Green groups lobby Albany for Adirondack support

This file photo from Oct. 5, 2016, shows peak foliage at Heart Lake outside of the village of Lake Placid, on the Adirondak Loj property owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club. It is a popular gateway to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Environmental groups from the Adirondack and Catskill state parks this week called on lawmakers in Albany to support efforts in the upcoming state budget to protect the Forest Preserve and prioritize wilderness preservation, climate protection measures, clean air and diversity.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed $227 billion state budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, unveiled on Feb. 1, removes a key item that helps protect the Forest Preserve, a Forest Preserve group of 32 organizations and municipalities said on Monday, Feb. 13 in a press release.

For the previous two years, the state budget included a dedicated budget line for the Forest Preserve under State Land Stewardship in the Environmental Protection Fund. It allowed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to expand trail work and educational stewards, initiate accessibility and parking projects, and prepare to implement actions following this year’s Visitor Use Management projects in the Adirondack High Peaks and in the Catskills at Kaaterskill Clove, according to the press release.

“The Forest Preserve needs dedicated funding to manage the issues of today and tomorrow,” ADK Executive Director Michael Barrett said in the release. “Without these resources, we risk losing the many benefits that come from public lands, including space for recreation, clean drinking water, forests to sequester carbon and more. We urge legislators to restore the dedicated Forest Preserve funding line in the state budget so that we can maintain the incredible progress made over the last two years.”

The Adirondack Mountain Club operates the Adirondak Loj and High Peaks Information Center at its Heart Lake property outside the village of Lake Placid, with access to the High Peaks Wilderness, and the Cascade Welcome Center on state Route 73.

The group gave credit to the governor for keeping the overall State Land Stewardship budget and increasing DEC staffing and hopes they make it into the final budget, which has a deadline of April 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year.

“We urge legislators to put Forest Preserve funding back as a line in the Environmental Protection Fund, as appeared in the final budget the past few years,” Catskill Center Executive Director Jeff Senterman said in the release. “This funding is critical for addressing high use and environmental protection, particularly at hot spots in the Catskill Park.”

Open Space Institute Chief Conservation Officer Kathy Moser is also advocating for the restoration of funding dedicated to the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves in the State Land Stewardship section of the EPF.

“Last year’s state EPF budget devoted $8 million to visitor safety and wilderness protection in the forest preserves. With increased visitation, these dedicated funds are needed now more than ever,” Moser said in the release.

Adirondack Council testimony

Kevin Chlad, government relations director for the Adirondack Council, based in Elizabethtown, on Tuesday, Feb. 14 testified during a joint Senate-Assembly budget hearing on environmental conservation, according to a press release. He asked lawmakers to prioritize wilderness preservation, climate protection measures, clean air across the state and incentives that boost diversity in the Adirondack Park’s workforce, visitors and residents.

The park will help the state achieve its climate goals, the group asserts, but only if New York takes steps to protect the forests and wetlands that absorb carbon dioxide and calm surging flood waters.

“As the largest temperate deciduous forest in the world, the Adirondacks play a prominent role in achieving the state’s newly codified ’30 by 30′ goal,” Chlad said in his testimony. “Natural climate solutions are an essential piece of the puzzle for New York to achieve climate justice. Highly populated regions of our state face the specter of severe flooding and storm impacts if we do not successfully combat climate change. Large forested regions, none bigger than the Adirondacks, will absorb water and greenhouse gases. This will slow climate change and associated impacts if we take the necessary steps to leverage these important assets.”

Chlad highlighted the state’s past efforts to measure and control air pollution to prevent acid rain from killing the forests and waters of the Adirondacks. That included a comprehensive survey of Adirondack lakes in the mid-1980s that gave New York data it needed to show that acid rain had damaged ecosystems across the entire landscape. The Adirondack Council says a similar survey is needed again, but with new components to study the impacts of climate change.

“A consortium of nonprofit partners and top academic institutions in New York state have come together to design a $6 million, three-year, 21st century water quality survey that has great potential to guide climate policy just as the Adirondack lakes survey of the 1980s did for the fight against acid rain,” Chlad said in written testimony. “Though this is not an exhaustive list, this study will examine carbon and methane cycling, storage potential and prediction methods for freshwater. Researchers will also examine how climate change impacts baseline conditions of waterbodies, including temperature, dissolved oxygen, and the duration/length of seasonal stratification. Scientists will explore the relationships between climate change and harmful algal blooms, food web attributes, cold water fisheries, and mercury bioaccumulation.”

Chlad called for $300,000 to support the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, based at the Adirondack North Country Association in Saranac Lake, and for a set of priorities in the proposed $400 million Environmental Protection Fund capital projects list, including:

¯ $37 million for open space protection with $3 million for the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership Program;

¯ $48.7 million for state land stewardship;

¯ $19.5 million for invasive species prevention and eradication, with $900,000 for the Lake George Park Commission; and

¯ $150,000 and $225,000 for the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb, operated by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center

Chlad also called on lawmakers to support the governor’s proposal to fund the Timbuctoo Summer Climate Careers Institute in the town of Newcomb. The summer job training program will bring students from the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College to the SUNY-ESF campus to learn about climate, the Adirondacks and find a path to job opportunities.

“These careers start with the physical sciences but include everything from engineering to public policy and journalism to philosophy and ethics,” Chlad said.

The current state budget approved a $2.1 million appropriation for the first year of this program, which is set to begin this summer.

A month-long schedule of 13 joint Senate-Assembly budget hearings are being held. They began on Feb, 6 and will conclude on March 1. The topics are transportation, public protection, elementary and secondary education, economic development/arts, taxes, human services, environmental conservation, local/general government, mental hygiene, higher education, health, housing and workforce development/labor.


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