Sunday, October 22, 2006
Good Start for Hunting Camps; But Still A Long Way To Go
It's opening weekend of the big-game rifle season in Upstate New York and many sportsmen who belong to deer camps in the foothills of the Adirondacks and beyond will be more at ease this year as Gov. Pataki announced his proposal to permit 220 hunting and recreational camps to stay on and form Champion Lands in a four-county area. But are things copacetic with the sporting community?
Why did the governor change his mind? According to my sources, he simply felt he had to right a wrong. He thought sporting clubs affected by the Champion Land deal had originally been dealt a bad hand. Hearings, letters and negotiations between clubs, the outdoors community, and both local- and state-elected officials were the driving force behind the state's reversal.
What hasn't been addressed in any media is the individual responsible for the final push with the governor. According to close sources to this issue, Colton Town Supervisor Hank Ford was the driving force who put constant pressure on the governor to save the camps. When I contacted Ford, he verified the meeting with Pataki and stressed the governor's cooperation with respect to maintaining the rich tradition of hunting and sporting clubs in the north country.
I consider the governor's announcement as a good first step. I am delighted the governor will allow these camps to stay. Granted, club members get to rent a one-acre parcel around their camps, but their hunting clubs will continue to be open to the general public.
This is the same general public who will not care and maintain club or soon-to-be state property. This is the same general public who have already begun to treat the once well-maintained club properties like their own dumping grounds.
Gone are the days when club members would pool their resources and immediately fix a washed out road. Gone are the days when club members truly cared about their wildlife resources and attempted to manage them accordingly.
Soon, and in some instances, at present, lands turned over to the state are already in disrepair. In general, the State's mantra for land acquisition is: "Buy it; Limit Access; Forget About It."
Maybe it's time for the DEC to contract out state acquired land management services to each hunting club. For a reasonable fee, hunting clubs would maintain roads and trails, and keep litter under control. The money collected by the clubs could also offset lease fees.
In a recent news story, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Neil Woodworth cried foul about the recent deal by Pataki. Woodworth said the deal "threatens the forest preserve and river corridors ... with the continued use of hunters' ATVs and snowmobiles."
"Are the all-terrain vehicles going to be used only on the one-acre footprints?" Woodworth said.
Let me permit myself to answer Mr. Woodworth's question: absolutely, not! In fact, Mr. Woodworth, I certainly hope this announcement by Pataki provides more ATV and snowmobile use in the Adirondack Park, not less.
Most club members use their camps year round, pay local taxes, buy locally and are outstanding land stewards. Unlike many other users of Park lands — who may or may not be state taxpayers, visit the area with much less frequency and attempt to change the way others recreate just to serve their needs.
What Mr. Woodworth and others seems to forget or ignore is the damage done by non-club members to the Champion property. It's the added wear and tear of roads, for example, that puts extra stress when club properties are open to the general public.
If this were the 1800s, Mr. Woodworth would probably be first to complain about damage being done to the environment by horses.
According to Hank Ford, the issue of depopulating hunting clubs from the Adirondack Park is far from over. He cautions club members gubernatorial candidate Elliot Spitzer has aligned himself with the Adirondack protectionists organizations.
So, as hunting club members awake to the regular big-game season, all must be very aware of the upcoming efforts to convince the next governor to remove and restrict more hunting clubs and outdoors activities in the Adirondack Park.