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Wilderness advocate quits APA board in frustration

Chad Dawson says DEC isn't studying consequences of increasing recreation

Chad Dawson (Enterprise photo — Justin Levine)

Chad Dawson, an environmental advocate who has served as a member of the state Adirondack Park Agency board since 2016, resigned from the board on Thursday.

Dawson resigned citing frustration with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He said the department isn’t sufficiently studying the impact of supporting more recreational amenities in the Park.

“I am leaving not because I don’t care,” Dawson said. “Rather, because I’m passionate about the Park, particularly protection of the Park for future generations.”

A spokeswoman for DEC called Dawson’s comments “disappointing.”

“While Chad Dawson’s comments are disappointing and contrary to the facts, we’d like to thank him for his service to the board and his dedication to the Adirondack Park Agency,” DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said Friday. “DEC subjects every proposal and plan to a painstaking review and conducts extensive public outreach to solicit input and comments from the community in order to continue our work of protecting the Adirondack Park, its natural resources, and its people. DEC looks forward to continuing to work with our fellow board members on the ongoing important initiatives for the protection and enhancement of the Adirondacks.”

Dawson, of Onondaga County, is a professor emeritus at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The Adirondack Explorer reported Thursday that Dawson was outspoken about two of the agenda items on the board’s docket that day: the creation of a day-use area in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest, and the lifting of a campfire ban at Essex Chain Lakes. Both moved forward.

Dawson is one of this state’s top experts on wilderness preservation and, like all APA board members, was appointed to the position by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

People with business and local government backgrounds outnumber those with conservation backgrounds on the APA board, which is the top authority on many land-use decisions in this 6-million-acre mix of public and private lands.

State Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury who was elected last month to the state Senate, said he doesn’t know Dawson but disagreed with the notion that the DEC and APA are “too permissive.” Rather, he said, he thinks most Adirondack residents see the APA as being too restrictive of the economy. Stec, an Adirondack 46er and the son of a DEC forest ranger, is the ranking minority member of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee and also sits on its Tourism and Local Government committees.

“I’m not concerned with them being too permissive,” Stec said of the APA. “Usually, saying you want to study something is code for you want to slow something down.”

Adirondack green groups, however, lamented Dawson’s decision to resign. Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer tweeted that Dawson was “The best @NYSAPA Board Member.” Adirondack Wild wrote on Facebook that his resignation “does not reflect well on either APA or DEC, or Governor Cuomo.” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in a statement that Dawson’s “loss will be great.”

“Dr. Dawson has been eminently polite, ever so patient, yet determined to appropriately challenge agency and departmental staff and agency members to do only what the agency laws require, and that is to place natural resource protection ahead of recreational development,” Adirondack Wild wrote. “He has repeatedly urged both agencies to raise their standards, consistent with legal requirements, for stronger analysis of carrying capacity on Forest Preserve lands, trails and waterways.”

“He taught us that wilderness is both a refuge for the rarest, most fragile plants and wildlife, and a living sanctuary where quiet solitude can bring peace to the human soul,” Janeway said. “His expertise in wilderness protection is recognized around the world. College students learning about wilderness management at top universities find his name on the cover of their textbooks. His lessons were not ignored by the people who love the Adirondack Park and recognize the need to preserve its wild character.”

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