So let me say in the very first sentence that in some ways that headline, about the “splintering” of the Adirondack Park’s environmental community, is a little misleading.
The truth is, green groups in the North Country have always been a fractious, disparate, herding-cats sort of coalition, with very different views on some key issues.
That’s only increased over the last couple of decades, as more environmental groups have emerged, and as some green groups have dissolved and reformed.
What’s interesting these days, though, is that after a period of real turmoil and uncertainty, environmental groups appear to have settled into something that resembles a stable new pattern.
And the big players in this rough network seem to disagree on some fundamental and profound things.
Big Questions, Different Views
The Adirondack Park currently faces two big questions that go to fundamental principles of how ecology and open space inside the blue line should be protected.
The first is the debate over whether a massive new resort should be built in Tupper Lake.
The second is the dust-up over whether the state constitution should be amended to allow a company called NYCO to mine wollastonite on 200 acres of state Park land.
These aren’t minor, peripheral issues. One — the Adirondack Club and Resort — involves the largest single development project in Adirondack history. The other would allow “forever wild” forest lands to be mined by a private company.
Environmental leaders disagree on the virtues of these projects.
The Adirondack Council, arguably the region’s largest and most influential environmental group, favors both, arguing that they represent a good balance of environment and local economy.
The Adirondack Mountain Club has also taken a public stance supporting the NYCO deal, while taking no public position on the Tupper Lake resort.
Two other groups, meanwhile, have positioned themselves vehemently against both deals.
Protect the Adirondacks has sued the Adirondack Park Agency in an effort to derail or at least profoundly reshape the Big Tupper project.
Adirondack Wild has also condemned the issuing of the permits, with co-founder David Gibson pointing to what he describes as the “abysmal failure to conduct a broadly scoped wildlife study on the property.”
Adirondack Wild and Protect have also described the NYCO project as dangerous and precedent-setting.
AGREEING TO DISAGREE
“I think we agree to disagree,” said Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley, referring to other groups’ support for the NYCO deal, adding that he doesn’t think that “the few environmental organizations that have decided to support this have made their case.”
“I think differences of opinion are common,” said the Council’s John Sheehan.
“Even though we have very similar points of view, we can disagree about the details of what does or doesn’t make a good deal. I think there’s little animosity here, it’s just a matter of judgment.”
But in some cases, these debates don’t merely involve “the details” of Park management. They speak to core principles about what “forever wild” means and how that interacts with communities inside the blue line.
A couple of trends may be leading to these more fundamental disagreements.
One is the growing effort by some environmentalists to partner publicly with local and state officials who are trying to boost jobs and economic growth, even when that means drifting into compromises and gray zones that make some green activists uncomfortable.
The other is the huge diversity within the green movement itself.
In addition to the four environmental groups named above, there is also the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, Champlain Area Trails, the Lake George Land Conservancy, and a half-dozen other smaller groups.
With so many voices, some are bound to be singing a different tune. That can be confusing, and muddled, but it can also mean interesting ideas and debates.
A MORE PUBLIC INTERNAL DEBATE?
Two final thoughts.
First, if the NYCO minerals issue does make it the state ballot next November, voters statewide may be treated to a front-row seat for this debate within the Park’s environmental community.
Green activists on both sides seem committed to campaigning for and against this constitutional amendment, a road show that could be both confusing and edifying for people outside the North Country who don’t know much about our world.
Will that be an opportunity for folks downstate to learn about the Adirondacks? Or will they simply tune out our strange, quibbly, angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument?
Second, I think it would be fascinating for green leaders within the Park to debate some of these points directly and openly, in some kind of public forum where they could air their different views of some of these fundamental principles.
I for one would love to hear David Gibson (Adirondack Wild), Willie Janeway (Adirondack Council), Neil Woodworth(Adirondack Mountain Club), Leslie Karasin (Wildlife Conservation Society – Adirondack Program), Mike Carr (Adirondack Nature Conservancy) and Peter Bauer (Protect the Adirondacks) wrestle with their differing views of the Adirondacks and its future.
This generation of environmental leaders are reshaping the Park in profound ways. It would be great to know more about how they think, where they agree, and where they disagree profoundly.