WCS has done much to help Adirondack wildlife — and people

We are very sad to see the Wildlife Conservation Society cancel its Adirondack Program.

Throughout WCS’s 24 years here, its staff members have made solid scientific research and sensible diplomatic outreach their priorities in this 6-million-acre park’s constant debates over how to balance natural protection and human prosperity. In doing so, they were leaders in changing the Adirondacks for the better.

In their first decade here, the ideological battles fought since the 1970s were still hot. Hatred of the state Adirondack Park Agency was a point of dogma among many Adirondackers; no local politician could get elected without opposing the APA. Meanwhile, to work as an environmentalist meant having a fire in one’s belly to take on a scrappy fight at any time.

True believers certainly have their place, but many people appreciated that WCS staff approached their job with an attitude of service rather than advocacy. They talked to town leaders and business owners as well as environmentalists and state agency folks. They looked closely at the problems and gathered information people — both in environmental groups and local government — needed to make good decisions — “so it’s not just based on politics or emotion,” according to Executive Director Zoe Smith.

Think how valuable a service that is.

WCS’s Adirondack staffers were also consensus builders, and look at the consensus they helped build. They were at the heart of the Common Ground Alliance when it formed and provided a soft, credible voice for the park’s interest groups to get to know each other better, quit fighting and maybe work together to get more done.

Amazingly, it worked. While the Common Ground Alliance, as a body, doesn’t have many concrete achievements, the Common Ground movement has established peace and harmony where there once was tension and strife.

“Before the Common Ground Alliance was so successful, we started to push that approach as much as we could,” Smith said. “What I’ve seen is that people are willing to have those difficult conversations outside of whatever other personal issues they might have.

“But it’s all based on trust and respect. And I think that’s what the Alliance has done.”

That isn’t boasting. We saw WCS’s Adirondack staff push the Common Ground approach before the alliance formed, and we’ve seen the quality and civility of the policy debates improve massively since then. It’s not quite to the point where we would call it a Common Sense Alliance, but it’s getting there.

Good, common sense has also been a hallmark of WCS’s Adirondack Program staff. We hope the people of the park can keep it up without them.