The Black River Wars

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In 1919, the first river regulating district to form was given dominion over the Black River Basin, where the delicate ecosystems of the Moose River Plains are located. The Black River Regulating District (BRRD) was staffed with members of the power industry and work began immediately on a series of hydroelectric dams across the Adirondack region. Between 1920 and 1941, the BRRD conferred with the Water Power and Control Commission on plans for the construction of dams and reservoirs. On November 25, 1941, a plan for two hydroelectric dams on the Moose River, a tributary of the Black River, was submitted to the Water Power and Control Commission. They approved the project on May 2, 1942 after a quietly advertised public hearing.1

When Paul Schaefer learned about the proposed dams, he immediately recognized the significant dangers posed to the Adirondack wilderness. By then, he was an educated and connected conservationist. Together with Edmond Richard, a fellow Apperson protégé, Schaefer reached out to his preservationist allies for help in this “chance of a lifetime”2 for environmental activism. Schaefer and Richard approached Conservation Commissioner Perry Duryea for advice on stopping the proposed dams in the Forest Preserve. Duryea’s response was disheartening and direct: “You’re too late… the fight’s over”.3 No means of legal appeal existed within the Conservation Department’s structure4 and the Water Power and Control Commission would resist any effort to revisit already approved proposals.5

Schaefer and Richard turned next to the longest-standing conservation organization in the state, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. After contacting the Association’s president, Frederick Kelsey, Schaefer and Richard traveled from Schenectady, New York, to the Association’s headquarters in New York City. Armed with slides illustrating the impending devastation to the region, Schaefer and Richard gave a half-hour presentation to the Association’s Board of Trustees pleading for their help in “turning this thing around”.6 Their reply was devastating to the two conservationists: “We’d like to help you… but the Association is not used to being involved in lost causes”.7

Recognizing that establishment conservation organizations were not going to support their “lost cause,” Schaefer and Richard went to work on a grassroots campaign. Schaefer attended meetings across New York State and wrote passionate letters to every sportsman, hunter, nature lover, Adirondack resident, and influential member of the environmental community in his address book. Over the course of 10 months, their campaign was successful and opposition to the proposed dams grew steadily. Schaefer and Richard drafted the persuasive essay “The Impending Tragedy of the Moose River Region,” strategically mailing nearly 1,000 copies throughout Upstate New York one month before the upcoming Annual Conservation Forum in Albany.8  On October 21, 1945, at the Forum, Schaefer and Richard made a successful presentation about the dams, securing the pledged support of 43 environmental organizations and hundreds of individuals.9

1 The Adirondack Moose River Committee. “Moose River Brief: What’s It All About”; “Memorandum from William R. Adams, President of Black River Regulating District”;  Correspondence, E. S. Cullings to Grace L. Hudowalski, undated.

2 Correspondence, Paul Schaefer to Ed Richard, January 1, 1945.

3 Frank Graham, Jr. The Adirondack Park: A Political History. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978): 201.

4 Ibid.

5 Correspondence, Nathaniel L. Goldstein to Perry B. Duryea, November 13, 1945.

6 Frank Graham, Jr. The Adirondack Park: A Political History. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978): 202.

7 Ibid.

8 Paul Schaefer and Edmond Richards, “Shall the Moose River Region Become an Adirondack Tragedy.” September 25, 1945.

9 Adirondack Moose River Committee, “Sequence of Events Re: Adirondack moose River Fight.”