Public Lands Policy

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Never Privatize Those Lands: An Open Letter To Steve H. Hanke

"The concept of privatizing public lands is a losing proposition for many reasons not the least of which is culture and heritage. There are those of us who still believe in the freedom of the American West and its wild places. It has value economists could not possibly equate to dollars and cents. I do not fault you for what appears to be a disconnect with how some of us might feel about something like public lands and all that goes with it. I do take issue with you and others who see no more value in it than some economic multiple “if only it were in the hands of the private sector.” Again I am a big believer in the private sector in the proper time and place, this isn’t it."

"Sadly, your view is missing a value beyond comprehension when it comes to what public lands represent and what they actually support in terms of rural values and the most successful wildlife system in the world. We could discuss management of public lands or the lack thereof in places but that is for another day. Public lands must remain public if we are going to have any chance of keeping our American wildlife system alive. It is that simple."

"Once the vastness of our American public lands is gone, it’s gone forever. And one thing I suspect about economists is at some point in the future they will be on to something else to generate a new multiple and the once public lands will be yesterday’s inventory. I invite you to come experience what our public lands offer, maybe you will see it differently. Come on out to the West and see from the ground what our public lands offer."

Glamping at Boreas Ponds: Not Your Grandfather’s Cabin Tents

"A key adjective in the current hut proposal is the word “temporary.” By this, we are to assume that whatever glamping structures are erected at Boreas Ponds will be removed every year on the shoulder seasons, thereby sidestepping the constitutional barrier that defeated Porter-Brereton. The 1932 proposal would have opened the door for permanent buildings, but a yurt or canvas tent can be put up or taken down as needed. “Temporary.”

"The state employees who are receptive to this idea will tell you as much, citing the fall hunting camp tradition as precedent. Every year, people routinely secure DEC permits to put up seasonal camping structures on state land, ranging from canvas cabin tents to parked trailers — enclosed structures that may remain in place for weeks or even months. If these temporary structures are permitted, then what can possibly be the objection to other temporary structures for summer use?"

"For starters, there is a difference between a warm tent put up every November for someone’s personal use, versus a tent put up on public land for commercial purposes. Because to be clear, the “luxury camping” envisioned by state officials and ACTLS is not the first-come walk-up convenience of a lean-to, but a curated camping service for which people will pay to stay. This already seems to run afoul of DEC’s regulations, which explicitly state that “use of State lands or any structures or improvements thereon for private revenue or commercial purposes is prohibited,” with certain exceptions."

"But the “temporary” nature of these proposed structures is also highly doubtful. Brendan Wiltse, my colleague at Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, was also the Johns Brook Property Coordinator at ADK for several years. During that time he became very familiar with the requirements of managing a backcountry, off-the-grid enterprise. In his experience, health regulations would likely make it impossible to provide “temporary” conveniences, because of the significant investment in infrastructure and maintenance."

Rural parks and wildlife areas, 1945-2007 in NY State

ERS has been a source of major land use estimates in the United States for over 50 years, and the related U.S. cropland used for crops series (Summary table 3 below) dates back to 1910 and is updated annually. The Major Land Uses (MLU) series is the longest running, most comprehensive accounting of all major uses of public and private land in the United States. The series was started in 1945, and has since been published about every 5 years, coinciding with the Census of Agriculture. Data Source:

The Endangered Species Act may be heading for the threatened list. This hearing confirmed it.

"In a comment to a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director who testified at the hearing, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), repeated a point made by Barrasso that of more than 1,600 species listed as threatened or endangered since the act’s inception, fewer than 50 have been removed."

That’s about 3 percent of the total, the chairman said. “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three recover enough to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” Inhofe said.

This is a valid point. I suggest the use of federal quick-take eminent domain to take lands needed for protection of species. The federal government seizes the land, then the parties go to court to work out fair market value after the taking. We use quick-take eminent domain a lot for expressways and even things like office buildings, malls, pipelines and power plants, but not so much for conservation purposes.

DEC Exploring Lodging and Dining Facilities at Boreas Ponds

This is a terrible idea. I don't think there should be developed areas within the forest preserve. I oppose the creation of all new intensive use areas, because we don't need to be turning our woods into new city parks. If people want to go to developed city-like parks, I suggest they try the developed parks maintained by NYS OPRHP outside of the Adirondack Park.

If the state needs more money to maintain these areas, they should open them up to controlled logging and natural gas production, like with the state reforestation areas. Logging is a sustainable business that provides an essential economic product. It doesn't bring large crowds to the woods, nor does it generate much waste or pollution. It helps maintain a young, vibrant forest that will attract a wide of species. Such revenue should be dedicated solely towards the maintenance of state lands, such as trails, roads, parking areas, docks, primitive campsites, picnic tables and outhouses.

Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources should be NY State's model. They maintain 2.2 million acres of state forest but also harvest it for timber and natural gas -- and put that money back into maintenance of rustic facilities for all of the public use. Their lands are litter free, their primitive parks are clean and well maintained, their roads are pothole-free and trails kept in top shape.

Map: OK Slip Falls Trail

Map: OK Slip Falls Trail

The Hudson Gorge Primitive Area (HGPA) encompasses approximately 17,000 acres of State Forest Preserve in Essex and Hamilton Counties. It is located north of State Route 28 between the hamlets of Indian Lake and North River, near the center of the Adirondack Park.

The steep-sided Hudson Gorge is one of the most spectacular reaches of the Hudson River. Whitewater rafting through the gorge is the most popular recreational activity in the primitive area. With limited foot trail access, the interior of the area offers great opportunities for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and trapping in a wild setting. Most visitors to the primitive area have been customers of whitewater rafting outfitters, who have led rafting trips between the Lake Abanakee dam on the Indian River to the hamlet of North River on the Hudson, 16 miles away.

President Trump’s review of National Monument declarations makes a lot of sense. Prior presidents have designated a lot of our existing public lands as National Monuments with little to no public review or discussion on how public land should be used as part of such monuments.

The Bears Ear National Monument is particularly odious. The former president designated the national monument of 1.4 million acres only days before he left the White House — again with little public discussion on the uses of these lands. These public lands, previously open to a wide variety of uses and management strategies will be forever closed off to many uses.

1.4 million acres is a lot of land for a single person to decide should be forever locked up from most public use, with little public input. The entire Catskill Park — both public and private lands  — is only 700,000 acres, so the Bear Acres National Monument is twice the size of Catskill Park, defined by the whim of an executive who was leaving office with zero input of the public or it’s elected representatives.

Public lands belong to all Americans. The public should have a voice on how it’s governed, and no one man, no matter his or her power, should be able to force future wilderness status upon public lands without thoughtful review. While it’s true that National Monuments are not immediately declared wilderness, they are much like so-called “Primitive” Areas in the Adirondack Park, they will eventually be removed of all “non-compatible” features, and most future development of natural and recreational resources will be prevented.

It’s important that public lands belong the public hands, and that we the public should have a voice in the process of governing the lands. The public should have a voice both in natural resource development on their lands — a valuable source of funding to ensure the maintenance of these lands — and recreational use of the lands. Public lands should provide for the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run. This can’t be determined by the whim of one man in the White House as he’s packing his boxes on his final days.

It’s good that President Trump and his Interior Secretary Zinke has ordered a review of lands designated as National Monuments in the past twenty years, with an eye to modify their administration through an act of Congress. This is the lawful way to proceed. The public and it’s representatives should have a voice in administration of the land it owns, to make sure such public lands are administered for the benefit all Americans.

And going forward, the Antiquities Act should be curtailed to be a temporary, emergency-only power lasting only a few months that protects public lands against abuse until further administrative or congressional action occurs. It’s reasonable to give executive agencies the power to classify public lands and dictate their uses after careful consideration of public comments, but Congress should also have the explicit power to review and overturn their classifications, if the executive agency’s decisions are inconsistent with the public’s will.