Monday, November 3, 2008

Protecting Nature in the Adirondacks and the Amazon: Common Threads

There is no doubt that nature is in trouble in the modern world, and our growing economic and social problems are certain to increase threats to nature while decreasing the amount of resources available to address those threats. A way around this dilemma is to use pragmatic, market-based approaches to conservation to serve the needs of both people and nature. Since the circumstances of people and nature vary greatly throughout the world, specific applications of this concept must vary as well. Two examples from opposite ends of the world development spectrum are Thirteenth Lake in New York's Adirondack Park, and the town of Sinop in Brazil's Amazon Rainforest.

The public and private lands surrounding Thirteenth Lake represent a pragmatic solution to the negative environmental effects of sprawl. Here, members of the Thirteenth Lake Property Owners Association voluntarily give up some of the rights commonly enjoyed by property owners in the U.S. to enhance the public goods of nature protection and aesthetic quality through deed covenants. These covenants require that homes be set well back from the lake and well apart from each other, and to conform to design standards governing screening vegetation, utilities, paint color and building materials, etc. Recreational use of the lake is controlled by limiting access to a common beach area where amenities such as parking, a sandy beach, a floating dock for deep water swimming and diving, chairs and picnic tables, chemical toilets, canoe and kayak storage racks, and an emergency phone are provided, and use of the beach area is governed by a set of rules designed to protect the natural ecosystem and the aesthetic quality of the development. The overall impact is reduced fragmentation of habitat, increased protection of wildlife, and noticeably enhanced aesthetic quality compared to similar lake-shore developments in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.

The rest of the land surrounding the lake is in public ownership as part of the New York State Forest Preserve where it is governed by Adirondack Park regulations for land designated as "Wilderness" under the park's Land Use Master Plan. As such, permanent structures and the use of motorized vehicles are prohibited on the lakes public shoreline. All camping on the public land bordering the lake must take place 150 feet from trails or lake shore except at a handful of designated spots where shoreline camping is allowed. At the northern end of the lake there is a public parking area close by chemical toilets, four handicapped access campsites, and a boat launch. Although the lake itself is not designated as "Wilderness," the design of the boat launch effectively limits the size of boats that can use the lake to small craft such as kayaks, canoes, and rowboats, and there is a 5 hp limit for motorized boats (and signs suggest that only electric motors may be allowed on the lake at some point in the future).

One of the key factors in the successful marriage of public and private land at Thirteenth Lake is the use of science and technology to monitor the health of its ecosystem. An example of this is the loon monitoring program that was conducted at the lake this summer. Loons are often used as indicator species for environmental quality in Adirondack lakes, and the information gleaned from this study can be used to guide future policies pertaining to the public and private lands at Thirteenth Lake.

The threats to nature in wealthy nations are often very different from the threats to nature in the developing world, so it is interesting to find some similarities between Thirteenth Lake and an environmental success story taking place in the Amazon rainforest. In their 2007 book The Last Forest Mark London and Brian Kelly describe the town of Sinop in the Brazilian Amazon as "a failed experiment that somehow managed to succeed (p. 109)." Sinop was founded in 1972 as a "private colonization project owned by a single individual...(who used) a manioc-to-ethanol the catalyst for real estate development (p.104)." The manioc-to-ethanol scheme was an abject failure, but the town prospered nonetheless. "Sinop now has 120,000 citizens living along paved streets in neat sub-divisions, waiting patiently for the completion of the new airport terminal and the forty-six store shopping mall (p. 105)." London and Kelley find one key to Sinop's success in the fact that it started with a "private governing authority, selling off clearly demarcated plots of land. (This gave) ...settlers who then had a vested interest in the enhanced value of the land (the)...incentive to stay and prosper rather than slash and burn the land and move on (p.104)."

They find a second key to Sinop's success in the story of Jaime Demarchi, a farmer and machine shop owner, about whom they write: "It took years for Jaime and his neighbors to understand the soil: what crops worked, what rotation they needed, what fertilizer worked best. 'We now have rotations that go through soy, corn, wheat, and rice,' he said. 'And each of those plantings may need a different seed, depending on where they are, what the soil is like, what the rotation is going to be. We can figure those things out because we have the most modern technology in the world. Right here in Amazonia.' In his machine shop, Demarchi has a computer with broadband access, which allows him to share information about see varieties with research organizations, to download weather information, to buy and sell equipment, and to keep up with commodities markets. He has a cell phone. The advantage that American and European farmers once had over Demarchi--access to information and technology--is gone. The competitive matrix now tilts in his favor because he also has a year-round warm climate, abundant rainfall, and plenty of land (pp. 110-111)."

The common threads that run through the Thirteenth Lake and Sinop examples provide practical guidelines for new development programs that make effective use of the increasingly scarce resources available for environmental protection. One such thread is that both examples rely on sub-divisions of clearly-titled private property to tap into landowners' self-interest as a means of creating and sustaining development that will simultaneously protect the environment and their investment. The implication of this finding for conservation organizations seeking to make maximum use of scare resources is this; where self-interest leads to successful developments, recovered investments and profits can be channeled into new developments. This creates self-expanding funding sources for nature protection at a time when new resources are likely to be increasingly difficult to come by, and adds an interesting new dimension to the idea of "sustainable" development.

Another common thread running through both examples is that they take a pragmatic approach to protecting nature through their emphasis on creativity and adaptability. This is important because, as Louis Menand writes in his 2001 history of pragmatism The Metaphysical Club, "ideas are tools...(that) are provisional responses to particular and unreproducible circumstances (whose) survival depends not on their immutability but on their adaptability (pp. xi and xii)." They also illustrate the importance of employing science and technology to guide and enhance creativity and adaptability when dealing with the natural world.

Thirteenth Lake provides a specific example of how public and private land can be combined to protect nature, an idea that mirrors the basic concept embodied in the Adirondack Park on a smaller scale. While London and Kelly do not specifically discuss what role, if any, publicly-owned nature reserves played in Sinop's success, they note with apparent approval the efforts of Brazil's Minster of the Environment, Marina Silva, to set aside forest reserves along newly-created road (BR-163) that joins Sinop to the world's markets (p.114). Employing the expanded definition of sustainable development described above within the framework of regional land use planning promises to yield an effective foundation for future efforts to protect nature in the modern world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The First Modern Forest

As I discussed in my post titled "Pragmatism and Nature" treating nature as a pristine condition that is separate from human activities usually results in policies that are destined to fail. The pragmatic view of the modern world, on the other hand, suggests that nature is best seen as an idea that embodies many different values and concepts. In this context it is interesting to note that the Adirondacks seem to be the place the concepts that make up the modern idea of nature first came together.

One of the ideas that helped shape our modern concept of nature was the belief that nature was the physical manifestation of spiritual truth and beauty. This idea was embraced by transcendentalist authors like Thoreau and Emerson and brought to the forefront of the visual arts by the painters of the Hudson River School. Emerson linked transcendental thought to Adirondacks in his long poem "Adirondac" (see Steve's post of 10/2/08), and the prevalence of Adirondack landscapes in paintings produced by members of the Hudson River School makes the importance of the region to that movement unmistakable (need link to Hudson River site).

As the Transcendental movement and the Hudson River School were entering the American consciousness, authors like Joel Tyler Headley and Charles (Adirondack) Murray were busily promoting the recreational and health benefits of the Adirondack forest to the growing ranks of city dwellers in the 19th century U.S. quotes from both. Eventually this led people to attribute special healing properties to the Adirondack forests. This idea reached what was perhaps its zenith with the establishment of Dr. Edward Trudeau's Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium in 1884. There tuberculosis victims spent many hours each day (even in winter) on the porches of cure cottages breathing healthful "vapors" until the Sanatorium closed in 1954 after the discovery of drugs such as streptomycin that were effective in treating the disease.

While the abundant beauty and recreational opportunities of the Adirondack forests were helping change how people thought about nature, people with a utilitarian view of nature were transforming the Adirondack forest and the U.S. economy. Most of the forests close to the industrial centers of the Northeaster United States had been cleared for agriculture by the mid-1800's, but the Adirondack forest, with its rugged terrain, poor soils, and short growing season, had been spared. As the U.S. economy changed from being predominantly agricultural to being predominantly industrial in the latter half of the 19th century, timber products occupied a place equivalent to oil and the internet in our modern economy. Forests were the main source of fuel, construction material, and chemicals during the industrial revolution in the U.S., and they provided the paper that was the essential means for storing and transmitting information in this increasingly mass-market economy. The most accessible source of large amounts of timber products was the Adirondack forest, and it was soon filled with the sounds of axes and saws.

Clear cutting and the enormous forest fires that followed in its wake stripped much of the Adirondacks of trees and wildlife before the turn of the century. The resulting erosion carried away much of the already thin layer of Adirondack topsoil, which ended up in lakes, ponds and streams and choked out aquatic life. Eventually, even relentlessly utilitarian Progressive-era politicians began to fear that the destruction of the Adirondack forest posed a threat to many important New York watersheds that were essential to commerce.

Watersheds were another example of the new ideas that were coming together in the Adirondack forest to create the modern concept of nature. In 1865 George Perkins Marsh published Man and Nature, an exhaustive inventory of the ways humans had altered the natural world. His work laid the foundation for the concept of ecosystems that is an essential component of modern environmental science. In 1872 the New York State Assembly appointed a Commission of State Parks to make recommendations for protecting the Adirondack forest, and Phil Terrie points out in his 1998 Adirondack history Contested Terrain that the Commissioners invoked "language and examples found in Marsh's Man and Nature although that important book was not specifically cited (when) the Commissioners argued that...the chief reason for establishing an Adirondack Park was to protect watershed (p. 93)".

Over the next 22 years these ideas were gradually drawn together to create the Adirondack Park. Anglers and hunters, journalists, wealth landholders, nascent conservationists, and utilitarian downstate business interests concerned about the effect changes to the Adirondack watershed would have on New York's canal system created one of the earliest successful environmental coalitions. In responding to this coalition the New York State Legislature never resolved the issue of what to do about the people who lived within the park's boundaries. In effect, this decision to "create first, resolve later" established a pragmatic approach to park policy, and it is no accident that major changes to the original structure of the park such as the establishment of the "Forever Wild" clause in 1894, and the creation of the Adirondack Park Land Use Plan in 1973 are some of the most useful applications for those seeking to protect nature in the modern world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pragmatism and Nature

People who care about nature have reason to be concerned about its fate in the modern world. Deforestation continues at a staggering rate in developing nations, and sprawling development takes a toll on nature in both rich and poor nations. Wild plant and animal populations throughout the world are depleted for folk medicine and fashion, and wild animals are increasingly hunted for "bushmeat," or hunted, trapped, or poisoned when they have an adverse effect on domestic animals or crops. Finally, marine ecosystems are ravaged by over-harvesting and pollution, and global warming threatens species everywhere (see Steve's post on Bicknell's Thrush, for example). Anyone who cares about the fate of nature must advocate for effective policies to address these problems.

In his 2001 book The Metaphysical Club Louis Menand quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as stating "all the pleasure in life is in general ideas, but all the use of life is in specific solutions (p. 342)." We seek, through our study of the Adirondack Park, to produce both general ideas and specific solutions about how we might best protect what remains of nature. One general idea that has emerged from our study to date is that there is great benefit in taking a pragmatic view of nature when considering environmental policy. It is important to note that in this context "pragmatic" is not simply a synonym for "compromise." Instead, it expresses the belief that ideas, including the idea of nature, "should never become ideologies--either justifying the the status quo, or dictating some transcendent imperative for renouncing it (Menand, p. xii)." Sometimes useful ideas will emerge from compromise, and at other times from the application of just principles.

Unfortunately, environmental policy is often decided in a political arena where nature is defined in ideological terms by anti-environmentalist seeking to justify the status quo, or radical environmentalists seeking transcendent change. The result is often conflict, gridlock and policy failure. The Adirondack Park is one of the world's oldest and largest attempts to protect nature through public policy, and our research suggests that this experiment has usually worked best when it has taken a pragmatic and democratic view of nature, and often failed when it has not. Some specific solutions that have worked in the Adirondack Park and promise to be useful elsewhere are: land use planning, affording nature extra protection in the political process through delay and referendum as mandated by the "Forever Wild Clause", stewardship and citizen science, and paying local government taxes on state land. The failure of the Commission on the Adirondack Park in the Twenty-first Century, on the other hand, confirms that effective policies for protecting nature must be forged in the crucible of democratic politics, no matter how frustrating or imperfect that route may sometimes seem.

Elsewhere in The Metaphysical Club Menand explains that the usefulness of pragmatism in the modern world rests on "a kind of skepticism that (helps) people cope with life in a heterogeneous, industrialized, mass-market society (p, xii)." It is no accident that pragmatic skepticism emerged on the scene at the same time as modern scientific methods since science, democracy, and capitalism are the three pillars of the modern world. It is also important to recognize that those pillars are sometimes at odds with each other. Democracy and capitalism, as Robert Dahl demonstrates in his 1998 treatise On Democracy, " are locked in a persistent conflict in which each modifies and limits the other (p. 173)." Similarly, recent events in the field of biomedical research have demonstrated that capitalism is fully capable of distorting the scientific process in its quest for profit. It is, however, the conflicts that sometimes emerge between science and democracy that are most important for those who are concerned with the fate of nature in the modern world.

Where the environment is concerned, the mismatched language and time-frames of science and democratic politics present a serious barrier to effective policy making. The language of science is modest and probabilistic, characteristics that allow political partisans to create illusions of doubt when scientific findings are cited in public discourse. Further, the painstaking methodology and redundancy of results required by science creates a slow-moving process that is at odds with the election-driven time frame of democratic politics. Recognizing the mismatch between the language and time frames of science and democracy is essential to creating environmental policies that eschew ideology in favor of weighing and assessing the full-range of empirical evidence.

A general theme that emerges from the study of Adirondack Park history is that its policies work best when they embrace the pragmatism embodied in the park's founding (see my post titled "The First Modern Forest). Both of the recent comprehensive histories of the park reached similar conclusions. In his 1978 book The Adirondack Park: A Political History Frank Graham writes of the Adirondack Park Agency: "There were public relations blunders that ought to serve as warnings for regional planning groups in the future {my emphasis}.To its capable staff of planners, lawyers, and ecologists, the agency might have added a community relations expert--and even a psychologist--who could have bridged the gap by interpreting goals and techniques of the planning effort for local government officials, the press, the business community, and the public at large (p. 261)." Phil Terrie expands on this theme in his 1997 Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks when he concludes that "..the difficulties involved in protecting both human and natural values reflect the continuing value of narratives to define the land and influence people's understandings of the land's meaning. (The) failure of the legislature to resolve the dilemma posed by private land in the Park (represents)...a great opportunity to...find just the unifying narrative we need forge a hopeful story for the future (p. 183)".

Adirondack Park history strongly suggests that defining nature in ideological terms yields policies that are controversial and counter productive, whereas taking a pragmatic view of nature results in policies that are flexible and effective. For pragmatists, ideas are "tools that people devise to cope with the world in which they find themselves (Menand: p. xi)." Examining the Adirondack Park from a pragmatic perspective yields a "tool kit" that can be adapted to the task of nature conservation in a wide range of circumstances. This kit includes: land use planning, delay and referendum, deed covenants, landscape design, tax payments on public land, variable tax assessment, stewardship, and conservation easements.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

(this poem in its entirity was taken from The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson at
Wise and polite,--and if I drew
Their several portraits, you would own
Chaucer had no such worthy crew,
Nor Boccace in Decameron.
We crossed Champlain to Keeseville with our friends,
Thence, in strong country carts, rode up the forks
Of the Ausable stream, intent to reach
The Adirondac lakes. At Martin's Beach
We chose our boats; each man a boat and guide,
--Ten men, ten guides, our company all told.
Next morn, we swept with oars the Saranac,
With skies of benediction, to Round Lake,
Where all the sacred mountains drew around us,
Tahawus, Seaward, MacIntyre, Baldhead,
And other Titans without muse or name.
Pleased with these grand companions, we glide on,
Instead of flowers, crowned with a wreath of hills.
We made our distance wider, boat from boat,
As each would hear the oracle alone.
By the bright morn the gay flotilla slid
Through files of flags that gleamed like bayonets,
Through gold-moth-haunted beds of pickerel-flower,
Through scented banks of lilies white and gold,
Where the deer feeds at night, the teal by day,
On through the Upper Saranac, and upPere Raquette stream, to a small tortuous pass
Winding through grassy shallows in and out,
Two creeping miles of rushes, pads and sponge,
To Follansbee Water and the Lake of Loons.
Northward the length of Follansbee we rowed,
Under low mountains, whose unbroken ridge
Ponderous with beechen forest sloped the shore.
A pause and council: then, where near the head
Due east a bay makes inward to the land
Between two rocky arms, we climb the bank,
And in the twilight of the forest noon
Wield the first axe these echoes ever heard.
We cut young trees to make our poles and thwarts,
Barked the white spruce to weatherfend the roof,
Then struck a light and kindled the camp-fire.
The wood was sovran with centennial trees,
--Oak, cedar, maple, poplar, beech and fir,
Linden and spruce. In strict society
Three conifers, white, pitch and Norway pine,
Five-leaved, three-leaved and two-leaved, grew thereby,
Our patron pine was fifteen feet in girth,
The maple eight, beneath its shapely tower.
'Welcome!' the wood-god murmured through the leaves,
--'Welcome, though late, unknowing, yet known to me.
'Evening drew on; stars peeped through maple-boughs,
Which o'erhung, like a cloud, our camping fire.
Decayed millennial trunks, like moonlight flecks,
Lit with phosphoric crumbs the forest floor.
Ten scholars, wonted to lie warm and soft
In well-hung chambers daintily bestowed,
Lie here on hemlock-boughs, like Sacs and Sioux,
And greet unanimous the joyful change.
So fast will Nature acclimate her sons,
Though late returning to her pristine ways.
Off soundings, seamen do not suffer cold;
And, in the forest, delicate clerks, unbrowned,
Sleep on the fragrant brush, as on down-beds.
Up with the dawn, they fancied the light air
That circled freshly in their forest dress
Made them to boys again. Happier that they
Slipped off their pack of duties, leagues behind,
At the first mounting of the giant stairs.
No placard on these rocks warned to the polls,
No door-bell heralded a visitor,
No courier waits, no letter came or went,
Nothing was ploughed, or reaped, or bought, or sold;
The frost might glitter, it would blight no crop,
The falling rain will spoil no holiday.
We were made freemen of the forest laws,
All dressed, like Nature, fit for her own ends,
Essaying nothing she cannot perform.
In Adirondac lakes
At morn or noon, the guide rows bareheaded:
Shoes, flannel shirt, and kersey trousers make
His brief toilette: at night, or in the rain,
He dons a surcoat which he doffs at morn:
A paddle in the right hand, or an oar,
And in the left, a gun, his needful arms.
By turns we praised the stature of our guides,
Their rival strength and suppleness, their skill
To row, to swim, to shoot, to build a camp,
To climb a lofty stem, clean without boughs
Full fifty feet, and bring the eaglet down:
Temper to face wolf, bear, or catamount,
And wit to trap or take him in his lair.
Sound, ruddy men, frolic and innocent,
In winter, lumberers; in summer, guides;
Their sinewy arms pull at the oar untired
Three times ten thousand strokes, from morn to eve.
Look to yourselves, ye polished gentlemen!
No city airs or arts pass current here.
Your rank is all reversed; let men or cloth
Bow to the stalwart churls in overalls:
_They_ are the doctors of the wilderness,
And we the low-prized laymen.
In sooth, red flannel is a saucy test
Which few can put on with impunity.
What make you, master, fumbling at the oar?
Will you catch crabs? Truth tries pretension here.
The sallow knows the basket-maker's thumb;
The oar, the guide's. Dare you accept the tasks
He shall impose, to find a spring, trap foxes,
Tell the sun's time, determine the true north,
Or stumbling on through vast self-similar woods
To thread by night the nearest way to camp?
Ask you, how went the hours?
All day we swept the lake, searched every cove,
North from Camp Maple, south to Osprey Bay,
Watching when the loud dogs should drive in deer,
Or whipping its rough surface for a trout;
Or, bathers, diving from the rock at noon;
Challenging Echo by our guns and cries;
Or listening to the laughter of the loon;
Or, in the evening twilight's latest red,
Beholding the procession of the pines;
Or, later yet, beneath a lighted jack,
In the boat's bows, a silent night-hunter
Stealing with paddle to the feeding-grounds
Of the red deer, to aim at a square mist.
Hark to that muffled roar! a tree in the woods
Is fallen: but hush! it has not scared the buck
Who stands astonished at the meteor light,
Then turns to bound away,--is it too late?
Our heroes tried their rifles at a mark,
Six rods, sixteen, twenty, or forty-five;
Sometimes their wits at sally and retort,
With laughter sudden as the crack of rifle;
Or parties scaled the near acclivities
Competing seekers of a rumored lake,
Whose unauthenticated waves we named
Lake Probability,--our carbuncle,Long sought, not found.
Two Doctors in the camp
Dissected the slain deer, weighed the trout's brain,
Captured the lizard, salamander, shrew,
Crab, mice, snail, dragon-fly, minnow and moth;
Insatiate skill in water or in air
Waved the scoop-net, and nothing came amiss;
The while, one leaden got of alcohol
Gave an impartial tomb to all the kinds.
Not less the ambitious botanist sought plants,
Orchis and gentian, fern and long whip-scirpus,
Rosy polygonum, lake-margin's pride,
Hypnum and hydnum, mushroom, sponge and moss,
Or harebell nodding in the gorge of falls.
Above, the eagle flew, the osprey screamed,
The raven croaked, owls hooted, the woodpecker
Loud hammered, and the heron rose in the swamp.
As water poured through hollows of the hills
To feed this wealth of lakes and rivulets,
So Nature shed all beauty lavishly
From her redundant horn.
Lords of this realm,
Bounded by dawn and sunset, and the day
Rounded by hours where each outdid the last
In miracles of pomp, we must be proud,
As if associates of the sylvan gods.
We seemed the dwellers of the zodiac,
So pure the Alpine element we breathed,
So light, so lofty pictures came and went.
We trode on air, contemned the distant town,
Its timorous ways, big trifles, and we planned
That we should build, hard-by, a spacious lodge
And how we should come hither with our sons,
Hereafter,--willing they, and more adroit.
Hard fare, hard bed and comic misery,
--The midge, the blue-fly and the mosquito
Painted our necks, hands, ankles, with red bands:
But, on the second day, we heed them not,
Nay, we saluted them Auxiliaries,
Whom earlier we had chid with spiteful names.
For who defends our leafy tabernacle
From bold intrusion of the travelling crowd,
--Who but the midge, mosquito and the fly,
Which past endurance sting the tender cit,
But which we learn to scatter with a smudge,
Or baffle by a veil, or slight by scorn?
Our foaming ale we drank from hunters' pans,
Ale, and a sup of wine.
Our steward gaveVenison and trout, potatoes, beans, wheat-bread;
All ate like abbots, and, if any missed
Their wonted convenance, cheerly hid the loss
With hunters' appetite and peals of mirth.
And Stillman, our guides' guide, and
Commodore,Crusoe, Crusader, Pius Aeneas, said aloud,
"Chronic dyspepsia never came from eating
Food indigestible":--then murmured some,
Others applauded him who spoke the truth.
Nor doubt but visitings of graver thought
Checked in these souls the turbulent heyday
'Mid all the hints and glories of the home.
For who can tell what sudden privacies
Were sought and found, amid the hue and cry
Of scholars furloughed from their tasks and let
Into this Oreads' fended Paradise,
As chapels in the city's thoroughfares,
Whither gaunt Labor slips to wipe his brow
And meditate a moment on Heaven's rest.
Judge with what sweet surprises Nature spoke
To each apart, lifting her lovely shows
To spiritual lessons pointed home,
And as through dreams in watches of the night,
So through all creatures in their form and ways
Some mystic hint accosts the vigilant,
Not clearly voiced, but waking a new sense
Inviting to new knowledge, one with old.
Hark to that petulant chirp! what ails the warbler?
Mark his capricious ways to draw the eye.
Now soar again. What wilt thou, restless bird,
Seeking in that chaste blue a bluer light,
Thirsting in that pure for a purer sky?
And presently the sky is changed;
O world!What pictures and what harmonies are thine!
The clouds are rich and dark, the air serene,
So like the soul of me, what if 't were me?
A melancholy better than all mirth.
Comes the sweet sadness at the retrospect,
Or at the foresight of obscurer years?
Like yon slow-sailing cloudy promontory
Whereon the purple iris dwells in beauty
Superior to all its gaudy skirts.
And, that no day of life may lack romance,
The spiritual stars rise nightly, shedding down
A private beam into each several heart.
Daily the bending skies solicit man,
The seasons chariot him from this exile,
The rainbow hours bedeck his glowing chair,
The storm-winds urge the heavy weeks along,
Suns haste to set, that so remoter lights
Beckon the wanderer to his vaster home.
With a vermilion pencil mark the day
When of our little fleet three cruising skiffs
Entering Big Tupper, bound for the foaming
FallsOf loud Bog River, suddenly confront
Two of our mates returning with swift oars.
One held a printed journal waving high
Caught from a late-arriving traveller,
Big with great news, and shouted the report
For which the world had waited, now firm fact,
Of the wire-cable laid beneath the sea,
And landed on our coast, and pulsating
With ductile fire. Loud, exulting cries
From boat to boat, and to the echoes round,
Greet the glad miracle. Thought's new-found path
Shall supplement henceforth all trodden ways,
Match God's equator with a zone of art,
And lift man's public action to a height
Worthy the enormous cloud of witnesses,
When linked hemispheres attest his deed.
We have few moments in the longest life
Of such delight and wonder as there grew,
--Nor yet unsuited to that solitude:
A burst of joy, as if we told the fact
To ears intelligent; as if gray rock
And cedar grove and cliff and lake should know
This feat of wit, this triumph of mankind;
As if we men were talking in a vein
Of sympathy so large, that ours was theirs,
And a prime end of the most subtle element
Were fairly reached at last. Wake, echoing caves!
Bend nearer, faint day-moon! Yon thundertops,
Let them hear well! 'tis theirs as much as ours.
A spasm throbbing through the pedestals
Of Alp and Andes, isle and continent,
Urging astonished Chaos with a thrill
To be a brain, or serve the brain of man.
The lightning has run masterless too long;
He must to school and learn his verb and noun
And teach his nimbleness to earn his wage,
Spelling with guided tongue man's messages
Shot through the weltering pit of the salt sea.
And yet I marked, even in the manly joy
Of our great-hearted Doctor in his boat
(Perchance I erred), a shade of discontent;
Or was it for mankind a generous shame,
As of a luck not quite legitimate,
Since fortune snatched from wit the lion's part?
Was it a college pique of town and gown,
As one within whose memory it burned
That not academicians, but some lout,
Found ten years since the Californian gold?
And now, again, a hungry company
Of traders, led by corporate sons of trade,
Perversely borrowing from the shop the tools
Of science, not from the philosophers,
Had won the brightest laurel of all time.
'Twas always thus, and will be; hand and head
Are ever rivals: but, though this be swift,
The other slow,--this the Prometheus,
And that the Jove,--yet, howsoever hid,
It was from Jove the other stole his fire,
And, without Jove, the good had never been.
It is not Iroquois or cannibals,
But ever the free race with front sublime,
And these instructed by their wisest too,
Who do the feat, and lift humanity.
Let not him mourn who best entitled was,
Nay, mourn not one: let him exult,
Yea, plant the tree that bears best apples, plant,
And water it with wine, nor watch askance
Whether thy sons or strangers eat the fruit:
Enough that mankind eat and are refreshed.
We flee away from cities, but we bring
The best of cities with us, these learned classifiers,
Men knowing what they seek, armed eyes of experts.
We praise the guide, we praise the forest life:
But will we sacrifice our dear-bought lore
Of books and arts and trained experiment,
Or count the Sioux a match for Agassiz?O no, not we!
Witness the shout that shook
Wild Tupper Lake; witness the mute all-hail
The joyful traveller gives, when on the verge
Of craggy Indian wilderness he hears
From a log cabin stream Beethoven's notes
On the piano, played with master's hand.
'Well done!' he cries; 'the bear is kept at bay,
The lynx, the rattlesnake, the flood, the fire;
All the fierce enemies, ague, hunger, cold,
This thin spruce roof, this clayed log-wall,
This wild plantation will suffice to chase.
Now speed the gay celerities of art,
What in the desert was impossible
Within four walls is possible again,
--Culture and libraries, mysteries of skill,
Traditioned fame of masters, eager strife
Of keen competing youths, joined or alone
To outdo each other and extort applause.
Mind wakes a new-born giant from her sleep.
Twirl the old wheels! Time takes fresh start again,
On for a thousand years of genius more.'
The holidays were fruitful, but must end;
One August evening had a cooler breath;
Into each mind intruding duties crept;
Under the cinders burned the fires of home;
Nay, letters found us in our paradise:
So in the gladness of the new event
We struck our camp and left the happy hills.
The fortunate star that rose on us sank not;
The prodigal sunshine rested on the land,
The rivers gambolled onward to the sea,
And Nature, the inscrutable and mute,
Permitted on her infinite repose
Almost a smile to steal to cheer her sons,
As if one riddle of the Sphinx were guessed.

Bandit with a Chain Saw

The 10/6/08 issue of The New Yorker contains an interesting article by Raffi Khatchadourian that describes how illegal foresting is responsible for much of the deforestation that is happening in the world today. He closes the article with a tense account of a Russian "special officer" chasing an illegal forester through the woods. The officer fires several shots at the fleeing poacher before finally capturing him, but I was struck by the fact that the "middle-aged, visibly out of shape" bandit did not drop his chainsaw during the chase. Given the context of the article it seems unlikely that Khatchadourian's readers will see the poacher as a sympathetic figure, but he was to me. The sympathy I felt for this "bandit with a chainsaw" has its roots in a presentation I attended at the World Wilderness Congress in Tromso, Norway several years ago.

I was part of a large U.S. delegation to the Congress, and for the first few days my pride in being part of the this group grew day by day as I attended session after session where members of our delegation described marvelous GIS and GPS applications for wilderness protection, successful noise abatement policies in the Grand Canyon, etc. It grew even more after my colleagues and I made a very well-received presentation about lessons for protecting natural areas that might be learned by studying New York's Adironcack Park. But my reverie came to a screeching halt when I chanced upon a session presented by a forest ranger from a national park in India. I can't remember the name of the park or the ranger, but I've never forgotten his message.

His presentation started with wide-angle photgraphs of forest framed by the Himalayan Mountains in the background. This, he told us, was his park. He then began to show closer shots of the park, and it became apparent that his park was experiencing severe deforestation and errosion. He explained that the damage was initially caused by local people who entered the park to harvest branches for cooking and heating, and leaves for browse for their animals. He and his fellow rangers had responded by enforcing a strict ban on such activity. Soon, representatives from the local villages visited park headquarters and explained that their children were suffering from the cold and their animals were dying of starvation. Might it be possible, they wondered, for the local people to enter the park and take only leaves and branches that had fallen to the ground? The rangers felt sympathy for their plight and agreed to their request. That, he explained, was when the real damage started, since people literally came to park with brooms and swept the forest floor clean of fallen leaves and branches. Stripped of ground cover and seeds, the forest was dying, and the topsoil was washing away. He closed by asking us what, short of shooting the people who would inevitably continue to come to the park is search of leaves and wood, should he do? We had no answers.

Upon returning home I decided that I had to refocus my Adirondack research in a way that addressed the underlying factors exposed by the Indian forest ranger's presentation. It has not been an easy process, but I believe that answer lies in adopting a pragmatic philosophy when it comes to devising and implementing policies to protect nature. In this context pragmatic does not simply mean "practical," and it is not just an excuse to compromise, althoug compromise is often the result. It means instead that ideas, as Louis Menand explains in his 2001 book The Metaphysical Club, are not "'out there' waiting to be discovered, but are tools--like forks and knives and microchips--that people devise to cope with the world in which they find themselves (p. xi)." Since, in this formulation, ideas are "provisional responses to particular and unreproducible circumstances, their survival depends not on their immutablity but on their adaptability (and they)...should never become idelogies--either justifying the status quo or dictating some transcendent imperative for renouncing it (p. xii)."

I seems to me that failure to adopt a pragmatic view of nature has too often led to policy debates being dominated by those determined to justify the environmental status quo at any cost (anti-environmentalists) and those wedded to a transcendent imperative for renouncing it (radical environmentalists). In the Adirondack Park the failure to adopt a pragmatic view of nature was responsible for the failure of the Governor's Commission on the Adirondack Park in the Twenty-first Century, while the success of subsequent efforts to protect important natural areas through land acquisition and conservation easements is the result of politicians and policymakers taking a pragmatic approach. This recent history illustrates a larger theme: the Adirondack Park has succeeded in protecting nature in one of the most heavily developed parts of the world (60 million people live within a days drive of the Adirondack Park) because it has generally taken a pragmatic view of nature. Looking back at the successes and failures of the world's oldest and largest attempt to marry public and private land to protect nature may yield the answers the park ranger from India, and the rest of us who care about nature, need.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Land Use Planning in the Adirondack Park

In 1967 a stretch of Interstate Rte. 87 linking Albany and Montreal was completed. This stretch of highway, known as the Northway, runs along and through the Eastern side of the Adirondack Park. When the Northway was completed the Adirondack Park was within a day's drive of sixty million people. Conservationsists feared that this easy access would spark new development on private land in the park that would destroy its environmental itegrity. In response to this concern then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller's brother Laurance spearheaded a drive to create a national park in the Adirondacks. His proposal met with almost universal resistance from New Yorkers, but it eventually led to the creation of the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks. This, in turn, led to the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) in 1971. The APA was charged with creating a State Land Master Plan to guide the Department of Environmental Conservation in managing state lands in the Adirondack Park, and a Private Land Use and Development Plan.

Using a process that was, in effect, the analog predecessor of modern GIS techniques, early Adirondack Park Land Use Maps were created by stacking translucent overlays each of which represented a particular environmental condition such as proximity to roads and shorelines, soil type, elevation and slope, scenic overlooks, associated with corresponding areas on a map of the park. Light shining through the layers produced varying shades of gray on the map such that darker shades indicated land that needed greater need for protection from development and other human activities. APA planners then converted the shades of gray into colors that designated different public and private land use categories. Governor Rockefeller accepted the first State Land Master Plan in 1972 and, after a great deal of debate and compromise, the state legislature approved the first Private Land Use and Development Plan in 1973.

Today both land use plans are periodically revised using digital mapping technology and information provided by APA scientists and planners. Final decisions about those revisions rests with the eleven Adirondack Park Agency Board Members. Eight of the members are appointed at the descretion of the Governor (by convention five of these seats are held by park residents and three are held by out-of park residents). The three remaining members are the Secretary of State, the head of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the head of the Department of Economic Development. The Board makes park policy decisions and acts on permit applications during its monthly open meetings. While the Governor obviously has enormous influence over the Board, the diversity of interests represented by its members and its open meetings generally encourages it to make pragmatic decisions.

Evidence of pragmatic decision making can be found in the two main land use categories and managment strategies that comprise the constitutionally-protected Adirondack Forest Preserve. About 50% of the Forest Preserve is categorized as Wild Forest, a wilderness designation that allows some permanent man-made structures (e.g bridges) and use of motorized vehicles on designated trails and roads. The other 50% is categorized as Wilderness, a designation that prohibits use of motorized vehicles and permits only primitive structures for trail maintenance. Maintaining a consistent balance between these land use categories over time has helped to create a broad-based, if sometimes uneasy, coalition among recreational users, park businesses, and preservationists where park politics are concerned.

The Private Land Use and Development Plan embodies pragmatic view of nature by inserting environmental concerns into the private market for Adirondack Park real estate. Under the plan private land is divided into six categories: Hamlets, Industrial Use Areas, Moderate Intensity Use Areas, Low Intensity Use Areas, Rural Use Areas, and Resource Management Areas. For each category "overall intensity guidelines" prescribe the approximate number of principle buildings that are allowed in a square mile area. Each category is defined by a "character description" and a statement of "purposes, policies, and objectives." In addition, "development considerations" are listed to point out possible adverse impacts of development, and "compatible uses" are listed as a positive guide to acceptable development for each category. Finally, the plan defines projects within each category that require APA approval due to their regional impact. In the case of subdivisions, for example, "regional projects" range from 100-lot projects in Hamlet Areas to two-lot projects in Resource Management Areas.

Together, the State Land Master Plan and the Private Land Use and Development Plan continue the pragmatic tradition that has marked the Adirondack Park since its founding. Take, for example, the issue of shoreline protection. Since the majority of Adirondack Park homes and businesses are located on or near the park's 11,000 lakes and ponds and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, regulation of shoreline development is one of the most controversial aspects of the Private Land Use and Development Plan. The 1973 Land Use Plan was approved by the legislature only after regulations for development along shorelines were rendered less restrictive than regulations for other areas of the park. Since that time, environmentalists have continually lobbied for stricter regulations on shoreline development in the park, but it took 35 years for the APA to require shoreline property owners to obtain permits for rebuilding or expanding exisiting buildings. For most radical environmentalists the APA's action is meaningless gesture that fails to address the root cause of the problem (capitalism). For most anti-environmentalists it is needless restriction of private property rights. For most pragmatic environmentalists, it is a step in the right direction that improves environmental quality without dramatically altering economic and social conditions in the park.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Define Big---Adirondack Park is Massive

Although New York history represents a major portion of the New York State third grade curriculum, many New York college bound students fail to recognize the Adirondacks as a major state park. Adirondack Park is larger than all other state and national parks in the 48 contiguous United States. In fact, only three national parks/preserves in Alaska out rank the Adirondacks in absolute size. Gates of the Arctic, Noatak National Preserve, and Wrangell St. Elias National Park and National Preserve are bigger at 7.5, 6.6, and 13.2 million acres, respectively. The Adirondack Park weighs in at a tad more than 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares or 24,281 square kilometers). Adirondack Park is bigger than Yellowstone N.P, Death Valley N.P, Rocky Mountain N.P., and the Grand Canyon. Adirondack Park is as large as the neighboring state of Vermont.

Adirondack Park sticks out like a large green blot on the Google Earth Map of New England. From space, its jagged border separates the green forests within to the non-park lands on the outside. There are 86 countries with less land area than the Adirondacks. This includes several developed countries with a large human presence. These include Luxemburg, Jamaica, Belize, El Salvador, Kuwait and Puerto Rico. The island country of Sicily is nearly the same size at 25,708 square kilometers. Costa Rica with its rich biodiversity is only twice the size at 51,000 square kilometers.
A few years ago, my field biology students measured and counted trees on 200 square meter plots on Long Point at Raquette Lake. We learned that on average, a typical hectare of this Adirondack forest has 638 trees of various sizes. Hemlock was the most abundant and accounted for 50% of the trees. Yellow birch and American beech were dead even at 13% each in the forest. If these values are typical, and we have no reason to suspect otherwise, then we predict that there are about 793 million eastern hemlock trees in Adirondack Park. Of the 1.6 billion trees, 207 million are yellow birch and another 207 million are American beech. We also determined that a hectare of Adirondack forest contained 280000 kg of dry biomass in living trees for a total of 1.8 x 1012 kg in the park. This mass is the same as 165 million yellow school buses.

Hidden within this great forest are large numbers of uncountable animal species. Anyone who has driven Adirondack roads on rainy summer nights is aware of the great numbers of American toads plopping across wet roadways. Much of the animal diversity and volume is unaccounted because we rarely see it. Take for example the eastern red-backed salamander. This species is very common across New York State. It leads a totally terrestrial lifestyle and one is very likely to encounter dozens of these in a short period of time, just by gently lifting rocks, logs, and humus in the forest. Ducey and Breisch in “The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State” (Gibbs et al., 2007) estimate that the average forest has 1,660 eastern red-backed salamanders per acre. This translates into an astounding 10 billion eastern red-backed salamanders in the Adirondacks and places them near the top as the nation’s most abundant vertebrate.

These comparisons illustrate the Adirondack Park is easily the greenest place in the 48 contiguous states. More than 85% of the wilderness east of the Rocky Mountains is located in the Adirondack Park. The trees are protected by the New York State Constitution. Their presence and protection makes them a valuable environmental sponge by removing large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Do you suspect that my numbers and calculations are a little overzealous? After all, the Adirondacks have a significant surface are of water. On the other hand, the 6 million acres are flat terrestrial quantities, but the Adirondacks are anything but flat. If anything, my numbers are a complete underestimate of forest biomass as the vertical rises in the ADK add significantly to the total tree count.