Environment & Nature

They buzz and flutter and they are disappearing from Long Island’s environment. Pollinators are on the decline on the Island and nationwide.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, native pollinators such as Monarch butterflies have decreased in numbers by more than 80 percent in the past two decades. Native bee populations, among other indigenous pollinator species, are also on the decline, which can put local farms at risk as less pollinators mean less pollination.

But Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hopes to help Long Island farmers combat the population decline with her new Educational Agriculture Support Initiative, which aims to increase the amount of native plant species on Long Island, starting with the Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

“The history of Heritage Park is [that] we wanted to take care of the rural character and the heritage of the area,” Lori Baldassare, president of Heritage Trust, said about how the park got involved with Anker’s initiative. According to Baldassare, Anker has a long history with the park so “it just seemed like a natural place to do [a] … demonstration garden.”

Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Although Anker has teamed up with Heritage Trust, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, Long Island Native Plant Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District to help create a pilot native plant species garden at Heritage Park, she said that it will take more than the individuals from these organizations to bring back local pollinator species.

“I need people to participate,” she said. “I need people to understand that this is really important. If we don’t preserve [the environment] nobody else will.”

According to Polly Weigand, executive director of the plant initiative and senior soil district technician for the conservation district, the team is trying to provide the pilot garden with various native plant species, including native grasses, which will attract and sustain pollinators throughout the year. While these plants are neither flowering nor the most visually appealing, Weigand said the grasses provide a place for insects to lay their eggs and shelter during the winter months.

While some invasive or nonnative plants, like butterfly bush, can provide food for native butterflies, it isn’t sufficient for these insects to lay their eggs or seek shelter. Native insects evolve with the native plants in the area. The evolution allows these creatures to use a plant for shelter and sustenance. Although some invasive or nonnative plants can provide food and habitat for these small creatures, this is not always the case.

“Plants have a little chemical warfare that they play with the species that are going to [prey] on them,” Weigand said. “They put out toxins to try to keep the animal from eating the leaves.”

It takes several generations before an insect can successfully utilize the foreign plants for their life cycle.

But according to Robin Simmen, community horticulture specialist for the cooperative extension, and Laura Klahre, beekeeper and owner of Blossom Meadow in Cutchogue, in addition to the lack of suitable plants, the use of pesticides and lack of suitable habitat for Long Island pollinators are some of the many factors contributing to the decline in the native species.

Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“We used to just think that we would get these free pollination services from nature,” Klahre said. “But in the future that may not be the case because there aren’t enough flowers around [and] we have so many pesticides.”

Pesticides that target unwanted pests, like ticks, are also detrimental to native bees, which live underground.

When the toxins seep into an area in close proximity to native insects, some eventually develop dementia.

Klahre also mentioned the lack of open space as an issue as it jeopardizes the livelihood of the bugs.

While Klahre does not know by how much the native bee population has declined, she said they are struggling to maintain their populations just like their European counterpart, the honeybee. According to Klahre there are about 4,000 different bee species nationwide and 450 different species in New York state alone.

Unlike docile native bees like mining, mason or sweat bees, honeybees are not efficient pollen collectors.

Native bees are among the best pollinators for a variety of plant species. The native bees also yield higher quality and longer lasting fruits like apples or cherries, which can have a thicker outer skin; a thicker skin means that the fruits have a longer shelf life than those pollinated by honeybees.

Although Anker said farms across Long Island are affected by the decline in pollinator species as they are forced to import pollinating bees to the locations, Klahre said she only saw a disruption in growing produce with home gardeners.

Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Pollinators like bees usually have a route that they go on to collect pollen and nectar before returning to their habitat. If these insects are not accustomed or attracted to a homeowner’s property, it is unlikely that the pollinator will visit the area. This is especially the case for homeowners who have a simple grass lawn.

While some grasses help native insects, a bare lawn does not provide a pollinator with the necessary sources of food in order to survive.

But Anker’s goal is to educate the community about the best way to attract and support these insects using appropriate native plant species like milkweed, among others.

“I’m actually looking to have [pilot gardens] throughout Suffolk County,” Anker said in regards to her initiative.

The plant initiative has selected the types of native plants that will go into Anker’s pilot garden, which could be designed and constructed toward the end of August.

Individuals like Klahre believe there is enough time to heal the environment and help increase native pollinators like bees, but she does acknowledge the reality of having little to no pollinators.

“In China there are some areas that are so polluted that they actually have people that are going from flower to flower in orchards with feathers moving the pollen,” Klahre said. “I just never want us to get to that point.”

Nick Kordis, Ronne Cosel, Charlie McAteer, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Herb Mones stand next to the newly planted memorial tree in honor of late North Shore activist Michael Cosel, on Wednesday, July 8. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Michael Cosel left a lasting impact on the Three Village community, and his neighbors returned the favor.

A memorial cherry tree was planted on Limroy Lane at the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail on Wednesday, July 8, in honor of Cosel, 69, who died in May, but his work as co-founder of the Greenway project will live on for decades to come. Some of his former colleagues joined with elected officials to make sure the roots take shape the right way.

“Mike was the person to call for the project,” said Charles McAteer, another co-founder of the Greenway. “He got many different groups involved, and was an integral part of the trail.”

McAteer said the Limroy Lane location of the memorial cherry tree was very fitting, beyond just being near the trail that Cosel had worked so hard for.

He said Cosel had always envisioned installing kiosks at various locations of the trail, so people using it for walks or bike rides could access maps or simply sit in the shade. This memorial tree, McAteer said, is located right next to one of the two kiosks of the trail, and inside the kiosk is an article remembering Cosel.

Herb Mones, a founder and trustee of the Three Village Trust, helped sow the seeds in Cosel’s name and said the late activist will be very missed, and that he always had a smile, kind words and guidance to offer others.

“There is a big gap without him, but hopefully we can fill it with flowers and continue the memory of him,” Mones said.

Ronne Cosel, Michael’s wife, said she and her husband frequented the popular North Shore trail, both riding their bikes and going for long walks throughout their 44 years as Setauket residents.

“This trail was very significant for Mike, he was very passionate about it, especially that it was accessible for everyone,” Cosel’s wife Ronne said.

Cosel is survived by his wife and their two children, a daughter and a son.

Cosel was also actively involved in community service pertaining to children with special abilities. The Cosels’ son Andrew, 43, has cerebral palsy. Ronne Cosel said accessibility was a key factor because of their son.

“He offered his expertise freely to anyone who needed it, and had a long history of community activism,” she said.

Photo by Bruce Miller

About a dozen protesters, including civic leaders and environmentalists, picketed on July 10 against Caithness Long Island’s proposal to build its second power plant in Yaphank, a 750-megawatt facility.

Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller, also the head of the local Grassroots Committee to Repower Port Jefferson, snapped this picture of Long Islander Andrea Barracca during the protest.

Some oppose the Caithness plant for environmental reasons, and the Grassroots Committee wants the Port Jefferson power plant upgraded instead, to keep it a source of local energy and tax revenue.

Setauket Harbor file photo by Rachel Shapiro

Setauket Harbor’s closest friend circle just got a lot bigger.

The newly formed Setauket Harbor Task Force has been appointed to the Long Island Sound Study Citizens Advisory Committee, bulking up the group’s ability to preserve water quality across the North Shore and beyond. George Hoffman, a board member with the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said his group’s new spot on the advisory committee should provide them with greater resources to achieve their goals of protecting the waters of Three Village.

“We are pleased to be named to the bi-state commission,” he said. “Being a member of the CAC will benefit Setauket Harbor and provide us an opportunity to collaborate with other harbor protection committees on both sides of the Long Island Sound.”

From left, Sean Mahar of NY Audubon, George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Curt Johnson of the LI Sound Study CAC and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright meet at a recent meeting of LISS. Photo from George Hoffman
From left, Sean Mahar of NY Audubon, George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Curt Johnson of the LI Sound Study CAC and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright meet at a recent meeting of LISS. Photo from George Hoffman

The Long Island Sound Study was established in 1985 under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to restore the health of the Sound and coordinate water quality activities among the various entities. Since 2005, the study has utilized collaborative funding to distribute more than $11.7 million to regional municipalities, environmental organizations and research institutions to improve the Long Island Sound’s water quality and coastal resiliency.

“The LISS CAC welcomes the Setauket Harbor Task Force as a member and is happy to

have new representation from New York and the central basin,” said Nancy Seligson, co-chair of the CAC and supervisor of the Town of Mamaroneck in Westchester County, “We look forward to working together to restore Long Island Sound.”

Since it was formed last year, the task force has been expanding in size and reach with help from volunteers across the North Shore, including Port Jefferson and Setauket. Hoffman and the task force attended a press conference alongside U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) late last month to announce the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act, a congressional bill that would allocate up to $65 million each year for Long Island Sound initiatives that include various water quality projects, cleanup projects, waste water treatment improvements and nitrogen monitoring programs.

Hoffman also said the group recently took some comfort in a Long Island Sound Founders Collaborative report, which found some improvement in the Sound’s harbors and bays, but also exposed what he called concerning levels of hypoxia — the lack of dissolved oxygen in the water — that threatens fish and shellfish. The same symptom found itself at the forefront of Long Island media over the month of June after several hundreds of dead fish surfaced in waters surrounding the Island.

The Setauket Harbor Task Force most recently met with Brookhaven Town officials to discuss the maintenance of the town’s major stormwater basin that drains directly into the harbor. They also met with marine scientists from Stony Brook University to call for greater restrictions on the removal of horseshoe crabs from town beaches.

Water quality monitors take samples and check for bacteria. Photo from Sarah Ganong

It wasn’t pretty, but it was still pretty necessary.

More than 50 volunteers came together over the weekend to plant an acre of native Spartina cordgrass at Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown. The planting event was one of the first major public steps in a multiyear grant to restore river and marsh habitat and strengthen the park’s resilience to severe storms.

The $2.5 million project is funded by the Hurricane Sandy Competitive Grant Program and administered by Save the Sound with a team of governmental and nonprofit partners. Sunken Meadow State Park comprises 1,300 acres including the mouth of the Nissequogue River, salt and tidal marshes, dunes, coastal forest and three miles of Long Island Sound beachfront. Attracting over 2 million visitors a year, it is often dubbed the most popular state park in the New York City metro area.

Historically, Sunken Meadow Creek connected over 120 acres of marsh habitat with the Nissequogue estuary and the Sound, but in the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers built an earthen dike across the creek, restricting its tidal flow and fundamentally changing the marsh’s plant community, a spokeswoman for Save the Sound said. The Sunken Meadow Restoration team has been working since 2008 to restore tidal flow to the creek. Hurricane Sandy hit the park in October 2012. Its storm surge blew through the dike, fully reconnecting the marsh to the estuary for the first time in 60 years.

Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong
Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong

“Now that tidal flow is restored to Sunken Meadow Creek, we’re excited to combine marsh restoration, green infrastructure and public education to have an even greater impact,” said Gwen Macdonald, habitat restoration director for Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show millions of people what a comprehensive program for a healthy coastal ecosystem can look like, with less water pollution, better tidal flow and vibrant marshes for thriving bird, fish and wildlife populations.”

Several environmental groups from state and local levels joined forces starting in 2012 to develop a plan to build on this reconnection and prepare the park’s ecosystem for future storms. The Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan was established to manage stormwater, bulk up resilience of the marshes, explore improvements to riverine habitat and improve public knowledge and understanding of the ecological communites at the park.

“Today’s planting event is a first step in restoring historic tidal wetlands at Sunken Meadow State Park,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the northeastern regional office for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be able to support this project in partnership with the Department of the Interior through the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The project will provide many benefits including strengthening natural coastal buffers to large storms, increasing wildlife habitat and improving water quality in the park and the surrounding waters of Long Island Sound.”

Sunday’s planting was not the only activity at the park this summer. New York Parks Department and Save the Sound have hired a summer education staffer to engage tourists and local students around issues of native versus invasive species, stormwater runoff, climate change preparedness and other topics, with a focus on opening opportunities for young nature lovers to become citizen-scientists.

The next step in the project, according to Save the Sound, is designing green infrastructure solutions for a 12-acre parking lot that drains into Sunken Meadow Creek. Incorporating stormwater best management practices in the design will reduce the pollutants that run off the parking lot and allow water to percolate into the ground, improving water quality in the creek for the wildlife that calls it home.

Stony Brook University grad student coordinator of the 2015 Diamondback Terrapin study Martana Edeas has her hands full. Photo from Nancy Grant

It’s hot. It’s muddy. It’s dirty. But it’s exciting work, if you like that sort of thing.

That was how Nancy Grant of the Friends of Flax Pond chose to describe her group’s latest initiative this summer tracking Diamondback Terrapin turtles at West Meadow Beach. And while they may move slowly, the Friends have been acting quickly to spot the four-legged reptiles at the height of their nesting season and working to preserve their species.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize we actually have turtles here,” Grant said of the program, which has been in operation annually since 2004. “You think you have to go someplace exotic to observes them, but you don’t.”

From the third week of June through the entire month of July, the Friends of Flax Pond has set out to conduct its annual six-week search for evidence of nesting turtles, documenting the population numbers and behaviors of what Grant called an important keystone species. The group meets every Sunday at West Meadow Beach at the park ranger sign at 9:30 a.m. and is accepting volunteers on an ongoing basis.

The Friends of Flax Pond have been keeping a vigilant eye on the shorelines of West Meadow Beach and Flax Pond with hopes of spotting the exotic creatures, as Grant referred to them as a vital way of keeping a finger on the pulse of the North Shore’s environment.

“They determine the health of the area,” she said. “It’s important to protect them because their numbers have gone down. They used to be over at Flax Pond, but we haven’t seen any there since 2009, with the exception of one recently.”

The Friends have spotted on average between nine and 10 nests a year, depending on the number of volunteers, Grant said. Once they find the nest, volunteers dig around it, put a cage over it and hold it in with tent stakes to keep predators away.

They’ll even go as far as using cayenne pepper to deter animals from some nests, but Grant admitted the nearby threats like foxes and birds were becoming privy to their methods and becoming less deterred by them.

From an educational standpoint, the group has also been working to launch its own Flax Pond Summer Research Institute this summer. For a $100 fee, the Friends is offering up an internship program at the Flax Pond Lab and salt marsh as well as West Meadow Beach that links up with academic marine scientists to gather data to document changes in the marshes there. This year, the group said it planned on documenting the status of species prior to a possible dredging of the Flax Pond inlet — a 146-acre tidal wetland on the North Shore — which the Friends has been adamantly advocating for.

Earlier this year, Old Field Mayor Michael Levine and the board of trustees called on legislators from the county, state and town levels to join with Stony Brook University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to see the pond dredged and protect the fin and shellfish populations known to once thrive there.

“If you don’t have a marsh there, you have nothing between you and those major waves,” Grant said. “It protects real estate. As much as having a dock is nice, it won’t matter if you don’t have those plants there.”
The application deadline for the institute is July 13 and an application can be found at flaxpondfriends.org.

by -
0 48379
The Catalpa tree has lots of small white flowers that resemble tiny orchids after the tree has leafed out. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are two trees commonly seen on Long Island that look very much alike. They are both quick growing trees, with large heart-shaped leaves. Both have taproots. The major difference to the casual observer is that one has purple flowers in spring while the other has white flowers in early summer. The purple-flowered tree has round seedpods and the white-flowered tree has long string-bean-type seedpods.

Initially, many, many years ago, I assumed they were related, perhaps different varieties of the same tree. Wrong! What are these similar trees? The Royal Paulownia tree and the Catalpa tree.

Royal Paulownia Tree
Let’s start with the Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), also called the Empress tree and the Princess tree. The tree is a native of China and is extremely fast growing and a prolific producer of seeds. It is considered to be an invasive species, being brought to North America when the seeds were used as packing material for goods shipped from Asia. The seeds quickly took root and the tree has naturalized in North America. The wood of the Paulownia is used extensively in Asia for a variety of things.

Many people believe that it is an invasive plant, one that grows very quickly and therefore takes over forcing out the native species. As a result, it is listed on Suffolk County’s Management List of Invasive Species. It is recommended that it not be planted on Long Island especially near or on public land (see last week’s gardening column for details on the management list).

The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel

However, I recently came across several references to an article by Charles J. Smiley printed in the American Journal of Botany (1961) that the tree was actually native to North America as fossil leaves have been found from Washington State as far back as the Tertiary Period (66 million to 2.6 million years ago) and may have subsequently gone extinct here. Obviously, there is some disagreement among experts as the tree is still listed as invasive by a number of sources, including the New York Invasive Species Clearing House.

The American Paulownia Association can be reached at www.paulowniatrees.org. The group was “organized and developed through the joint efforts of the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky Extension Services” in 1991 and dedicated “to the advancement of Paulownia as a forest crop in the United States.”

The Paulownia prefers sun, grows in virtually any type of soil, is somewhat drought tolerant and does well in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zones 5 to 11 (Long Island is 7). It has no significant disease or insect problems. The tree will even resprout from the root if cut down (remember that taproot), can reach heights of 70 to 100 feet and is long lived, reportedly from 60 to 100 years.

Catalpa Tree
The other tree, the Catalpa, is definitely native to North America. There are basically two varieties, northern (which grows here so well) and southern (which does well in warmer climates). Like the Paulownia, the tree is deciduous, losing its leaves in fall — quickly. In fact, it is one of the first trees to lose its leaves in fall.

The flowers of the Catalpa appear in late spring or early summer (mid-June this year) and resemble tiny orchids — white with purple throats — after the tree has leafed out. Like the Paulownia, the tree can reach a great height, easily up to 60 or more feet tall. The Catalpa grows well in hardiness zones 4 to 8. It does well in very acidic to neutral soil, pH 5.5 to 7.

The tree can be very long lived, reportedly 60 to possibly up to 100 years of age. One of mine died after about 25 years having been struck by lightning but did resprout from the root. Anthracnose (a fungal disease of some hardwood trees) can attack the leaves during very humid weather, but the tree itself usually survives quite well.

Because of its potential age, quick growth rate and hardiness, it makes a great shade tree. However, if you’re looking for autumn color, it will not provide it.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Activists, politicians, volunteers taking closer look at declining population of Long Island’s ocean life

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for almost 500 million years, but their future is uncertain. Researchers like Matt Sclafani, a marine educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said he believes that the species is in an alarming decline.

“It’s a very important issue for a lot of reasons,” Sclafani said during a horseshoe crab monitoring session at West Meadow beach in Stony Brook on Monday night.

Horseshoe crabs are a valuable species to human life, Sclafani said. Their blue blood is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Fishermen use them as one of the most effective sources of bait that exists.

Sclafani called Delaware Bay the epicenter for horseshoe crab spawning activity, with Long Island coming in as a close second as one of the most important areas to the species on the East Coast, he said.

Sclafani and his team of volunteers take to the local shores when the tides are low, usually in the middle of the night, to count and tag horseshoe crabs that come up to the shore to spawn. On Monday, Sclafani was joined by Frank Chin, the regular site coordinator for West Meadow beach, along with Grace Scalzo, a volunteer, and Karen Papa and her sons — 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Jonah.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We get a lot of volunteers for this program,” Sclafani said. “That’s the part I think is really great, too. We get people involved in their backyards. There’s not a lot of marine life that you can get involved with and handle this directly — that comes right out onto the beach for you without a net or fishing pole.”

In all, the team tagged 55 horseshoe crabs over the course of the night, though that is nothing compared to the night on the South Shore when Sclafani said he and a team of about 35 volunteers tagged about 800 crabs. The process requires measurement, drilling a small hole into the shell, and then applying a round tag that has tracking information on it which is recorded.

“I think the entire population up and down the East Coast is in trouble,” Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said of the horseshoe crab population in an interview last week. “It’s in trouble for a variety of reasons including people overfishing the population, but also certain birds, including the red knot, are particularly prone to using them as a food source.”

Sclafani said the consequences could be dire, if the crabs are not saved.

“Their eggs are really important to the ecosystem,” Sclafani said. “A lot of animals feed on them, including migratory shore birds.”

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) divulged plans to urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to expand restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs in May, to the chagrin of fishermen. Those plans have since been tabled.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” Ron Bellucci Jr. of Sound Beach said in an interview last month.

Horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income, he said. Local fishermen have also questioned the validity of claims about the declining population.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

The idea that the species may not be declining is not an encouraging sign to Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and distinguished service professor at SoMAS, Stony Brook. He is also the president of Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy and the Friends of Flax Pond, two environmental advocacy groups.

“We know in nature that things go up and down, and up and down, but you have to look at long-term trends; 10 years, 20 years,” Bowman said in an interview last week. “I’ve worked with fishermen a lot. They have to make a living, I understand that, but it’s important to keep communications between the scientists and say the fishermen with mutual respect, and that way we can learn a lot from them. We scientists are trained to have a long-term view. It’s not just this season, this summer, this breeding season. It’s a long-term view. I think that’s so important.”

More restricted areas, which Romaine is pushing for, could simply result in overharvesting in areas without restrictions, both Bowman and Sclafani said.

There has also been some experimentation with extracting the blue blood while the animal is still alive, then rereleasing them into the water. This process is called biomedical harvesting.

“That’s becoming a more and more controversial topic,” Sclafani said. “The biomedical companies have maintained that it’s a low mortality rate — about 10 percent … they might even be as high as 40 or 50 percent.”

He also mentioned that there are concerns about the horseshoe crabs’ spawning activity after this process is completed.

Bowman stopped short of saying that the extinction of the horseshoe crab would have a drastic impact on human life, but it’s not a good sign.

“I was reading some very important news that’s coming out about the extinction of species on the planet,” Bowman said. “Species are going extinct at a huge rate. The cumulative effect is going to have a very bad effect on human civilization, far greater than we can imagine. We only see a little piece of it.”

DEC Forester John Wernet addresses the beautification of Patriots Hollow State Forest. Photo by Giselle Barkley

As the North Shore battles both the decline in the number of pollinators and the intrusion of invasive plant species, Three Village residents have taken an interest in developing Long Island’s first state forest.

These residents, alongside members of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the office of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket), gathered in the Setauket Neighborhood House ballroom on Thursday, June 25, to discuss what is next for the new Patriots Hollow State Forest.

Currently, invasive plant species overrun the 518-acre forest. The DEC’s Region 1 Forester John Wernet and Real Property Supervisor Heather Amster acknowledged the state of invasive plants in the forest and said removing all of these plants from the area is not only impossible but also not feasible.

Residents such as conservation biologist Louise Harrison added to the issue of invasive plants saying that establishing a native plant forest is also problematic.

“It’s very difficult to get a native forest to grow from there,” Harrison. “The soils layers have all been mixed together and you don’t have a usual soil profile that supports the right kind of life.”

Black locust trees are among the most invasive species in the area. While some residents suggested this tree served as a food source for pollinators until more native plants are introduced to the area, other residents such as business owners Steve Carolan and Andrew J Heeran said they believed the tree is misunderstood.

Carolan and Heeran both run a saw mill business and said they thought the black locust tree would help develop the forest.

“Black locust is a wonderful wood for establishing infrastructure, especially in outdoor situations,” Heeran said.

Heeran also proposed creating a woodland forest garden, which would provide local produce for consumption. He said that “scarred areas that have so much human impact” have potential to help the community when guided by a vision.

Harrison suggested the community draft and submit a plan for the forest for the DEC to consider and endorse. But Amster said this might not be possible.

The DEC’s mission does not always align with that of the local community, and Amster said she does not want to anger area residents who contributed to drafting a plan, if their plan is not approved.

Although the forum was the fourth and final opportunity for community members to brainstorm ideas for the forest, residents will have the opportunity to comment on the plan before it is finalized.

Currently, there are no safe entries into the forest due to the overgrowth in plants. According to Amster, the forest will not be developed and ready for the public any time soon. However, she said residents do not need to wait until the DEC approves a management plan for the forest to clean up the property.

Wernet said he is not sure how long it will take to clean up the area or how much it would cost to hire workers to remove heavier objects such as fallen trees within the forest.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens opened Patriots Hollow State Forest on April 22 of this year in honor of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Earth Week initiative.

The DEC purchased the property using funds it acquired from environmental law and regulation violations that were “slated for the Three Village community’s benefit from the Northville spill fines,” according to Three Village Community Trust President Cynthia Barnes.

According to the DEC, the area also provides timber management, watershed protection and a natural habitat for surrounding wildlife. Patriots Hollow State Forest will provide residents with more recreational opportunities year-round. However, Amster said camping or campfires might not be allowed in the forest once it is open to the public.

The DEC may also allow residents to hunt on the property although bow-hunting restrictions may limit the number of bow-hunters on the property. According to Amster, one bow-hunter at a time may be allowed to hunt on the property. However, this was not finalized.

An expert panel at Stony Brook University discusses environmental issues facing Long Island. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

After a month of increased algal blooms, reduced water quality and two of the most severe fish kills the county has ever experienced, Long Island scientists and officials have decided it is past time — yet about time — to address the issue of harmful nitrogen pollution in our waterways.

Hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, a forum on water pollution in Suffolk County was held at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center on June 23 to identify the core causes of nitrogen pollution and brainstorm functional, cost-effective technological solutions.

In his welcome address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) emphasized the gravity of the problem.

“This problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight,” he said. “Big challenges like this won’t be solved in election cycles.”

But he has noticed signs of progress.

“To see this group all coming together, saying we’re going to work to solve this problem, gives me great hope and optimism that we have actually turned the corner and we are now on the road to addressing our water quality issues in a real way.”

At the forefront of the technical and technological sides of this progress are panelists Walter Dawydiak, director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services; Amanda Ludlow, a scientist at Roux Associates Inc.; Theresa McGovern, a water resources engineer at VHB; and Harold Walker, a professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Dawydiak identified unsewered septic flow as the main source of the nitrogen problem.

“Nitrogen, which we expected to level off, is not leveling off,” he said.

He noted that 85 percent of unsewered septic flow originates in residential areas.

“The elephant in the room is us.”

He said a change in health department standards for residential wastewater treatment — for the first time in 40 years — could mitigate the problem by regulating the installation, operation, and maintenance of septic systems. He referred to this proposed set of regulations as an example of policy driving the technology to where it needs to be.

“We need better technology in this area,” Walker said. “If we’re going to solve this problem, we need to expand the tool box that we have available. … We need to think about systems operating effectively for as long as possible, with little or no maintenance. That’s the challenge.”

Ludlow agreed, and emphasized the importance of implementing systems that treat nitrogen and other pollutants, like pharmaceuticals and hormones, on the 360,000 homes running on old systems: “Focus on technologies that affect all the constituents in our wastewater.”

McGovern said that a holistic yet specific approach to wastewater management would make improvements possible.

“We need to be consistent and science-based with the targets, yet still allow some flexibility,” she said. She suggested setting a universal — instead of concentration-based — limit on the amount of nitrogen allowed to remain in wastewater, while allowing households that consistently perform under that limit increased wastewater flow.

Of course, new technologies and oversight costs money. During the second panel discussion on funding proposals, Suffolk County Planning Commission co-chair David Calone suggested using Hurricane Sandy recovery funds to improve storm-water drainage and prevent sewage from entering waterways.

Dorian Dale, director of sustainability and chief recovery officer for Suffolk County, noted that, though the $16 million of Sandy relief money would cover some of the cost for improvements, it could not provide the minimum $8 billion necessary to replace 360,000 septic systems.

He said changing the tax on drinking water from a base price to one that reflects household usage could help close the gap.

Calone brought up the possibility of reaching out for federal funding and increasing the cap on private activity bonds to spur work on water quality issues.

“Involving the private sector is where we’ve shown a lot of leadership on Long Island,” said Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton Town supervisor. “It has to be a public/private partnership.”

The panelists were optimistic about the county’s ability to undertake the project.

“The last sewer project, 40 years ago, was rife with cesspool corruption,” Dale said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to have time for the shenanigans of the past.”

Throne-Holst expressed her faith that the public will remain informed and engaged on this issue.

“The public education process is well underway,” she said. “People are well aware of what a crisis this is.”

Social

9,213FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,129FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe