In June, the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, based at Fort Drum in Jefferson County, released a draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) that outlined ambitious “air and land-based training activities” to possibly take place across nine counties in Upstate New York, including four (St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida, Herkimer) that are partially within the Adirondack Park, and two (Hamilton, Essex) that are entirely within the Adirondack Park Blue Line.
These training sessions would combine air and on-ground motor vehicle activities and run for 14 days, with a 7-day clean-up period to “return the property to its condition prior to the exercise,” hence totaling 21 days each. The PEA calls for as many as six training actions a year, for a total of 126 days.
The PEA looks at Forest Preserve sites to base their training camps that are cleared areas of 5 to 10 acres, which must “be free of trees.” Such cleared areas are not widespread in the Forest Preserve in the six counties listed in the PEA, or anywhere else for that matter outside of agricultural lands, mostly outside the Park. The impacts associated with these events would be significant and long-term.
The 10th Mountain Division details a wide breadth of activities, but fails to show an understanding of important New York State environmental laws, the Adirondack Park, the 2.6-million-acre public Adirondack Forest Preserve, and basic management of Forest Preserve lands classified as ‘Wilderness’ areas.
Protect the Adirondacks finds the activities outlined by the 10th Mountain Division are best suited for State Forest areas outside the Adirondack Park, which are logged, or on state conservation easement lands, which are abundant in the western Adirondacks near Fort Drum. These state lands have large cleared areas for log landings and sorting, an extensive road system used by a range of different motor vehicles, and forests that are logged. These areas would provide a remote and wild settings, yet are far from residences and popular public recreation destinations.
The full Programmatic Environmental Assessment can be found here.
There are many problems with the proposal by the 10th Mountain Division. The PEA states that it will not utilize sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet fails to recognize that the Forest Preserve has been listed on the National Register since 1966.
The PEA calls for clearing training sites of 5-10 acres in size in remote forest areas, yet fails to recognize that trees on the Forest Preserve are protected by the State Constitution against largescale cutting. There are no clearings of 5-10 acres in the Forest Preserve.
The PEA fails to recognize the importance of the vast land holdings in the six Adirondack counties that area classified as “Wilderness.” These lands prohibit use of motor vehicles that would be used in “air and ground motor vehicle activities.”
The PEA states that it will not interfere with public outdoor recreation activities, yet failed to note how extensively the Forest Preserve is used by New Yorkers for a variety of outdoor recreation activities. The Forest Preserve units in the six counties referenced in the PEA (St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida, Herkimer, Hamilton, Essex) are used by the public for outdoor recreation nearly continuously. In an average calendar year in New York, the fishing season begins on April 1st, with later start dates for different species. Some fishing seasons close in the fall, others continue through March 15th because of the popularity of winter ice fishing. Hunting seasons start in late September and run through December. Trapping seasons start in the fall and many run through the winter into March.
Outdoor public recreation intensifies in the spring in May with active hiking, camping, and mountainbiking and runs deep into the fall in the Forest Preserve. Winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and camping are also popular and run through the winter into late March. Snowmobiling is popular and begins at the end of hunting season in December and runs through the winter into March. In short, there are few times of the year that the proposed activities detailed in the PEA will not have negative impacts on land use, mostly on the millions who use the Forest Preserve for a variety of outdoor recreational activities.
The proposed activities by the 10th Mountain Division are incompatible with the laws, policies, and public recreational uses of the Forest Preserve. Protect the Adirondacks is urginng the 10th Mountain Division to look at the use of conservation easement lands for training activities as these lands are much more suitable than Forest Preserve lands.