Monthly Archives: September 2017

a Snip and a Stitch

Solving Staten Island’s Deer Problem With a Snip and a Stitch

New York Times, September 22nd, 2017


In a quiet patch of thorny wineberry bushes on Staten Island, a white-tailed deer snored loudly, oblivious to the team of humans gathered around him.

For the two young does that looked on from a distance, it must have been a peculiar sight: One of the deer’s legs was roped up to a tree, his eyes were covered in blue fabric, and a tube in his snout delivered oxygen from a tank.

Nathan Kotschwar, a veterinarian, knelt on the dirt ground and quickly performed a vasectomy – slicing, stitching and stapling the deer’s hindquarters in less than 15 minutes.

The operation in Butler Manor Woods on a recent Tuesday was part of an effort by New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation to reduce Staten Island’s growing deer population by sterilizing every male deer in the borough.

After the surgery, the deer’s ears were tagged with a number — 804 — and, about 25 minutes later, he woke up and groggily stumbled into the bushes.

By then, Mr. Kotschwar, who left the sleeping animal in the care of a colleague, was long gone.

“I’m going to go find the next one,” he had said, before disappearing into the woods.

In deer sterilization programs in cities across the country, including Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Mich., and upstate in Hastings-on-Hudson, the does are usually targeted for surgical or chemical sterilization. The experiment in Staten Island is the first in the nation to try and cull the population solely though vasectomies, according to City Hall.

If successful, the experiment could serve as a model for other metropolitan areas overrun by deer.

“People said it was just not logistically possible to capture this many deer and sterilize them,” said Sarah Aucoin, chief of education and wildlife for the city’s parks department. “But we can tell you that it’s not logistically impossible. We are reaching the number of deer we were hoping for.”

The city oversaw 720 vasectomies last year, when the project launched, and they estimate that about 92 percent of the sexually active male deer on the island were sterilized. Last month, a six-person team began searching for the remaining adult bucks, as well as younger males, which they estimated to be about 250 in August.

For years, environmental officials and local leaders, including the Staten Island borough president, have said that the increased deer population was a nuisance and health hazard. Deer can put drivers in dangerous situations during the fall mating season, when the frisky animals cross roads in search of a mate. Last year, the Health Department confirmed 93 new cases of Lyme disease in Staten Island, a record high, and residents have complained about chewed-up flower beds and gardens. The parks department has fenced off parks and planted deer-resistant vegetation to keep the city’s greenery out of the mouths of hungry deer.

The parks department first began receiving regular reports of deer in the borough in 2000. With no natural predators, and hunting outlawed in the city, the population grew rapidly. The department estimates there are now about 2,000 deer on Staten Island — in 2008, a study by the state counted 24.

In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio assembled an interagency task force to deal with the deer. Last year, the parks department hired White Buffalo, a nonprofit organization led by Anthony DeNicola that works to conserve native species and ecosystems, to perform the vasectomies as part of a research project. The nonlethal experiment to reduce the deer population will cost the city $3.3 million over three years.

Because bucks can travel great distances to breed, sterilizing them requires covering a lot of ground. So cities with deer sterilization programs have mostly focused on sterilizing the female deer, which are more stationary. But on Staten Island, Dr. DeNicola saw an opportunity to do something different.

Namely, because it is an island, finding all of the males is possible, Dr. DeNicola, said.

The borough’s suburban geography also helps. Dr. DeNicola and his team cannot chase deer through backyards or dart them in populated areas. Instead, he waits for them to arrive at bait sites in wooded areas throughout the island.

“A family of females is social,” he said, meaning they travel in a group. “So after I shoot one, the others will watch her tip over. They learn pretty fast that this bait ain’t so good.”

Over time, he said, the females will learn to avoid the traps. But the bucks, which usually travel solo, almost always take the bait.

Also, he said, a vasectomy is less invasive and easier to execute than female sterilization.

That is not to say, though, that the parks department’s experiment in vasectomies is without problems.

“With any deer fertility control study, once you’ve started it, then there has to be constant maintenance for the foreseeable future,” said Paul Curtis, a professor at Cornell University and an expert on community-based deer management.

Even if 99 percent of the males are sterilized, he added, “you’re still going to see some immigration on the island.”

“So the question is,” he said, “can you get those new males when they first arrive and catch them efficiently and get them sterilized before they impregnate too many does?”

Dr. Curtis said the program on Staten Island also might not solve one of the borough’s immediate problems with the deer: car accidents.

“Typically deer vehicle accidents peak in November during the peak of the rut,” he said, using a term for the mating season. “Once the rut’s done, the number of accidents falls off pretty quickly in a normal herd.”

But if the females continue the mating season into late winter, he said, “there’s definitely the potential for an increased number of deer-vehicle collisions, particularly in January and February when the does continue to cycle.”

Dr. DeNicola disagrees. He believes the males determine the mating season. Come winter, when their testosterone levels drop, they will stop chasing the females around the island as they normally would, he said. “I just have to prove that.”

But even Dr. DeNicola will admit that the Staten Island experiment has its challenges.

Like traffic, for example. Getting one of the two veterinarians on staff to an unconscious deer in the car-dependent borough before the drugs wear off can be tough, he said.

And in the big city, the veterinarians must be flexible.

“After you dart a deer, they can run three or four hundred yards before it’s going to be down,” Dr. DeNicola said. His team operates on them where they fall: in industrial parks, cemeteries, or near the side of the road.

In the past, Dr. DeNicola and his team would sometimes carry the deer to a car and then drive them to a trailer for the surgery, before releasing them where they were knocked out. So far this year, his team has performed all the operations in the field, which he said is easier on his team, both logistically and physically.

If the program is successful and all the male deer on the island are sterilized, the population is expected to drop by 10 to 30 percent every year, Ms. Aucoin said. Once most of the male deer are sterilized, a program would need to be established to vasectomize any deer that may swim over from New Jersey, where the borough’s deer are thought to have originated.

The goal is not eradicating the deer from the island, she said: “We are looking to move the population to a sustainable level.”

“There’s an ecological carrying capacity, but there’s also a social carrying capacity,” Ms. Aucoin added. “How much do people want to see deer? How much of these impacts are they willing to live with?”


I hate birds except for Greg Bird

Sheepshead Bay’s swans are safe!

Courier Life, September 22nd, 2017


There will be no swan song in Sheepshead Bay!

The costal neighborhood’s beloved mute swans have been spared in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s latest “swan management” plan — which aims to control the non-native species population in the seaside neighborhood without resorting to execution. The state agency is asking the public for comment before Dec. 13, Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) announced on Sept. 7.

The birds, which were brought to the New York region in the 1800s as a way to beautify estates, have become just as much a part of the community as the residents, the pol said, and it’s swanderful news that they will stay put.

“It’s clear from the new region-specific recommendations that DEC has been listening to the concerns of thousands of advocates in my district and across the state who don’t want mute swans to disappear from our communities,” Cymbrowitz said.

Last November, Gov. Cuomo finally — after two previous vetoes — signed off on the Sheepshead Bay pol’s legislation demanding a two-year moratorium on slaughtering the fowls by the state’s 2025 death deadline while the agency studied if they were really as harmful to the environment as researchers had claimed, because they allegedly destroy native plants, displace native wildlife, diminish water quality, and pose a physical danger to other animals, including humans.

The state agency solicited public comments over the last three years, and its latest plan now suggests managing the species, known as Cygnus olor, in Sheepshead Bay and other downstate regions by using non-lethal means — specifically by coating their eggs in oil, destroying nests, or inhibiting them from mating by only allowing either a male of female on private properties.

The plan also calls for outreach to the public to warn how territorial the swans can get and discouraging feeding, according to the state documents.

Unfortunately, the birds up north won’t get the same leniency, but will be targeted more aggressively. Nonetheless, the plan is still a win, since the swans will get to fly free, said Cymbrowitz.

“Many people in southern Brooklyn and across the state find the swans beautiful and a welcome addition to our communities,” he said. “The thought of the state coming in and shooting or gassing these birds is not acceptable to anyone.”

Read more about the swan management plan here:

Write in with public comments to Bureau of Wildlife — Mute Swan Plan at 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233, or e-mailing Wildlife (subject line — “Mute Swan Plan”). The public comment period closes Dec. 13, 2017.

Death from above

Birds’ bodies littering Bklyn streets after fatal collisions with windows

The Brooklyn Paper, September 19th, 2017


These birds are going into the light.

Brooklyn’s sidewalks have become a graveyard for tiny yellow birds dying en masse this month because they are flying into windows as they journey south, according to a local aviary expert.

“It’s migration season right now and it’s likely they’re hitting buildings,” said Robert Bate, president of the Brooklyn Bird Club. “It’s a huge problem in New York City.”

Common Yellowthroat Warblers — a small species with brown feathers on top and yellow on the bottom — trek from as far north as the Arctic down to South America in September and October in search of more bugs to feast on as the weather cools.

They are typically nimble, Bate said, but travel at night and get confused when they see a light through a window or glass that reflects the sky, causing them to flutter straight into the surface.

New York City is located along the “Atlantic Flyway” — a route that cuts through the city and is traversed by hundreds of thousands of birds each year, some of which do not make it to their final destination because of the metropolis’ many reflective buildings, according to Bate.

Brooklynites began noticing the dead birds on sidewalks in Downtown, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Bay Ridge earlier this month, around the same time the Aves started flying towards warmer climates. Concerned mothers of kids who encountered the lifeless warblers posted in Facebook groups about what they saw, prompting dozens of replies from others who also witnessed their yellow bodies littering the sidewalks.

A Boerum Hill woman reported finding four in one day and her doorman told her that he swept up five in one brush.

“It just seems so out of the blue, people are seeing them all over the place,” said Brooke Suveyke, who lives on State Street.

Another resident agreed that something just didn’t seem right.

“It’s upsetting for me to see this one species of bird dying like this,” said Kacey Kaufman, a Bay Ridgite who found one of the winged creatures on Wednesday. “There’s something unnatural going on, it’s heartbreak­ing.”

Residents didn’t know what led to the mass fatalities and feared that whatever was causing the birds to drop from the sky could also harm humans.

Kaufman called 311 to alert the city to the issue, but the operator told her that a person must see at least 10 dead birds to make a report. Outraged, she then called the Department of Health, and a rep gave her the same response. But the mom pushed back and eventually was asked to send a photo that the agency could share with the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, which works with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to study and protect wildlife.

The center’s research team is sending Kaufman a cooler to pack with five of the dead birds, which she will ship back for them to examine.

But Bate doesn’t think there’s a cause for the feathered ones’ untimely deaths beyond their fatal collisions.

“I haven’t heard of anything other than glass that could really bring down birds in large numbers, especially at this time of the year,” he said.

Some builders take measures to safeguard birds from their mirror-like structures by installing special glass with ultraviolet patterns so the Aves, which can see that type of light, know not to fly into it. Another way developers can ensure their buildings are not deadly to birds is to install glass that isn’t completely reflective, so the fliers can tell the difference between sky and structure.

And anyone who finds a dead bird in their nabe is encouraged to report it to the New York City Audubon Society’s “D-bird” database, which the preservation group uses to track deceased creatures across the city.



State Emergency Operations Center in Enhanced Monitoring Mode Until Further Notice

Long Island Welcome Center Currently in Emergency Management Mode and Will Be Base of Operations

Personnel and Equipment – Including 100 National Guard Members, New York Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team, 24 High-Axle Vehicles, 21 Boats, and Other Assets Pre-Deployed Across Long Island

Stockpile Resources – Including Sandbags, Generators and Pumps – Also Prepared for Deployment

All State Beaches on Long Island Closed for Swimming

As Onondaga Lake cleanup winds down, new threats to lake, rivers emerge

Updated on September 8, 2017 at 12:58 PM Posted on September 8, 2017 at 11:57 AM

By Glenn Coin


Syracuse, N.Y. — As the cleanup of industrial pollution in Onondaga Lake enters its last phases, scientists are turning their attention to new threats to the lake, its river system and Lake Ontario.

Researchers from Syracuse University and the Upstate Freshwater Institute this summer are measuring the amount of pesticides, personal care products and pharmaceuticals pouring into the lake and river system from water treatment plants. The chemicals, known as "contaminants of emerging concern," are suspected of altering the function of hormones in humans and wildlife.

Onondaga Lake is particularly susceptible to those contaminants because up to 20 percent of the water that flows into the lake comes through the Onondaga County water treatment plant at the south end. That might be the highest percentage of any lake in the state, said Dave Matthews, director of the freshwater institute and one of the researchers in the study.

"It’s a relatively large treatment plant and a relatively small lake," he said. "The lake gets 20 percent of its water from a wastewater treatment plant that wasn’t designed to eliminate these emerging contaminants. It would seem to be an interesting place to look for them."

Researchers are collecting water samples from Onondaga Lake and the Oneida, Seneca and Oswego rivers all the way to Lake Ontario. The $24,502 study is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

"This region serves as a prime site for this research because it receives high volumes of treated sewage from municipal wastewater treatment plants and is a major source of water to Lake Ontario," according to the initiative.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has put a new focus on emerging contaminants, which include personal care products that contain microbeads, pesticides, and drugs that pass through human digestive systems and then through sewage treatment plants into the environment.

The chemicals are part of a group called endocrine disruptors, which can "alter the normal functions of hormones, resulting in a variety of health effects" on humans and wildlife, the EPA said.

"Contaminants of emerging concern … are increasingly being detected at low levels in surface water," the EPA said, "and there is concern that these compounds may have an impact on aquatic life."

Matthews said the study will give the first glimpse into the amount of emerging contaminants in the lake and river system.

"This grant is intended to provide seed money to take an initial look to see if there’s anything interesting that would be deserving of further research," Matthews said.

The contaminants could be one reason Onondaga Lake has fewer amphibians than similar lakes, Matthews said.

"There’s a potential linkage between these emerging contaminants and the reproduction of sensitive organisms," Matthews said. "Amphibians tend to be one of the most sensitive species, so they can tell you about the health of the ecosystem."

Other research has suggested that mercury, which was dumped into the lake for decades and infiltrated the food chain from frogs to bats, might also be a culprit behind the low number of amphibians around the lake.

Matthews said water samples taken this summer will be analyzed and processed over the winter, and a results should be reported in early 2018.

“Trash is a problem, or not”

Cuomo Doubling Litter Fine To $100 To Combat Trash In Subway System

WCBS TV, September 7th, 2017


Cuomo took a tour overnight of filthy track beds along the downtown No. 6 line in Union Square to shine a light on what he calls the epidemic of subway system trash.

“We have to stop the trash and the litter,” Cuomo said.

Every day discarded items get whipped up when trains rush in and out and they wind up on tracks where water, much of it coming from thousands of leaks in the stations, move bottles, paper, and other trash to the drains, clogging them, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.

Cuomo explained the clogged drains lead to delays and major problems, including rusted rails and rotted ties.

And in dry conditions the trash can catch fire.

In July, garbage caught fire on the tracks in Harlem and disrupted morning rush hour service for thousands of subway riders. Nine people were treated for smoke inhalation.

“The amount of trash and debris that comes out of the subway system is literally unbelievable. This has just started, crews have removed 2.3 million pounds of dirt and trash, 70,000 pounds in a single day,” Cuomo said.

As part of the effort to crack down on litterbugs, Cuomo announced fines for littering will double next week from $50 to $100.

“You’re going to get a ticket for $100 and $100 is a real fine,” Cuomo said.

The subway anti-littering effort is the state’s so taking the lead with enforcement is the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation has a police force we intend to put to use for this purpose,” a DEC official said.

But MTA Police and NYPD officers will also enforce it.

The governor also announced the recent purchase of new equipment, including a power snake to unclog the drains, a massive vacuum and smaller vacuums that can go station to station.

Another part of the effort is fixing the more than 4,000 water leaks that have been identified in subway stations.

Cuomo also said the state is working with Con Ed on power fluctuations, which the governor says are also a major cause of delays.

Idlewild Park’s newest residents, diamondback terrapins, get protection from city, area volunteers

AM New York, August 30th, 2017


It’s tough being a terrapin in Queens.

If raccoons don’t raid their nests, other predators snatch hatchlings as they take their first steps.

But for the first time, the city is helping give some diamondback terrapins at Idlewild Park in Queens a fighting chance.

The Parks Department and local volunteers set up protective cages around 27 nests a few weeks ago and have been monitoring them since. Each nest holds between seven and 13 eggs.

The first of the hatchlings appeared Tuesday to the delight of Ellen Pehek, principal research ecologist at the Parks Department’s Natural Resources Group. Pehek said cages have been successful at keeping out the hungry raccoons, despite the masked bandits’ efforts to dig under them.

High school volunteers cut small holes in the cages so the hatchlings can crawl out.

“We think we have quite a few little babies getting ready to come out and help the population,” Pehek said.

A crew of Parks employees and volunteers from the Eastern Queens Alliance will move the tiny terrapins — not much larger than a silver dollar — to safer sites in the park.

“We want to help them get to some cover vegetation,” said Pehek. “Crows and gulls can be a problem. Sometimes the hatchlings spend winter on land, burrowing under the vegetation and don’t go into the water until next year.”

Terrapins, the primary ingredient in once-popular turtle soup, have plummeted in number over the past century due to overharvesting. The population remains relatively strong in the Jamaica Bay area, where they are often seen crawling across the runways of JFK Airport.

But the state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to stop legal harvesting of the diamondback terrapin noting “a single season of intensive harvesting has the potential to endanger this species in New York.”

Terrapins also face other man-made hazards, such as drowning in crab traps and pollution.

“They are part of the whole salt marsh ecosystem,” Pehek said. “They eat mud snails and other snails that would otherwise overpopulate and consume the marsh grasses, which help buffer storm surges. They keep the marsh going.”