Adirondack Park lawmakers disappointed with this year’s session
By Gwendolyn Craig
First passage of a constitutional amendment to bring Olympic facilities into compliance, a ban on wildlife killing contests and protections for birds and bees were some of the bills state lawmakers passed this legislative session. The measures now await Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.
The Legislature’s scheduled last day was June 8, but the Assembly returned to Albany on Tuesday and Wednesday for unfinished business.
Overall, Adirondack Park lawmakers were disappointed with this year’s session. Republicans were especially critical. Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, of Horicon, and Sen. Dan Stec, of Queensbury, blamed the Democratic majority for failing to make the state “safer, more affordable and more economically prosperous,” as Stec said.
Earlier this year, lawmakers and Hochul authorized a $229 billion budget with a $400 million Environmental Protection Fund allocating spending for Adirondack Park projects. The 2023-2024 budget is nearly 4% higher than the 2022-2023 budget. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli warned that state tax collections and revenue are declining and inflation is continuing.
“The state has made progression building up reserve funds,” DiNapoli said, “but policymakers need to carefully monitor the economy and work to put the state on a sustainable fiscal course.”
As the session continued this spring, lawmakers made progress in some areas and stalled in others.
Birds and Bees Protection Act
A bill environmental advocates have long awaited, but has concerned the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a farmers’ lobby, is the Birds and Bees Protection Act. The act, should Hochul sign it into law, would prohibit the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on corn, soybean or wheat seeds. This would be the first-in-the-nation law to ban such seed coatings. It would also prevent insecticide application on outdoor ornamental plants and turf. Neonicotinoids, according to studies by Cornell University, kill pollinator species. Studies also show the insecticides are contaminating water and soil.
But two kinds of neonicotinoids, imidacloprid and dinotefuran, are tools the DEC uses to treat infestations of invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Cornell identifies imidacloprid and dinotefuran as important for fighting certain invasive species and notes “there is no immediate alternative.” Treated trees, such as hemlocks, are not pollinated and thus treatment is not likely to cause risk to pollinators, the study read.
The DEC has injected and sprayed sick hemlock trees all around Lake George. DEC staff have said the treatments are working. In an interview with the Explorer last year, DEC forester Jason Denham worried that the legislation would “handcuff us.”
“Restrictions on neonicotinoids that affect this application would have dire consequences for New York’s Eastern hemlocks, an important foundation species and the third most common tree in the state,” Cornell’s report read. “If left uncontrolled, hemlock woolly adelgid spreads easily and kills almost 100% of hemlocks infested.”
The bill has been revised multiple times, and legislative sponsors and environmental groups say the DEC’s concern has been addressed. The DEC said it was still reviewing the legislation and could not comment further at this time.
State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said the bill allows the use of neonicotinoids “for the purpose of treating trees affected by or to prevent infection by invasive species.”
Dan Raichel, acting director of the Natural Resource Defence Council’s Pollinator Initiative, said provisions were added in May to remove all doubt that hemlock treatment would be an exemption to the ban.
The New York Farm Bureau remained critical of the legislation. Seeds treated with neonicotinoids were intended to reduce sprayed pesticide use, the organization said.
“While we share the same goal as supporters of the legislation,” the farm bureau wrote, “we believe the end result of this ban will force farms to revert back to spraying greater amounts of older pesticides as well as increasing tillage to combat harmful pests, releasing more carbon in the soil and increasing the likelihood of soil erosion.”
Several state constitutional amendments to the “forever wild” clause protecting the Adirondack Park Forest Preserve were introduced this session. One made progress.
The amendments involved Olympic facilities at Mount Van Hoevenberg, the former prison at Camp Gabriels and the historic Debar Lodge. All three complexes are considered illegal structures on forest preserve and require constitutional amendments to remain, to be sold or to be leased.
The Mount Van Hoevenberg amendment received first passage from the Senate and Assembly.
Rocci Aguirre, acting director of the Adirondack Council, said the “after-the-fact constitutional amendment … is the right thing to do for the Adirondack region and the people of this state who are co-owners of these lands.” It will authorize work already done at the Essex County-area cross-country ski center for the World University Games. Aguirre said passing the amendment is “standing up for the integrity” of the state’s constitution.
For a third year in a row, Stec ushered an amendment through the Senate that would enable Camp Gabriels, a former Franklin County correctional facility closed since 2009, to be sold or leased. Funds from any sale would go toward new acquisitions to the forest preserve. The state Assembly, however, failed to take action this year.
Another amendment that passed the Assembly only concerned Debar Pond Lodge. Plans for the deteriorated lodge in Franklin County include swapping it with Debar Pond Institute for 400 acres on Meacham Lake.
For an amendment to be adopted, it must pass two consecutive separately-elected legislatures before going to a public vote. This Legislature will have next year to complete a first passage.
Invasive species, wildlife killing contests
Other bills the legislature passed this session included changes to aquatic invasive species control districts and bans on wildlife killing derbies.
The invasive species bill gives municipalities more flexibility to control aquatic invertebrate species that were not covered under the current law, said Stec. Examples include Asian clams and zebra mussels.
The Assembly on Wednesday debated banning wildlife kill competitions for over an hour before passing the bill over heavy opposition from many Republican lawmakers. The Senate had passed the bill earlier, and it now awaits Hochul’s signature.
A seat on the 11-member Adirondack Park Agency board, vacant since former Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan resigned in January, did not get filled this session. The APA is charged with long-range planning and overseeing development on public and private lands in the 6-million-acre park.
Two board members, Mark Hall and Ken Lynch, are serving terms that expired last June. Dan Wilt’s term expires at the end of this month. Hochul has not appointed or reappointed members. Gubernatorial appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.
In an interview on Wednesday, APA Executive Director Barbara Rice said she was not worried about the expired terms and the vacancy has not produced any quorum issues. Members serving on expired terms have indicated they will continue in their roles, she said.
The Assembly also failed to pass a bill that would have provided additional wildlife protection at state highway crossings. The bill passed in the Senate.