Don’t Miss the Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count!

What lurks below the surface of the magnificent Hudson River? Find out for yourself! This weekend, New Yorkers have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the slippery, wriggly residents of the Hudson by participating in the Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count.

Now in its fifth year, the fish count is a one-day event organized by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program. At 19 sites, from Saratoga to Brooklyn, participants will catch aquatic critters using seines, minnow traps, and rods and reels. After documenting and examining the haul, the fish and other organisms are returned to the water.

Citizen participants in the Fish Count may watch from shore or jump into available waterproof waders and help pull in the nets. Visit the DEC’s website to find a sampling site near you!

Counting the Catch

The first seining net pulled in nearly a hundred Atlantic silversides.
Atlantic silversides, caught during the 2015 fish count. Photo credit: Emily Manley / NYER.

The Hudson River’s range in salinity and habitat types supports a wide array of fish and other wildlife. More than 200 fish species have been documented, including several that migrate into the river from the Atlantic Ocean each spring to spawn.

Over the last four years, the fish count has recorded 47 species of fish, including striped bass, white perch, stripers, spottail shiners, Atlantic silverside, and three species of herring: the alewife, blueback herring, and American shad.

In 2015, NYER attended the fish count at Brooklyn Bridge Park—here’s what we saw!

For a complete account of the fish caught during the 2015 count, download the 2015 Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count results (PDF 19KB).

Bald Eagle Rescued After Suffering From Zinc Poisoning

This just in from the Good News Department: A female bald eagle, nearly killed by acute zinc poisoning, has been successfully cured and released back into the wild, thanks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and a local rehabilitation center.

The following story was posted on their Facebook page:

On January 10, 2016, DEC Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Michael Buckley received a call about a bald eagle needing assistance in the town of Wallkill. The caller said the eagle was in her backyard acting strangely.

The DEC also contacted a local wildlife rehabilitator named Barbara “Missy” Runyan, from The Friends of Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center in Hunter, NY.

Together, ECO Buckley and the rehabilitator managed to transport the eagle to the rehabilitation center for treatment. They determined that the 13-year-old eagle was suffering from acute zinc poisoning, which caused blindness and seizures. After days of treatment and rehab, the eagle regained her sight and was nursed fully back to health! It was released Saturday, from the same backyard where it was found.

If anything like us, you ‘re probably wondering where the heck that zinc came from. Turns out it can be found in a wide range of sources. The DEC notes that it is commonly found in fertilizers and galvanized metal coatings used in bridges and docks, and can bioaccumulate in fish and other prey.

They do not yet know how this particular eagle was poisoned.

Here are a selection of photos from the capture and release:

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The rehabilitator and DEC ECO Mike Buckley alongside the 3-year-old boy who discovered the injured bird. Photo credit: NYS DEC.
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Wildlife rehabilitator Missy Runyan puts the blind eagle in the transport box after it was found injured in the woods. Photo credit: NYS DEC.
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The blind and injured eagle is brought to The Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center in Hunter, NY. Here she is cared for until she regains her sight. The eagle is housed in a special eagle enclosure to keep her stress levels down. Photo credit: NYS DEC.
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The eagle receives treatment at the wildlife center. Here, volunteers gently straighten the eagle’s bent feathers with light steam. Photo credit: NYS DEC.
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After two weeks, the eagle is deemed healthy enough to be released into the wild. Photo credit: NYS DEC.
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The eagle is released from the same backyard where she was found. Photo credit: NYS DEC
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The majestic bird takes flight. Photo credit: NYS DEC.

A Plea to Protect Long Island’s Natural Environment Before It’s Too Late

We’ve written about the funding and staffing woes of the state’s lead environmental agency many times. To date, despite pleas from watchdog groups and even the state Comptroller, the Cuomo administration has insisted that the Department of Environmental Conservation can do more with less.

New York State’s environmental challenges are growing more, not less, complicated. Just think about sea level rise and what it will mean for New York’s coastal areas by the end of this century.

And then there is the loss of the state’s biodiversity. Last year, according to a recent editorial by Newsday, “the state said 185 local [Long Island] species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams.”

Newsday’s editorial board has called on the Governor to reconsider his position on funding for the DEC as we head toward state budget negotiations. Here’s the editorial from November 28th in full.

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Good move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. You’ve named a capable person to head the state’s environmental agency. Basil Seggos is widely respected for his commitment and his abilities.

Now you also must fund the Department of Environmental Conservation properly so Seggos can do his job. If you want a legacy as a green governor, it’s time to do more.

Right now, the DEC has no chance to meet its full mission. Funding and personnel are about 25 percent lower than eight years ago. Inspections and enforcement actions are way down. Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund — which supports efforts to protect clean water, preserve farmland, and recycle — is more than $75 million off from its $255 million high in 2008-09. For nearly 20 years, the state hasn’t had an environmental bond act to help pay for things like cleaning up waterways, improving sewage treatment plants, and buying open space.

At the same time, Long Island and the state face increasing environmental threats — from nitrogen in our waters to pine beetles in our forests, from illegal dumping to sea level rise. These are urgent and longtime threats to health and public safety, and the DEC needs the resources to combat them. This must be a priority when crafting budgets.

Seggos gets Long Island’s issues. His smartly drawn priorities, detailed in an interview, include:

Climate change — he should work toward developing a state climate action plan to improve our ability to withstand stronger storms and rising sea levels;

Water quality — he should continue to support the state/local effort to determine how much nitrogen is in our waters and set targets for reductions;

Wastewater treatment — he must work with Nassau County on an ocean outfall pipe AND a nitrogen removal system for the Bay Park plant;

The southern pine beetle — those who are fighting a valiant but losing battle need reinforcements; and

Fisheries — his plan to rebuild trust with the fishing industry must be balanced with the need to protect stocks.

The litany of Long Island problems is much longer. Last year, for example, the state said 185 local species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams. The DEC said its lack of staffing and resources means little can be done.

Other issues include:

  • Sand mines must be more tightly regulated. They can threaten groundwater and shouldn’t end up as garbage dumps, like ones in Coram and Kings Park. State legislation is needed to eliminate exemption loopholes, engineering staff should oversee mines, and Long Island requires more than one inspector.
  • A system to track construction and demolition debris should be created by requiring vehicle logs that would detail loads and destinations, in the wake of the illegal dumping scandal in Islip.
  • Brookhaven’s landfill is slated to close in 10 years; developing a long-term solid waste management plan should begin now.
  • A plan to more tightly regulate pesticide use, including a ban on the most toxic pesticides, is long overdue.

 

There is a lack of staff to manage the 20,000 acres of DEC land on Long Island; as a result homeowners are illegally expanding backyards and building sheds and decks. There also should be more planned burns in the Pine Barrens to reduce the risk of severe wildfires that threaten homes and lives.

Taken together, the problems seem overwhelming. Seggos shows the passion and smarts required to attack them. But he also needs the tools.

That’s up to Cuomo and the State Legislature. Give the DEC the money it needs. Because if it falls short in its many battles, the cost we will pay will not be measured in dollars.

 

NYS Forest Rangers Return Home After Fighting California Wildfires

A New York State firefighting crew is returning home after battling a 37,000+ acre wildfire in Northern California for the last two weeks. The 20-member crew, made up of state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers, employees and volunteers, assisted in the containment of the Mad River Complex wildfires.

In late July, lightning ignited the Mad River Complex fires in California’s Six Rivers National Forest, 360 miles north of San Francisco. Local news reports said the fires -which consumed over 37,000 acres- had been fully contained by the end of last week.

New York State sent another crew of firefighters to southern Oregon in late August to assist in fighting the 25,000 acre Stouts Creek wildfire.

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New York State Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers and volunteer firefighters returned from fighting the Stouts Creek wildfire in Oregon on August 26, 2015. Photo credit: NYS DEC

As of September 2nd, more than 8 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires in 2015, reports the Washington Post. The volume of acres burned this year is on track to be the worst in the nation’s recorded history. It is important to note, however, that 5 million acres burned in Alaska alone this year.

California Governor Jerry Brown has drawn a direct line between the state’s 4-year drought, which has exacerbated wildfires there, and climate change.

Firefighters in six Western states – California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah – were contending with a total of 35 large wildfires on Wednesday, September 9th, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho.

Hudson River Fish Count Nets Aquatic Critters at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Catch, count, identify, release: that was the refrain last weekend on a rocky Hudson River beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Beneath the hulking shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, and despite the rumble and shake of endless trains clattering above, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Steve Stanne expertly led a group of volunteers and curious bystanders in the art of the Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count.

Hidden Below the Surface

Now in its fourth year, the fish count is a one-day event each summer during which naturalists at multiple sites along the Hudson catch fish to show visitors the variety of fascinating creatures usually hidden below the river’s surface. This year 17 sites, from Saratoga to Brooklyn, were sampled.

More than 200 fish species call the Hudson estuary and its watershed home, and over the past three years, volunteers have recorded at least 37 of them during the count.

This year at the Brooklyn site, volunteers took the seine nets out a handful of times. They counted, identified, and documented everything pulled in, and then returned all the creatures to the river. At the end of the event, the tally included hundreds of Atlantic silversides, plus striped bass, bluefish, porgy, a lady crab and a blue crab, comb jellies, and even a lined seahorse!

According to Stanne, this year’s fish count netted a total of 33 species across all sites, “the highest number recorded on any of the four Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Counts to date.” Two of the species found in Brooklyn—the porgy and the lined seahorse—were new to the count list completely.

Photos from the Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count

The DEC's Steve Stanne and a volunteer take the seine net out into the Hudson.
The DEC’s Steve Stanne and a volunteer take the seine net out into the Hudson. Photo credit: Emily Manley / NYER.
Clearwater's Key to Common Hudson River Fishes: our guide for the afternoon.
Clearwater’s Key to Common Hudson River Fishes: our guide for the afternoon. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER.
Pulling the seine net on shore.
Pulling the seine net on shore. Photo credit: Emily Manley / NYER.
Catch, count, identify, release!
Catch, count, identify, release! Photo credit: Emily Manley / NYER
The first seining net pulled in nearly a hundred Atlantic silversides.
The first seining net pulled in nearly a hundred Atlantic silversides. Photo credit: Emily Manley / NYER.
Close-up of an Atlantic silverside.
Close-up of an Atlantic silverside. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER.
Our first mystery fish of the day turns out to be a scup, otherwise known as a porgy.
Our first mystery fish of the day turns out to be a scup, otherwise known as a porgy. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER
A male ladycrab (yep, that's right) also found its way into our net.
A male ladycrab (yep, that’s right) also found its way into our net. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER
Steve Sanne and volunteers take the net out again, this time with help from a curious onlooker.
Steve Stanne and volunteers take the net out again, this time with help from a curious onlooker. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER
What did we find this time?
What did we find this time? Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER
A striped bass!
A striped bass! Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER
A striped bass and bluefish, held up for closer inspection.
A striped bass and bluefish, held up for closer inspection. Photo credit: Emily Manley/NYER.
The one we've all been waiting for: a lined seahorse!
The one we’ve all been waiting for: a lined seahorse! Photo credit: NYSDEC

NYS Banned Fracking for Public Health Reasons But the Battle Over Gas Pipelines Continues

We are at “a critical moment in our fight to free New York from fossil fuels,” say environmental activists who convened in Albany this week. They are demanding that state officials deny a permit needed for construction of a natural gas pipeline across four upstate counties.

While high-volume hydraulic fracturing -fracking- was banned last year in New York State for public health reasons, pipelines and other gas infrastructure continue to be built here. Natural gas drilled in other states is being moved through New York, both for local consumption and delivery elsewhere.

A segment of the state’s environmental movement is calling for a complete break with natural gas- due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of gas infrastructure on local communities and ecology.

Thirteen people from six New York counties were reportedly arrested last week as part of a civil disobedience action against the expansion of natural gas storage [and the introduction of liquid petroleum storage] in salt caverns adjacent to Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.

Activists read verses from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter on climate change while blockading the Crestwood gas storage facility on August 4th, said advocacy group We Are Seneca Lake.

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Demonstrators at the Crestwood gas storage facility adjacent to Seneca Lake in October, 2014. Photo credit: EcoWatch

The civil disobedience action took place one day after President Obama and the federal EPA announced a plan to set “first-ever” carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants.

Long-running debate about how natural gas fits in with a clean energy economy

While the President and elected officials across New York State have repeatedly raised the long-term threat posed by climate change and the need to develop a “clean energy” economy, there is no consensus about how to approach natural gas, a fossil fuel.

Proponents of natural gas say it releases significantly lower levels of carbon (than coal, for example) when burned. Natural gas is an abundant and affordable local energy source that can be used as renewable forms of energy -like hydro, wind and solar- expand and become cost-effective, they add.

Opponents charge that methane releases from pipelines and other gas infrastructure pose an enormous risk to the climate. According to the EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, says the EPA, but “pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 [methane] on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”

Nonetheless, reports the EPA, methane emissions in the U.S. decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. This is partially due to the fact that “emissions decreased from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas and petroleum products.”

Fracking banned in NYS, but gas pipeline construction continues

Expansion of natural gas infrastructure throughout New York continues. Indeed, two new gas pipelines -one crossing the Hudson River and the other off the coast of the Rockaways- have recently been completed in New York City.

The proposed Constitution Pipeline, which will move natural gas from fracking fields in Pennsylvania through southern New York State, has already been conditionally approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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Protest against the Constitution Pipeline. Photo credit: Daily Star

As NYER reported in December, the federal approval authorizes pipeline developers to invoke eminent domain in order to obtain access rights from unwilling property owners.

The pipeline will stretch 124 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa. through hundreds of parcels in New York’s Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties.

The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

The pipeline will terminate at a compressor station in the town of Wright, Schoharie County, and its contents will be transferred into the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines for transport into New England. The feds have also greenlighted the “Interconnect Project” in Wright.

Pipeline opponents gathering in Albany this week

A coalition of groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York branch of the Sierra Club and New Yorkers Against Fracking are in Albany this week, demanding that Governor Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation deny a Water Quality Certificate necessary for construction of the Constitution Pipeline to go forward. The certificate is required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Activists charge that pipeline construction will destroy over 1,000 acres of forests and farmland, clear cut over 700,000 trees, and cross over 277 waterways in upstate New York.

“There is no possible way to tear through the sensitive hills, forests, wetlands, and streams where this pipeline is proposed without threatening water quality and degrading aquatic habitat,” Catskill Mountainkeeper program director Wes Gillingham said in a statement.

Battle over gas storage continues in the Finger Lakes

Activists are also challenging a proposed underground liquid petroleum gas (LPG) facility, and the expansion of natural gas storage, in caverns adjacent to the western shore of Seneca Lake.

Seneca Lake is a major tourist destination in the Finger Lakes district, and lies in the heart of New York’s upstate wine region. It also serves as a source of drinking water for an estimated 100,000 area residents.

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Seneca Lake.

The storage facility would utilize existing underground caverns in the Syracuse Salt Formation. These caverns were originally excavated by U.S. Salt and other mining companies.

Texas-based Crestwood Midstream already has a methane (natural gas) storage facility in two caverns within the formation. The existing facility connects with the Dominion and Millenium pipelines, which deliver gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and other drilling sites. Crestwood has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand methane storage within the caverns.

While the feds have jurisdiction over the methane gas storage portion of the project, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has final say over the storage of LPG, mostly propane and butane. Crestwood is now seeking permission to store about 88.2 million gallons of LPG in the caverns.

Participants in last week’s civil disobedience action at Crestwood ranged in age from 20 to 70 years old. Opponents say that there have been 332 arrests in the eight-month-old campaign against gas storage at Seneca Lake.

Why have some New Yorkers decided to risk arrest?

Joshua Enderle, age 20, who lives in Cuba, Allegany County, made the following statement about his decision to participate in last week’s action at Crestwood:

“By now it is common knowledge that fossil fuels contribute to global climate change and we hold the technology to produce clean and renewable energy that will last generations, but current social, economic, and political systems suppress these advancements and continually allow the reckless exploitation of natural resources as well as threatening the balance of Earth’s life support systems.”

 

Preparing for the worst: New York State amps up crude oil spill response

As the environmental damage from a crude oil spill off the California coast mounts, New York State regulators are responding to “the risks posed by the high volume of crude oil being transported through New York.”

Crude oil spill response capabilities will be enhanced across New York, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced yesterday.

The fear is that a spill could occur along the state’s rail or river transportation corridors, including the Hudson.

Rail shipments of oil in the U.S. have expanded to almost 374 million barrels last year from 20 million barrels in 2010. 2014 saw the greatest number of rail-oil spills since the federal government began tracking such incidents in 1975, reported NBC News.

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Clean-up in Alabama after a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded in November, 2013, spilling into wetlands just outside the town of Aliceville. Photo credit: John Wathen, EcoWatch

One only needs to stand along the banks of the mid-Hudson and watch the steady flow of oil trains on its western bank to get a sense of the volume now entering New York.

Drilling in the Marcellus and Bakken shales has relied heavily upon oil trains to ship fuel east as pipeline capacity is “insufficient to manage the flow,” reports Capital New York. “Pipeline expansion, though, tends to face opposition from environmentalists and local community groups.”

Preparations for a catastrophic spill have been ongoing, said New York State officials. No other state in the nation “has been as aggressive as New York in pursuing action that will help to ensure the public and the environment are protected from accidents related to the transport of crude oil,” claimed the DEC.

Protecting those living along NY’s “Crude by Rail” Corridor

The DEC says it worked with emergency officials in Clinton County last year to conduct a pilot project examining how to improve emergency preparedness in that county’s crude-by-rail corridor, and how best to protect “sensitive human populations, critical infrastructure and vulnerable environmental areas.”

Clinton County is in the northeast corner of the state, and borders Lake Champlain.

DEC is now working with state and local response agencies in 21 other counties to complete similar reviews of sensitive areas along local crude-rail transportation corridors.

The state will identify locations where “Geographic Response Plans” will be created to improve spill preparedness and response. This includes deployment of specialized spill response equipment, e.g., oil absorbent booms, pumps, etc.

Plans for all 21 counties will be completed by April 2016, said the DEC.

The DEC says it will train local responders and manage specialized equipment with the help of contractors. And it will collaborate with other local, state and federal entities in its preparations, including the State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Raising more funds for spill prevention and clean-up

This year’s state budget raised New York’s Oil Spill Fund cap from $25 million to $40 million. It also provided up to $2.1 million annually to plan and prepare for potential crude oil incidents.

Environmental groups have pushed for the cap to be raised to $100 million, saying that the current level is not only “inadequate,” but less than half of what it would have been if the fund had simply kept pace with inflation.

The state budget also funds eight new DEC staff and six additional employees at the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control dedicated to oil spill planning, training and response.

And the budget increased the surcharge for oil trans-shipped through the state from 1.5 cents per barrel to 13.75 cents. Fees on oil consumed in New York were not increased, however.

Calling for a ban on crude oil “bomb trains”

Watchdog group Hudson Riverkeeper is calling for a moratorium on crude oil transport through New York State, and the ban of a type of rail car that they say is used to transport “much” of the oil that moves across the country.

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Crude oil moving by rail along the Hudson. Photo credit: Scenic Hudson

Riverkeeper is demanding that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ban DOT-111 cars, sometimes called “bomb cars” because of safety concerns, with an emergency order.

The group is also asking that the federal government “immediately open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation.”

State Puts Brakes on Crude Oil Facility in Port of Albany

New York State regulators have just put the brakes on the approval process for a crude oil heating facility in the Port of Albany. Environmental groups charged that the facility would “facilitate the oil industry’s desire to ship Tar Sands crude oil down the Hudson River on its way to the global market.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation today rescinded an earlier finding that the proposed facility would have no significant environmental impact, and would not require a full impact review. The DEC says it has received 19,000 public comments about the facility.

Massachusetts-based Global Partners, LLC had sought a New York State air quality permit in order to install seven boilers that would warm rail tanker cars to “facilitate offloading of dense crude oil to Hudson River barges destined for coastal refineries.”

The Albany Times Union reports that Albany already has become a focal shipping point for another type of crude oil- from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

“Bakken crude is lighter and more flammable, and floats in water,” the Times Union noted. “Tar sands crude is less volatile, but heavier, and sinks to the bottom in water, which can make spills in water difficult to clean up.”

The DEC has announced they are now requiring a full Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Global Partners facility.

Read the state’s press release

“After a thorough review of Global Companies application and supporting documents for a Title V air permit modification to its facilities at the Port of Albany, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today its intent to rescind the Negative Declaration and Notice of Complete Application for the project. DEC identified significant proposed project changes and new information submitted after the Negative Declaration and the Notice of Complete Application that must be considered as part of a full environmental review of the project.

“Our review of Global’s application has focused on protecting the health of people living around the facility and the environment,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “This community has voiced its concerns and raised some serious issues. Through the environmental review process, DEC will continue to evaluate the project’s impacts.”

Global has 10 calendar days to respond to DEC’s notice.

State regulations (6 NY Codes, Rules & Regulations § 617.7(f)) provide that DEC must rescind a negative declaration when substantive: changes are proposed for the project; substantive: new information is discovered; or substantive: changes in circumstances arise that were not previously considered and the lead agency determines that a significant adverse impact may result.

In reviewing the 19,000 comments submitted during the public comment period significant issues were raised that meet the state regulatory standard to rescind the Negative Declaration for the project.

For example, there is not sufficient information to evaluate how the proposed project would comply with the hydrogen sulfide ambient air quality standard. In addition, Global failed to provide sufficient information to determine the net emissions increase associated with the proposed project under the nonattainment New Source Review (NSR) program. Global has proposed to reconstruct Tank 33 with a floating roof and refit this tank with heating coils to store the heated bitumen.

Global has the burden to demonstrate its compliance with all regulatory standards including the Hydrogen Sulfide standard. The company has not submitted any actual hydrogen sulfide emissions data from a heated crude oil storage tank with an internal floating roof.

Further, because of the close proximity of the 137-unit Ezra Prentice Homes residential housing development to Global’s facility, the potential for these proposed changes to have significant adverse impacts on the environment must be fully analyzed.”

Call it a Comeback: Input Wanted for NY Bald Eagle Conservation Plan

For the first time in at least a century, a pair of bald eagles has shacked up in New York City. Spotted by a tugboat captain in early January, the couple seems to have made a nest on a small uninhabited island just off the coast of Staten Island.

As you might expect, raptors relocating to the Big Apple is a good sign for population numbers statewide. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that 254 nesting pairs of bald eagles now call the state home. The number jumps even higher in the winter, when birds from Canada and Alaska fly south in search of food and open waters.

Now, the DEC has released a revised plan for bald eagle management and conservation in New York, and public input is requested.

A Troubled History

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The bald eagle has a body length of 28–40 inches, and females (the larger of the sexes) can weigh up to 12 pounds. Photo credit: Paul Malinowski via Creative Commons.

It hasn’t always been easy for bald eagles—in New York, or throughout the United States. The decline of our national bird actually began as far back as the early 1900s, when shooting them for sport was common practice, and logging and other development quickly destroyed eagle habitat. Pesticides like DDT also accelerated the birds’ decline, and by 1970, only one active bald eagle nest remained in New York.

An intensive monitoring and restoration program began in the late 1970s to slowly rebuild the nesting population. The NYS DEC relied primarily on a technique called hacking to increase eagle populations. Hacking involves hand-rearing and releasing older nestlings in the absence of parent birds.

Nearly 200 eaglets (collected mostly from wild nesting pairs in Alaska) were released between 1976 and 1988; by the end of the program, ten nesting bald eagle pairs had been established in New York State.

With additional protection and management, New York’s eagle population has continued to grow. In 1999, the bald eagle was downlisted at the state level from endangered to threatened, and the breeding bald eagle population has experienced a consistent annual increase every year.

A Plan for the Future

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The plumage of the immature bald eagle is a dark brown overlaid with messy white streaking until the fifth year, when it reaches sexual maturity. Photo credit: Jeremy N. Moore / USFWS

The new management plan establishes objectives for maintaining bald eagle population in New York. It describes the historic and current status of the bald eagle in the state and provides guidelines for future management actions.

Joe Martens, NYS DEC Conservation Commissioner, noted in a press release that “conservation of the bald eagle and its habitat plays an important role in preserving our biodiversity and ecosystem health. The plan aims to maintain the bald eagle’s geographic diversity and ultimately ensure a healthy population within the state.”

Key objectives of the conservation plan are:

  1. To maintain a statewide average breeding bald eagle population of at least 200 breeding pairs;
  2. Maintain protection of our significant wintering bald eagle population; and
  3. Monitor breeding and wintering bald eagles in New York State at a level suitable to detect significant trends in their populations.

Key actions include minimizing impacts from land clearing, human disturbance, pollutants, and collisions with vehicles, power lines and wind turbines.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted through April 10. To comment, send an e-mail to: wildlife@dec.ny.gov with “Bald Eagle” in subject line.

Additional information about the NYS DEC bald eagle plan can be found on their website.

Chance Encounter with one of New York’s Most Threatened Species

New York State has identified almost 400 species of wildlife who are in grave danger of disappearing from our waterways, lands and sky. Could I have stumbled across one of them in the middle of New York City the other day?

I live close to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and walk through the park several times a week. A few days ago, I was on a snowy road in a quiet part of the park. It was a bitterly cold, but sunny, day.

Echoing through the trees, came the sound of “tap, tap, tap.” It almost sounded like a dull hammer hitting wood. And then it occurred to me, “maybe that’s a woodpecker!”

I searched for the sound, and looking up, saw a greyish, medium-sized bird, with a brilliant red head. He was really handsome, and the deep red color of his head stood out amongst the snow covered trees.

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Red-headed woodpecker. Credit: Jay Paredes

I only caught a fleeting glimpse of this red-headed bird. There are a couple species of woodpecker that look quite similar, but if what I saw was an actual red-headed woodpecker- that bird may not be here much longer.

The red-headed woodpecker is one of 372 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, according to the State of New York. Half of this group of 372, including the woodpecker, have been designated “high priority for conservation action in the near term.”

Not Your Average Woodpecker

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, red-headed woodpeckers are not your average woodpecker: “they’re adept at catching insects in the air,” says the Lab’s on-line bird guide, and “they eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, often hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later.”

But the woodpecker is struggling to hold its ground. “This magnificent species has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply,” says Cornell.

At Risk: A Diversity of Species

The state is currently finalizing its list of species who are in greatest need of conservation action. A public comment period on the list has been extended until March 9th.

There is an incredible variety of wildlife within the almost 200 species targeted as “high priority” on the state’s list. There are many species of birds, such as the Eastern Meadowlark and the Seaside Sparrow.

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“The sweet, lazy whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks waft over summer grasslands and farms in eastern North America. The birds themselves sing from fenceposts and telephone lines or stalk through the grasses, probing the ground for insects with their long, sharp bills.” Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Photo: Gerrit Vyn
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“A drab sparrow with a short tail and a large bill, the Seaside Sparrow is a salt marsh specialist.” Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Photo: Laura Meyers

The “high priority” list includes everything from the Yellow-banded bumble bee…

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Credit: www.eakringbirds.com

to amphibians, such as the Eastern cricket frog…

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Credit: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

to reptiles, such as the Spotted Turtle…

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Credit: www.paherps.com

to the New England cottontail…

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Credit: Federalist Press

to the great mammals of the sea, like the North Atlantic right whale.

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Credit: NewBedfordGuide.com

Incredibly, even the oyster, which we farm commercially and is such an important part of our cultural history, is now on the state’s “high priority” list. One reason for the oyster’s precarious state is the degraded quality of Long Island’s coastal waters due to various types of pollution.

The Main Culprit: Habitat Loss

In a 2005 state analysis of the leading threats to endangered species in New York, habitat loss is at the top of the list.

“Upstate New York has urbanized hundreds of thousands of acres of farm and forest land since 1980,” the state noted.

New York’s wetlands, home to a wide range of species and critical for flood protection, have been “incrementally destroyed, and wetland complexes fragmented, by smaller, more numerous projects.”

“Many remaining wetland communities have been reduced to small, isolated fragments whose quality is threatened by siltation, runoff from agriculture and development, and introduction of invasive species,” the state added.

Other causes of species loss in New York include degraded water quality, invasive species, incompatible forest management and agricultural practices, and climate change.

How Do We Know if State Conservation Efforts Are Working?

“Conservation action is urgent in the next ten years,” said the DEC when it released its updated Species of Greatest Conservation Need list this year. “These species are declining and must receive timely management intervention or they are likely to reach critical population levels in New York.”

Another 111 species have been designated as Species of Potential Conservation Need. The population status of these species in New York State is “poorly-known” and further research is needed, says the state.

The DEC is identifying the state’s most vulnerable species as part of an update to New York’s State Wildlife Action Plan, which is now ten years old.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires states to revise their wildlife action plans at least every 10 years. DEC says it will complete its update of New York’s SWAP this year. It would be very helpful if this update were to include an assessment of the state’s conservation efforts over the last decade.

I would be interested in asking the state DEC, how are the species identified as vulnerable in 2005 faring now? How many of them are even still here?

Moving Ahead

So how is the red-headed woodpecker going to be protected from extinction in New York?

The State has to come up with a plan to protect this handsome creature. New York’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan must identify:

1.) species that need “conservation action to maintain their abundance and distribution” in New York State;

2.) threats to these species; and- most important,

3.) actions that will be taken in the next 10 years to “conserve these designated species and their habitats.”

Completing the 2015 update will allow DEC to remain eligible for federal State Wildlife Grants.

[Adequate funding for the DEC’s important work is an ongoing and pressing issue. All spending -federal and state- allocated to the DEC is expected to decline 25.9 percent over the next four years.]

You Can Assist the State in Identifying Our Most Vulnerable Species

Email your comments to swapcomments@dec.ny.gov or joe.racette@dec.ny.gov.

Or send them by regular mail to:

Joe Racette
NYSDEC
Division of Fish Wildlife and Marine Resources
5th Floor
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233