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Eco-feudalism in the Adirondacks: the ability of Adirondack residents to use their own property is at the whim of an appointed commission entirely unaccountable to the people.

In August 1978, 19-year-old Tim Jones bought an acre of land near the Raquette River in New York's Adirondack Park. Four previous generations of Tim's family had owned property along River Road in Altamont, and in August 1991 Tim obtained a permit from the town to begin building a small single-family dwelling.

Tim was working on his cabin on April 21 of the following year when he was visited by Ed Talbot, a representative of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). Claiming that Tim's property was part of a "jurisdictional wetland," Talbot ordered him to cease construction and remove the building. Tim pointed out that the lot he had purchased in 1978 was part of a pre-existing subdivision and was thus exempt from the APA's jurisdiction under the 1973 act creating the agency.

Talbot returned later that day with a formal cease-and-desist order. In June 1992, the APA went to court in search of an injunction against Jones, and asked the court to order him to remove his cabin. Determined to defend his claim, Jones enlisted the aid of friends and legal counsel to guide him through the labyrinthine details of the APA's regulatory system--only to discover that the agency could redefine its jurisdiction at will and was determined to make an example of him for daring to defy its edicts. Thus began a protracted struggle between Tim Jones and the APA that continues to this day.

The agency demanded that he either obtain an APA permit, which he could receive only through a lengthy and expensive process, or challenge the agency through its own "enforcement process," which amounts to much the same thing. "The APA has tried to bully me and break me financially," recalls Jones. "Initially, they wanted me fined $500 a day until the building was torn down." Curiously some of Tim's neighbors have been granted "non-jurisdictional letters" by the APA, including one with adjoining property.

"We have been through four Attorney Generals, two Governors ... and tens of thousands of dollars," wrote Jones in a May 30 letter to New York Governor George Pataki. "This is not counting the lost job opportunities I have suffered, or the problems it created in my twenty-year marriage that ended up in divorce, or the health and stress related problems, or the threats I have received, or the lies, slander, and defamation of character towards me, or the ability to enjoy our property with my sons and family."

"It's been an incredible nightmare," Jones told THE NEW AMERICAN. "All we wanted to do was to build a small cabin on land we legally own. We complied with all of the local laws, and my family has a long record in the area as responsible stewards of the land. But all along the APA has tried to drive us off our property. And when we went public, the APA decided to make an example of me and my family. In fact, the APA's acting counsel, Barbara Rottier, admitted as much in a recorded radio interview."

All of this anguish has ensued from Jones' efforts to retain an 18' by 24' cabin that he describes as being "about the size of a porch on one of the Rockefeller condominiums." The vast Rockefeller complex, several thousand acres in size, is located quite near Tim's embattled single-acre property. Despite the APA's eagerness to expel small property owners like Tim in the name of "wetlands preservation," the agency enthusiastically granted the Rockefellers permission to build an estate right on the banks of a "wild and scenic river."

This juxtaposition is ironically appropriate, since it was a Rockefeller--then-Governor Nelson--who created the APA in 1973. In the intervening decades, notes activist Carol LaGrasse of the Property Rights Foundation of America, the agency has become "a worldwide model for environmental regimentation." The park itself has been designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as part of a "Biosphere Reserve." It has also been targeted for absorption into the UN-approved Wildlands Project, which envisions the "re-wilding" of roughly half the surface area of North America, thereby transforming it into a vast eco-preserve.

Advent of the APA

Adirondack State Park is three times larger than Yellowstone National Park, and its land area exceeds that of nearby Massachusetts. The "blue line" boundary delineating the park surrounds some six million acres within 9,375 square miles of territory. Forty percent of the land is owned outright by the State of New York and is divided between "wilderness"--reserved for low-impact recreation, such as hiking and camping--and "wild forest"--where some motorized activities are permitted.

Since 1973, the nominally private land composing the rest of the park's territory has been managed by the APA, a state government bureau that grew out of a 1968 "Temporary Study Commission" created by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The APA unleashed its land-grab manifesto, Preliminary Private Land Use and Development Plan for the Adirondack Park, two days before Christmas in 1972. The park's 107 mayors and town supervisors, already distracted by holiday concerns, were given only 10-12 working days to read, digest and comment on the voluminous and largely impenetrable report, which required each of the towns and villages to submit a growth plan.

Similar difficulties confronted park residents, who were permitted to present their concerns in public hearings held in early 1973. When the APA Act went into effect in August 1973, the concerns of local leaders and residents had little effect on the Land Use and Development Plan, through which the agency has imposed thousands of zoning regulations governing practically every conceivable use of "private" property in the region.

"More than 50 percent of the privately owned land has been zoned one home per 43 acres," noted APA critic (and one-time Sierra Club activist) Anthony D'Elia in his book The Adirondack Rebellion. "This has destroyed land values without compensation from the state." And those who choose to develop their properties soon learn that "for every conceivable use of [their] property, the APA has come up with a restriction," notes reporter Anthony W. Fanning. As a "general rule," private property owners in the Adirondacks are forbidden to develop or subdivide their land "in a land use area not governed by an approved local land use program, without first obtaining an agency permit."

Tim Jones, who has family roots in the Adirondacks going back four generations, typifies many others who have been told by the APA that the private land they own is suddenly state-controlled property. "Wherever you go, you'll find places where real people have lived since colonial days," comments Adirondack resident Fred Monroe. "Go down a side street, and you'll find tombstones in churchyards that date back to Thomas Jefferson's presidency."

When APA officials travel the side streets and back roads of the park, they're not simply taking in the rustic sights. "The APA travels the back roads on the lookout for even a new back porch a family might start putting up without the long, drawn-out agency review process that costs many times more for lawyers than the porch," explains Carol LaGrasse. The ability of Adirondack residents to use their own property is thus entirely at the whims of an eco-bureaucracy headed by a 14-member appointed commission--and entirely unaccountable to the people.

The "Abolish People Association"

The APA describes its mandate as one of "balanc[ing] environmental protection with economic development, to strike a balance between diverse interests that are the essential ingredients of the park." The true objectives behind this benign-sounding rhetoric were laid out, with stunning frankness, in a confidential report compiled by George Davis, who at the time was "chief planner" for the APA (and who went on to become executive director for the national Wilderness Society). Davis's report was circulated among APA commissioners, one of whom anonymously sent a copy to Anthony D'Elia. The document "consisted of an attempt at a series of arguments to show that there were only two choices in 'achieving APA objectives,'" recalled D'Elia. The first option was "The purchase of all privately-owned land in the Park"; the second, "The use of laws, rules and regulations to achieve the same objective."

The APA goes beyond enforcing the law; it imposes its whims as if they had the force of law. This process was described in a 1992 address to the New York State Bar Association by former APA commissioner Robert F. Flacke, who has become a critic of the agency.

"The Adirondack Park Agency ... is administered by staff and lawyers who have visions that go far beyond the 'rule of law,'" stated Flacke. "They want to create law, selecting what facts to present and by carefully crafting decisions, hope that an appeal will generate what the legislature did not: a result personally satisfactory to them."

"Let me be specific," continued Flacke. "The Adirondack Park Agency has not promulgated one single new rule or regulation in ten years. It has not revised the development handbook since 1976. Yet, countless new 'policies' have been created and implemented by staff and the Legal Affairs Committee.... There is no way the public can any longer rely upon the word of law, or even the old regulations." The result, he concluded, was a regime of "regulatory law ... administered as a goal to achieve a more restrictive result than that which the legislature had enacted and the Governor had signed."

Directing that strategy is Barbara Rottier, APA's acting counsel. Rottier sits on the board of directors of New York Rivers United, the state affiliate of the radical American Rivers, Inc. (ARI). Funded by lavish donations from tax-exempt foundations, ARI is part of the Northern Forest Alliance, organized by the Laurance Rockefeller Foundation with the goal of nationalizing at least 26 million acres of private land.

While efforts to seize those lands through direct federal designation have encountered resistance, notes the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, "conservation easements [have become] their main focus, permanently hampering use of private property. Only government or its land trust surrogates [such as the Nature Conservancy] will buy such land, ultimately producing the same result: nationalization of rural private lands."

Once again, APA-connected officials have been quite candid about those objectives, at least when they're convinced their victims aren't listening. In 1990, George Davis, an eco-activist deeply involved with the APA, traveled to Russia's Lake Baikal to set up a land-use planning system. Upon his return to the U.S., Davis favorably compared the docility of Siberian peasants to the stubbornness of rural Americans. "Here we are used to people having conniptions over their land," Davis commented in a November 18, 1990 Glens Falls Post Star interview. "But over there, they don't mind the land-use regulations because they are just [now] getting their own land."

Similarly telling comments were offered by Gordon Davis (no relation), one of the APA's founders, after time spent working on land-use planning in Tibet on behalf of Communist China. Gordon Davis had been sent to develop regulations for the Wolong Nature Preserve near the Tibetan Plateau, which--like the Adirondacks--is a UN Biosphere Reserve. To comply with UN-dictated, government-enforced regulations, some of the 4,000 Tibetans living in the region would have to be forcibly relocated from lands their families had owned and worked for hundreds of years. Referring to "resistance to government intervention" on the part of the targeted Tibetans, Gordon Davis pointedly observed: "The problem is similar to that in the Adirondacks."

Given such casual endorsements of "rural cleansing," it's not surprising that Adirondack residents have come to refer to the APA as the "Abolish People Agency."

The Wildlands Nexus

As mentioned above, Adirondack Park is a UN-designated Biosphere Reserve--a "core area" for the purposes of the UN-aligned Wildlands Project. A result of a collaboration between the UN Environment Program and radical, foundation-funded environmental groups, the Wildlands Project would carve up America's land into a network of wilderness reserves, "buffer zones," and wildlife corridors which would eventually cover the entire hemisphere. Dave Foreman, a co-architect of the Wildlands design and founder of the eco-terrorist group "Earth First!" has written that the scheme "is a bold attempt to grope our way back to October 1492"--that is, to eliminate our industrial civilization entirely.

Wildlands activists, states Foreman, intend to "tie the North American continent into a single Biodiversity Preserve.... " "Our vision is simple," states the organization's mission statement: "[W]e live for the day when Grizzlies in Chihuahua have an unbroken connection to Grizzlies in Alaska; when Gray Wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals; when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land.... "

To accomplish this design, Foreman explained, local Wildlands affiliates must "identify existing protected areas" such as federal and state wilderness areas, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other areas of "core wilderness." Once such core areas have been identified, eco-activists then demand the creation of "buffer zones" around the core areas, and the creation of "wildlife corridors" to link them together. Wildlands co-architect Reed Noss points out that in both the core areas and buffer zones, "the collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans."

Those humans unfortunate enough to own land near the core areas, or whose property is transected by wildlife corridors, will have to be evicted from their property --unless you happen to be a privileged member of the Power Elite, such as the Rockefeller family. Foreman urges his allies to "look for gaps between wild lands or public lands. Such private lands often will be important areas for acquisition by public agencies or by private groups like the Nature Conservancy."

This is exactly what has been happening in the Adirondacks under the APA. APA commissioner and legal counsel Barbara Rottier, as previously mentioned, sits on the board of Wildlands affiliate American Rivers, Inc. Fellow commissioner Katherine Osborn Roberts left a post at the Open Spaces Institute (OSI), a land trust created by the Natural Resources Defense Council. OSI, in keeping with Foreman's Wildlands formula, has been actively acquiring land in the Adirondacks. The same is true of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, which was created with generous support from Laurance Rockefeller--a key financial angel for many Wildlands-connected eco-radical groups.

Wildlands activists admit that their scheme will take a long time--perhaps centuries--to unfold. "Wilderness recovery must start now but continue indefinitely--expanding wilderness until the matrix, not just the nexus, is wild," writes John Davis, editor of the project's journal Wild Earth. "Does [this] mean that Wild Earth and the Wildlands Project advocate the end of industrial civilization? Most assuredly. Everything civilized must go.... "

Property rights are the foundation of the civilized order Wildlands radicals seek to overthrow. The result would not be the restoration of some prelapsarian natural paradise, but rather the imposition of a form of eco-collectivist feudalism. That future is prefigured in the case of Tim Jones--an industrious, law-abiding man of modest means being driven off his land by the same forces who helped the Rockefellers set up their riverside estate.

"It's been said that those of us who live in Adirondack Park have lost our rights as Americans," Jones commented to THE NEW AMERICAN. "In fact, about a decade ago [former New York Governor] Mario Cuomo actually said that giving up our rights was the price we'd have to pay for choosing to live here. But what's happening here is happening all across our country. Even if we were willing to leave, chances are the same thing would happen to us wherever we went--unless Americans are finally willing to act to put a stop to this land grab and restore our rights."
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Title Annotation:War on the East
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 9, 2004
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