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Friday, 21 June 2019 16:37

West Brook Pond Dam Failure

WestBrook North 

June 21, 2019

(VIA EMAIL: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

George Gorman, Regional Director

NYSOPR – Long Island Region

625 Belmont Ave

West Babylon, NY 11704

RE:     West Brook Pond Dam

Dear Director Gorman:

We recently visited the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River to examine the site where the dam has failed at West Brook Pond. We are writing to urge the NYSORP Regional Office to leave the dam in its current state and allow West Brook to run freely. The situation presents a rare opportunity to reconnect a coastal stream and restore natural riverine conditions. Doing so would generate a host of ecological benefits, including the creation of more diverse riparian habitat and the potential for restoration of river herring to the Connetquot River tributary.

In its current state, West Brook (while certainly still impacted by road and rail crossings) is now fully connected; that is, there are no complete barriers to wildlife migration or movement. For the first time in well over a hundred years, native species such as Alewife, Blueback Herring, American Eel, Brook Trout and River Otter have full, unfettered access to the full reach of the waterway. It is now one of only a few fully connected rivers or streams on Long Island! We strongly recommend that the Regional Office seize this rare opportunity to allow this unique situation to persist.

The following is a more detailed review of the opportunities and issues presented by the situation at West Brook:

Diadromous Fish

Like the many other coastal rivers and streams on Long Island, West Brook was once an important part of the native landscape, providing habitat and resources for countless riverine and terrestrial species. As a tributary of the Connetquot River, it was also an integral part of the coastal ecosystem: the creek helped to connect upland habitats with Great South Bay and the broader marine ecosystem, providing a critical avenue for the movement of sediments, nutrients and species between fresh and saltwater.

An important part of the connection that streams like West Brook provided was the unique fish that move between fresh and marine waters. This category of fish, known as diadromous fish, split their life cycles between fresh and salt water. Long Island’s rivers and streams weren’t large enough to support salmon (the most well-known diadromous species), but they did host annual migrations of river herring (both Alewives and Blueback Herring) and American Eels. Each spring, “runs” of river herring migrated in from the ocean to spawn in freshwater. Around the same time, juvenile American Eels, hatched a year earlier in the middle of the Atlantic, would arrive to run up into the rivers and streams where they would spend several decades before reversing the trip and swimming thousands of miles into the ocean to spawn.

Critically, through their remarkable life cycles, these fish delivered ocean-derived energy and biomass into the waterway and provided important forage for a wide range of species. From Bald Eagles, River Otters and Raccoons that preyed on adult river herring to the myriad other species that benefited from consuming juvenile eels and river herring eggs. Importantly, this influx of energy came at a time, in the early spring, when many other species were completing their own migrations (e.g. Osprey) or had just made it through winter on Long Island (e.g. Harbor Seals).

West Brook

Historical records about diadromous fish are scarce for many of Long Island’s rivers and streams, but biologists expect that they occurred in most of the island’s coastal waterways. In the case of West Brook, however, there is no need to speculate; thanks to the archives at Bayard Cutting, we know that they once poured into the waterway. In fact, as you know, the brackish pool just upstream from where West Brook enters the Connetquot River was known as “Herring Pool”!  Interpretive signage at the property indicates that the family allowed their staff to harvest herring from the pool – a task for which it says they only needed rakes since the waterway was so densely packed with fish!

As you may know, Seatuck (which chairs the Long Island Diadromous Fish Work Group) has been managing the Annual Volunteer River Herring Survey for the past 12 years. While we have not been able to confirm the presence of a “remnant run” of river herring in the Connetquot River (a notoriously difficult place to survey), we have had numerous anecdotal sightings of the fish from both our volunteers and local anglers. We’re confident the fish, particularly Alewife, are moving into the vicinity each spring and could be reestablished in West Brook if the connectivity of the waterway was allowed to persist.

As mentioned above, with the West Brook Pond dam removed, river herring have full access to the full run of the waterway. They would have to navigate a small culvert 50 feet under Montauk Highway, but biologists no longer consider such dark passages to present a migration barrier (in fact, Seatuck recently documented river herring migrating 700 feet through an underground culvert on the Mill River in Rockville Centre!). Once past Montauk Highway, the fish would have easy passage through the sinuous stretch of stream (which has quickly reformed where West Brook Pond formerly existed), under Sunrise Highway and into the impounded (but not fully dammed) section of the stream north of the highway. From there they have access to nearly three-quarters of a mile of additional upstream habitat. The sections of flowing stream combined with partially-impounded “flatwater” would provide excellent spawning habitat for both Alewife and Blueback Herring.

Warm-Water Fish

The draining of the impoundment will certainly result in a loss of habitat for bluegills, bass and other warm-water fish. And it will reduce the availability of recreational fishing opportunities for those interested in pursuing these species. On the other hand, the potential to restore river herring runs and Brook Trout to West Brook and enhance American Eel populations would have offsetting recreational benefits. Increased numbers of river herring and eels, in particular, would generate forage for larger predatory fish in the Great South Bay, including popular sportfishing species such as Bluefish and Striped Bass. In addition, there are numerous other nearby warm-water fishing locations for anglers to enjoy, including Main Pond in Connetquot River State Park, Knapps Lake in Islip and Patchogue and Canaan Lakes in Patchogue.

Birds

Another issue encountered during dam removals is concern for the loss of open water habitat for waterfowl (especially those species that overwinter on Long Island) and associated bird watching opportunities. With regard to the former West Brook Pond, however, these concerns are limited: there is little evidence that the pond provided significant waterfowl habitat or was a popular birding destination.

According to eBird (the popular birding database maintained by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology), West Brook Pond has only had 22 checklists submitted and a total 64 species reported. By contrast, Connetquot River State Park has had 1,366 checklists submitted, with a total species count of 212. The following is a comparison of eBird “high counts” at West Brook Pond and Connetquot River State Park for several common waterfowl species:

eBird High Counts (All Years)

Species

West Brook

Connetquot

American Coot

1

16

Northern Shoveler

1

6

American Black Duck

2

49

Hooded Merganser

2

50

Common Merganser

6

323

Mallard

22

349

Ring-necked Duck

26

300

Canada Goose

85

565

American Wigeon

None reported

60

Lesser Scaup

None reported

400

Green-winged Teal

None reported

37

Canvasback

None reported

35

Ruddy Duck

None reported

150

This data suggests that it is reasonable to assume that the loss of open water habitat will have a minimal impact on waterfowl. Those birds occasionally using the pond can move a short distance to find suitable habitat within Connetquot River State Park or any of the other numerous nearby lakes and ponds. And again, the establishment of freshwater meadows, mudflats and other rare habitats will attract a greater diversity of birds and provide better bird watching opportunities.

Repair & Maintenance

All impoundments fill in over time. When flowing water slows down it loses its ability to carry sediments. These sediments then “fall out” into the bottom of the impoundment and the pond gradually gets shallower. When sunlight can reach the bottom, plants start to grow. This “submerged aquatic vegetation” (SAV) comes in the form of invasive non-native species, such as water chestnut (Trapa natans) and also native species, such as yellow pond lily (Nuphar advena) (which was a problem at West Brook Pond).

SAVs eventually take over impounded waterways, making boating, fishing and other recreational activities difficult and requiring expensive remedies. The Town of Brookhaven has spent more than five million dollars in recent years to address SAVs in two impoundments on the Carmans River. Dealing with the SAVs at West Brook Pond would not only require considerable expense, but it would also be temporary. Eventually, the siltation process would refill the pond and plants would start to grow again.

In addition to the cost of dredging and dealing with SAVs, the Regional Office would also have to address the considerable cost of repairing the dam, which contains extensive crumbling concrete and aging bulkheading. With perhaps some minor exceptions, these repair and ongoing maintenance expenses would be unnecessary if the impoundment was abandoned and West Brook simply left to flow naturally.

NYSOPR’s River Restoration History

Of course, we know that the Regional Office is well versed in the issues raised above and has considerable experience with riverine restoration. Of the three dams that have failed on Long Island in recent years, two occurred within State Parks. The first, where Superstorm Sandy breached a dam Sunken Meadow State Park, has become one of the most celebrated ecological restoration projects on Long Island. The Regional Office’s decision to allow natural stream flow and tidal hydrology to be restored to the site has resulted in a location that attracts abundant wildlife, including one of most active River Otter gatherings on Long Island.

The other, less well known, is the dam failure at the westernmost of the “Northern Ponds” at Hempstead Lake State Park. In not immediately repairing this dam, the Regional Office allowed for the establishment of a unique and ecologically valuable emergent freshwater wetland complex. Seatuck conducted several years of bird surveys of the area for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (as part of the Living with the Bay project). We were repeatedly impressed by the assemblages of birds that the meadows, mudflats and shallow waterways attracted. The rare freshwater habitat attracted an impressive diversity of birds, especially during migration season.

The birds using the location that rely on shallow water and muddy habitat included Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs. Significantly, an eBird report documented a large flock of 425 Least Sandpipers at the location on August 20, 2016. This was the largest number of Least Sandpiper ever recorded in Nassau County. It highlights the value that rare freshwater habitats can have for flocks of migrating shorebirds that require places to rest and refuel during their long-distance journeys.

The Regional Office’s decisions with regard to failed dams at Sunken Meadow and Hempstead Lakes allowed for the transformation of locations with low bird abundance and diversity to thriving habitats with high abundance and diversity – they became two of the most significant wildlife sites on Long Island.

We urge the Regional Office to follow the pattern it has established at Sunken Meadow and Hempstead Lake. West Brook offers a similar opportunity, where positive ecological benefits are likely to occur by not repairing a failed dam. We strongly recommend that the Regional Office seize this rare and unique opportunity to fully reconnect one of Long Island’s coastal streams. We pledge our support and cooperation to do anything we can to help with the restoration of the waterway.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present this information and to engage with the Regional Office in the future of West Brook. Please let us know if you have any questions or require additional information.

Very truly yours,

ENRICO NARDONE, Executive Director                                               

JOHN TURNER, Conservation Policy Advocate

MAUREEN DUNN, Water Quality Scientist

     

CC (VIA EMAIL):

Theresa Santoro, Suffolk County Regional Representative,

     Office of New York State Governor

The Honorable Monica R. Martinez, New York State Senate

The Honorable Todd Kaminsky, New York State Senate,

     Chair, Senate Environmental Conservation Committee

The Honorable Steve Englebright, New York State Assembly,

     Chair, Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee

The Honorable Andrew R. Garbarino, New York State Assembly

Brian X. Foley, Deputy Regional Director, NYSOPR, Long Island Region

Annie McIntyre, Regional Environmental Manager, NYSOPR, Long Island Region

Carrie Meek-Gallagher, Regional Director, NYSDEC, Region 1

Kevin Jennings, Regional Habitat Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Michele Gibbons, Regional Wildlife Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Heidi O’Riordan, Regional Fisheries Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Rob Marsh, Natural Resources Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Nelson W. Sterner, Executive Director, Bayard Cutting Arboretum

Friday, 07 June 2019 14:19

Valule of Waste Reduction

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The Value of Waste Reduction

John L. Turner

Ok, you’re at a barbecue this summer and another guest asks what you think is the best way to manage all the garbage that the party will generate (I know, pretty unlikely party conversation, but bear with me). As you search for a quick rejoinder your mind is spinning fast: you’ve learned from numerous press accounts about leaking landfills, with their groundwater-contaminating plumes and smelly methane emissions, that landfilling garbage — throwing all waste into a pit in the ground rather than reusing any of it or gaining energy from it through incineration — is a decidedly bad idea. 

Then its hits you, the answer must be: Recycling, of course! So you spurt it out, making clear to mention that you recycle your garbage at home by separating glass, metal, paper, and cardboard. You look for the approving nod of the head from your fellow party guest or some other type of affirming signal. But no, they rudely shake their head in a disapproving fashion. They answer: “While this party will generate garbage, the best solid waste strategy is to throw a party that doesn’t generate garbage to begin with”. This smart aleck has touched upon what solid waste policy makers have long known: waste reduction, the idea of not generating garbage in the first place, is the best idea to deal with garbage. After all, if there’s no garbage created there’s nothing to manage, treat, or dispose of. And, importantly, there’s no adverse environmental impact from trash that doesn’t exist. 

Two recent examples come to mind. On January 1, 2018, legislation enacted by Suffolk County took effect which placed a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic grocery bags. The purpose of the law was to provide a financial incentive to county consumers to reduce their bag consumption (and the associated environmental impacts stemming from their manufacture and distribution) by using reusable bags or no bags at all. The result? An 81.7% reduction in the number of plastic bags and a 78.8% reduction in paper bags used and thrown away.  In actual numbers that’s approximately 1.1 billion (yes that’s billion with a “b”) less bags.   

The other example has to do with straws. Currently, when you go to a restaurant and order water or a soda it typically includes a straw whether you asked for it or not. With the recent adoption of Suffolk County “Request Only” legislation straws will now be provided to customers only upon request (and those that are provided will be made of paper). If this prevents one out of every two customers from using a straw that cuts the number of straws thrown away in half. In Suffolk County, as a result of this legislation,  an estimated 2,160,000 straws are used daily, so the above example means that more than 1 million straws will not be used and thrown away each and every day in Suffolk County. The figures for Nassau County are very similar. 

What’s the value of these two measures? Their obvious impact is in reducing the amount of garbage generated.  As mentioned above, there are  no environmental impacts from garbage that’s not generated! (And good news to taxpayers: there’s no financial cost to municipalities in managing garbage that’s not created!)

The environmental value of waste reduction illustrates a fundamental point that few of us ever (or rarely) think about: Virtually everything we consume or use has some impact on the natural resources that collectively comprise our life-sustaining environment during its manufacture, use, and disposal. The impact may be huge, medium, or tiny, but it’s there. It may be water quality impacts that result from the manufacture of paper bags or air quality impacts from the creation of plastic bags. Or it may stem from hundreds of other products. 

For the plastic bag and straw examples, the impacts are both front-end and back-end. For example, it takes polluting petroleum to manufacture plastic bags and straws and more of it to ship it to distribution points such as supermarkets and restaurants. At the back end, involving the disposal stage, many bags and straws end up in the environment where they break down into micro-plastics, which pollute soil, marine sediments, and are ingested by wildlife and humans alike!     

It’s easy to reduce the amount of garbage you generate if you think about it. Do you need to put that half gallon of milk with a built-in jug handle into a plastic bag? Can you bring your washable coffee mug to your local morning coffee vendor instead of using a new paper or styrofoam cup every day? How about doing away with wrapping paper for presents, opting instead for a reusable gift bag. And what about the barbecue? Perhaps the hosts could offer reusable plates, glasses and cutlery instead of relying on paper or plastic. Or mix pitchers of lemonade for children instead of handing out juice boxes. Or ensure that the vegetable waste, including all those watermelon rinds, end up in the backyard compost pile. 

Ways to reduce the amount of garbage you generate are only limited by your imagination  You, your community, and the planet will be the better for your efforts. 

Friday, 30 November 2018 14:59

A Transparent Problem

3113963995 afbf90439c oBird species face a number of threats as they go about their daily lives. Foremost, they must be ever vigilant of predators of all sorts - other birds such as birds-of-prey like Great Horned Owls and Cooper’s Hawks - and a host of mammals, snakes, even fish in some cases! Layered on this are the significant and numerous threats posed by one specific mammal - Homo sapiens - that are adversely affecting birds, causing many species to decline, some dramatically. 

These suite of threats include: poisoning both intentional and incidental (oil spills); flying into wind turbines and power lines; destruction of wild habitats upon which birds depend; predation by feral and outdoor-roaming pet cats; the still evolving, multiple pronged threats posed by climate change; and birds dying when they fly into highly reflective or transparent windows. Seatuck is focusing on this last threat in the hope that local and New York State lawmakers  implement a set of strategies that begin to reduce the magnitude and scope of this source of avian mortality.   

The number of birds that die from flying into windows is staggering. Based on a detailed 2014 study between 365 and 988 million birds die annually from this cause; that comes out to between 1 and 2.7 million birds daily.  Common collision victims in New York include hummingbirds, sparrows, owls, numerous warbler and thrush species, American Woodcock; in total several dozen bird species regularly die flying into windows since they do not see them for what they are - an unyielding, rigid, surface. 

The problem stems from two basic characteristics that most windows have - either they’re transparent, allowing birds to see some inviting feature on the other side of the window pane or are highly reflective, creating a mirror-like image of the adjacent landscape the bird wants to travel to. The transparency problem can be especially problematic when there’s another transparent window aligned with the first, creating an alleyway the bird thinks it can negotiate through. 

But there is much good news amidst this deadly despair, most notably the development of a number of “bird friendly windows” and window treatments by private companies that can reduce or eliminate the magnitude of the impact. One example of many, is the emergence of windows that reflect patterns of UV light in the glass; the window pane looks normal to the human eye which cannot discern ultraviolet light but to s bird the pane is revealed as the bird sees the UV-reflecting pattern - and knows to steer clear of the window.  Other solutions involve the use of fritted (small numerous dots in the glass spaced inches apart) and frosted glass. 

For existing windows there’s a variety of decals, stickers or whole window films that can be applied that are effective in reducing collisions as they eliminate either the transparent or reflective nature of the window pane. You can also apply netting, screening, and vertical strings in front of the window. 

Seatuck is addressing the problem in three ways. First, we are commenting on specific development proposals such as the proposed new entertainment venue at Belmont Race Track, the new nature centers at Hempstead Lake and Jones Beach State Parks, and SUNY Stony Brook’s proposed 100,000 square foot Engineering Building, urging project sponsors to use bird friendly glass. Second, we are consulting with some building managers and owners on steps they can take to reduce bird strikes at their facilities including one middle school in a Suffolk County School District. Lastly, we are working with state lawmakers and key bird conservation groups such as the American Bird Conservancy, NYC and NYS Audubon, to introduce (and adopt!!) state legislation mandating bird friendly windows in new construction, and to provide financial incentives and state environmental funds to retrofit existing problematic buildings. 

If you have  a problem with birds flying into the picture windows or patio doors of your home you can install decals on the window exterior to solve the problem. Contact John Turner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.         

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 23:31

TED Comments

August 14, 2017

Kim McKown

 NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Crustacean Unit Leader
205 N Belle Mead Rd, STE 1
East Setauket, NY 11733

Dear Ms. McKown:

The Seatuck Environmental Association, ‘Seatuck’, is a Long Island-based not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to preserve native wildlife and the natural communities upon which they depend.  To give focus to this effort Seatuck has developed a “Campaign for Wildlife” designed to safeguard, and in some cases restore, such iconic species as river herring, horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapins, among others.  I write to you in regard to this last species and the Department’s proposed rule, to take effect January 1, 2018, to require the installation of terrapin excluder devices (TED’s) on commercial crab traps/pots placed in certain waters in New York State (as detailed in a map produced by the Department). Seatuck strongly supports the adoption of this regulation and urges the Department to implement it in a timely fashion.

TED’s have proven to be a highly effective, relatively inexpensive means to reduce drownings of adult and young-adult diamondback terrapins in crab traps, a significant source of mortality to the species. Terrapins enter the trap, attracted to the bait situated there, and being unable to escape unfortunately drown. Seatuck has documented terrapins drowning in crab pots situated in more than a dozen locations throughout Long Island, in some cases traps in these locations containing several individuals each.  It is expected that adoption of this important rule will significantly reduce the number of individual turtles that are able to enter traps, thereby preventing the deaths of countless terrapins, a species that due to its limited reproductive capability can be especially hard hit by the drowning deaths of adult female terrapins. 

In an effort to defray the expense of complying with the proposed rule Seatuck (and the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy) purchased approximately 7,000 plastic and metal TED’s, and several thousand zip ties to attach the TED’s, which were provided to your agency for distribution.  Seatuck may be able to provide an additional number of TED’s and ties to assist the agency in minimizing the financial impact of baymen compliance with the rule prior to and shortly after the regulation has been enacted.

With regard to the proposed regulation, we offer the following observations/ recommendations:

1. We recognize the rule doesn’t cover all of the state’s estuarine environments frequented by diamondback terrapins, such as the main sections of the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and the south shore bays, focusing instead, on the shallower, in-shore areas of these estuaries where terrapins predominantly occur. This compromise (along with providing the above-mentioned TED’s), is designed to respond to the concerns of baymen who note that the deeper open water areas are used much less frequently by terrapins and by not requiring the use of TED’s will allow for the harvest of other commercially valuable species such as whelk. 

2. We recommend that all of Jamaica Bay and not just the streams and creeks which flow into it be included under the rule. We recognize that virtually all of Jamaica Bay is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, under the jurisdictional authority of the National Park Service, and that commercial crab harvest is not permitted in the area. Nevertheless, terrapins are more abundant here and we believe it makes sense to include the entire Bay area to provide easier enforcement for the DEC as it relates to potential enforcement cases in the many streams and creeks that flow into the Bay.  Similarly, given the shallow nature of Flanders Bay and its productivity as a site for terrapins, we urge that all of this embayment be included within the rule.

3. Seatuck strongly supports the proposed dimensions of the TED’s. The 1 and 3/4-inch-high by 4 and 3/4-inch-wide opening has been proven, through several studies and common practice, to be highly effective at reducing terrapin deaths while having no adverse impact on crab catch. In fact, in some studies, involving TED’s with the same dimensions as proposed for New York, crab catch and CPUE has increased.

4. We support the provision that allows for the DEC to close additional areas upon a finding that mortality to terrapins is unacceptably high.   

5. We urge that the map the Department has prepared, indicating the location of the affected streams, creeks, and embayments, be distributed to all crab license holders, and further recommend the map be of such scale so as to make it as easy and clear as possible for the permit holder and DEC Law Enforcement staff to be fully aware of the line that demarcates the boundary to the stream, creek, and embayment beyond which TED’s are not required and within which they are.    

6. Seatuck strongly urges that the draft regulation be amended to require that all commercial crab traps sold in New York State after the effective date of the regulation be equipped with TED’s. This provision would ensure that the cost of regulation compliance shifts away from the conservation community and toward the manufacturers, and through their trap prices, to the individual users of the traps where it appropriately belongs.   

On behalf of Seatuck I appreciate the opportunity to provide these observations and comments on this important rule and we hope the Department adopts it in a timely fashion so that it may take effect January 1, 2018 and terrapins can be afforded the additional protection the rule provides and the species deserves.  

Sincerely,

John L. Turner

Conservation Policy Advocate

Seatuck Environmental Association 

Friday, 16 February 2018 23:15

New 2018 Plastic Bag Law

On January 1, 2018, a new Suffolk County Law took effect that establishes a 5-cent fee on disposable bags used at stores in Suffolk County. The fee’s purpose is to provide a financial incentive to motivate customers to move away from single-use paper and plastic bags and towards sturdy multi-use bags. These durable bags, which are made from a variety of materials such as cloth, heavy plastic, canvas and netting, can be used hundreds of times before wearing out. The reduction of single-use bags will not only save energy and reduce pressure on landfills and incinerators, it will also significantly reduce adverse impacts to wildlife and help clean up waterways, roadsides and parklands. 

Many other countries, states, and local municipalities have enacted identical or similar bans over the past decade. Those that have been in place for several years have met or exceed their goals of reducing plastic bag use and curbing the proliferation of plastic in the natural environment. On Long Island, the City of Long Beach and the Villages of Patchogue and Southampton have recently enacted measures designed to curtail single-use bags.

CleanUpBags

Seatuck Environmenal Association’s strong support for the laws stems from an awareness of the pernicious impact that plastics have on the natural world, and the need to alter the throwaway mindset that pervades our collective lifestyles. Plastic bags are, of course, only part of the problem. But they symbolize a society that, in too many ways, is simply unsustainable over the long-term and which does not reflect an understanding of the fragility of the earth’s natural systems on which we rely. The proliferation of plastic bags in the environment is one piece of the problem that we can solve. 

The adverse effects of intact plastic bags to wildlife are well documented. We have all seen images of sea turtles and marine mammals that have ingested them (thinking they’re sea jellies), or fish and birds that have become entangled with plastic bags, often with fatal results. Arguably even more problematic, however, is the effect from the countless small plastic pieces that are produced as plastic bags break apart in the open environment. 

Polyethylene, from which plastic bags are made, does not biodegrade in the natural environment. Bacteria and other microbes don’t consume plastic or break it down into its component parts. Instead, the sun breaks down polyethylene through a process called photodegradation. In this process, ultraviolet light causes the long polymer strands in polyethylene to become brittle and crack, breaking plastic bags down into smaller and smaller pieces. It doesn’t eliminate plastic; rather, it degrades it down into increasingly small pieces that “disappear” into the natural environment. These microplastics persist everywhere and can have a devastating impact on wildlife.

As they are ingested by wildlife they negatively affect physiology and health. Chemicals added to plastic during manufacturing or absorbed from the surrounding environment can be transferred to wildlife after ingestion and cause a host of additional problems. At the smallest size, these microplastics are capable of crossing cell membranes and causing direct tissue damage. 

Scientists fear that the buildup of microplastics in marine and terrestrial environments—and in the stomachs and bodily tissues of wildlife—portends a bleak future in which plastic particles infiltrating every step of the food chain. A plastic bag might disappear in 10 to 100 years if exposed to the sun, but its damaging environmental legacy may last forever.

We urge Suffolk County residents to “go green” in 2018 by embracing this new law and the important goals it seeks to promote. It may take some effort at first to break the plastic bag habit, but over time using reusable bags will become second nature – you’ll reflexively reach for them every time you head to the store. To get started, build up your reusable bag collection so they’re handy when you need them. Hang some by the front door. Keep a few in your car. Give bags out as gifts! Whatever it takes to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags and help turn the tide on plastics! Over time, our aquatic and terrestrial habitats will be safer for wildlife and our parks and roadsides will be cleaner!

Friday, 16 June 2017 17:28

Oppose Plastic Bag Fee Rollback!

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Earlier this week, New York State Senator John Flanagan (R-Smithown, Current President and Majority Leader) introduced a bill (#6717) in the Senate Rules Committee that would void the 2016 Suffolk County legislation enacted to address the plastic bag problem. The Suffolk County law, which was crafted with broad stakeholder input and bipartisan support, imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in an effort to curb their use and reduce the proliferation and negative impacts in the natural environment. Similar fees have produced well-documented bag use reductions in other parts of the country and around the world. Please call or write Senator Flanagan and urge him to withdraw his ill-conceived bill. Contact information below:

Senator John J. Flanagan

  • Mail: 260 Middle Country Road, Suite 102, Smithtown,  NY, 11787
  • Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Phone: 631-361-2154

Seatuck's June 16, 2017 letter to Senator Flanagan is below.

*  *  *  *

Re:   Senate Bill #6717

Dear Senator Flanagan:

On behalf of the members of the Seatuck Environmenal Association, I am writing to express our dismay at the recent introduction of Senate Bill #6717, which seeks to block a Suffolk County law limiting the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic bags. We find the bill troubling and misguided on several levels, and strongly oppose this ill-conceived proposal.

First and foremost, the assertion in the bill that the Suffolk County law “fails to address any environmental concerns” is plainly wrong. The adverse environmental effects caused by plastic bags are well known. From the devastating impacts to turtles, mammals, fish and birds that inadvertently consume whole bags (thinking they’re sea jellies), to the countless species that take in the increasingly small, even microscopic, pieces of the bags (sunlight breaks down the polyethylene bags through photodegredation), scientists are only beginning to comprehend the full extent of the damage that these and other plastic products are causing to our wildlife and environment (see, “Sources, Fates and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment - A Global Assessment”, Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), 2015). Certainly this threat must be taken very seriously in Suffolk County where – from fishing to recreation to tourism – our economy and quality of life are heavily dependent on the health and vitality of our marine waters and coastal ecosystem.

The recently enacted Suffolk County law will reduce the use of the bags by as much as two-thirds. This estimate is based on well-documented results from similar laws enacted in the United States and in other countries. The direct result of reducing the input of bags into the stream of commerce is, simply, that fewer bags will find their way into the natural environment. Reducing the proliferation of plastic bags in Suffolk County’s forests, streams and bays produces a direct and tangible benefit to wildlife and the health of our coastal ecosystem. In this way, the law directly and effectively addresses a significant “environmental concern.”

Second, the Suffolk County law imposing a fee on the use of plastic bags was broadly supported by the people of the County. The legislation, which was carefully crafted with input from a wide range of stakeholders, enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the Suffolk County Legislature and passed by a wide margin. It was signed into law by County Executive Steve Bellone without protest or controversy. It would be a brazen overreach of authority, in our opinion, for the state to now override the will of the people of Suffolk County, expressed through the local legislative process, by enacting the proposed bill.

Finally, the fact that New York State blocked the enactment of similar legislation in New York City and established a Statewide Task Force to consider measures to reduce the use of plastic bags should not undermine a validly established law in another jurisdiction. If the task force eventually develops and proposes a statewide measure that addresses the plastic bag problem (we understand only one meeting has been held to date) and such a proposal is successfully enacted into law, then the Suffolk County measure can be easily repealed and superseded. While the fact that a Statewide Task Force has been established highlights the importance of the plastic bag problem, it should not stop the important and meaningful progress that Suffolk County is poised to make towards a solution. Suffolk County has a long, proud history of leading on environmental issues – from DDT to bottle recycling, it has often acted first and paved the way for statewide legislation. Its effort now to once again lead New York State forward on an important conservation matter should be celebrated and embraced, not thwarted.

For these and other reasons, we strongly urge you to withdrawal Senate Bill #6717 and allow Suffolk County to implement the reasonable and effective measure it enacted to address the threat from plastic bags.

Very truly yours,

Enrico Nardone & John Turner

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Photo, Bags at Dawn, by Jonathan Kos-Read, 2015 All Rights Reserved

 

 

Saturday, 27 May 2017 22:51

Coyote Letter

Earlier this year Seatuck sent the following letter to Governor Cuomo expressing outrage over the Port Authority's recent killing of coyotes at LaGuardia airport:

 

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

RE: Coyotes on Long Island

Dear Governor Cuomo:

On behalf of the membership of the Seatuck Environmental Association – a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving Long Island’s wildlife and environment – we are writing to voice our outrage over the recent governmental killing of coyotes in New York City and our alarm about the unwise precedent it sets.

As was widely reported, in late 2016, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“Port Authority”) determined that a group of pioneering coyotes that had settled into a wooded area near LaGuardia Airport were a threat to the safety of airport staff and visitors, as well as residents in surrounding neighborhoods.  At the Port Authority’s request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) killed almost all of the coyotes (nearly a dozen in all), including both adults and pups.

As an avid outdoorsman and someone who appreciates the natural heritage of New York, we are sure you can understand our dismay at the actions taken by the Port Authority and USDA. Long Island has been missing terrestrial apex predators since colonial times, resulting in an ecosystem that is out of balance in many regards. Coyotes, ecologists expect, will eventually fill this empty niche and help restore equilibrium to Long Island’s natural communities. For example, Long Island’s deer herd is expanding well beyond the natural carrying capacity in many places, destroying the woodland understory and prevented natural forest regeneration. These impacts reduce the quality of forest habitat and harm countless species of birds and other wildlife. For these and other reasons, many Long Islanders have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of coyotes and anticipating the positive ecological impacts that will come with the reestablishment of an apex predator.

Coyotes have been expanding their range (which was historically limited to Midwestern prairies and Southwestern deserts) for more than 200 years, taking advantage of the extirpation of Gray Wolves and human landscape modification. They now exist in every state in the country. They first became firmly established in New York State in the 1940s; by the 1980s

they were settled into every corner of the state, except New York City and Long Island. Over the past two decades, they have expanded into New York City, taking up residence in parts of the Bronx. Long Island now remains one of the few places in the country that these adaptable canids have not conquered.

Despite their wide range and presence in most major cities and countless suburban neighborhoods, conflicts between coyotes and humans are extremely rare. While conflicts can certainly arise (generally in situations where coyotes are fed or simple precautions are not taken), the concern about risks to people and pets is grossly exaggerated. The simple fact is that coyotes coexist alongside humans throughout North America, from Canada down through Mexico; there is no reason why they cannot coexist on Long Island.

Given this reality, as well as the positive ecological impacts they will bring, we find it completely unacceptable that taxpayer dollars were used to thwart the welcomed expansion of coyotes to Long Island. The USDA and the Port Authority should not be unilaterally acting against the interests of the people of New York City and Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

We request that New York State conduct an investigation of the coyote killings at LaGuardia Airport, especially regarding the process through which the decision was reached and the applicability of federal and state wildlife laws. The incident may prove to have a silver lining if it helps to confirm and clarify the State’s support for coyote expansion, and establish a clear protocol for the next time coyotes move on to Long Island (which experts say will be soon).

Again, we strongly support the expansion of coyotes to Long Island and urge you to intervene to ensure that the misguided actions of the Port Authority and USDA are not repeated.

Sincerely,

ENRICO NARDONE, Esq.

Executive Director

The river herring run at Parsonage Creek in Baldwin has been elusive in recent years. While we had anectodal evidence that it existed, we weren't able to document it until 2016. As the following video shows, our difficulty may have been the result of the run's preference for nocturnal migration. While river herring certainly migrate during the day in many instances, we have found that in some cases they prefer to move under the cover of darkness. There's little research on this question, but biologists think it may occur in situations with large concentrations of light-dependant predators, such as comorants or herring gulls.

This video also shows the even a relatively short barrier can be a complete barrier to river herring. While certainly very capable swimmers, they are not jumpers and simply cannot manage a barrier of more than a few inches.

 

Thursday, 16 February 2017 22:22

10 Ways Long Island Needs the EPA

epa

Seatuck sent the following letter to Long Island's Congressional delegation today urging them to defend the important work of the EPA. It featured a list of 10 ways Long Island benefits from the agency's work.

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February 16, 2017

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate

322 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Schumer:

            On behalf of the members of the Seatuck Environmenal Association, we write to urge you, for the sake of all Long Islanders (and indeed people throughout New York State and across the Country), to defend the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its important work of protecting human health and the environment.

            Seatuck is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that works to conserve Long Island wildlife and the environment. The organization, which is based in Islip, advocates for wildlife and habitat protection across Long Island and offers a diverse outdoor education program, including the operation of two public nature centers.

            We are alarmed by the President’s nomination of E. Scott Pruitt (a long-time critic of the EPA and climate change denier) to head the agency, by the anti-EPA rhetoric from the new Administration, from Congressional efforts to limit the agency’s effectiveness (H.R. 637 “Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017”), and, most recently, by the bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 861) to eliminate the agency entirely!

            Long Islanders, like all New Yorkers, rely significantly on the EPA to protect our air, water and natural resources. There are countless ways the work of the agency protects the environment, safeguards human health and enhances our quality of life. In an effort to underscore the agency’s important work, we have compiled the following list of some of the direct and tangible ways Long Islanders benefit from the EPA:

10 Ways Long Island Needs the EPA 

1. Clean Water – All Long Islanders get their drinking water from the aquifers that underlie the island. In 1978, this underground water source became the first in the nation recognized by the EPA’s “Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program”. Under the program EPA reviews all proposed projects on the island that receive federal financial assistance to ensure they do not endanger our precious groundwater.

2. Clean Air – EPA oversees a range of programs under the Clean Air Act that exist to safeguard the very air we breathe. Importantly, unlike state agencies, EPA has the ability to address air pollution issues that cross state borders. Long Islanders suffer from both homegrown air pollution (power plants, truck traffic) and “upwind” pollution from out-of-state sources. Despite decades of improvement, Long Island still fails to meet annual air quality standards. However, tough new EPA limits on power plant emissions give us hope for cleaner air in our future.

3. Long Island Sound – Through the establishment of the bi-state Long Island Sound Study, EPA has led the effort to improve Long Island Sound, the nationally-significant estuary that lies between Long Island and Connecticut. Funding and agency-led efforts through EPA’s National Estuary Program have protected coastal habitat, expanded eelgrass beds, reduced nitrogen loading, restricted dumping and achieved a long list of other restoration goals for what was a degraded waterbody. It’s no coincidence that whales have returned to the Sound in recent years for the first time in decades.

4. Peconic Estuary – The Peconic Estuary is another estuary of national significance that is protected through EPA’s National Estuary Program. The EPA-led Peconic Estuary Program directs a multi-jurisdictional effort to protect and improve the quality of the Peconic Bays, which are a key component of the ecologically and economically rich East End of Long Island.

5. Ocean Dumping – Long Island is surrounded by ecologically valuable estuaries and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The health of our coastal ecosystem and the quality of our lives along the shore depend on the cleanliness and quality of these waterbodies. EPA protects these waters by restricting and monitoring direct (often out-of-state) pollution through the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (also known as the Ocean Dumping Act).

6. Disaster Response – Long Islanders know all to well the human tragedy that resulted from Superstorm Sandy, but storms such as Sandy also produce dangerous environmental conditions and threats to the natural world. EPA works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to protect public health and the environment in the wake of major storm events. From collecting hazardous waste to offering mold remediation assistance to providing more than $340 million in funding for repairs to drinking water and sewage treatment facilities, EPA played a significant role in the island’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

7. Climate Change – Long Island is on the front line of threats from sea-level rise, increasing storm intensity and other impacts of global climate change. EPA is an international leader in efforts to address these threats, contributing world-class research and providing sustainable solutions for adapting to and reducing the impacts from a changing climate.

8. Pesticide Control – Pesticides are widely used on Long Island: in homes & gardens, in agriculture (Suffolk County is one of the leading agricultural producers in New York State) and in efforts to protect the public from vector-borne diseases. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA regulates the production and use of these chemicals to ensure they don’t present unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. EPA’s ban of the mosquito-control pesticide DDT in 1972 is credited with the recovery of osprey, one of Long Island’s iconic wildlife species.

9. Toxic Waste – In 1980 Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which authorized EPA to identify hazardous waste sites across the country and prioritize the worst (not to mention most complex and most expensive) for long-term monitoring and remediation. A special fund – known as Superfund – was established (with penalties recovered from the responsible polluters) to cover the clean up costs. There are nearly three-dozen Superfund sites on Long Island where EPA works to limit impacts to human health and the environment.

10. Waste Management – The infamous 1987 barge incident made Long Island synonymous with waste management problems. With the island’s population now at 7.5 million and growing, the challenges haven’t gone away. Through RCRA, the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act, EPA helps Long Island municipalities deal with the many issues related to household garbage and non-hazardous industrial solid waste, including everything from source reduction to efficient recycling to safe transport and storage.

This is, of course, only a partial list; it’s a highlight reel from EPA’s vast body of vitally important work. It emphasizes the many ways in which the agency benefits the lives of Long Islanders every day. We urge you to stand up against the assault on EPA to protect this and other important work of the agency. While we understand that there are always ways to improve the agencies’ effectiveness and efficiency, we urge you defend EPA from efforts to shrink its role, gut its staff and limit its ability to protect the environment and the health and well being of people across Long Island.

Please let us know if you have any questions or require additional information.

Very truly yours,

ENRICO G. NARDONE, Esq.

Executive Director                            

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 23:55

No on Pruitt

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January 18, 2017

 

President-elect Trump has repeatedly said that he intends to be a President for all Americans. His appointment of E. Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency is a troubling sign that perhaps he didn’t have Long Islanders in mind.

In countless ways, Long Island depends on the EPA to safeguard our quality of life by protecting our natural environment. EPA works to clean the air we breathe, which has consistently failed to meet air quality standards over the past decade. Future improvements are dependent on EPA’s ability to address pollution from power plants, automobiles and other sources – some of the very rules that Mr. Pruitt has long sought to undermine. Similarly, EPA helps to safeguard our drinking water – our aquifer was the first in the nation to be recognized by the agency’s Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program. Long Island also benefits significantly from EPA’s National Estuaries Program, as three of the nation’s 28 national estuaries are in our region: Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay and the NY/NJ Harbor.

Perhaps of greatest long-term concern is sea level rise. Long Island is on the front-line of climate change, with hundreds of thousands living on the ocean’s edge. Superstorm Sandy made troublingly clear how many of our communities are at significant risk, even at current sea levels. The long-term future of Long Island’s coastal communities depends on immediate, aggressive efforts to minimize sea level rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, while Long Islanders deal with the sea level rise that’s already here, Mr. Pruitt is still debating the facts of climate change.

EPA has always had its critics. And calls for rollback of the agency’s rules have been often repeated. However, Mr. Pruitt has taken this stance to another level. In his role as Oklahoma’s Attorney General he filed suit after suit in an attempt to undermine water and air protections and dismantle EPA’s authority. His own website brags that he’s a “leading advocate against EPA’s activist agenda.” Making him the agency’s Administrator is literally like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. For the sake of Long Island’s air and water - and the very quality of our life along our shore - we urge New York’s Congressional delegation to oppose Mr. Pruitt’s nomination.

 

Fire Island - Randy Levine, 2013 - All Rights Reserved

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