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Green group conserves victories with moderation

May 10, 2013
Editorial , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Willie Janeway, the new executive director of the Adirondack Council, is a pleasure to talk to and extraordinarily articulate. He can clearly explain what might, coming from another, seem contradictory: how he is both an idealist who loves sweeping conservation visions and also a realist who understands he won't get everything he wants.

But active collaboration, a positive attitude and a sharp mind can get a lot.

Even if Mr. Janeway wasn't born that way, he would've learned it through his employment experience: The Adirondack Mountain Club and Nature Conservancy are two of the more collaborative environmental groups, and at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, he was a regional director in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

Article Photos

Willie Janeway talks wih reporters May 1 in the office of the Adirondack Explorer magazine in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Environmental groups often are the DEC's harshest critics. The Council, in its annual "State of the Park" report, often gives DEC the lowest grade of any institution it reviews. Part of it is that the green advocates are theorizers and the DEC is all doers. Each could use more of the other's perspective.

Now the Council has hired a DEC guy to lead it. That says a lot.

He will probably serve the Council and the Adirondack Park well.

It's not just us saying so, either.

"I think being personable and friendly is an underestimated advantage in a job like the one Janeway is taking on," blogged Will Doolittle, a Glens Falls Post-Star editor who's long been a harsh critic of Adirondack environmentalists. "His appointment, and his statements following his appointment, are also signs, I think, that some environmental advocacy groups like the Adirondack Council are ready, for whatever reason, to give as well as take, to compromise as well as advocate."

We see that, too. Mr. Janeway said he doesn't want to be an activist; he'd rather work from the middle of the Park's land-use politics. He'd rather steer the Adirondack mule with carrots - vision statements, friendly conversation and much appreciation of economic concerns - than sticks.

That's unlike Protect the Adirondacks, a group whose lawsuit is blocking the only chance of economic recovery for Tupper Lake, the Park's second-largest population center. They see it as stopping a bad precedent allowing a humongous resort development. Lawyer Bob Glennon, as he set out to be one of the leaders in that suit, said he was re-entering the "Adirondack wars."

In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, it wasn't that far off to call the Park's land-use struggles "wars." Now, however, people are much more willing to listen and compromise. We're glad Mr. Janeway and the Council aren't trying to wage war on their fellow Adirondackers.

We don't always agree with the Council and don't expect to, but it's good to see the Park's biggest environmental advocacy group in the center of the conversation.

Mr. Janeway's predecessor, Brian Houseal, partnered with local and state government leaders to form the Common Ground Alliance, through which oft-feuding Adirondack parties started meeting once a year in Long Lake to take an edge off the clashing and look for, as their name suggests, common ground. They were encouraged by a big win early on, beating back an attempt by Gov. David Paterson to ease the state out of paying full local property taxes on its Adirondack land, something that was part of the deal from the Park's genesis in the 19th century. Since then, the ADK Futures project has helped get Common Ground-minded folks even more on the same page.

So why did this race to the middle take so long? Is it, as many have said, that Adirondackers would rather fight than win? Is it, as ADK Futures founders Dave Mason and Jim Herman wrote in Adirondack Life magazine, that "fighting had turned into a small industry with full-time employees" who stood to lose their jobs if the battle waned? If so, what are Mr. Janeway and the Council doing?

In our view, a main motivator is that the "Adirondack wars" have largely turned in environmentalists' favor. Between 1988 and 1992, the Council published its 30-year agenda in a series called "2020 Vision." Now, with the target year still seven years off, that vision is largely on track. It may be premature to declare a victor in the "wars," but the Park is more natural than it's been in a century and getting more so. Consider:

-Currently, 47 percent of the Park's 6 million acres is "forever wild" state Forest Preserve - up from 40 percent in the '90s - plus hundreds of thousands of acres with state easements to prevent development, plus more owned by The Nature Conservancy.

-While acid rain and snow still falls, thanks to dirty Midwest power plants, the Park is recovering. Now our waters and soil have started getting less acidic, according to Council spokesman John Sheehan. It's slow and has a long way to go, but state and federal pollution restrictions have been enough to reverse the momentum.

-Extirpated animals like moose, turkeys, ravens and beavers are back and doing well, and once-threatened ones like bald eagles, loons and brook trout have pulled back from the brink.

-Huge resort developers have had a hard go of it. The Gleneagles project in Lake Placid was abandoned in the '90s, and the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake is still waiting after nine years.

-The Nature Conservancy has made itself quite mainstream and, through perseverance, set a model for partnership with local government, loggers, hunting clubs and snowmobilers.

-Groups like the Wildlife Conservation Society have quietly and amicably done the science that can guide and strengthen policy decisions.

-The Wild Center museum in Tupper Lake has spread a sense of wonder for nature far and wide.

-The former head of the Open Space Institute is now commissioner of the DEC.

Environmentalists won these things not by sniping from the sidelines. Rather, that's one way their opponents marginalized themselves.

If they push harder, could they get their opponents on the run and achieve more? It depends on what they want. If they try to make this what ADK Futures calls a "Wild Park," where the people who live here must accept that wilderness always trumps economy, they would be widely hated and would probably fail. The Park has always been a balance, and the Council seems to be trying to nudge the pivot point rather than lean out from the edge.

This group is trying to be an Adirondack leader, much more difficult than being an advocate but more influential, too. Many voices are heard in the Adirondack conversation; few have earned enough trust to help steer the ship.

And where does Mr. Janeway want to steer us? Four goals:

-Clean air and water, and to stem climate change

-Large wild landscapes

-Encouraged private land stewardship

-Communities with healthy economies.

There is plenty of room to disagree within all this, but it's also no "Wild Park" vision. Basically it's the original Adirondack Park balance. It's what most people want to keep. Therefore, we wish Mr. Janeway and the Adirondack Council well.

 
 

 

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