RAY BROOK — Review of science including an extensive ecological inventory of the state’s Boreas Ponds Tract lasted over 4.5 hours through two days of Adirondack Park Agency meetings last week.
APA staff planners presented details of the property’s geology, soils, forest, wetlands, wildlife, vegetation, ecosystem and structures, including two dams and existing logging roads. Discussion centered on the intact habitat at Boreas germane to classifying the 20,758-acre parcel.
The state bought the property last year, the last tract of 161,000 former Finch, Pruyn & Co. acres transferred to the Nature Conservancy in June 2007.
In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that 69,000 acres of the former Finch logging forestland would be purchased by the state and added to the Forest Preserve.
The classification process for the Boreas Tract is heading into the final stretch.
Lengthy discussions between APA staff and commissioners last week worked to assess the Boreas Tract within the larger context of the Park. It abuts the high traffic High Peaks Wilderness and is bound on the west by the Blue Ridge Road.
APA staff put forward four options for land use classification last fall, but had not indicated which blend of Wilderness and Wild Forest they prefer.
Over 11,000 comments were submitted at hearings along with comments submitted by mail during November and December. The complete set of written comments is now posted as 11 downloadable files on APA’s website.
APA Commissioner John Lyman Ernst recused himself from Boreas discussion.
Chairman and former president of a private investment firm in New York City, he owns the Elk Lake Lodge property that adjoins eastern boundaries of the Boreas state land. According to APA’s biography on Ernst, “his family has spent summers in North Hudson since his grandfather camped at Clear Pond in 1907.”
A portion of the APA discussion returned in the end to the extensive system of logging roads, dozens of miles cut into timber stands around the three Boreas ponds.
Roads in areas designated “Wilderness” are not maintained and, over time, return to a forested state.
APA Natural Resources planner Matt Kendall said roadways are not viewed “as an element dictating classification.”
He said there are ecological steps that can be used to accelerate the process of returning roadbeds to a forested, wilderness state.
Commissioners asked if the roads could remain open and continue to support healthy wildlife populations.
But APA scientists maintain that the use of onsite logging equipment and trucks made a different type of impact than would occur with people coming from all over the northeast with their own vehicles.
Kathy Regan, APA’s deputy director of planning, said a lot of the impact of a road depends on its placement.
“Some roads are already crossing wetlands, and those are the sections where ... the roads are actually acting as dams.”
Other impacts are varied, she said.
“The roads themselves in general are displacing the natural habit.”
The risk of habitat fragmentation is of concern, APA staff said, especially with concern for invasive species either in waterways or in the forest itself.
APA Chairman Sherman Craig sought clarification on road improvement procedures and how that might mitigate damage to the natural habitat.
“If we dug up some of the culverts to make sure the road was improved and put a footbridge over it, would those two elements nullify 80 percent of the concern about the issues of roads in wilderness?” Craig asked.
“Yes, that would improve the situation in places where culverts are blocked ... where roads are acting as dams,” Kendall said.
But manmade improvements aren’t a factor on Adirondack Park property until the land is classified.
The roads on state land are structures, not facilities, APA staff explained.
“They don’t become facilities until we accept them as facilities,” Kendall said.
Final dispensation of the logging roads would be addressed in the Unit Management Planning process, a step taken by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after state land is classified.
Nonetheless, traffic into and out of the Boreas — and how close it gets to the interior ponds — remained a subject of concern for classification.
APA staff said that if a specific number of cars is measured and found to disrupt a setting, DEC permits could regulate the number of cars allowed in.
DEC does have an inventory of culverts and bridges on Boreas, APA planners said.
And DEC could review options to replace culverts and evaluate the cost.
But they would need wetlands permits from APA to made the improvements.
Craig asked APA staff to provide an “overlay of the existing road systems on some of those (presentation) slides to see where the roads are in relation to wetlands.”
APA staff said the road overlays will be included in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected go before commissioners for classification this spring.
APA natural resource planners will develop a narrative for the final EIS, they said, which will include a preferred alternative.
A coalition of towns surrounding Boreas is looking for significant access to Boreas with a large southern band of Wild Forest designated up to and including the Boreas ponds.
The remaining section, the towns suggest, would be made Wilderness and joined to the busy High Peaks Wilderness.
Environmental groups are seeking a fifth — as yet unwritten — classification alternative that would put the ponds and a wide band south of the them into Wilderness, negating any motorized access or the use of mountain bikes or horses.
If made Wilderness, the logging roads around the ponds would be allowed to slowly return to a natural forested state.
APA said there are currently eight parking areas, five along the periphery of the tract plus three interior parking areas along Gulf Brook Road.
Minus any trail signage placed by DEC to date, APA said the parking areas “provide access to the land until these areas are classified and a Unit Management Plan is approved.”
Five hunting clubs hold leases to long-held hunting cabins at Boreas and the agreements remain in place through fall of 2018.
The entire slate of scientific presentations with a slide show of roads in the Boreas Tract are available on APA’s website: apa.ny.gov/State_Land/2016Classification/index.html