Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act and the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act within the park. One role of the NYSDEC is to ensure that unit management plans (UMPs) that are developed in consultation with the Adirondack Park Agency meet the requirements of the state land master plan. UMPs play a very important role in the public use of the park. UMPs assess the resources within a unit, identify recreational opportunities within the unit, and consider the ability of the unit's resources and ecosystem to accommodate public use. There are overlaps of goals and requirements of the above-mentioned agencies. An example of this overlap is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's reliance on the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, effective UMPs, and the APA's administration of the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act and the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act.

There are many environmental, non-government organizations that are currently active in preserving and protecting the Adirondack Park, each of which have their own goals. Some are striving to protect the same thing while others are in opposition.

There are very large organizations that are part of national efforts, and then there are the small grassroots organizations. Here are 14 active organizations:

Still, in the 2000s, acid rain is a serious issue in the Adirondack Park and is more than likely at the top of many environmental organizations' concerns. Many of the lake organizations are also concerned with the use of herbicides to control invasive plant species. There is a general concern of public and private overuse and the resulting impacts on water quality within almost all organizations. Taking a look at some of the more grassroots organizations, some very interesting issues are being fought that are worth mentioning. Adirondack Explorer and RCPA have interest in motorless waters. Adirondackers for Access are claiming rights through the Americans with Disabilities Act to access the park in motorized vehicles. Many grassroots organizations share the general concern of curbing development due to its direct impacts on water quality.

Organizations and agencies must find paths that lead to accomplishments, however small they may be, instead of creating walls that lead to no action toward a cleaner or less polluted future.

Right now, RCPA's claim is for rights within the land areas of the park, but has the use of motorless waterways by handicapped individuals been considered? There is the general overuse that is directly related to permit issuance by the same agencies that intend to preserve and improve the park and its waterways. Progress is found within the interacting agencies, perhaps only as a result of each agency's mandated requirements. At times, organizations work with agencies and speed up progress towards a specific goal. The flip side of this is that organizations can use legal processes to halt all agency activities in a particular area. While we wait for the legal process to reach completion, we must take a look back and see if damage or preservation has occurred. Many organizations, while their intentions are good, may end up obstructing agency goals resulting in the opposite outcome of what their intentions had been. Is the end goal to stimulate the economy and curb or stop pollution through some form of sustainable development, or is it simply to promote preservation, which would have drastic economical impacts? Will the Adirondack Park end up like Yellowstone or Yosemite and limit visitors for each forest preserve? This would mean a higher cost for public use but less of an environmental impact.

Donna Busby is currently enrolled in the graduate program of environmental studies at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, New York. She participated in an internship with NYWEA in summer and fall 2003. Before attending SUNY-ESF, she worked as an environmental engineer and a chemist for ATOFINA Chemicals, Inc., in Houston, Texas. She holds a B.S. in environmental science from Sam Houston State University.

—Donna Busby


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