DEC budget breakdown
In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2022 Executive Budget, the state Department of Environmental Conservation would get $1.8 billion in new appropriations — an 11% increase — with most Adirondack programs’ funding staying level.
The funding does not include new forest rangers or other staff but allots $800,000 for High Peaks overuse abatement, plus hundreds of millions for statewide clean water and green programs.
“Given that this is a very tough budget year, given that there’s a lot of unknowns about what support may or may not come from Washington, the governor has put forth a budget that is consistent with the past few years for Adirondack priorities,” Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said. “Given the challenging times that we’re in, we think that the funding the governor has proposed makes sense.”
The environmental advocate said he was bracing for potential cuts to DEC programs but was pleasantly surprised to not see them, at least not in the Executive Budget. These cuts could still be made later in the year by the Division of Budget, which has been given powers to do so if the federal dollars Cuomo has requested do not come in.
“We’re cautiously optimistic about this budget,” Bauer said.
Most of the DEC funding is for the state’s larger green projects. Around $500 million is set aside for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, and $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund.
These have remained the same since last year, though Bauer said a plan to scale up the EPF funding to $500 million a year has been postponed.
DEC staffing would stay around the same with this proposed budget. Forest rangers have for years now said they do not have the staffing levels to adequately care for the people and the environment in the backcountry, especially in the increasingly busy High Peaks Wilderness.
This budget would add seven new full-time employees to implement the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and realign nine full-time employees to work on the Lake George Park Commission.
“The Adirondacks and Catskills are at a disadvantage in the Legislature because so many of our legislators are Republicans who are in the minority and are largely spectators,” Bauer said.
He said increased DEC staffing is likely to need to come through an Executive Budget, as adding a few new forest rangers is not a high priority for most of the representatives in the Legislature. He said lobbying the governor as he forms his budget is the best way to get it done.
He also said he finds it difficult when forest rangers tell the state they are in need of more staff and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos says DEC staffing is adequate.
Forest Ranger and union delegate of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, Scott Van Laer, who is a vocal advocate for increased staffing, was not able to be contacted by publication time.
State Sen. Dan Stec, the leading Republican on the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, was also not able to be contacted by publication time.
According to data compiled by The Nature Conservancy, this year’s Environmental Protection Fund would include $30 million for state land purchases — down $1 million from last year. Bauer hopes that could be used toward the state purchasing Whitney Park — a 36,000-acre estate in Long Lake that green groups have asked the state to buyafter its owner announced he wants to sell it for $180 million in 2020. Bauer also said it could be used to purchase the Three Rivers Forest, which the Conservation Fund bought two yeas ago. These lands would be added to the state Forest Preserve.
The EPF allots $800,000 for “Essex County Overuse” — down $400,000 from last year — which would be used to mitigate the effects and extent of high recreation rates in the High Peaks and nearby wilderness areas.
Bauer said the state has already purchased hiker shuttles for the town of Keene with the $1.2 million allocated last year, so he believes this funding may be used to complete the easiest of the state’s overuse reduction goals.
The fund budgets $13 million for invasive species reduction — the same as last year — including $500,000 for Cornell University’s hemlock woolly adelgid abatement project on Lake George.
The fund also includes $250,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, $1 million for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and $180,000 and $120,000, respectively, for the formerly state-run visitor interpretive centers run by Paul Smith’s College and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
The DEC declined to comment on the budget, choosing to wait until Commissioner Seggos gives his budget testimony on Jan. 27.