Dear Governor Cuomo,
The Nature Conservancy (the Conservancy) in 2007 went out on a limb to purchase the former Finch lands for $110 million. This extraordinary transaction—the largest in the history of The Nature Conservancy in New York—was necessary to protect these lands and secure their tremendous conservation and recreation values for all New Yorkers and the many millions of people who visit the Adirondack Park. Since that time we have dedicated significant resources toward working collaboratively with state agencies, scientists, local governments, recreation and sporting clubs, and other stakeholders to develop and implement a conservation plan for all 161,000 acres. Thanks to your leadership and New York State’s steadfast commitment to conservation, our plan has resulted in 65,000 acres of new public lands conveyed by the Conservancy to the People of New York State, and 95,000 acres protected by conservation easements that require sustainable timber harvest and allow private recreational leasing.
As outlined in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, once new lands have been acquired, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Act requires the APA to revise the Master Plan by recommending a classification for the lands and guidelines for their management and use, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and submitting that recommendation after approval by a vote of the APA board to you for final approval.
Between 2012 and 2016, The Nature Conservancy sold 25 parcels to New York State, fulfilling an agreement that allowed the state to purchase lands as Environmental Protection Fund money became available. While we have tracked with interest how new state lands—protected as Forever Wild under the New York State Constitution—are being classified, The Nature Conservancy has not weighed in on classification decisions until now. Given the level of public interest in the classification of the Boreas tract, and the variety of proposals that have been publicly circulated, we wish to express our views with respect to classification of these unique and important lands.
Boreas Ponds is the largest single tract to transfer from the Conservancy to New York State and also the one the Conservancy owned and managed for the longest time. We therefore respectfully offer an informed recommendation on land classification that combines our global conservation science and land management expertise, our perspective shaped by almost a decade of engagement with a wide universe of stakeholders regarding these lands, and perhaps most important, our hands-on experience as the owner and steward of one of the most important gems of this entire project. We are hopeful this information and perspective will be helpful to the staff and board at the APA, the DEC, and you as the decision about classification of the Boreas Ponds tract is made.
As indicated on the attached map, The Nature Conservancy recommends that the 20,758-acre parcel be divided into two classifications, as follows (please note that acres derived from GIS for the proposed split do not equal in total the tax map acres reported at the time of conveyance):
- Wilderness - approximately 11,500 acres, including the lands surrounding the ponds, plus the adjoining 1,587-acre Casey Brook tract, to connect to the High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness areas
- Wild Forest - approximately 9,030 acres extending to the Blue Ridge Road to the south and Elk Lake Road to the east.
This balanced, hybrid land classification would advance priorities identified by local communities during the planning process, will expand the largest Wilderness area in the Northeast, and will ensure that Adirondack communities and visitors to the Park all benefit from and share in the multiple values offered by this historic addition to the Forest Preserve.
Our reasoning is as follows:
Collaboration with communities
As previously mentioned, the Conservancy is proud of the unprecedented levels of collaboration that went into the conservation plan for the Finch lands. Through previous transactions, for instance, we fulfilled commitments in Newcomb, Long Lake, Indian Lake, Thurman, and Lake Luzerne to secure permanent snowmobile trails, saving the communities a collective $70,000 in annual lease payments, and in Minerva to reserve floatplane access to Pine and First lakes. In addition, through the course of this project we have worked with DEC and the NY Natural Heritage Trust to provide funding for a grant program to seed smart economic development linked to the new state lands.
With respect to the Boreas Ponds property, in North Hudson, we worked with DEC, APA, SUNY-ESF and snowmobile clubs to evaluate the terrain to locate and recommend a suitable route for a snowmobile trail. As reported in a 2009 state snowmobile association newsletter, “To date we have made six trips into the woods, with some routes seeming quite passable until we came across physical obstacles such as extremely steep terrain, wetland, boulder fields and other insurmountable areas.” Through this process, which included “least cost-path” computer modeling and field work, a segment of Gulf Brook Road was identified as the most optimal route. A Wild Forest classification as we propose would enable this trail to be realized. It would also provide driving access to within approximately one mile of Boreas Ponds, which are at the epicenter of the property’s most scenic features. We believe that motorized access to that point is important to create a balanced opportunity for public recreation that will draw more people into the
area, which is important to community prosperity, without adversely impacting the wilderness experience of visiting the ponds (described below).
Values of nature
The ecological justifications for protecting the Finch lands are compelling and the resulting legacy is extraordinary. Not only do the lands represent 12% of the Upper Hudson Watershed and feature 300 lakes and ponds, 415 miles of rivers and streams, 90 mountains, and 15,000 acres of wetlands, but the conservation value of the property is substantially amplified by its position with the Adirondack Park. Thanks to more than a century of conservation action, Adirondack forests today are among the top three most intact contiguous areas of mixed temperate deciduous forest left on Earth. Conserving the Finch lands adds immeasurable value to a connected landscape that ranges from alpine summits to lowland forests, creates pathways for plants and animals to adapt and move in response to a changing climate, and allows forests to store carbon and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, scientists rank the Adirondacks as one of the most climate-change-resilient landscapes in the Eastern United States.
Boreas Ponds, specifically, offers to the world compelling wilderness values. Over the past decade, we have experienced firsthand the transformative power of the property’s beauty, grandeur, and most especially, its unparalleled solitude. We strongly believe that to get a full immersion experience, the most remote parts of the tract, including the Boreas Ponds, need to be discovered. In other words, the classification must take into account that what visitors find is as important as how they arrive. We urge the state to preserve the opportunity for a true wilderness experience without diminishing it with motorized access of any kind to the Boreas Ponds. Our classification recommendation achieves this in a way that would ensure that visitors have a genuine wilderness experience without making it such a difficult place to reach that only a small number of people can experience it.
A new start
Acquiring the Boreas Ponds tract affords the state an opportunity to start from scratch and to aim for the highest possible trail and accessibility standards that this National Park-quality resource warrants. By removing the structures and power generators near the edge of the ponds, which The Nature Conservancy completed in August, we cleared the path for the state to focus on the tract’s ecological, aesthetic, and recreational values without the distraction of non-conforming structures.
Our perspective on wilderness values and access to Boreas Ponds stems from numerous stakeholder meetings over the years, as well as witnessing countless “first impressions” met with reverence and awe. Under public ownership, we are confident that a Wilderness classification around the ponds and extending to the High Peaks Wilderness, coupled with an accessible trail, would provide the highest quality opportunity for a wide spectrum of users to discover this incredibly special place. An accessible trail that meanders through forests and offers views and discoveries along the way could become the primary access for users of varying abilities (e.g. walking, manual or electric wheelchair). Built to specific width, grade and side-slope, this trail would be the pathway between Wild Forest and Wilderness. It would allow visitors to park in an accessible lot in the vicinity of LaBier flow, leave their vehicles (or bicycles) behind and then progress forward into a natural area, far from any major roads and entirely free of motors. This type of access, paired with enhanced visitor amenities that the Conservancy is helping to support by providing dedicated economic development funding for businesses in host communities, could offer a much-needed alternative access point to the High Peaks Wilderness, which is seeing increased pressure from hikers at the northern and eastern trailheads.
We appreciate and respect the myriad perspectives being offered with regards to classifying the Boreas Ponds tract. They reflect the passion that these important lands inspire, as well as the variety of challenges and opportunities presented in the classification process. During the long journey to protect the former Finch lands, the Conservancy listened hard and learned a lot. We forged new partnerships with forest products industry professionals and tourism promoters, for instance, and made accommodations along the way, such as allowing hunting club leases to continue until September 30, 2018 on parcels conveyed to the state. We are as delighted to hear people’s stories as they hike to OK Slip Falls, paddle the Essex Chain Lakes, hunt for grouse near Ragged Mountain, or fish the Branch River, as we are to see snowmobilers ride new public trails in six towns and for those trails to extend snowmobile opportunities across the region.
In the spirit of the cooperation that went into the conservation plan for the Finch lands, and given the scale of the entire Finch deal and what it collectively offers for outdoor recreation, sustainable forestry, conservation legacy, and economic development, The Nature Conservancy respectfully recommends that the state classify the Boreas Ponds tract as follows: 11,500 acres, including the lands surrounding the ponds, plus the 1,587-acre Casey Brook tract, as Wilderness, and 9,030 acres to the south as Wild Forest.
Thank you for your consideration and your continuing leadership in conservation.
Michael T. Carr
Executive Director, Adirondack Chapter
cc: Venetia Lannon, Deputy Secretary for the Environment
Terry Martino, Executive Director, Adirondack Park Agency
Basil Seggos, Commissioner, NYSDEC
Sherman Craig, Chairman, Adirondack Park Agency
Kathy Moser, Deputy Commissioner for Natural Resources, NYSDEC
Rob Davies, Director, Division of Lands and Forests, NYSDEC
Robert Stegemann, Director, NYSDEC Region 5