Tags Posts tagged with "New York State Department of Environmental Conservation"

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

A sign inside Wild by Nature in East Setauket warns customers they will no longer supply plastic bags starting March 1. The store will also collect 5 cents for paper bags used. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Beginning March 1, Long Islander shoppers will have one less option when packing their groceries, as a New York State ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect. 

The ban would prohibit retailers from giving out plastic carryout bags to customers. State lawmakers hope that this will lead to more residents deciding to bring their own reusable bags and a decrease of plastic waste. 

The legislation is a step toward reducing the 23 billion plastic bags used by New Yorkers every year, reducing litter and helping the fight against climate change. 

According to a Siena College Research Institute poll conducted after the bill was passed, 62 percent of New Yorkers support the ban compared to 33 percent who don’t. 

“We are expecting a successful implementation.”

-Adrienne Esposito

While plastic bags will no longer be handed out at retailers, paper bags will still be available. In Suffolk County, consumers will be charged 5 cents for each paper carryout bag provided at a checkout. In areas that have the opted into the 5 cent charge, the fee does not apply for SNAP and WIC food benefit recipients. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the ban will have a positive impact in curbing plastic pollution. 

“This is a significant accomplishment — Suffolk County needs to be commended for implementing the 5 cent bag fee,” she said. “The state noticed the success of it and it led to this ban.”

Some environmentalists are concerned about some final tweaks in the legislation by the DEC that would allow usage of bags which are thicker and heavier. Esposito said they aren’t concerned about it as it won’t be widely distributed as regular bags and will only be used for packaging of certain foods. 

“If for some reason it needs to be tweaked further, we will be a part of those discussions,” she said. 

State lawmakers are hoping the ban will increase usage in reusable bags. Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a campaign, dubbed BYOBagNY, which has been spearheaded by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

The agency has been running ads on the ban on TV, radio and social media. In addition, the DEC provided educational materials to its nine regional offices to use for outreach events and will be distributing more than 270,000 reusable bags to low- and moderate-income communities. 

Stop & Shop branches throughout the county began offering free reusable bags to customers who bring in one or more carryout plastic bags for recycling. 

Similarly, in the county, a plastic straw ban took effect this January, which required businesses to switch biodegradable alternatives. A Styrofoam ban was also implemented, prohibiting businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene. 

“We are expecting a successful implementation — we as a society can learn to bring a reusable bag when we go out shopping,” Esposito said. “Most people have already made the change, some have lagged behind, but this is one thing they can do to reduce plastic waste.”

A buck spotted on a lawn in Port Jefferson. Photo by Phil Shiavone

Drivers are regularly reminded that deer populations along the North Shore of Long Island are increasing as many of the animals graze alongside or dart across roadways. Some of these encounters unfortunately end in collisions. With deer and people on the move during the busy holiday season, TBR News Media is taking a look at issues to hopefully curb the impact.

Deer are spotted all over the North Shore. The one above is seen near Old Homestead Road in Belle Terre, Port Jefferson. Photo by Phil Schiavone

Destruction of vegetation

Christina Maffia, who has lived in Old Field South for 18 years, said she sees deer on her property every day, sometimes a lone buck and other times two or three animals. She described her property as “once lush, green, temperate forest that has been reduced to bare limbs below 5 feet.” She said her perennials don’t grow back due to being continuously eaten.

The appearance of depleted vegetation coincided with the arrival of the deer a few years ago. She said her neighborhood had been planted back when Frank Melville established the neighborhood in 1929. The grounds in Old Field South were designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, which also designed Central Park.

“These plantings are considered historical,” she said. “It’s such a shame that the historical part of this area that made it so beautiful is now being compromised.”

Maffia has sprayed her plants with a product called Deer Off, which incorporates rotten eggs in the ingredients. It deters deer, she said, but her experience has been that whenever it rains or she runs the sprinklers, she needs to reapply the product which she uses around the perimeter of her property.

The Village of Old Field recently sent an email to residents encouraging them to use deer repellent on their properties. Village officials reminded homeowners that a new generation of deer will establish their own feeding trails this time of the year. Because of these new trails, “it is a good time of year to use repellents to redirect these trails before they become solidly developed,” the village said.

According to the village email, deer repellent means less plant damage during fall and winter, and fewer deer in the village.

Kathy Schiavone, of Port Jefferson, said she and her husband also have problems with their landscaping due to the deer.

“We had tried the various remedies that have been suggested and have come to the conclusion that we will no longer buy and plant flowers to ornament our yard,” she said. “We did replace a number of yews with Japanese plum yews, which the deer do not bother. We had done this about five years ago. So far, so good.”

According to the DEC’s website, among the food deer prefer are cedar, sassafras, wintergreen, yew, mountain maple, flowering dogwood and more. A list of other vegetation they feed on can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7195.html.

There is evidence that deer are also altering forests across New York, according to the DEC. This can reduce diversity in the forest understory, enable invasive species to outcompete natives and prevent seedlings of many species from growing into the next generation of trees.

A couple of deer spotted on a lawn in Belle Terre, below. Photo by Jean Thomas

Lyme disease

Maffia and Schiavone said they are concerned about deer ticks and contracting Lyme disease due to the increased population of deer. Both have friends and neighbors who have suffered from the tick-borne disease. Schiavone said she also knows four people who have contracted babesiosis, three of whom had to be hospitalized. Maffia said she had one neighbor with Lyme disease who later got Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Another was hospitalized with a severe inflammation around his heart caused by Lyme disease.

“It’s not just aesthetics anymore,” Maffia said. “It’s people being impacted by the deer.”

Nancy Irvolino has lived near Brooksite Drive in Smithtown for more than 40 years and has noticed an increase of the animals in the area.

“Sometimes they are on the side [of Brooksite], but a lot of times they run out at night in front of my car and I slam the brakes,” she said.

While Blydenburgh County Park abuts the lane she lives on, she said it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that she started seeing deer walking down her street and eating plants. Recently, she has seen them every night near her house.

Irvolino said she worries about herself and her dogs contracting Lyme disease and doesn’t even walk in the park due to it.

According to the DEC website, deer are the primary food source for adult female ticks and reduction of deer populations to very low levels may reduce tick densities and infection rates.

The Village of Old Field email to residents claimed that deer over time can carry thousands of ticks.

Solutions

Villages across the North Shore are debating the best way to cull the herds.

“My hope is that our elected officials will realize the overabundance of deer is an important enough public issue to take action against,” Schiavone said.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is currently working to present a townwide forum on deer with the DEC in the near future, according to her office.

Belle Terre allows bow hunting, and Head of the Harbor last year joined Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook with a contraceptive vaccine experiment to help with deer management. The DEC supports the use of sharpshooters, who aim for an instant kill, so the animal doesn’t suffer and also advocates donating the meat to food banks.

“I am not a fan of hunting just for the sake of demonstrating one’s prowess in killing any animal,” Schiavone said. “I have been convinced by information I have gotten that culling is the answer.”

Maffia, who has been a vegetarian for 30 years, agreed.

“At this point, because there are no natural predators, they’re attacking so many things people wouldn’t think of.”

— Christina Maffia

“At this point, because there are no natural predators, they’re attacking so many things people wouldn’t think of,” she said.

Maffia said she and her wife, Donna Crinnian, have been able to decrease the amount of bird seed they buy in the winter as nesting birds have disappeared since the deer have eaten the ground covering where the birds would nest.

“They’re impacting the ecosystem,” she said.

In the Village of Port Jefferson, where hunting is prohibited, residents are asked to call 631-774-0066 if they see a deceased deer on the road and 631-744-2507 if they see a wounded deer on their property. Those who spot hunter tree stands on private property can call Kathy Grady, DEC officer, at 631-744-2507 so the location can be checked to see if it qualifies as legal hunting ground.

Brookhaven residents can call the Animal Shelter at 631-451-6950 to report deceased deer on the road. In Smithtown, people can call the Animal Shelter at 631-360-7575 about dead or injured wildlife.

When it comes to roadways, the Department of Motor Vehicles advises drivers to be extra cautious during both dawn and dusk when deer are most active, especially in the autumn months.

Insurance company State Farm recently released its animal collision study from claims data from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, which estimated 1.9 million animal collision claims industrywide nationally, the large majority being with deer. During the same period, it was estimated there were 1.5 million deer claims.

“Remember, animals are unpredictable, especially when faced with glaring headlights, blowing horns and fast-moving vehicles,” said Billy Williams, Setauket State Farm agent. “They often dart into traffic.”

He added that drivers should remember that deer move in herds, so if one is seen on a roadway there may be more following.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces

As the federal government under the current presidential administration has scaled back environmental measures — and at points denied the science behind climate change —members in the New York State Legislature are trying to go about it without the leadership of Uncle Sam.

That is, if it can pass before the end of legislative session.

“New York has to help lead the way, because we’re not getting any leadership at the federal level,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). 

“You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright, the chair of the environmental conservation committee, is sponsoring the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would establish a New York State Climate Action Council. It would contain 25 members made up of state agencies, scientists and those in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The council would be able to make recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to limit greenhouse gases. It would also be asked to report on barriers to and opportunities for community ownership of services and commodities in certain communities, particularly for renewable energy.

“An advisory committee that will have meaningful powers to make recommendations as we go forward — the stakes are so high on this issue,” Englebright said.

In addition, the bill would require the DEC to establish greenhouse gas reporting requirements and limits on emissions.

The bill was passed in the environmental committee and was referred to the ways and means committee in February.

The idea of an advisory committee is not new. A similar advisory panel was suggested in the New York State 2019-20 budget, but it was removed in the final version because some legislators disagreed with the number of people on the board and who would sit on it.

“Instead of 25, [Cuomo] had nine appointees; six of them are his cabinet members,” Englebright said.

In January during the process for crafting the budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) incited a “Green New Deal,” which would have been “comprised of the heads of relevant state agencies and other workforce, environmental justice and clean energy experts,” according to a January press release. The governor has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York State by 80 percent below the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2050.

A spokesperson from the governors office said the governor is continuing to collaborate with the legislature on climate policy proposals.

Cuomo appeared on city radio WNYC’s show hosted by Brian Lehrer June 3. When the new climate change legislation was brought up, he said he was looking to attack the issue while not pretending change will happen all at once.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time, but I don’t want to play politics with it and I don’t want to tell people we can move to a carbon free economy in a period of time that I know that we can’t.”

The end of this legislative session is June 19, and Englebright said he is crossing his fingers the bill can pass both assembly and senate before time runs out. 

He said the bill is especially important with the current administration in Washington. The New York Times reported June 3 that 84 environmental rules and regulations are being phased out by Trump and his appointees.

“We are seeing the effects of increased carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere on a daily basis,” he said. “You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

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Outlined in yellow above is land recently acquired by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo from DEC

A local family is doing their part to preserve open spaces.

At a press conference held Nov. 20, it was announced 6.8 acres of private land belonging to Harvey Besunder in the Conscience Bay Watershed area was sold to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition provides a buffer area to filter out contaminants, protects wildlife habitat and increases the region’s resilience to coastal storms. This will provide greater protection to the bay and Long Island Sound, according to DEC Region 1 Director Carrie Meek Gallagher.

The boulder plaque honoring the Besunder family who sold the property to New York State Department of Conservation. Photo from DEC

“These types of acquisitions are a priority for the agency right now where we already have an existing landholding, and we’re adding on to existing holdings that protect watersheds, protect habitat and buffer coastal resiliency,” Gallagher said before the Nov. 20 press conference, where a boulder plaque honoring the family was unveiled.

The property is an addition to the existing 52-acre Conscience Bay-Little Bay State Tidal Wetland, which was purchased from multiple property owners by the DEC in the late 1970s. It doubles the size of the marsh and upland portion of the state property.

Besunder and his wife, Arline, purchased the property located at the intersection of Dyke and North roads in Setauket in 1991 from a family member, according to the husband. He said originally the hope was to build a new house for the family. However, after purchasing, Arline was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while going to law school, and with so much going on, plans for building never came to fruition. From the beginning, the Besunders’ children, Alison and Eric, recognized the environmental value of the land.

“When I took the kids to see it — they were obviously much younger — and both of them said the same thing, ‘You shouldn’t build on this. It’s too beautiful. Just let it be the way it was,’” Harvey Besunder said. “That’s the way it turned out, and we’re all thrilled that it’s going to be preserved.”

Arline Besunder died eight years ago, and her husband and children decided to sell the property to the state and preserve the land to honor her. Harvey Besunder said the family was thrilled the state was interested, and the process began two years ago when he met with a DEC representative and told her he would rather sell it to the state than to a developer.

Alison Besunder, who now lives in Brooklyn Heights, said she has memories of walking around the property and remembered it being a beautiful and relaxing place to be, epitomizing the area for her.

“It’s very meaningful for me personally that my family could give back to have that land preserved, given it’s so rich in history and environmental-wise as it’s part of the wetlands — a big part of the property is wetlands,” she said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) praised all involved.

“The goal of protecting the chemistry and ecological integrity of the Setauket Harbor is greatly advanced by this land purchase at the core of this complex estuary,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo [D} deserves our appreciation for enabling the DEC to make such wise use of Environmental Protection Fund resources that were placed into the state budget. Additional congratulations and thanks go to the Besunder family and the Stewardship Initiative of the Long Island Sound Study.”

The acquisition of the Besunder property extends the waterfront along Conscience Bay where there is a walking path, freshwater wetlands, red cedar forest, osprey nest and nearly pristine mudflats and shellfish beds, according to Gallagher.

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25, 2018 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

Long Island’s water is facing a dangerous threat — not a mythical sea monster, but harmful and poisonous algal blooms. Recently released data showed the problem was more far reaching this summer than years past.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership, an advocacy collective supported by the Rauch Foundation, that includes members from Stony Brook University and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society headed by Dick Amper, released an annual water status report Sept. 25 that showed new harmful algal blooms in Port Jefferson, Northport and Huntington harbors and in North Shore ponds and lakes.

“Every single water body across Long Island, be it the North Shore or the South Shore, East End, Suffolk County, Nassau County, all had significant water impairments during this time frame,” said Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “We would call this a crisis.”

“We are the nitrogen pollution capital of America.”

— Kevin McDonald

The Island-wide study, which was conducted from May through September, showed Northport Harbor suffered a bloom of Dinophysis, a type of algae that releases a powerful neurotoxin that can affect shellfish. Both Northport and Huntington harbors showed a rash of paralytic shellfish poisoning in other marine life from eating shellfish.

In May, shellfish fishing was temporarily banned in Huntington and Northport harbors by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation because of PSP. The harmful poison began to wane in June, Gobler said, and those bans have since been lifted, according to an automatic message put out by the state DEC.

Stony Brook University’s Roth Pond has been experiencing for years summer blooms of poisonous blue-green algae, a type that is harmful to animals. This past summer the researchers saw the algae spread into neighboring Mill Pond in Stony Brook. In 2017, Suffolk County had more lakes with blue-green algal blooms than any other of the 64 counties in New York, according to the report.

The summer also saw the rise of a rust tide in Port Jeff Harbor and Conscience Bay caused by another poisonous algae, which, while not dangerous to humans, is dangerous to marine life. Gobler said while it did not necessarily lead to fish kills along the North Shore, places like Southampton saw the deaths of tens of thousands of oysters and fish due to rust tide. If the problem persists, Port Jeff might start to see a fish die-off, which could have lasting implications to the local ecology.

The algal blooms and hypoxia were both exacerbated by a particularly warm summer, a trend expected to continue due to climate change. In coming years, Gobler said he expects the number of dangerous algae to spread because of this trend.

“We’re expecting that temperatures will rise 5 or 10 degrees this century, so we need to make changes or things will get significantly worse,” Gobler said.

The prognosis looks grim, with multiple other places across Long Island experiencing harmful algal blooms, but the source is already well known. This year’s study cites heavy loads of nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizers as the ultimate source of the algal events, particularly the nitrogen waste from old cesspool systems leaking into local waters.

Suffolk County and several state and local politicians have been advocating for changes, either for creating sewer systems — such as Smithtown’s projects in Kings Park, Smithtown Main Street and St. James — or by creating financing programs for property owners to overhaul waste systems.

In 2014 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called nitrogen pollution the county’s “environmental public enemy No. 1.” Since then the county has worked with local scientists and engineers to craft technology that could replace Long Island’s old cesspool and septic tanks, but some of those replacement systems have been very cost prohibitive. Suffolk has made some grant money available to those interested in upgrading.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation in April that put $2.5 billion toward clean water protection and improving water infrastructure, including $40 million for the new sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park, and adding a rebate program for those upgrading outdated septic systems. Suffolk County and scientists from Stony Brook University are currently working on cheaper nitrogen filtration systems, but commercial availability of those systems could be years away.

“Technology and governmental policies are rapidly changing to address our island’s water crisis, but we need to increase our pace of change.”

— Adrienne Esposito

Kevin McDonald, the conservation project director at The Nature Conservancy, said that there is a strong impetus for all of Long Island to change its waste standards.

“We are the nitrogen pollution capital of America,” McDonald said. “We can’t reverse climate change by ourselves, but with the right support and engagement and leadership we can aggressively respond to this problem at a faster pace than at present.”

Many of these areas now experiencing algal blooms were only encountering hypoxia, or a depletion of dissolved oxygen in water necessary for sea life to survive, in the same report released back in summer 2017. Last year Mount Sinai Harbor was spared from severe hypoxia, but now has seen a decrease in necessary oxygen levels this past summer. Gobler said it wouldn’t be out of the question that Mount Sinai Harbor could experience a potentially dangerous algal bloom next summer.

One thing is for sure, according to Gobler: Long Island will experience more hypoxia and harmful algal blooms until new waste systems can catch up to the amount of nitrogen that’s already in the water.

“Technology and governmental policies are rapidly changing to address our island’s water crisis, but we need to increase our pace of change,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

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The Three Village Community Trust will take over ownership of the Timothy Smith House on Main Street in Setauket. Photo by Robert Reuter

New ventures by some Setauket residents will make the area look a little different in the coming years.

The Three Village Community Trust announced plans to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest and acquire the historic Timothy Smith House.

Patriots Hollow State Forest

The woods that run along Route 25A, across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop, have been the site of many downed trees over the years. The trust announced at its annual meeting March 14 that plans are in the works to clean up the woods and add a trail so people can walk through the forest, something that cannot easily be done in the property’s current state.

The land trust has partnered with the New York State DEC to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest, which is the site of numerous downed trees. Photo by Cynthia Barnes

Setauket resident and former teacher Leonard Carolan said he walked into the woods one day and was disappointed to see how messy it was, not just because of the trees but the infestation of invasive plants. He approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Three Village Community Trust President Cynthia Barnes and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to discuss working together to clean up the former farmland.

Those conversations led to the trust signing a stewardship agreement with the DEC. Carolan, the chair of the new stewardship, will steer a committee of 16 people, which will assess the forest’s conditions and seek the community’s input to develop a restoration plan, according to Carolan. He said after gathering wants of the community and addressing concerns, the next step would be to clear 100 feet into the woods and turn to experts to identify the plants and figure out which need to be dug up or trimmed back.

“We want to work it where we have enough clearing that we can plant native trees — the white oaks, the red maples, the black tupelos — and make that into a more native natural forest with a greater variety of trees and habitat,” Carolan said.

The trust also plans to build a split-rail fence with downed locust trees along the 25A side of the property. The committee chair said the work will take years to complete, and the community trust will spearhead fundraising campaigns in the future to fund the project.

Barnes said the trust is excited to join forces with the DEC and to work with Carolan.

“This former farmland in the heart of the Setauket community, devastated by neglect and storms over the years, is in dire need of attention,” Barnes said.

The Timothy House is known locally as the “house on the hill.” Photo by Robert Reuter

Englebright said he was happy to hear the trust and DEC working together on cleaning up the forest, which he considers an important part of the local landscape.

“I would like to see the community take emotional ownership of the property,” the assemblyman said. “The way you do that is make it accessible. The way you develop good stewardship is have people who are invested in the property — through their ability to walk on trails, to enjoy the natural beauty of the property, to discover its secret. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘hollow.’”

Timothy Smith House

The home known locally as the “house on the hill” was purchased by Robert de Zafra in 2012. Up until his death last October, de Zafra, the trust’s co-founder, was restoring the home that sits on 2.6 acres.

Trustee Robert Reuter reported that de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. The trust will also create the Robert de Zafra Conservation and Preservation Fund to preserve the house and other community landmarks.

Englebright said the house represents an important part of history in Setauket. The Smiths were among a group from Southold who settled Setauket in 1655 and created Brookhaven town. A clerk once worked out of the home, and it was considered Brookhaven’s town hall for decades. Englebright said de Zafra went to great lengths to ensure the house was protected and preserved, even using his own resources.

“It’s appropriate, I think, for the community trust — which he is a founding trustee of — to carry forward his legacy as well as the legacies of all the others who lived in the house preceding his acquisition of it,” Englebright said.

Many living around Setauket Harbor for years have complained about waterfowl hunters who they feel practice their sport too close to homes and residents enjoying the area. Photo from End Duck Hunting in Setauket Harbor

Residents in the vicinity of Setauket Harbor are crying “fowl” when it comes to the shooting of ducks and geese on the waterway and are hoping to change local hunting laws.

Early in December, a post on the Facebook page Three Village Parents generated a lot of buzz. Many residents near Setauket Harbor reported seeing hunters and hearing shotguns in the area. One resident commented that she had seen pellet holes in her window, while another said she changes her jogging route during hunting season, which runs until Jan. 28 for ducks and Feb. 26 for geese.

Waterfowl hunting is legal in the state. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency promotes it as both a recreational sport and wildlife management tool. Those wishing to hunt waterfowl can do so during open seasons as long as they possess a valid hunting license, migratory bird stamp and Harvest Information Program number. Despite the laws, local residents aren’t happy with the early morning noises and feel the nearby hunting is a threat to their safety.

Tami Robitsek said she was sitting in her car the morning of Nov. 15 at Shore Road beach in East Setauket when she heard a loud gunshot and noticed two men in camouflage with shotguns hiding in the reeds on the beach. Robitsek said she felt it posed a dangerous situation as she witnessed several people walking and running along the road, a school bus filled with children, a man working on his boat moored off the shore and an elderly woman crying just off the road after hearing the shots.

Hunters spotted by a resident on View Road. Photo from End Duck Hunting in Setauket Harbor

“After this jarring experience, I am committed to working to end duck hunting in Setauket Harbor,” Robitsek said.

The East Setauket resident is rallying her neighbors and recently created the Facebook group, End Duck Hunting in Setauket Harbor, which has gained 70 members. She said community people have expressed support for a no-discharge ordinance in Setauket due to safety concerns and have discovered that neighboring Village of Poquott already has a no-discharge ordinance, which prevents the discharging of firearms outside official duties.

“Given the historical significance of this waterway, the delicate ecosystem, waterfowl nesting, dense population on all sides of the harbor and so on, it is clear to me that Setauket Harbor and its area residents deserve to be protected from hunting of all kinds,” Robitsek said.

Animal rescue and activist Joanne Tamburro, who has worked with Guardians of Rescue, an organization dedicated to rescuing abused animals, has offered her support to organize residents and approach local elected officials to initiate the no-discharge order. The 20-year Setauket resident said while residents have complained in the past, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

“I’m against hunting, but I don’t preach,” Tamburro said. “However, if you want to hunt, not by me. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to be a part of it and don’t try to convince me that it helps the environment.”

As an animal activist, Tamburro is concerned for the birds, too.

“What about these poor animals that are getting shot, and they’re walking around with a broken wing,” she said.

Chris Spies, a hunter from Holbrook who works in Stony Brook, said he has had negative interactions in the past with residents.

“I understand that people are upset getting woken up early, I completely understand,” he said. “However, I also get up early in the morning with an expectation to go out and enjoy myself in my pursuit of a lawful activity and not be accosted in the field with people cursing me out, taking photographs of me, videotaping me, banging pots and pans and calling the police on me multiple times.”

He said some residents don’t mind though and even come out to talk to him.

“It is clear to me that Setauket Harbor and its area residents deserve to be protected from hunting of all kinds.”

— Tami Robitsek

Spies said residents should be aware that while standard hunting laws state that shooting must be done 500 feet from an occupied residence, that rule is suspended while waterfowl hunting. According to the DEC’s website, it is lawful to discharge a shotgun over water within 500 feet of a dwelling, public structure or person as long as no buildings or people are in the line of discharge.

The hunter said residents should know that duck hunters don’t use bullets but shot shells, which shoot many BBs in a shot string for more effective hunting while not posing safety risks beyond 70 yards or so.

“Shooting a single projectile at a flying bird would be very ineffective at harvesting them, as well as dangerous further down range,” he said.

He also has a few tips for his fellow sportsmen. Spies said before hunters head out, they should visit gis3.suffolkcountyny.gov/gisviewer to view a county map that shows property lines and ownership to ensure that they are not trespassing.

While out shooting, Spies suggests that when seeing others, hunters should stop shooting, put down their guns and take off their hats. He said they should let their decoys work in their favor and wait until the ducks are in an effective range, typically under 30 yards, which would avoid unnecessary shots. He suggests one shot per bird or less as random shooting annoys nearby residents and scares the birds.

“I’m a big proponent of hunters being ethical and part of the ethics of hunting is not taking indiscriminate shots,” he said.

Robitsek and Tamburro said while they face a difficult road in fighting the state law that allows hunting, they are prepared for the battle with plans to solicit the help of local lawmakers and stage protests if necessary.

“It’s ridiculous to allow any type of hunting in and around this area, with the amount of homes we have here,” Tamburro said.

DEC officials help return nearly 2,000 illegally harvested oysters to local waters this week. Photo from Brookhaven Town.

The world is not your oyster.

Brookhaven Town and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation thwarted offenders on Friday who they said, in two unrelated incidents on June 30 and July 3, illegally harvested oysters from the Long Island Sound near Flax Pond in Old Field and Mount Sinai Harbor respectively. Between the two incidents nearly 2,000 oysters were seized and returned to their habitats.

On June 30 Brookhaven Harbormaster stationed in Port Jefferson Harbor received a tip that oysters smaller in size than three inches — which is below the allowable size for harvest — were being taken from the Sound. Following an inspection by DEC officials, violations were issued to the oystermen and the animals were returned to the water.

DEC officials help return nearly 2,000 illegally harvested oysters to local waters this week. Photo from Brookhaven Town.
DEC officials help return nearly 2,000 illegally harvested oysters to local waters this week. Photo from Brookhaven Town.

“I applaud the actions of our Harbormasters and the DEC,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), whose district includes Port Jefferson Harbor said in a statement Friday. “Shellfish are vital to our harbor, providing a natural means of removing harmful nitrogen from our waters. I urge residents to both respect harvesting laws and to get involved in our local mariculture programs that help cultivate the shellfish populations in our harbors and bays.”

On July 3 four people harvested oysters from illegal areas of Mount Sinai Harbor, according to the town. Brookhaven Town Bay constables witnessed the violation, seized the oysters and returned them to the harbor.

Mount Sinai Harbor falls within Councilwoman Jane Bonner’s (C-Rocky Point) district.

“It is very disappointing when people break the law without any concern for its effect on the environment,” Bonner said in a statement. “For many years, shellfish were over harvested and we are now working hard to increase their population. I urge anyone who knows of illegal shell fishing to report it to the Town or DEC.”

The statement from the town stressed the importance of protecting shellfish in Long Island waters.

“Increasing the number of oysters and other shellfish in our waterways helps to reduce the abundance of algae that can lead to fish kills and diminished oxygen concentration and thus improve water quality,” town officials said. “Oysters feed on floating microscopic algae by filtering them out of the overlying water. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.”

The southern pine beetle has been spotted in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In light of the uptick in southern pine beetle populations on Long Island, environmental officials are looking to weed out the issue in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve.

Last December, the Department of Environmental Conservation proposed a timber thinning to combat the beetle’s presence in the state park. The prospective contractor wouldn’t only harvest pine trees in the park, but also cut down hardwood trees to use for personal benefit. New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) voiced their opposition to the proposal on Feb. 11.

According to their statement, the project mainly involves the selling of scarlet oak trees rather than harvesting the beetle-infested pitch pine trees in the park. The property was not preserved to provide contractors with lumber, but to preserve the land, as the pine barrens property sits on the Island’s purest waterway. No bids were made on the contract thus far.

“We were going to do this thinning out as a preventative measure, and [the proposed plan] was their response, and we didn’t feel that it was logical,” Englebright said. “This doesn’t address that this crisis is advancing.”

The southern pine beetle appeared in Long Island en masse, in fall 2014, and has devastated thousands of acres of Pine Barrens property, according to Englebright. The beetle, which creates tunnels in the tress, targets all types of pine trees, including pitch pine trees like those found in the Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation found infested pine trees in October 2014.

“When the extent of the infestation became known, it was apparent that there needed to be a lot of control efforts,” said Anthony Graves, the Town of Brookhaven’s chief environmental analyst. “But there was no funding. … the State was trying to figure out a way to go ahead and engage control efforts [with the opposed timber harvest plan].”

According to Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, there are not many cases of beetle infestation in the park. However, the Connetquot River State Park in Oakdale lost around 3,600 acres of pine trees to the Southern Pine Beetle. Graves added that wind could have picked up the small beetles and carried them from New Jersey to the Island.

Warmer winter weather over the past few years has also contributed to the increase in pine beetle populations.

In the DEC’s proposal, it added that harvesting the trees will also help other trees grow. It added that harvesting is a common practice when combatting this type of infestation. There’s no mention of harvesting oak trees in its preventative thinning plan. Amper said the reasoning was odd, as the pitch pine trees are much taller than the oak trees that are currently marked in the park.

Englebright, LaValle and Thiele requested $3.5 million in the 2016-17 state budget to properly address the infestation without unnecessary harvesting. Graves said the best and cheapest way to deal with the beetles is to cut down infected trees.

“The cutting of the heavily-infested stands is widely accepted by federal and state agencies that have been dealing with this problem for the last 100 years,” Graves said. “In the U.S., it’s a long-term problem with the beetles damaging commercial forests. It’s that long-term information that’s being used to drive the plan.”

Local shellfish, like oysters and clams, are harvested on the North Shore. File photo

Citing recent bacteriological surveys, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced emergency regulations to change the designation of underwater shellfish lands in Suffolk county. Shellfish harvesting will be closed or limited to particular months in approximately 1,844 acres of bays and harbors in Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold, East Hampton and Oyster Bay, to comply with state and national standards to protect public health.

Through the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, states are required to conduct routine water quality sampling in shellfish harvesting areas. Failure by a state to comply with these national water quality-monitoring protocols could lead to a prohibition of the sale of shellfish products in interstate commerce.

The DEC’s analyses of water quality in these areas showed increased levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The increased bacteria indicates that shellfish harvested from these areas have the potential to cause human illness if consumed.

Bacteria can enter the waters from a variety of human, animal, cesspool and storm water sources. The DEC is working with local governments in Suffolk County on major projects to improve water quality in the region, an effort that will reduce discharges of bacteria and nitrogen. The DEC will work with partners to track down the bacteria sources and oversee mandated local efforts to address illicit discharges of sewage into storm sewer systems, while also continuing to evaluate sources of bacteria in an effort to resolve the issue.

The DEC’s emergency regulations will change the designation of the affected shellfish areas to “uncertified,” or closed, for the harvest of clams, mussels, oysters and scallops, either year-round or seasonally.

In Mount Sinai Harbor in Brookhaven Town, approximately 200 acres will be reclassified as closed for the harvest of shellfish during the period May 1 to Oct. 31.

In Stony Brook Harbor, approximately 300 acres shall be reclassified as closed from May 15 through Oct. 31, to closed instead from May 1 through Dec. 31, for the harvest of shellfish.

In Cold Spring Harbor, approximately 99 acres shall be designated as closed during from May 1 through Oct. 15, for the harvest of shellfish.

For more information about shellfish safety and New York’s role in the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, visit the DEC’s website. The emergency regulations adopting the changes are effective immediately. Additional information may also be obtained by contacting the DEC’s Shellfisheries office at (631) 444-0492.