Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alexander "Pete" Grannis Died In Service of the DEC

Today the "New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is in the weakest position that it has been since it was created 40 years ago," with many "core programs hanging by a thread". Systematically dismantled with the precision of a hatchet over the last few years by America's most short sighted governor, the shell shocked DEC now has no leader.

Governor Paterson, not sufficiently happy gutting the DEC's budget, forcing layoffs and early retirements to unprecedented and dangerous levels, nor bargaining the state park system for part of the environmental protection fund, decided to go straight for the head of what he must feel is the states most greedy department, the DEC. No department of New York state has suffered larger cuts to it's budget than the DEC under Paterson's reign, and Friday it officially suffered the loss of it's commissioner, a rare man in politics who actually stood up for what was right.

Fired for insubordination, because he refused to resign, Alexander "Pete" Grannis is the most noteworthy in of victims in Governor Paterson's very aggressive goal of destroying the ability of the DEC to manage New Yorks environment, now and long into the future. Over the last 3 years about 20 percent of the DEC's scientists, engineers and enforcement officials have disappeared under Paterson's draconian budget cuts that seem to aggressively target the DEC more so than any other state agency.

Commissioner Grannis did a noble thing, he stood up to the lunatic running this state, and for it he lost his job. Grannis has been well liked by both hard core environmentalist, the groups those environmentalist support, and he's worked well enough with the other side to not be disliked. As a matter of fact, business and oil, gas, and mining lobbies were shocked that Grannis was fired. He was well liked within the DEC, starting as a lawyer with the DEC when it was founded 40 years ago, he then moved on to politics for 3 decades before being appointed by Governor Spitzer in 2007 to rebuild the DEC. You could say he was a model citizen, and a good public servant.

Paterson on the other hand has an absolutely appalling record when it comes to the environment, open space, regulation, and even appointments to the APA. He has used the DEC as his punching bag. A soft target that he can beat on without much opposition. There is not a single area this governor can be commended for when it comes to environmental protection. As I normally try to do, I'll leave Governor Paterson's string of sketchy ethical and personal character issues out of this discussion, but I will point out Pete Grannis lacks this trail of moral detritus.

Pete Grannis simply alerted Governor Paterson, via an internal memo, that the cuts that were being made once again to the DEC were unsustainable in the interest of the environmental health of New York State, and ultimately the health and well being of it's tax paying citizens. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, someone leaked that memo, and the geniuses that most likely puppeteer Governor Paterson shot first and asked questions later. Unlike most politicians, Governor Paterson was neither elected to his current office, nor will he ever serve in elected office again. He has absolutely no reason to care what anyone thinks or what the repercussions of his actions are. For all we know, after he finishes turning the entire state into a "brown field", he might be off to another state that was run with more foresight.  Furthermore, because New York has no way to recall a governor, Paterson has absolutely no reason to care.

What Pete Grannis was trying to explain in his memo is precisely what many of my blog post over the past year have been about. Quite simply, the DEC cannot do it's job as outlined under New York State environmental conservation law with the minimal resources it has left. Apparently Paterson doesn't want you to know that. He must think it better for you to assume your water isn't being polluted and your air is safe to breath. That your forest and fisheries aren't being mismanaged, and that your economic well being isn't being jeopardized. After all, being blind works for him (and that statement I assure you has very little to do with his actual disability), why shouldn't it work for you! Just close your eyes, everything will be OK!

Or will it...

From Commissioner Grannis memo:

"The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas. In many instances we have offices or sections responsible for important permitting and monitoring functions staffed by only one or two people. Some regional offices have no capacity in certain areas because key items are unoccupied and can’t be filled. As a result, we are unable to meet the expectations of both the regulated community and the public with respect to countless activities...All of the meat has been stripped off the bones, and in some cases the bones have disappeared." -Pete Grannis

"Unlike many other agencies, DEC by design has a multi-faceted mission and our core activities accordingly encompass a wide variety of areas. For example, we are  responsible for ensuring environmental quality through the implementation of regulatory programs aimed at protecting air quality, water quality, managing hazardous and non-hazardous waste and cleaning up dangerously contaminated sites. We have statutory responsibility for the state’s invaluable natural resources, including all state lands, fish and wildlife populations, water-bodies such as the Hudson River, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, and our vast coastline. As a core element of our mission, we also provide recreational opportunities for the public, many of which are paid for directly by user fees and include heavily relied upon programs for sportsmen and sportswomen, as well as camping and hiking in New York’s constitutionally protected forest preserve. Each of our programs has a daily impact on people's lives and the health and economic well-being of the state. While each program has a vocal, politically active constituency, for purposes of this exercise we cannot treat all of them equally and still be able to operate."  -Pete Grannis

  • The DEC comprises 2.5% of the NYS workforce subject to executive control, yet it is required to layoff 10% of the 2,000 total positions planned to be cut
  • State agencies with 100% Federal or SRO funding are NOT required by Paterson to layoff workers. However, the DEC is disproportionately required to layoff
  • Although the DEC has an operations budget of $500M 75% of that budget is either federally funded OR from SRO (special revenue, other)
    • The Clean Air and Water Act for example is federally funded
    • SROs via game licenses fund fish hatcheries, pheasant farm, game law enforcement, wildlife and fishery biologist
    •  SROs finance discrete activities which means they cannot be used for the general fund
  • Prior to Governor Spitzer's administration the DEC was about 800 staff members short, while the regulatory responsibilities of the DEC actually grew over that decade! 
    • The 2007-2008 budget added 108 positions, which was a first step to returning to necessary staffing levels to "core" programs
    •  Since April 2008 the DEC has lost 595 employees or 16% of it's workforce
    • When the additional cuts called to be eliminated in 2010-2011 the DEC will have lost 21% of it's workforce since 2008
  • Since fiscal year 2009-2010 the DEC has absorbed a 40% NPS budget decrease and a general fund budget decrease of 13%
  • Commissioner Grannis does not feel the "extreme reductions" enable the DEC to fulfill it's state and federal mandates for regulation and enforcement
    • Each quarter the DEC reduces essential services to the public including
      • waste water enforcement, air emissions enforcement,hazardous waste, wetlands development, dam inspections, mining and drilling safety, shellfish safety, increase in time for issuance of impact studies, delays in permit approval, well plugging, reduction in game enforcement, reduction in backcountry patrols, transfer of responsibilities from sections of staff to singular individuals
  • Commissioner Grannis found it ironic that while the states wildlands have seen increased use, and in many areas of the state the DEC administered Forest Preserve is the chief source of economic sustainability, the DEC is taking the brunt of the cuts
    • DEC administered lands account for billions of dollars in tourism and business revenue
    • Economic development projects CANNOT start with DEC review and approval which now is severely backlogged, these include:
      • mining
      • shellfishing
      • oil and gas drilling
      • all water dependent activities
      • brown field site development
      • most manufacturing
      • commercial fishing
      • energy generation
      • general construction of bridges, tunnels, and power generating facilities
  • Commissioner Grannis points out that the Governors staff reduction requirements, which reduce DEC staffing by an additional 6% do not take into account the fact that many DEC staff are not paid for by the state
    • He further points out that the Governors goals actually inhibit the ability of the DEC to fill positions using federal or SRO only funding, essentially losing jobs that they aren't even paying for
All things considered, Governor Paterson's decisions are troubling because they do not look at the states health 5, 10, 15 years into the future. True, the governor can claim he hasn't mortgaged the financial future of the state with irresponsible budgets, but it's hard to not wonder if this isn't mortgaging the health -economic, environmental and human- of this state far into the future. Rebuilding the DEC will not be an overnight task, and the cuts the DEC has absorbed; the loss of skilled staff, scientist, engineers, and others will perhaps take a decade to undue. Paterson might not be carrying a deficit, but I have to argue that he has foolishly mortgaged the future of New York State!

Data cited from the full memo of Pete Grannis to Governor Paterson's Division of Budget:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Summer 2010...

A little slice of summer 2010 in photos.

Hit the full screen box in the corner for a larger slide show. Most images are uploaded at 1080P. If they are pixelated, and you are using a higher resolution screen, chances are nothing is wrong with your monitor or the images, they are just lower resolution than your monitor at full screen size!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Catamount...The Most Fun You Can Have At 3100 ft

Catamount Mountain Autumn Views

Often my favorite peaks are not the higher peaks. It's not that I don't appreciate numbers, after all the world is a quantity based place, but I just like the aesthetics of a hike, climb or summit more than most people who are enslaved to quantity based goals, like miles or vertical feet.

Catamount is a great example of this. It's a lowly 3100ft peak, sort of off the radar of peak baggers. It's too short to waste a trip from downstate to the North Country to climb, and it's not surrounded by anything that would draw a hikers attention to it. However, it's perhaps one of the most beautiful of Adirondack peaks, and the hike is absolutely amazing as well.

Catamount isn't a naturally bald peak and it's slabs for the most part aren't naturally bare. Like many places in the Adirondacks, the bare rock is the result of natural forces that play on the regions typically thin soils, such as slides from sustained torrential rainfall, man made fires. wildfire, or Colvin's surveys. I'm fairly certain Catamount was the result of all 3. The result is this quite steep, slabby mountain, covered with ledges, chimneys (really a boulder filled dike) and cliffs, which must be ascended to get to it's virtually bare summit. Once on top you can take in as much as 270* from many single vantage points, with the ability to see a full 360* with a little footwork from multiple vantage points.

Of course, if you've hiked in the Adirondacks you are already thinking, "but isn't that about 75% of Adirondack peaks, most of which are on some sort of tick list or a lot closer to the major population centers of the Northeast." You got me there, but I will say this, the scrambling is just plain fun on Catamount. In my opinion this is one of the most rugged trailed (unofficially trailed) hikes in the Adirondacks. This includes the High Peaks. Yet the reward to effort ratio is probably superior to anything in the high peaks.

Look, I'm one of the nuts that hikes down 2000ft from my camp in the White Mountains to crawl through caves and than hike back up trails that in many parts of the country would laughed at as insane. A pile of loose talus and house sized boulders you have to go over, under or around does not make a trail to most. Yet, this is exactly the sort of thing I seek out far more so than big mileage days, and Catamount gives a civilized bite sized taste of this without any of the effort required to do harder variations like Saddleback, the Gothics, Huntington Ravine Trail (another truly sick joke of a trail), the King Ravine, and many others.

Having done literally nothing for most of September, Catamount was exactly what the doctor ordered. Short, sweet and technical.

Catamount was also a perfect hike to work on Colvin's climbing skills. He probably won't ever be Caney on the steep sections, but he has already gotten a lot better in spite of really not getting much practice while paddling all summer. Dogs are like people, they need exposure and practice to ever become good at what they do. We did our best to teach him to "climb" this summer and he has improved a lot. Although he still doesn't independently control his back and front paws, he definitely has gotten a lot more proficient at slabs and short walls. Where Colvin still has trouble is he panics anytime he gets to a section he has to think about. He'll look around for alternate options, often finding them, but Catamount was his nemesis. Most of the hike was the easiest route up the mountain so he was forced to actually climb rather than take the long route around obstacles. Although he wasn't quiet about his angst with all the climbing, he made it up and down the entire hike without an assist by me. Pretty impressive considering he doesn't yet have the confidence he needs to be really good. I think with confidence he'll be able to slow down and not try to dyno through everything.

My favorite part of the hike was really that there wasn't any significant stretches of unappealing hiking. The start was a fairly flat grade through now reforesting fields, then the uphill hiking starts but quickly reaches the more scrambly open sections that afford great views of both Catamount and the surrounding landscape. Once on these sections you should be having so much fun you won't want to reach the summit too quickly!

Catamount Mountain USGS Benchmark

When we did reach the top we were equally impressed with the great views. The weather was perfect, and after accepting that I'd missed the good light to catch the remaining fall colors, I decided to take a nap on the summit slabs. The idea was to hang out on the summit long enough to catch the afternoon light. Colvin being very loyal and obedient slept with his head on my pack, growling at anyone that came near me or our gear. We are working on his over protectiveness, but it's nice to have a dog that does his dog duties well. I slept for about 2 hours and 20 minutes under the warm autumn sun with just a slight breeze.

Colvin on Catamount

When I woke up I realized we had a fair amount of time to go till the golden hours, thus deciding to head down part way to another vantage point. When we got there the light was still cool and contrasty, so I decided we might as well descend in the daylight and see if I could find something of interest on the drive to Lake Placid.

Colvin on Catamount

Monday morning we broke camp and hiked into Round Pond, not impressed with the scene or the lighting we headed out and went back to Roaring Brook Falls for a final shot.

Roaring Brook Falls Foliage, Adirondacks

I wish autumn in the Northeast could last longer, but with a little planning you can get about 6 weeks of foliage and temperate weather. Starting in the high mountains in mid to late September and gradually moving to lower elevations, on to larger lake shores (Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, and Champlain Valley), and eventually the coast as late as Halloween! 

Beaver Pond Autumn Reflections - Wilmington, NY

Gone Camping...

Although this blog hasn't seen an update since July, rest assured we've been out and about. Thus far 2010 has been my busiest hiking and paddling season since at least 2008. That said, it has been a slow year in terms of gaining and maintaining my mountain fitness. Part of this is because of my new trail dog, Colvin. As an energetic pup he still has a lot to learn, and as a trail human responsible for his short and long term well being I have to apply the brakes to our adventures. While this seems like a big inconvenience, it's really not. Taking it easy for 6-9 months is an investment in the next decade. The last thing I want is a broken down 5 year old dog, and you'd be surprised how many trail dogs are done long before their 10th birthday because of early life overuse injuries. Besides that, he had Lyme disease earlier in the summer and wasn't 100% for a little while.

For my part, following our vacation on the North Carolina Outer Banks, I was sick for several weeks. Finally on the last Sunday of September I felt well enough (with reservations) to go hiking on the Spier Falls tract in Moreau Lake State Park. The backside of Moreau is a gem and lots of fun to spend some time in the forest without any real goals. Our little 5 mile loop which covered 1000ft wasn't exactly noteworthy, but I didn't die, and it felt great to be out. A week later I was at full strength, only completely out of shape from a month of doing nothing.

I had anticipated doing some challenging fall hikes for remote landscape photography back in August, but autumn in the North Country was early, and now almost over. The leaves have browned and fallen off the trees early and unspectacularly due to the warm dry summer. Time now to make the most of the remainder of the best 8 weeks in this part of the world, while looking forward to the second best (but most inconsistent) season in the Northeast...WINTER! While the color and photographic beauty might be gone, this time of the year is still a favorite for a few more weeks. There might be snow and ice on certain sections of trails within a week or two, and certainly on any given day the summits can look wintry, but there will be at least a few windless 60F summit days that allow you to sleep soundly on a summit miles from the nearest distraction. No bugs + less people + a temperate October afternoon on a summit = perfection.

Unlike most years recently, I'm actually pretty up to date with my photography and while I said back in July I had some trip reports pending, keep an eye out because they really are coming.