LAKE GEORGE - Focusing on environmental improvements both in the Adirondacks and statewide, the state's top environmental officer joined officials from several area green groups in observing the 40th anniversary of Earth Day Monday with a press conference held atop Prospect Mountain.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis cited improved wastewater treatment, a rebound in wildlife, cleaner waterways and reduced acid rain levels, and closed landfills as achievements over the past four decades.
"Forty years ago, the Adirondacks were environmentally threatened because of acid rain, poorly located and outdated landfills, substandard wastewater treatment facilities and potential fragmentation of large timber tracts," Grannis said. "Since then, we've made impressive gains - our mission is certainly not accomplished - but this anniversary gives New Yorkers a chance to take stock of how far we've come."
Grannis, who helped organize the first Earth Day in New York City in 1970, is now touring sites around the state that exemplify the environmental progress New York has made over the past 40 years, DEC Spokesman Yancy Roy said.
Grannis said that 28 of the 48 lakes in the Adirondack monitored for acid rain have shown substantial declines in acidity, and all of them show reductions in sulfate and nitrate. Also, the number of fish species has increased from three to four, he said.
He also noted that moose, Bald Eagles, Peregrine falcons, ravens and ospreys have established themselves in the North Country after long absences. Beaver, otter and fisher populations have flourished to the point that there are now trapping seasons have been resumed. Wild turkey populations have also multiplied, enabling a hunting season.
Grannis noted that over the 40 years, 82 unlined landfills have been closed in DEC's Region 5, which encompasses Warren, Essex, Hamilton, Washington, Saratoga, Franklin, Clinton and Fulton counties.
Since 1970, he said, more than 700,000 acres of Adirondack lands have been protected under conservation easements. The vast majority of this acreage, he said, represents working forests where logging activity continues. Easements also provide public recreational opportunities on lands and waters previously closed to the public, he said.