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Sentiment toward APA heats up as ice out approaches

March 20, 2010
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

As flocks of Canada geese pass overhead, the sweet smell of maple syrup steams from the roof vents at sugar shacks across the North Woods.The arrival of 50-degree temperatures is certain to accelerate the date of ice out, while decimating the remaining snowpack as spring officially arrives this weekend.

While local weather patterns continue to heat up, so do local sentiments toward the Adirondack Park Agency. The agency has recently been embroiled in a variety of issues, including the removal of fire towers from St. Regis and Hurricane, the proposed closure of two Visitor Interpretive Centers and a lingering series of blunders involving lawsuits, stuffed suits, advocacy groups and countersuits.

The decision to cut the Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) may prove to be one of the agency's most significant missteps, as the centers and their staff have consistently presented the softer, gentler and friendlier face of an agency charged with regulatory responsibilities.

Article Photos

This culvert, located on Six Mile Brook about three miles east of Long Lake on Route 28N, is retrofitted with a slip culvert lining. Note the stream improvements with holding pools that were constructed to provide aquatic species with opportunities for safe and easy upstream migration.
(Photo provided)

These responsibilities typically include the enforcement of rules intended to control land use and development. As a result, public perception commonly views the agency as taking things away: economic opportunity, traditional land uses such as firetowers, motorized access to state land or a private landowner's right to use their land as they see fit.

Public perception in the case of the VICs has been the polar opposite of how people view what occurs in Ray Brook.At the VICs, the agency was "giving" rather than "taking away," with festivals, special events, educational programs and getting adults and tots on their trails, which are some of the finest, most readily available and handicapped-accessible trails in the region.The VICs teach people what they can do, rather than warn them what they can't.

As if further proof is necessary to confirm the agency is increasingly out of touch, consider the fact that the VICs have served well over a million visitors over the years and they remain highly regarded by the public.

In contrast, the regulatory arm of the agency handles less than 1,000 cases a year, and while only a small portion of these efforts make the news, it's usually due to lawsuits, improper conduct or an obviously bungled effort.

Even when a project occasionally slides smoothly through the regulatory process we rarely hear about it.

It's only human nature that we tend to talk about negatives more than positives.We rarely hear about the best restaurant in town until they burn a steak.

It's pretty much the same with the APA.However, unlike the often overlooked meals offered at a town's best restaurant, the VICs menu was regularly praised for consistently serving a five-star meal of outdoor adventures and learning opportunities.

This point was driven home as I informed a regular guest of the proposed VIC closures. I gave him the news and fully expected a rant on the necessity of budget cutbacks.But it didn't happen.

"What!" he exclaimed. "You mean they're closing the Butterfly House?"

I wondered that if the VICs closure has this impact on such a crusty old character, what are the children thinking?

Kids don't understand budget cuts, but they do understand when something enjoyable is taken away and they'll remember it. The agency should likewise remember that today's kids will be the next generation of Adirondackers.

Any savings achieved in closing the VICs will pale by comparison to the damage to the agency's image. No amount of public relations funding will restore a child's perception. The blunders will continue and another generation will be lost.

A contrast in protest methods was also evident at the agency's headquarters last week. Children and their parents, former employees and elders gathered to sing and celebrate the VICs, hoping that commissioners would notice.

The peaceful effort was the antithesis of the pile of manure once left on the APA's doorstep, or the non-violent but noisy Northway Blockade of '92. Even though the tone has been turned down, the tune remains the same.

Agencies combine efforts

to protect wildlife

Due to the uproar over closing the VICs and a host of other notorious issues last week, there was a blip of good news that failed to register on the radar of most local news outlets during the APA's recent monthly meeting in Ray Brook.

At the gathering, agency staff offered a presentation on a recent joint effort conducted by the APA, DEC, DOT and the Federal Highway Administration to begin repairs on many of the Park's existing roadway culverts with a modified slip culvert.

There are thousands of highway culverts across the Park, which allow small streams to flow under the highways. Many are in a serious state of decline.

Culverts also permit innumerable species of wildlife safe passage across the very deadly divide of a highway.In many cases, road kill presents the greatest single threat to amphibians such salamanders, frogs and turtles.

Highways are also a dead zone for furbearers such as beaver, mink and muskrat, especially when their passage via a streambed is restricted by a plugged culvert.

Antiquated culverts also limit the upstream migration of fish including brook trout, brown trout, suckers and a variety of baitfish and crayfish.

Slip culverts are designed to function as travel corridors for a wide range of wildlife that are threatened by crossing highways or hindered in their efforts to migrate upstreamby traditional culvert designs.

Rather than excavate, slip culverts are retrofitted as liners into the existing culverts and modifications are made to the stream bed to provide safe holding pools with enough depth to protect fish from predation and with adequate stream flow to allow various species to continue their journey upstream.

The Eastern Brook Trout Initiative, a multi-year, multi-agency effort to restore brook trout in waters throughout their historic range, has identified roadway culverts as one of the major obstacles in the restoration process.

Brook trout, as well as brown trout, migrate upstream several times throughout the season to spawn in the fall or to reach cool water sanctuaries that offer refuge from downstream water temperatures in the heat of summer.Cold water maintains much higher oxygen content than warm water, which is why brook trout favor water temperatures in the 50s.

However, culverts are not just for fish and amphibians.In fact, culverts are being used to protect traditional travel corridors for deer, bear and other non-aquatic species.

Studies show that, on average, a car brings down a deer once every eight minutes in Michigan. In 2002, more than 100 black bears died on North Carolina roads and in a single month, a sampling of road kill in just five states counted 15,000 dead reptiles and amphibians, 48,000 mammals and 77,000 birds.

As roads continue to fragment wildlife habitat and disrupt historic travel corridors, sensitive species are exposed to an array of deadly hazards.

Wildlife biologists and ecologists have identified road kill as presenting a much larger threat to wildlife than was previously considered.For rare or isolated populations, vehicle collisions can be a matter of survival, not just for the individual, but also for entire species.

Along one stretch of the Alaskan Highway, a study that collected DNA samples from black bear revealed that there was no genetic relations between the bruins on opposite sides of the tarmac divide.The roadway had effectively eliminated traditional breeding opportunity and altered the genetic make up of the species.



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