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North Country News

Aaron Mair Discusses New Role At Adirondack Council

Aaron Mair at Brant Lake in 2021
Photo by Nancie Battaglia
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Adirondack Council
Aaron Mair at Brant Lake in 2021

A former leader of the Sierra Club is now working for the Adirondack Council.  Aaron Mair, who led the national Sierra Club from 2015 until 2017, is now working to bring new funding and guide new policies to protect the Adirondack’s waters and wilderness while sustaining the communities within the park. Mair tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley the new campaign plans to take advantage of the Biden Administration’s focus on the environment and climate change.

Mair: “Given that Adirondacks is home to one of the most significant irreplaceable wildlife and natural places in the country and the wilderness piece has to be managed and it’s a critical jobs opportunity, when we talk about protecting wilderness land they say well you know that’s incompatible with jobs. But actually the Adirondacks is probably is one of the most pioneering sources and resources of jobs in our country. It the home of what I call the Civilian Conservation Corps which began there in its early embryonic stages under then governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even the notion of our National Parks infrastructure and the job infrastructure that supports that believe it or not that began also in the Adirondacks. And so the Adirondacks has always been a unique ecological resource. It’s unique features of having over 130,000 residents boasting thousands of lakes, streams and waterways have always posed a unique opportunity for protection and preservation. But now we have President Biden who’s called for using wilderness and wilderness protection as a bulwark against the worsening effects of climate change. We’re turning to the Adirondacks for this unique opportunity. We have this chance to do something that hasn’t been done before: a holistic approach to uniquely answering the call to fight against climate change. But equally and more importantly protecting our unique natural resource that is the Adirondacks.”

Bradley:  “We have groups like the Common Ground Alliance which brings all of the stakeholders to work on some of the very issues that you have mentioned. And they’ve been doing it for years. Even before the Alliance was crafted people have been working on this for years. So when you talk about this being a unique opportunity what exactly will you be doing in the campaign that is so unique?”

Mair:  “What has been done in the past it’s working within micro-resources. Whether it’s relying upon the Environmental Protection Fund, local donations and the tax bases and resources of the local communities at hand. Micro-efforts work on and are limited by and bounded by the small pools of money and the intergovernmental collaborations and relationships that allow them to get projects that are very idiosyncratic and small but they’re not universal to the whole Park. Now we have the weight of the national government stepping in and President Joe Biden with his Thrive initiative and his climate agenda and his Build it Back Better, for the first time you have coming from the White House, from the national pulpit, listing the environment as a bulwark and wilderness as a bulwark against climate change. And so what is different is that we now have the power of the federal government.”

Pat Bradley:  “Aaron going down to the practicalities of that. You’ve obviously worked on the national level as president of the Sierra Club, there’s going to be a lot of places around the country that will be going for the federal funds. So brass tacks how do you convince the federal government to bring in the new funding that you’ll be looking for in the Forever Adirondacks Campaign?”

Aaron Mair:  “Well I think that that’s the genius of the Adirondack Council. They are quite bullish on this opportunity, this once in a generation opportunity. We’re going to have to do the coalition building within the park. But we also have to look at the commonalities of the whole Northeast region. The Northeast region is upwind from the Ohio River Valley and it’s the acid rain from them still burning coal in the Midwest and the Ohio River Valley that has been destroying our ecosystems going from the Adirondacks all the way to the Maine woods. So there are already collaborations there are out there now it’s honing them in for a common purpose. So the brass tacks is number one you start to bring in the teams and the experts to make that happen.  We’ve got to build that partnership and that collaboration. And it begins with me working with all of the sectors of the Adirondack economy from the public and private, from the community right on down to the tourists and the ecotourist entities that are there that are thriving and everything that’s happening in the Adirondacks is happening in open spaces across the country. So the Adirondacks, you can fill a number by the way of national parks within the Adirondacks, but it is unique in the sense that we are already experienced many of these things. Now it is now having that collaboration and those coalitions to begin to work on those key sectors and those key points that get us toward that level of jobs, wilderness and clean water. So the Adirondacks gives us the specifics at the micro-level and so we start acting regionally as a micro-level collaboration. So we are taking on those experiences and tools that I’ve honed nationally and internationally. So I am that national expert who’s literally now working at home and bringing that broader national and global knowledge to work and put it to work in service of the communities within the Adirondacks. We have a tremendous opportunity. The next steps is now putting together and threading those coalitions and those opportunities so that we can again push for wilderness protection, clean water and the stewardship of public land is a job creator. The managing of the Park for climate change is job creator. Governance within the wilderness and the wilderness needs is a job creator.  And completing and building on the Forest Preserve and protecting the wilderness are job creators. And promoting research and science and monitoring to foster better ecological decision making are huge job creators. It’s just that we never had the opportunity to lay that out for the federal government to set up programs across its various departments to finance what needs to be done. And if we pull that portfolio of thousands of jobs that needs to be done it’s not just the Adirondacks it becomes the model and the standard by which it can be applied throughout the nation. You know it is known and it is a gem within the state of New York, within the upstate community and within those who are hiking. Now we must take that love and our love for the Adirondacks and now raise it to a higher level so where it becomes a gem that is the pinnacle with regards to climate protection for our whole country and that model for a ecological wilderness protection, job creation and more importantly being that front line bulwark against the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change.”   

Aaron Mair’s sole focus at the Adirondack Council will be the “Forever Adirondacks Campaign.”  He was a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 1998 to 2000.  He also founded the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation and the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center in Albany. He was the 57th president of the Sierra Club and the first African American to hold the post.

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