Current IssuesAdirondack Park Agency headquarters

How has the Adirondack Park Agency fared under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 executive budget proposals? The question hasn’t received any media attention for obvious reasons. It’s a mini state agency, budget-wise.

With a proposed operating budget of $5 million – just .004 percent of the proposed state budget of $137 billion – APA hardly raises fiscal eyebrows. Budgeted for 54 full time staff, APA employs .03 percent of all state employees.

Yet, the Adirondack Park comprises one-fifth the acreage of New York State. It’s constitutionally protected wild lands are honored as a National Landmark and International Biosphere Reserve. It’s subject to one of the country’s earliest and largest regional land use planning laws. But the Park has just one legislatively authorized planning agency, the APA, congruent with all six-million acres.

So, APA’s annual budget should be more of a big deal. APA’s 2020 operating budget gains a little from 2019, but not for new staff. Its total budget gained $1 million, but that is exclusively reserved for “capital funding in order to renovate its historic headquarters in Ray Brook” according to the executive budget proposal. So, agency program capacity and employment remain flat from last year. And the year before that.

Over time, as measured by its budget, APA’s share of the state’s budget and staffing capacity is on a slow decline. When Governor Cuomo came into office in 2011, APA’s operating budget was $6.3 million for 56 full time staff. The agency has lost $1 million and several staff since then.

Going further back to 1998, APA’s budget was $3.5 million, but the total state budget then was just about half of what it is today, or $72 billion, so APA’s share of the total state budget in 1998 was larger than it is today. APA employed 60 full time staff in 1998 versus 54 today.

When I started out with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1987, I recall APA chairs and executive directors going to Albany to seek new funds for new initiatives. They were not always successful, of course.

After 1990, APA executive director Bob Glennon led efforts to revamp and update the Adirondack Park Agency Act. APA chairman Woody Cole got new funding in 1988 to staff the Visitor Interpretive Centers in Newcomb and Paul Smith’s. The next APA chairman, John Collins, sought funds to increase the agency’s efficiency, accelerate its rule-making and create its computer data base.

In the late 1990s, APA reasonably asked to add several staff for enforcing its rules across the Park’s six million acres, from 3 to 5. Over time, enforcement staff have increased to the present seven, a significant improvement from 20 years ago, but still far short of what is needed over such a large area.

Now, climate change is altering so much of what has come to define the Adirondack Park – its long snowy winters, boreal zones, frozen lakes, boggy meandering rivers, and 92 towns, hamlets and thousands of residents bordering miles of wild and scenic rivers and trout streams.

One can hope that the sole regional planning agency for the Park would be interested in gaining staff to keep track of climate change trends, to act as a clearinghouse of data measuring and assessing cumulative impacts, and reporting back to all of us annually. Not so. The last trends analysis efforts made by the APA began around 1999, ended in 2001 and did not resume.

It’s great that APA occasionally invites regional climate scientists working here to report at one of their meetings, as the agency did last winter, but that’s trivial compared with what the agency could be doing. APA employs a lot of scientific talent on its own (very small) Resource Analysis and Scientific Services staff.

Yet, the rich just got richer. With its 3,000 employees and proposed $145 million budget, DEC is proposed to gain 47 new positions to carry out the climate change responsibilities under the Climate and Community Protection Act of 2019. But DEC’s legislated role in the Park is diffused into two regional offices, not concentrated like the APA’s, which is supposed to be focused on long-range planning for the Adirondack Park as a whole.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Particularly during our era of climate change, with severe weather events affecting the Adirondack Park the state must be able to establish and track critical environmental thresholds, trends and indicators of change in one of the most important parks in the world, the headwaters of five of our state’s largest rivers.

Governor Cuomo could issue an executive order to require that APA and DEC, working with the Park’s colleges and other fine research institutions, collaborate as one park-wide clearinghouse for both data and analysis. He should require the identification of which indicators of change are most important to measure, what trends are occurring, at what rate, and task APA to issue annual reports on the state of the Adirondack Park’s climate indicators, trends, and mitigation efforts.

The Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (and others) provide a model for how to do this. LTRPA is required every four years to update its thresholds for attaining environmental goals and standards for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

By Dave Gibson, Managing Partner Adirondack Wild