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Forest Preserve Group Calls for State Action

Forest Preserve Group Calls for State Action

November 13, 2023 — Albany, NY — In a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, 44 organizations and municipalities outlined key actions for the year ahead including requests for the 2024/25 state budgeting process to address sustainability and stewardship in the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserve Parks.

  1. Retain $10 million in dedicated stewardship funding in the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserve Parks
  2. Invest in Adirondack and Catskill communities, including through affordable housing, cellular and broadband, and other critical projects.
  3. Maintain EPF funding for Forest Preserve visitor centers.
  4. Support research and monitoring in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
  5. Develop an accessibility policy for DEC-managed lands.
  6. Clear land conservancy backlog to achieve climate goals.
  7. Continue adding and supporting agency staff.

The signatories also applaud this year’s historic commitment to the environment, which included a $400 million EPF, and rollout of the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, Green Jobs Bond Act. The former included $8 million in dedicated stewardship funds for the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserve Parks, representing an impressive step toward meeting the vision outlined by the Catskill Park and Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Groups (CAG and HPAG).

The full contents of the letter can be read online.

“New York State’s crown jewel—the Forest Preserve—needs funding to manage the issues of today and tomorrow. 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,” said Michael Barrett, ADK Executive Director. “This $10 million investment by New York will directly support Forest Preserve communities, the millions of visitors who benefit from these lands, and our environment as a whole.”

“As we navigate increasing environmental challenges, like managing high use and mitigating the spread of invasive species, investing in our stewardship, education, and outreach efforts in the Catskill Forest Preserve remains vital,” said Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center. “In addition, allocating dedicated funding to important gateways like our Catskills Visitor Center plays a key role in having visitors understand the importance of preserving New York’s wild forests.”

“Places like the Adirondack and Catskills succeed when both people and nature thrive,” said Sawyer Bailey, Executive Director, AdkAction. “By supporting both sides of this essential equation, driving much needed support to critical community resource challenges like housing and broadband, we can achieve true sustainability for our state’s special places.”

“We see New York State’s recent Catskill Park Initiatives, covering infrastructure and Visitor Use Management, as the start of a transformative era for ongoing Catskill Park management,” said Sean Mahoney, Town of Hunter Supervisor. “This proposal addresses the challenges faced by small communities within the Catskill Park during and after the pandemic, including increased land access and heightened usage. These initiatives will bolster these efforts, nurturing vibrant communities and delivering significant environmental protection.”

“The Adirondack and Catskills forest preserve are very special places in New York State that must be well managed, cared for and preserved not only in this generation but for our children & grandchildren to enjoy. Once lost our precious gift can never be replaced, said Kelly Metzger, Executive Director, Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance. “With climate change affecting the world around us daily, maintaining a healthy forest environment helps to protect not only the air we breathe, the animals who live in our forest, but also helps to maintain the fragile global balance we need in order to survive in this ever-changing environmental world.”

“The Catskill Forest Preserve is the lifeblood of our communities,” said Ramsay Adams, Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Executive Director, “Every dollar that the state invests in Park stewardship, housing, accessibility, and cellular connectivity creates a safer, more inviting park, while igniting positive local economic growth. A $10 million investment will build upon the great steps forward in recent years’ budgets, empowering the Department of Environmental Conservation and local communities to propel ongoing stewardship and safety projects to completion.”

“As a longtime resident of the Adirondacks and a wheelchair user for 20 years. I personally know what it’s like to have very limited access to the wilderness experience that I live here for. In recent years, there has been an increase in awareness and action in terms of accessible options, but it’s just a beginning,” said Jason Thurston, chairman of the Accessibility Advisory Committee for DEC and APA. “With more resources, and a specific plan for accessibility throughout the region, more opportunities can be available for all people to enjoy. Accessibility benefits more than just wheelchair users. People with young children and strollers, people who have balance issues, people with vision impairments and people who have low stamina, all benefit. As we age our bodies break down and we will still want access to the wilderness we all love. When trails are built to be accessible, they are also more sustainable.”

“The Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves are one of New York’s great conservation legacies,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Raul J. Aguirre. “And a testament to the power of wild places to help tackle some of the most pressing issues facing our natural and human communities. We see ongoing and increased EPF Forest Preserve stewardship funding as essential to fulfilling the recommendations captured in the HPAG and CAG reports and to ensuring that the iconic Adirondack and Catskill Parks are managed like the world-class natural treasures they are.”

“The State, and the DEC, should be applauded for their efforts to protect the Adirondacks and Catskills through science-based management,” said Joshua Ginsberg, President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “Supplemental funds will support a network of research activities in the region, and enable data-driven stewardship strategies that will save money in the long-term. We urge the Governor to continue, and expand, support for these activities, as they are a critical asset for conservation and recreation in New York State.”

“This request goes right to the heart of the issues facing small towns in the Adirondack Park.  Local communities work hard every day to protect water quality, provide access to state land, and deal with the impacts of climate change and increasing use,” said Joe Pete Wilson, Town of Keene Supervisor. “The support these initiatives provide would strengthen these efforts and keep vibrant communities on a healthy path while achieving significant protection of the environment.”

“The Adirondack and Catskill forests are as essential to New York State as the Manhattan skyline, and they are worthy of our highest levels of protection and care,” said Kim Elliman, President and CEO, the Open Space Institute. “The Open Space Institute is deeply grateful for our state’s continued, significant investments in environmental protection. We encourage Governor Hochul and our state lawmakers to retain the $10 million in EPF stewardship funding in order to strengthen Adirondack and Catskill communities, improve accessibility on DEC-managed lands, cultivate opportunities for research and monitoring, and make the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves more welcoming to all.” 

“The Adirondack Forty Sixers are very appreciative of the past support of the EPF,” said Laurie Rankin, President of the ADK 46ers. “Those of us in the field have seen that the investments and initiatives made previously are making improvements in both the protection of the resource and the visitor experience. Support for the local communities must continue so that all are welcome, be they residents or visitors. Continued support of the EPF that would provide “boots on the ground” funding for educational programs, trail improvements and new trail building continue to be needed.”

“The importance of moving these initiatives forward is seen in the challenges they will address and in carrying forth the legacy of protecting the forest preserve while sustaining the vibrancy of neighboring communities,” remarked Peter Manning, Executive Director of the Catskill Mountain Club.

“In the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, the tapestry of inter-related issues and conservation concerns cannot be separated from one another,” said David Gibson, Managing Partner Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “Governor Hochul and legislative leaders understand this. In this group letter from so many diverse stakeholders, we jointly emphasize that the funding and stewardship of these great Parks is an ongoing annual commitment, reflective of broad, statewide concern and state constitutional underpinnings. We thank the governor, legislative leaders and encourage you to continue to place the Catskills and Adirondacks near the top of your agendas in the upcoming state budget.”

“The State of New York has the opportunity to maintain its commitment to mitigate the effects of climate change and further its 30 by 30 goals by instituting these recommendations put forward by the Forest Preserve Coalition,” said Andy Mossey, Executive Director of Woodstock Land Conservancy. “Further, this level of funding and commitment is necessary to ensure our public spaces are maintained properly and our state is taking the necessary steps towards climate resilience.”

“This dedicated funding and capacity-building support will provide critical investment in our National Historic Landmark Adirondack Forest Preserve. State funds enable public/private partnerships that work to meet the stewardship needs of this nationally-significant region, while addressing sustainability and resiliency within the forest preserve and surrounding communities to ensure they remain for generations to come,” said Erin Tobin, Executive Director, Adirondack Architectural Heritage.

“As an NYS-based non-profit focused on making the world of travel welcoming to people of all backgrounds and identities, Travel Unity believes in the necessity of preserving our state’s public lands and for the state investing in making sure that everyone can have rewarding experiences in the outdoors,” said Roni Weiss, Executive Director of Travel Unity.

“We see New York State’s recent Adirondack and Catskill Initiatives, including infrastructure, climate mitigation and Visitor Use Management projects, as the beginning of a new era of preservation and management of the Forest Preserve that works in harmony with our communities,” said Adirondack Wilderness Advocates Board Chair Pete Nelson.  “The generous funding the State provided last year was a downpayment that really got these projects rolling.  Our request this year will keep them moving full speed ahead, realizing our mutual vision of world-class protection for New York’s wildest places.”

“The Catskill 3500 Club fully supports the EPF,” said Michael Bongar President Catskill 3500 Club. “Because of increased usage in the Catskill Mountains we need to use this coalition to protect the environment and local communities.”

“As a leader in several environmental and climate organizations in the Adirondacks, this past summer has been a wake-up call to our residents and visitors,” said Scott Ireland, Executive Director of the Adirondack Lakes Alliance. “Funding is desperately needed to help with community education, environmental remediation, and building resilience to the realities on the ground related to invasive species, climate impacts, and more. We appreciate the continued support from the Governor, and implore her to continue that this year.”

“New York State has long been a leader in recognizing the importance of protecting and supporting the need for open spaces like the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. The Trail Conference encourages our elected leaders to continue this legacy by fully funding the EPF so that we ensure these amazing places are wild and healthy for generations to come.” said Joshua Howard, Executive Director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

“The Forest Preserve continues to be an incredible bastion for all New Yorkers, a proving ground for what is possible when public and private lands are managed for the greater good.  In the context of climate change and increasing pressures, we need to fight more than ever to maintain the richness of the Forest Preserve and leverage the role they play in a changing world,” said Scott McKim, Science Manager at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center’s Whiteface Mountain Field station.  “By supporting research and monitoring of these lands, waters, and air, we can then make informed decisions that continue to benefit current New Yorkers and generations to come.”

“Our natural areas, including the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserves, provide tremendous benefits for park visitors and the surrounding communities. Everyone deserves to have access to open spaces and outdoor recreation. This funding is necessary to maintain the high-quality ecosystems in our parks and to ensure that our Forest Preserves are welcoming and accessible to all,” said Melissa Abramson, New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition.

“We support the call not only for the improvements that will benefit the great forests of the Adirondacks but particularly to support the vitality of the hamlets, communities and residents whose well-being is so important to the health of the Park,” said Jim Townsend, Sr. Advisor and Counsel Adirondack Landowners’ Association Inc.

Paul Smith’s College President, Dan Kelting, emphasized the significance of these initiatives, stating, “As a leading educational institution in the field of forestry and environmental stewardship, Paul Smith’s College recognizes the importance of investing in our natural treasures like the Catskills and Adirondacks. These dedicated funds contribute to the sustainable future of our region, the vitality of our communities, and the responsible management of our public lands.”

“So many of the challenges we face in the Adirondacks can be overcome and conditions improved when we work across communities, industries, and parties to identify opportunities for collaboration in order to achieve success,” said Paul Hai, Associate Director, Adirondack Ecological Center SUNY ESF. “We all share a common goal of protecting the natural and human communities of the Adirondacks, and that is what these priority projects represent.  It is powerful to see, and exciting to be part of, such a broad coalition advocating for these investments in the Adirondack Park’s sustainable future.”

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