Archive for the tag 'ecology'

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by Diana Bruk

White Island, Marine Park inlet (Source: Google Maps)

White Island (Source: Google Maps)

A group of New Yorkers hailing from all five boroughs gathered early Saturday morning at the Marine Park salt marsh for a rare canoeing adventure to White Island. The three-hour, complimentary guided tour was the second and last trip of the season, and the island (which is wrapping up construction), is only accessible by water and currently closed to those unaccompanied by an Urban Park Ranger.

Our visit was one of the first opportunities to see the island in the final phases of a $15 million restoration that began in 2011. After years of erosion and naturally shifting wetland topography, White Island – also known as Mau Mau Island – was re-shored, cleaned up, purged of invasive phragmites, and replanted with native grasses to serve as a habitat for migratory birds.

Read about our trip to the wilds of White Island, and see the pretty photos.

Members of the 25 strong cat colony on Plumb Beach (Photo by Lisanne Anderson/Flickr)

You didn’t actually think we’d get through this story without a headline pun did you?

The National Park Service (NPS) has agreed to give more time to cat enthusiasts to remove a sizable colony of feral cats from the Plumb Beach federal parkland, and is even considering offering manpower and assistance in their relocation.

Doug Adamo, the chief of Natural Resource Management for Gateway National Recreation Area told Sheepshead Bites that he’s been inundated with calls and e-mails about the 25-cat colony they planned to remove this Friday, with nearly as many people supporting the plan as opposing it.

But they also heard directly from the folks who’ve been caring for the cats, building what he called “cat condos that were constructed out of wood and cardboard,” and who fed, vaccinated and neutered them. As a result of their discussions, Adamo said Parks has agreed to hold off on dismantling the colony for another week, until June 20, to allow the group to explore long-term relocation options.

“Nothing’s going to happen on Friday. We did get in touch with the people that were taking care of the cats. We decided we would give them an extra week to try and place the cats, or there are a couple of options that they gave me that they were looking at,” said Adamo.

Adamo said NPS could potentially offer staff to help trap the animals and remove the debris, as well as a vehicle to transport them a short distance. He said the cat caretakers are looking at facilities in Maryland or upstate New York, among others.

“They’re saying they will help and they don’t want them to go to the shelters and they want them to go to places where they have more assurances that it will go to a permanent home, which would be a good win-win solution to the situation,” said Adamo.

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The sign posted last week.

Contrary to the claims of cat lovers, Adamo said NPS never had plans to kill the cats. In most cases, colonies are dismantled as soon as they’re discovered and the cats are trapped and brought to local shelters for adoption, and just about every cat they’ve captured in the past has been assessed as adoptable by the shelters.

Normally there is no notice to the community, but he said that when NPS employees discovered the colony sometime in the last month, they were struck by its size and apparent maintenance, as well as the condition of the cats.

“In this case we noticed it was a large colony and they were healthy and cared for. We thought maybe we’d give them a chance to work with us on this and it appears that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Despite flack from feline fans, Adamo maintained that removing the colony was essential to the parkland’s habitat.

“It’s our responsibility in the Parks Service to protect wildlife,” he said. “It’s a very difficult situation, especially here in New York, next to densely populated areas where non-native cats – and they’re all non-native – are always going to be coming into the park either by people bringing them there or by just wandering in.”

Even though they’re fed by humans, the cats still pray on area wildlife. The problem is even more urgent on Plumb Beach, a protected nesting ground for migratory birds including some endangered and at-risk species

“As land managers and natural resource managers for the park, [we must] do due diligence in protection of the wildlife,” said Adamo.

It doesn’t appear the decision has fully satisfied the cat enthusiasts. One of the colony’s caretakers, Nancy Rogers, has launched a petition online saying that the additional week now being granted is insufficient.

“The caretakers are willing to find homes for these cats but need more than the one week now allotted to accomplish this difficult task,” Rogers writes in the petition’s description. The petition launched yesterday afternoon and already has 193 supporters, and simply says “Stop the removal of the Plum Beach Cats.”

feral-cat

The above sign went up at Plumb Beach late last week, warning parkgoers that the National Park Service will be moving to “dismantle” cat colonies on the federal parkland this Friday, June 13.

(UPDATE [6/11/2014]: NPS  is working with the caretakers and has granted extra time to relocate the animals.)

Plumb Beach is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a stretch of federal parkland that’s home to countless migratory bird species and other protected wildlife like horseshoe crabs. With jurisdiction over the parkland split between federal, state and city authorities, no one is ever sure who’s responsible for maintaining infrastructure or cleaning up the garbage - but at least they figured out who is going to get rid of the cats, right?

But that’s got cat lovers rankled. Apparently, locals have been caring for a sizeable colony of about 25 cats, feeding, vaccinating and neutering them. They’re crying foul that these cats are being targeted, and that their caretakers have been given such short notice.

Lena S. wrote to us yesterday:

This is a posted flyer around the area that says the this Friday (in just 3 days) They will come in and euthanize all the stray cats that are living by belt parkway (Plum Beach area)! There are people here that were taking care of these cats for years and they are taken all neutered, well fed, vaccinated against rabies. This notice is unbelievably cruel and with only a few days notice! There are currently 25 cats there and they want to mass euthanize them.

Please help and promote this, we’re trying to save the kitties, they deserve to live there just like any other animal.

Marina G. wrote:

All these cats are spayed, neutered and fed. This colony has been around for many years. If there is any ecosystem at that beach, its between the rats and the cats, as locals call the beach “rat beach.”

Animal protection groups are trying to find a way to at least get more time to relocate this colony. The notice was posted 5 days ago.

On the heels of the cat abuse stories as well as our national outrage over Russia’s disposal of their cats and dogs during the Olympics, this may be a relevant read

The text of the sign does not say anything about putting the cats to sleep or otherwise “disposing” of them, although it’s certainly a possibility. In case you can’t make it out, it reads:

Feral cat colonies are prohibited on Federal property.

To ensure the health and safety of visitors and to protect habitat for native species including shorebirds, small mammals and reptiles this colony will be dismantled on Friday, June 13th.

We encourage those that have created this colony to remove it and the cats prior to that date.

Thank you for your cooperation in maintaining the health of our ecosystems.

Sheepshead Bites has reached out to the National Park Service to confirm that they posted the notice, and what methods will be used to “dismantle” the colony, including whether or not the animals will be exterminated. We’ll update this post when we receive a response.

Source: Riverhead Foundation

Source: Riverhead Foundation

It was not too long ago that a baby harp seal was spotted on the sands of Coney Island last month. The seal had parasites and was underweight, but last Saturday it was released back into the Atlantic Ocean after receiving treatment from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

The foundation, a non-profit, was called in soon after the seal was discovered, and since then the organization has been working to restore the baby’s constitution after it was found to be dehydrated due to parasites. And, finally, this Saturday it was healthy enough to be released into the Shinnecock Bay off Long Island.

On top of receiving antibiotics and fluids through a tube to restore her weight, the seal also received the name Nellie. #FreeNellie.

Newsday reported,

Nearly 200 people watched as Nellie made her way 100 feet across sand and seaweed before splashing into the bay.

“She belongs back in the wild,” said Rob DiGiovanni, executive director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which nursed the seal back to health.

While Nellie is still a pup at only one year old, she will eventually grow to be 255 pounds and officials believe she originally came from Canada before gracing us with her cute presence.

I wonder if there's a policy about taking trees on the subway... (Source: NYRP/Flickr)

I wonder if there’s a policy about taking trees on the subway… (Source: NYRP/Flickr)

The New York Restoration Project, a non-profit dedicated to building greenspaces and the lead partner of the MillionTreesNYC initiative, is going all out this spring with a huge giveaway of 12,000 trees distributed directly to residents throughout New York City.

Here are some details from the group:

NYC home and property owners can choose from over 90 events where they can pick up trees to bring home and plant in their front or back yards. Participants can visit www.nyrp.org/treegiveaways to check out dates and locations and find out more. They can register online approximately two weeks in advance, to reserve a tree. If registration is full, a limited number of trees is available on a first-come, first-served basis at the event. We’re offering popular tree species, including various dogwood, fig, magnolia and serviceberry trees to New Yorkers. Aside providing cleaner air, planting trees has many benefits, including enhanced curb appeal, offset of climate change, cooler temperatures, and more.

Giveaways are scheduled between March and May for Marine Park, Coney Island, Gravesend, Borough Park, Bay Ridge and elsewhere – so there’s no shortage of nearby locations to pick one up in the coming months. Just check their schedule and register in advance.

The MillionTreesNYC program is a public-private initiative. Seventy percent of the trees will be planted in parks and public spaces, while 30 percent are being given to private organizations, homeowners and community groups. More than 800,000 trees have been distributed to date.

Source: Riverhead Foundation

Source: Riverhead Foundation

A baby harp seal was spotted on the shores of Brighton Beach on Saturday morning sunning himself.

The seal was seen at approximately 8:30 a.m. Police were called to the scene as a precaution, and they closed off the area using crime-scene tape for the animal’s safety, according to the Daily News.

The Riverhead Foundation, an advocacy organization that studies, rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals, was summoned to the scene. They transported the seal to a laboratory for medical evaluation where, according to Gothamist, they determined it was dehydrated due to parasites.

Harp seal and dolphin sightings in New York’s waterways have been on the rise in recent years as their population appears to boom amid cleaner waters and increased food stock.

Seals have been spotted in Jamaica Bay, the Sheepshead Bay marina and Brighton Beach, and one area cruise boat has launched occasional seal spotting trips.

Over the summer, pods of humpback whales and dolphins off the coast of the Rockaways made headlines. With the boom has also come some concern: dead and dying dolphins have washed up in Coney Island creek, the Gowanus canal and elsewhere.

Photo by Brian Hoo

Queens State Senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill that would establish a two-year moratorium on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to eliminate 2,200 mute swans – the same scenic species that populates Sheepshead Bay’s marina. Local Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz announced today that he will follow suit with an Assembly version, having previously spoken out on the issue.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate’s environmental conservation committee.

The news was announced last week in a press release by Friends of Animals, an animal protection organization. From that release:

“I was horrified to learn that our state wildlife agency would make such an extreme, unfounded proposal, and do not believe that the DEC has provided evidence to justify the elimination of these beautiful swans,” Avella said. “The public outcry has been severe—many New York residents do not want to see mute swans eliminated and animal advocacy organizations, wildlife experts, rehabilitators and others have also joined the chorus of opposition.  In addition, to imposing a two-year moratorium, my bill requires DEC to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans.”

… Donald S. Heintzelman, ornithologist, author and authority on Northern migratory swans and mute swans states,  “My professional opinion is that these public disputes about mute swans are overblown and unnecessary. These birds do not cause catastrophic damage, although most state wildlife agencies have engrained in their official mindsets the notion that mute swans should be destroyed merely because they are non-native species that might compete with native tundra swans and more rarely trumpeter swans. In fact, tundra swans very rarely are seen in New York State (and hence are irrelevant to the agencies’ mindsets).

“As for the few trumpeter swans living at two locations in the state, they are geographically far removed from Long Island and thus are not impacted by mute swans on Long Island. Certainly, mute swans are not pushing out New York’s small population of trumpeter swans. Furthermore, arguments that mute swans are aggressive, and also consume large amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation, are greatly overblown—and represent bad science.”

Cymbrowitz’s office issued a release this afternoon confirming that he would be the Assembly sponsor. From their release:

“Wildlife experts and environmentalists are not unanimous in their belief that exterminating the mute swan population is justified, and there’s plenty of debate over whether eradicating mute swans will be even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or our environment,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. Also, while it makes for a good anecdote, there is evidence that nary a human has been attacked by a mute swan, he said. While the graceful birds may hiss in an effort to protect their young, experts said the swans are rarely if ever moved to unprovoked aggression against people.

He noted that three other states – Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut – currently use non-lethal methods to control their mute swan populations. Only Maryland exterminates the birds, “which demonstrates that the precedent is there for using a humane alternative,” he said.

The community can comment on the DEC’s plan until February 21. To do so, write to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Swan Plan” in the subject line).

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Down by the water on Webers Court, swans have become a common sight, unless the state changes that.
Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Paige Strackman has lived for eight years in her home on Webers Court, a bungalow-lined private street off Emmons Avenue that ends in a sandy lump on the water’s edge. It’s a haven for the area’s mute swans, who live alongside their human neighbors in what may be the most intimate cohabitation between the waterfowl and city dwellers.

Strackman has come to regard the big white birds standing about or looking for food on the waterfront as a part of her community, where there is usually a group of 10 or more . But if the state gets its way, the birds will vanish from the landscape.

The state recently released plans to kill and remove all of New York State’s mute swans. According to a report released by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), mute swans like the one in Strackman’s community are a problem. We recently summarized the department’s justifications:

  • Swans destroy aquatic vegetation
  • Swans can be aggressive towards people
  • Swans are territorial, and displace native wildlife species
  • Waste produced by swans can upset the chemical balance of waterways like Sheepshead Bay

Strackman doesn’t know anything about the plans, nor does she agree with the characterization of swans being aggressive or territorial.

“For us, they’re part of a landscape.” she said. “It seems like they’re a natural part of the environment.” But the DEC categorizes the swans as an “invasive species.”

Peter Feeds The Swan

Peter, a local landlord, attempts to herd a stray swan back to Webers Court by feeding it bread. Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

While Strackman was talking about the swans, a landlord for an Emmons Avenue apartment attempted to herd a stray swan back to Webers Court and its sliver of beach head. The landlord, Peter, didn’t want to reveal his last name. As he led the swan away from the car-filled streets with bread, he explained that every so often swans get lost and end up on the avenue away from their group.

Aware of these dangers, Strackman said, “I worry more for their safety. It’s an urban environment and you have the cars that could hit them and then there’s the problem with polluted water.”

The DEC traces the swan’s history back to the late-1800s, when they first began to appear in North America. Since then the population boomed to more than 2,220 across the state. But 25 years ago, swans were not as common of a sight as they are today in Webers Court and Sheepshead Bay, according to Strackman’s neighbor, Cliff Bruckenstein.

“I don’t see them destroying anything,” said Bruckenstein, who has lived on Webers Court for 25 years. Bruckenstein went on to challenge the DEC’s claim that the mute swan can be bellicose. “They’re really not an aggressive species. They only get protective around their nests.”

Among the many things the department plans on doing if the plans aren’t altered is to kill and capture them, as we previously reported. If approved, the agency would conduct mute swan control on any accessible public or private lands in the state – including Webers Court and the Sheepshead Bay marina. Any swans removed will be euthanized. Nests will be destroyed, and eggs will be oiled or punctured.

“They want to kill a species that has been bred into [New York State],” Bruckenstein said in response to the plans. “I think it’s very much the wrong thing to do when there are many other things to do.”

“They’re no longer an invasive species,” he said. “They’re good neighbors.”

The Department for Environmental Conservation is taking comments on the draft plan. Deadline for comments is February 21. You can write to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Swan Plan” in the subject line).

Photo by Brian Hoo

We recently published an article announcing New York State’s newest plan to eliminate mute swan, the iconic species the dot the Sheepshead Bay waterfront, from the state. Many of the news reports – including our own – were somewhat vague about the plan, so we read through it and compiled a list of things you should know about the “Management Plan for Mute Swans in New York State” released by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The document can be read in full here.

It may seem like New York State only recently began picking on these swans that have become a part of Sheepshead Bay and other areas. But the state has had its sights on these big white birds since 1993 when the conservation department adopted a mute swan “management policy.” The newest plan only intensifies the state’s efforts to remove mute swans from the whole state by 2025.

Let’s start with why the DEC wants to eliminate mute swans. The overarching concern is that the swans, which are an invasive species brought here from Europe, live a damaging lifestyle that causes harm to the habitat of native species. Here are some of the details mentioned in the report:

  • Swans destroy aquatic vegetation
  • By eliminating vegetation, swans reduce cover and habitat for native marine life, altering their population balance
  • Swans can be aggressive towards people
  • Swans are territorial, and displace native wildlife species
  • Waste produced by swans can upset the chemical balance of waterways like Sheepshead Bay

Below is a list highlighting “the management strategies” the environmental department plans to implement. We’ve left out some that are unlikely to be implemented locally, like allowing hunters to take swan as game:

  • Capture and kill them.  This, of course, is the plan that has received the most attention. This plan is simple enough: authorize the DEC to conduct mute swan control on any accessible public or private lands in the state. This plan will be emphasized downstate, in the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, and especially near airports – making Sheepshead Bay a prime target. Any swans removed will be euthanized. Nests will be destroyed, and eggs will be oiled or punctured.
  • Feeding is bad. User “sadeyes” commented on the last article and wrote that “the problem is not the swans, but the humans who constantly overfeed them,” a sentiment that is similar to the government’s. In the DEC’s plan, they write that part of the mute swan problem is that people provide them “with supplemental feeding,” and the DEC hopes to combat this with a public information campaign, and new laws that prohibit the feeding of swans.
  • Prevent flight and sex.At 20 to 25 pounds and a wing span of nearly seven feet, adult mute swans are the biggest bird in the state, according to the DEC. They often migrate and the DEC wants to prevent that by removing a bone in their wings to prevent flight, a process known as pinioning. With over 2,200 swans in the state that they would have to pinion, pinioning seems a little too resource intensive to be used for the majority of the population. They also seek to pursue sterilization, and egg oiling.
  • No more selling a swan. The DEC wants to make it illegal for people to sell and buy swans. This goes back to ultimately eliminating wild swans by preventing people from releasing bought mute swans back in the wild.
  • Allow for the adoption of free-ranging mute swans. While pursuing a ban on the importation of mute swans, the DEC is also proposing that those who wish to own them obtain a license and capture them from the free-ranging population. Adopted swans would then have to be pinioned or sterilization, and permanent markings.

These strategies are supported by the field research of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from 2004-2007. The underlying reasoning is that mute swans live a damaging lifestyle.

Our community seems to have a lot to say about these swans. There are a number of petitions going around, but the best way to be heard on this issue is to directly comment on the plan using the Department of Environmental Conservation’s methods.

Deadline for comments is February 21. You can write to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Swan Plan” in the subject line).

Photo by Brian Hoo

The water gently lulls as the seagulls echo each other and the swans create the soft ripples that circle outwards towards idyllic sidewalks filled with baby strollers and joggers wearing winter gloves.

The picturesque Sheepshead Bay waterfront might lend itself to such poetry now, but if the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation gets its way, we might have to omit those iconic swans.

The DEC issued a report in December 2013 called the “Management Plan for Mute Swans in New York State,” in which the particular species of swan – mute swan, hailing from Europe – are considered “invasive species.” Although they have been in North America since the late-1800s, and failed to garner much complaint from pretty much anybody, the agency has instituted a timeline for their removal.

In the more than a century that they’ve been here, the mute swan population has flourished in Sheepshead Bay, and even become a much commented upon icon of its waterfront. Statewide, there are about 2,200 mute swans, according to the report.

The DEC claims that the mute swans have caused problems “including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality, and potential hazards to aviation.”

But some New Yorkers, like these involved with a Change.org petition feel this is “wrong—it is cruel, and not how New Yorkers want our taxpayer dollars spent.”

The Change.org petition notes that the DEC’s “outline for management seeks complete and total decimation of the species by the year 2025.”

This announcement follows the euthanized geese at Jamaica Bay and the decision, since reversed, to shoot Snowy owls out of the sky around New York airports.

You can sign the petition here.

– Vanessa Ogle

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