Starting out as an artist and general Adirondack enthusiast, Seneca Ray Stoddard's outlook on the Adirondack Forest Preserve evolved as he became involved in environmentalism later in life. In 1878, Stoddard was hired by fellow environmentalist Verplanck Colvin to help carry out the New York Topographical Survey of New York. During this project,Stoddard's first real experience with the legislation of the land and its use, he took about two hundred photographs of the Adirondack landscape. A significant amount of evidence depicts this experience as the first step towards Stoddard's massive involvement in the conservation and preservation of the Adirondacks, although the environment of the Adirondacks at the time was also conducive to the cropping up of new environmentalist figures. It was not until after this assignment that Stoddard began openly publishing his own environmentalist musings and traveling to give lectures on the Adirondacks. On February 25th, 1892 Seneca Ray Stoddard delivered a lantern speech, using about 225 of his images from the Adirondacks and some related poetry, to the New York State Department of Legislature. To some, this speech seemed like nothing more than entertainment along with a slideshow of beautiful Adirondack images. However, the President of the New York State Forest Commission at the time, Townsend Cox, set the more far-reaching and influential context for Stoddard's speech by introducing him along with the reminder that, "a bill might be passed by the Legislature creating an Adirondack park" (The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada). Stoddard then continued to show the Adirondacks in a beautified, romantic light, followed by disturbing scenes of human destruction and a call for more regulations concerning logging and the Adirondack watershed. This exhibition was met with a generally positive reaction, and was continually presented in other cities in New York (Horrell, 138-139). Stoddard's presentation was also openly appreciated by many people who had been involved in the seemingly never-ending fight for the protection of the Adirondacks, because the photographs, poem, and speech played an integral part in bringing about the legislation of the Adirondacks as a State Park in 1892. The NYS Legislature even continued to use many of Stoddard's images in their subsequent annual reports regarding the state of the region.
Stoddard's involvement in the environmental future of the Adirondacks is not surprising, however, given his history of depicting Adirondack industry in his photography as a generally negative means for monetary gains. He focused extensively on the effects of logging and damming waterways on the Adirondack watershed, trying to garner awareness of the horrors of destruction occuring in this region through aesthetically pleasing and attention-grabbing artworks. Even before Stoddard began to lecture, he had also begun to follow up these photographs with related writings, namely his article entitled "The Head-Waters of the Hudson" (1885). His rant-like articles provided the Adirondacks with a number of propositions regarding the correct, in Stoddard's opinion at least, ways to protect and preserve the Hudson River Watershed.
Seneca Ray did not stop projecting his opinions, even after the 'forever-wild' clause was put into the Constitution following his famed lecture to the NYS Legislature. From the beginning, though Stoddard was in full support of this addition to the Constitution, referring to it as "wise" (Stoddard's Northern Monthly, 16), he played an important role in the continued concern for the health in the Adirondacks because he did not entirely trust that the State would provide adequate security for this beloved space. Stoddard questioned the wording and clarity of the 'forever-wild' clause, as many environmentalists and policy makers still do today. In a 1908 edition of his monthly periodical, Stoddard acknowledged that Section 7 of the NYS Constitution would quell the incessant logging that was destroying the wilderness, but posed the question, "But what law is there to prohibit the imporvement of old public roads whether they run through property owned by private individuals or between sections of wild forest land belonging to the State? (Stoddard's Northern Monthly, 16). At a very exciting time in the Adirondacks, Seneca Ray reminded his audience that the fight for wilderness is never over, and that the new addition to the Constitution, though indispensible, was not foolproof and needed continued attention and revision.Unfortunately, these revisions have often undermined the original sentiment of Section 7, rather than adding to and strengthing it as Stoddard would have wanted.
Despite a lack of scientific understanding of much of the destruction caused by humans, Stoddard's sentiment as an artistic environmentalist was still strong and influential. Throughout his career, with his photography, his writing, or his lectures, Seneca Ray Stoddard play a role in influencing the of the Adirondacks as both a wilderness and a Park. His romantic, idyllic photographs proved to visitors, residents, and outsiders alike that the Adirondacks were and are one of the most beautiful spaces in the country, while his more environmentally motivated images provided the same viewers with the opportunity to see this space as endangered and in need of protection. Without Stoddard, we would not only lack the delightful documentation of the Park that we have today, but these environmental changes might not have happened as quickly, leaving the Adirondacks in a more irreparable state than we see it today.
Below, we see Stoddard as an environmentalist, an attempted policy maker, and a steward of the Adirondacks as he presents his opinions on what he thinks would be good for the protection of the Adirondack wilderness:
"1. I am thouroughly in favor of storage reservoirs for regulating the flow of the Hudson, but they should be outside the State Park and no opportunity given for the destruction of the forests in the construction of dams therefore.
2. I would have a law to prohibit the cutting of trees on land drained by the Hudson River one thousand feet above tide, regardless of ownership. If any man were injured thereby, the State could well afford to pay the value of the trees left standing.
3. I would have the State control absolutely to the rim the Hudson River watershed in the interests of the people of the cities along its course who must soon look to the mountains for water to drink. It is immaterial who owns the land so long as the wood and waters are preserved under inviolable laws.
4. I would have the State control all the underdeveloped water power along the Hudson's tributaries in the interests of equity and charge customers a fair price based on the cost of construction and maintenance. It should not come into competition with private interestes except to the extent from preventing a monopoly which might withold from small customers the opportunity to obtain power at a fair price. It should deprive established interests of acquired rights on land or in the ordinary flow of the river, but could justly make consumers with water power of their own pay a fair portion for water furnished in excess of the ordinary flow in times of scarcity.
5. Preservation of the forests as a matter of sentiment recognizes no boundaries, but from a utilitarian point of view the territory drained by the Hudson River is of infinitely greater value to the State and to the world at large than all other Adirondack territory whose waters run in other directions." (Horrel 69-70)
-Seneca Ray Stoddard on What is Good for the Adirondacks, Stoddard's Northern Monthly, 1907