This past summer, the Adirondack Council released a map identifying the boundaries and features of its Bob Marshall Wild Land Complex. I am pleased that the map notes the presence of private inholdings within the proposed complex and encourages the public to respect the rights of landowners. One wishes the Council had done more to acquaint the public with the importance of these lands and avoided possible confusion regarding the privacy rights involved.
Private lands play a major role in protecting the ecosystems in the proposed complex. In many instances, the ecosystems of the private lands are better protected than the public lands. In addition, private lands have contributed significantly to our knowledge of the natural resources of the area through their contributions to research. The fisheries research of Cornell University in the Adirondack Park has been dependent on the long-term relationship with the Adirondack League Club. The Huntington Wildlife Forest, owned by Syracuse University in trust for the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, has contributed significantly to our knowledge of deer, bear, atmospheric deposition and forest regeneration, to mention only a few of the areas of research. And more recently, the Shingle Shanty Preserve and Research Station has contributed to our knowledge of the entomology and forest productivity in the Park. Many other private landowners make their lands and waters accessible to research scientists periodically to conduct specific projects on birds, fish and timber harvesting practices.
I mention the involvement of private lands in research because the success of these research efforts resulted from the protections offered by their "privateness" - protection of the ecosystems from invasive species, protection of the research from intrusions by the public, including protection from harm to the public caused by their inadvertently stumbling into research protocols. These are considerations the Council should be emphasizing.
The Council should also take care not to mislead the public regarding the privacy rights of landowners. While the map contains a warning against trespass on private lands, it implies a threat to these lands when it states that the "wild land complex facilitates the connection of fragmented paddle routes and opens up waterways that have been closed to the public for decades." The Council's proposal to create a unified Bob Marshall Wild Land Complex, and the map it has released of the proposed area, do not change the status of access to private lands or waters at all. What was accessible before the map was published is accessible now, and what wasn't isn't. The Council should explicitly acknowledge that and make it clear that the map does not change any regulations on private lands or the Forest Preserve.
I commend the Council for bringing to our attention the importance of the ecological connectivity offered by large blocks of wild lands and the essential role that gateway communities play in providing access and necessary services to those entering these wild lands. In so doing, it has identified two of the three features that make this area unique. Unfortunately, the Council's map and recently released "State of the Park 2011" under-emphasize the contribution of private lands to this important area of the Park and are misleading regarding the current and future right of public access to private lands and waters. If the Council expects private landowners to support its proposal for a unified Bob Marshall Wild Land Complex, it should take care that maps and other documents relating to it avoid confusion concerning issues of such importance to them.
Lastly, I encourage the Adirondack Council to develop a concrete agenda to assist Adirondack gateway communities in reaching for a more prosperous economic future. The map was a good first step, but only that. Significant additional steps are required to advance the multiplicity of interests implicated by this ambitious project.
Ross Whaley is senior advisor to the Adirondack Landowners Association and a former chairman of the state Adirondack Park Agency. He lives on Upper Saranac Lake.