DEC staffers named as managers for Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Department of Environmental Conservation filled new posts of managers of sustainable use of public lands in the Adirondack and Catskill parks, the department announced on Monday.
Adirondack Park organizations applauded the news that Josh Clague, a long-time staff member in the DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, is the park’s first coordinator. McCrea Burnham, also a staff member in the same division, takes the similar role for the Catskills. Eleven months ago, the ad-hoc High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group suggested creating the posts to manage visitors and protect natural resources in a 55-page report.
The report outlined a formal state position that also addressed trail construction and education that would also enhance coordination among state agencies, local governments, businesses and nonprofit groups. Clague and Burnham will organize the various management plans in both parks, coordinate resources and incorporate diversity, equity and inclusivity, according to the DEC’s release. The Catskills has a similar advisory group that has not yet issued a final report.
Clague has been part of a forest preserve management program for 14 years, he said in a news release.
“I’m honored to have this opportunity to serve the Adirondacks in this new capacity, and to work with our partners in finding balanced solutions to the challenges that lie ahead,” Clague said.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said Clague and Burnham have decades of experience working with different partners already addressing “the environmental, economic, and public safety challenges affecting Forest Preserve communities.”
That will also include upholding the state constitutional protections of the forest preserve outlined in Article 14. Earlier this year, the state’s highest court ruled against the DEC and in favor of Protect the Adirondacks over tree-cutting for some snowmobile trails in forest preserve. The decision has left many wondering the fate of new projects and trail maintenance.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he hoped Clague “will bring a strong commitment to upholding Article 14, the forever wild clause of the State Constitution, which has been (a) weakness at the DEC for a number of years.”
David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, said both Clague and Burnham have reputations for upholding the state’s legal protections of forest preserve.
“We are pleased to see their promotion to new leadership positions for the Forest Preserve in both Parks, positions that carry fresh accountability at DEC for producing new Forest Preserve trail policies and visitor use stewardship practices throughout,” Gibson said.
Several organizations with members on the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group were pleased with Clague’s new role.
“It’s gratifying to see the DEC moving forward with our HPAG recommendations in such a substantive, positive way,” said Pete Nelson, co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, adding that Clague “is the perfect person for this job.”
The group’s recommendations included adaptive management practices, different ways to manage crowds and protect resources that can be tweaked as officials assess their success. Nelson said Clague already has experience in this.
The Adirondack Mountain Club is represented on both the Catskill and Adirondack Parks’ advisory groups. It called the new positions crucial for reviewing the DEC’s forest preserve policies and procedures. Cathy Pedler, the club’s director of advocacy, said the DEC’s announcement was a “big step forward.”
“Not only is the NYSDEC demonstrating a real commitment to thinking comprehensively about the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, they’re also putting individuals in the positions who have the expertise needed,” Pedler said, in a release.
The Adirondack Council’s executive director Willie Janeway also applauded the position changes. He added that the council looked forward to helping the DEC “fulfill its responsibility to protect and preserve New York’s priceless legacy of wilderness lands and waters.”