Regulators & Rebels pt 9: Reimagine the APA

Nelson Rockefeller signing legislation.
Nelson Rockefeller signing legislation. Explorer file photo

How should the APA position itself for the future?

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This is the ninth in a nine-part series that tells the story of the at-times contentious campaign to create the Adirondack Park Agency, which marks its 50th anniversary in June. 

By Chad P. Dawson 

The Adirondack Park Agency Act was a bold plan born with considerable thought, vision, controversy and hope for the future. 

Now we are 50 years into that future. Most supporters and critics would likely agree that the main purpose of the act, to “insure optimum overall conservation, protection, preservation, development, and use” of the park’s public and private resources and open space character was achieved. But the degree of success attributed to the act depends on each person’s perspective, hopes and aspirations for the park.      

With the lessons learned in this grand historical experiment, and some experience, wisdom, and insight, how do we refocus on the promise and vision of the APA Act? Some reappraisals have been suggested by Adirondack advocates and supporters. 

Leadership:  The position of chair of the APA Board has been vacant for two years and this has weakened the executive checks and balances intended in the act between the APA and Department of Environmental Conservation. The APA Board needs to be balanced between the various interest, as prescribed within the act. Given the environmental goals of the act, some board members should have a solid background in science, resource management, environmental policy, and law to be able to help guide the policy decision-making. The most important need right now is leadership. 

Legislation: The APA Act is a significant legal environmental framework and it needs to be revisited and other statutory laws considered. The State Land Master Plan could be included in the APA Act or Environmental Conservation Law to mandate greater environmental protection for the forest preserve and buffer against political and economic pressures to develop it further. Large-scale and controversial subdivision plans have been approved on private lands and some critics have pointed to the need for statutory law to protect more open-space on private lands through conservation-oriented subdivision design. 

Staff: The APA staff are critical to the future success of all APA programs and must represent the best scientists and professionals in biology, engineering, policy and law, resource management, and environmental science. The demands on the APA to provide services and planning for private landowners, local governments, DEC, and to meet all of its regulatory responsibilities, exceeds the capacity of the current, reduced staff numbers. Advances in electronic equipment and digital interaction are developing rapidly and require trained staff to maintain the databases necessary for planning and decision-making. 

Strategic Planning: The APA’s capacity to strategically plan on a parkwide basis is crucial to fully meet its regional planning mission. Additional staff, training, and equipment is needed to measure and track changes within the park. Water, in both quality and quantity, is a striking example of an important ecological service provided by the park that requires additional strategic information to set policy and regulations or seek legislative support to address the underlying needs. Understanding the needs of residents, visitors and businesses for water and sewer facilities and environmental benefits from well-designed and maintained systems is paramount to maintaining water quality. Similarly, recreational use of water bodies has an impact on park resources and, yet, those activities require high-quality water resources for supporting visitor experiences. 

Regulators and Rebels

Read the entire series

Monitoring: Long-term scientific research is needed to assess and track the environmental health and stability of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of the park. Agents of change to the park resources, such as invasive species, forest pest infestations, climate change and ecological connectivity affect ecosystem resilience and stability and require additional information for science-based decision-making when setting policy and promulgating regulations. Changes in the health and vitality of communities within the park and the needs of residents and visitors require monitoring to support appropriate development within a sensitive environmental setting. 

Education and engagement: Ongoing efforts to inform and educate the public about the park and its values and benefits are needed to ensure that the park continues to be protected and supported by the citizens of the state. Some park supporters have suggested more support for the visitor centers, more environmental programming, and more interpreters and educators in facilities and the field to better inform and educate a wide variety and diversity of visitors and citizens of the state. New Yorkers will support what they understand and appreciate. 

Chad Dawson

Chad P. Dawson is an Adirondack Wild board member, former Adirondack Park Agency Board member and professor emeritus from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 

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