Author Archives: Suzi

About Suzi

No more wandering in the Hudson Valley. I have achieved my dream, it was a long time working toward it, but now I am here, living in NYC. My dream, my goal, my purpose in life.

A Mammoth Step in the Pursuit of Illicit Ivory Sales

New York Times, April 4th, 2017


The windows of the gallery and the floors of its aisles are lined with animals, in herds and singly. Lions. Giraffes. Monkeys. And elephants, bulls, cows and calves. Most were cast from poured metal.

About two years ago, though, a couple browsing the shop, Landmark Gallery on West 58th Street, spotted netsuke, tiny carved statues of a cartoonish bunny and dog, and of a woman embracing a gigantic nose.

These, the store said, were hewed from the ivory tusks of mammoths, extinct mammals frozen by the tens of millions in Siberian permafrost.

In a world of nonstop disasters, this shopping expedition would represent one success in protecting living creatures with personalities and social qualities as big as their bodies.

The couple doing the shopping were investigators from the Department of Environmental Conservation, who suspected — correctly — that Landmark was actually selling elephant ivory under the guise of mammoth.

Outside of Asia, New York City has been one of the leading markets in the world for ivory, although by that day in the spring of 2015, the sale of ivory had been banned under a state law that took effect the year before. (Antique musical instruments containing a small quantity of ivory can still be sold.)

Ivory comes from the elephant tusk, an incisor tooth that can grow to more than 10 feet. The quickest way to get it is to kill the elephant, hack the tusk from its head and put the ivory into the hands of middlemen who deliver it as a raw material for carvers. Thus, the largest land creatures on earth, which are thought by some to mourn the deaths of other elephants, were being killed by the tens of thousands every year for whatever human vanities could be satisfied by trinkets and baubles. All that remained of a 13,000-pound mammal would be a few delicate ounces of ivory, displayed under glass in the windows of Midtown Manhattan.

The purpose of the ban was to take the economic incentives out of the frenzy of slaughter that has driven African elephants toward extinction.

The law gave dealers two years to sell their mammoth ivory. Some conservationists believed that satiating the market’s appetite for ivory with extinct creatures would protect living ones.

To the untrained eye, there is little to distinguish elephant ivory from mammoth, but scientists at the American Museum of Natural History were able to determine that Landmark’s so-called mammoth ivory was from elephants.

The company that owns Landmark Gallery pleaded guilty this month to felony charges made stiffer under the 2014 law. It was the first time the new law was applied. The company’s owners, two brothers named Behrooz Torkian and Hersel Torkian, were not charged but the case remains under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

A visitor to the gallery last week was told by a salesman that neither Torkian was available.

Asked if any ivory was for sale, the employee replied, “We don’t sell ivory.”

That was not always true.

“In the past, yes,” he said.

The international horror over the killing of elephants led to ivory bans in the United States and China. The wholesale price in China is now less than half what it was three years ago, the wildlife organization Save the Elephants reported this week.

A snap survey done last year found ivory to be much scarcer in New York and in other major American cities than it had been a decade ago, according to a report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Traffic, which monitors wildlife trade. Still, “New York remains, unfortunately, a robust market for ivory,” Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said.

That’s what Wendy Hapgood, an elephant conservationist, found when she took a journalism class last year at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. She wrote a detailed report on ivory in the tourist shops of Midtown Manhattan. Along the way, she met the state environmental investigators.

So among the penalties paid by Landmark — $150,000 in sales tax, the forfeiture of ivory valued at $250,000 — was one that seemed to be worth more than just money.

For its crimes, Landmark also had to pay $50,000 to Ms. Hapgood’s group, the Wild Tomorrow Fund. The state says it will help pay for gear and training for rangers fighting elephant and rhinoceros poachers in southern Africa. “Fifty thousand dollars!” Ms. Hapgood said. “That goes a long way on the ground there.”

N.Y. state officials warn not to attract bears with food

Seems like this would be a no-brainer, but ….

Natural Resources:

New York Daily News, March 28th, 2017


ALBANY — Black bears are active again with warmer weather, and New York State officials are warning people not to attract them with food left outside.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said most nuisance bear encounters happen when hungry bears are attracted to human food sources.

If you live in an area near bears, take down bird feeders after April 1 and store garbage in a secure building, the agency said.

Hoemowners should also clean barbecue grills before nighttime — and never intentionally feed bears.

New York State is home to more than 6,000 bears.

Greens Ask N.Y. to Crack Down on Dairy Farms



March 30, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Cows, whose methane-emitting flatulence has been cited as a culprit in global warming, now are being blamed, along with New York’s State Department of Environmental Conservation, for contaminating the state’s water supply with manure.

Riverkeeper and four other groups, including fly fishers and the Sierra Club, sued the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany Supreme Court, demanding it strengthen a general water permit for large farm operations to bring it into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

As many as 267 industrial dairies covered by state permitting have more than 200 cows and “a history or likelihood of discharging to surface waters,” according to the March 27 complaint. (11)

An average dairy cow produces more than 120 pounds of manure per day, so the average large industrial dairy in New York, with 950 cows, produces more than 110,000 pounds of animal waste per day: “more waste than every city in New York other than New York City,” according to the complaint.

By contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an average household of four people produces about one pound of sewage waste per day.

However, human waste is treated year round — cow manure is not.

“Dairy cow sewage, by contrast, is usually held in lagoons until it is spread on fields,” the complaint states.

Those “massive lagoons” are generally not lined and the waste gets no significant treatment it is spread onto fields.

Industrial dairies have been responsible for numerous water contamination fiascos in New York State, according to the complaint.

“A discharge from one industrial facility caused a 25-by-75 foot plume of liquid manure to enter Lake Owasco, a source of drinking water for 44,000 residents in central New York,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say they have many more documented examples.

They ask the court to order New York to strengthen its general permitting for industrial farms. They say the U.S. EPA warned the state when it was drafting the permit that it did not comply with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA wrote the state as recently as March 10 to advise it of “continued permit deficiencies with respect to ‘transparency, state oversight, and opportunities for public participation’ and recommending that DEC revise the permit.”

The Clean Water Act requires that medium and large industrial farms with a history of discharging into nearby waters be “subject to a permit that contains important enforceable safety restrictions, is reviewed and approved by impartial state experts, and is available to the public, including nearby residents.”

The plaintiffs say New York’s permit does not meet those standards.

The other plaintiffs are the Cortland-Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Associations, Theodore Flyfishers, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Their lead attorney is Eve Gartner, with Earthjustice in New York City.

The average dairy cow can emit 200 to 450 liters of methane per day, through farts and burps, according to cow flatulence publications.

Yes, there are such things.

Politico NY: Flanagan says water infrastructure deal ‘close’

Politico NY: Flanagan says water infrastructure deal ‘close’

By Marie French

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said Thursday a multi-billion dollar deal on water infrastructure will include priorities for communities across the state.

Flanagan declined to give a specific number for the package, although $2.5 billion is figure that’s been circulated and reported by the Buffalo News’ Tom Precious.

“The most fundamental point is that we’re all having discussions about water quality, things like sewage treatment, and things of that nature," Flanagan said. "I view that as an unbelievable positive because we’re looking to do a multi-billion dollar investment so that’s good for every community across the state of New York."

Flanagan said a deal was "close, but nothing final." The package does include source water protection, he said. That’s a major priority for environmental groups who emphasize protecting drinking water sources pro-actively saves money in the long run.

Flanagan also mentioned water contamination issues that have cropped up in Sen. Kathy Marchione’s district in Hoosick Falls and in Sen. Bill Larkin’s district in Newburgh.

Hoosick Falls’ water was contaminated with PFOA from historical manufacturing and Newburgh’s water was contaminated with PFOS believed to be from firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard Base. Flanagan also mentioned Sen. Patty Ritchie, who has raised concerns about salt contamination.

"It’s such a wide array of things… it’s all across the state,” Flanagan said.

Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from Cohoes, said the water package has grown to include more issues than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially proposed in his $2 billion plan. He said discussions have included hooking up septic systems to sewers and land acquisition money for communities grappling with contamination.

Money is also being included for New York City, he said, leading to more engagement from the entire conference. Assembly Democrats included $200 million for New York City water projects in their one-house budget proposal.

"We’re not talking about cutting the governor’s proposal, we’re expanding on it," McDonald said.

DEC Announces Conviction of Manhattan Antique Merchant in Ivory Case

Landmark Gallery Skirted Law by Advertising Illegal Elephant Ivory as Legal Mammoth Ivory
The corporation that owns a Manhattan art and antique store pled guilty to selling illegal elephant ivory in New York State’s first Class D felony conviction since new ivory legislation was instituted in 2014, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today.

The case started in April 2015, when DEC Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) received a tip that Landmark Gallery in Midtown Manhattan was selling hand-carved ivory pieces. An investigation revealed that Landmark was advertising the pieces as carved mammoth tusks.

Changes to New York State’s ivory law in 2014 made mammoth ivory illegal to sell without a permit. However dealers were given a two year sell-by period for liquidating existing stock before enforcement would take effect. This created a loophole that Landmark Gallery attempted to exploit.

"Restricting the market for ivory trade will help bring an end to the slaughtering of elephants and sends a clear message that we will not allow this immoral and criminal activity to continue in New York," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "The illegal ivory trade is an international issue and our state remains vigilant in its pursuit of this industry that is killing elephants at a rate of 96 animals per day. I applaud the work of our Environmental Conservation Officers, our state and federal partners and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office who advanced this case, and urge other states and nations to join us in working to protect this endangered species for generations to come."

ECOs from the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit purchased several pieces in the store and brought the items to the American Museum of Natural History for morphological analysis. Experts at the museum determined that the pieces were carved from elephant ivory.

On June 10, 2015, ECOs were joined by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents and New York State Taxation and Finance investigators in executing a search warrant at Landmark Gallery retail offices, which resulted in the seizure of 47 different elephant ivory articles valued at more than $250,000.

"This case exemplifies our strong partnership with New York and the DEC and our commitment to working together to hold accountable those who profit from the illegal sale of wildlife," said Honora Gordon, Northeast Region Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On Wednesday, the corporation that owns Landmark Gallery – 128 West 58th St. LLC. – co-owned by brothers Behrooz Torkian and Hersel Torkian, was charged with two felony charges related to the illegal sale of elephant ivory, one count of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class D felony, and one count of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class E felony.

"New York is one of the largest markets for illegal ivory trade in the United States," said New York County District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. "Over the past few years, we’ve taken a hard-line approach to ending a devastating commercial practice that has resulted in the near extinction of an endangered species. In Manhattan, this has meant advocating for tougher laws and aggressively prosecuting those who sell illegal ivory. In order to protect the world’s last living elephants, ending the domestic ivory trade here at home as well as abroad must be our collective goal, and I encourage others to follow China’s recent decision to cease all ivory trading by the end of this year. I also thank Governor Andrew Cuomo and our partners at DEC for their continued commitment to this important issue."

Landmark pled guilty to the more serious D felony, admitting to violating New York State’s more restrictive ivory ban by illegally selling elephant ivory in excess of $25,000. Upon entering the plea, the corporation was ordered to forfeit 47 seized ivory items with an estimated value of more than $250,000, pay to New York State Department of Taxation and Finance $150,000 for New York State/New York City sales tax liability owed for the period of March 1, 2010 to May 31, 2015, and donate $50,000 to the conservation organization, Wildlife Tomorrow Fund, for use in the organization’s projects involving elephant population protection, anti-poaching efforts, and land conservation.

"This investigation uncovered multiple crimes, including the failure to pay tens of thousands of dollars in sales tax to both the city and the state – funds needed to pay for a variety of critical public services that benefit all New Yorkers," said New York State Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion. "It’s a serious crime, and as this case shows, it won’t be tolerated."

Landmark was also ordered to pay $2,000 to DEC in restitution for state funds used in the case.

This case was investigated by DEC’s BECI officers Lt. Jesse Paluch, Lt. Liza Bobseine, and Inv. Eric Dowling and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Adam Maltz of the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

The comprehensive ivory legislation, signed by Governor Cuomo in 2014, strengthened criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions endanger elephant populations worldwide.

Due to the demand for illegal wildlife products like ivory, poachers are slaughtering elephants and selling ivory for large profit. As a result of this illegal activity, some species of elephants and rhinos are threatened with extinction. New York is believed to be the largest market for ivory in the United States.

"Wild Tomorrow Fund highly commends the efforts of the investigative team at DEC and the New York County District Attorney’s office in curbing the illegal elephant ivory trade in New York," said John Steward, Founder and Executive Director of Wild Tomorrow Fund. "We also applaud the tougher ivory laws recently enacted by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and New York State. Because of their combined hard work and persistence, New York continues to lead the national effort to save the remaining wild elephant populations from extinction. Wildlife rangers, anti-poaching units and conservation managers in Africa continue to wage a battle to save the elephants where they live. This donated money will be used to fund wildlife law enforcement training, equipment and patrols in several African nations."

DEC reminds New Yorkers to report any environmental crime by calling DEC’s toll-free, 24-hour police dispatch at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).

Whole Foods Got $12.9M Tax Credit For Building in Polluted Gowanus, February 8th, 2017


GOWANUS — Gourmet grocer Whole Foods earned $12.9 million in publicly funded tax credits for building a store on contaminated land it cleaned up next to the Gowanus Canal, according to recently released data.

The high-end store’s first foray into Brooklyn helped gentrify Gowanus and also helped the company’s bottom line through its participation in the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which gives developers taxpayer-funded financial incentives for cleaning up and then building on toxic sites.

Data released Jan. 31 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs the Brownfield Cleanup Program, show that in 2016 Whole Foods received two tax credits totaling $12,743,942 for building the Gowanus store. The credits are based on the value of the developed property. Whole Foods spent $63,719,710 to construct the store, according to DEC records.

Whole Foods also received a $206,748 taxpayer-funded credit based on how much it cost to clean up the contaminated land where the store was built, according to state data. The cost of the cleanup wasn’t listed in state records.

The 2.1-acre site at Third Avenue and Third Street where the store now sits — complete with a rooftop farm and energy-efficient features — once housed a coal yard, junk yard, oil company and auto repair business, according to state data. The soil was laced with toxins such as xylene, cadmium, benzo(a)pyrene, mercury, benzene, lead and phenol, according to the DEC.

Whole Foods cleaned up the land under the Brownfield program and state inspectors declared the site safe for humans in 2012. The store opened in 2013.

A Whole Foods spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The Brownfield Cleanup Program was created in 2005 to spur the cleanup of severely contaminated properties that were off state tax rolls. Though well-intentioned, the program was "grossly broken" and often did more to line developers’ pockets than to improve the environment, said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Environmental Advocates for New York, one of the groups that pushed for reforms to the program.

Prior to the reforms — Whole Food entered the program in 2010 — the program was structured so that developers could easily build in hot real estate markets where they would get a sizeable tax credit, because the credits were tied to the value of the developed property. Under the old rules, neighborhoods with severe contamination — often low-income areas — didn’t get as much attention from developers, Proulx said.

In 2015, the state legislature passed reforms to rein in the tax breaks developers can receive.

Proulx called the reforms a "great start," but added, "it’s going to be really important that the state and public watchdogs keep an eye on it so it doesn’t revert to old bad habits."

He noted that there are many developments still in the pipeline that entered the Brownfield program before the reforms and won’t be subject to the changes. A 2013 analysis by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $3.1 billion in tax credits to developers in coming years.

Several properties in Gowanus have been cleaned up under the Brownfield program, or are in the process of being cleaned. They include the 365 Bond luxury rental apartments, the land surrounding the Green Building, and the property where Lavender Lake bar is.

Those cleanups are separate from the massive Superfund cleanup of the canal itself, which is being led by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. That cleanup started late last year with the removal of debris from the canal and is expected to take several years to complete.

Gowanus is well-known for its pollution, but the list of developments that have received tax credits under the Brownfield Cleanup Program includes several projects in areas generally not thought of as contaminated.

In 2016, the list included:

► The developer of the 42-story luxury rentals in Downtown Brooklyn at 66 Rockwell Place, previously known as 29 Flatbush Ave., got a $2 million credit. The project cost $20.3 million to build, according to DEC records.

► The developer of the rentals on the Williamsburg waterfront at 149 Kent Ave. received a $4.7 million credit. The development cost $16.8 million to build, according to DEC records.

► The developer of the condo tower at 23-01 42nd Rd. in Long Island City, Queens, got a $2.6 million credit. The project cost $9.5 million to build, according to DEC records.

► The developer of the The Sky, a 71-story building on the far West Side of Manhattan got at $6.5 million credit. The project cost $54.9 to build, according to the DEC.

Deer poachers are doing what government can’t

Staten Island Advance, February 8th, 2017


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Staten Island has a deer problem. There’s no arguing it. And it hasn’t gone away.

So now people are taking the law into their own hands and culling the herd themselves.

It’s the wrong approach. Deadly wrong. But it shows the depth of the problem. And it shows how government has failed to do the job when it comes to our deer population.

Authorities have said that there have been eight deer killed on the Island in the last three years, even though hunting is illegal in the five boroughs. But the Advance recently reported that dozens of illegal deer hunting incidents have been investigated here. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has gotten 27 tips on poaching since January 2014.

People are using guns or bows and arrows to take the deer down, often in public parkland. Tree stands and bait have been found. Serious stuff. Carcasses have been found with trophy antlers and heads removed. There have been reports of gunshots ringing out late at night and in the early morning hours. People have been seen going into the woods wearing camouflage and bearing weapons.

But the DEC has just two agents assigned to Staten Island. There used to be three. Staffing changes is the reason the agency gives for the disparity. So we have a deer population problem and a deer poaching problem, but we have less help for it from the state than we used to.

Carcasses have been discovered in Conference House Park and in Silver Lake Cemetery. They’ve been found in New Springville and Travis. In the Greenbelt and on Lighthouse Hill. Dumped by the side of the road. Dumped near someone’s home in Tottenville.

In all that time, just one poacher has been brought to justice on Staten Island.

We’re in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to deer. We have this deer vasectomy program going on right now. We don’t know yet how effective that will be, so we have to give it time. And now we’ve got the problem of deer poaching.

The poaching problem is deadly serious. Armed people should not be wandering around the woods in populated areas looking for deer. It’s just ripe for tragedy. As was letting the deer population here explode without any decent restraint in the first place. It was like we were waiting for a someone to be injured in a car-deer collision before doing something. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.

But the city and state haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to addressing the problem.

We had to practically get on our hands and knees before the city Department of Transportation would even put deer warning signs up on our roadways. And while the vasectomy program is at least an effort at control, there are still plenty of experts who contend that the city should have looked to sterilize the female population and not the male. The proof will be in the pudding.

And who can forget the city depositing an errant deer found in Brooklyn here on Staten Island? Or the DEC’s dumping of deer carcasses in the Mount Loretto Unique Area? And now we have one fewer DEC agent assigned here. Are we waiting for someone to be harmed by an errant bullet before stepping up enforcement?

Other areas of the state permit hunting during certain times of the year as a way to control the deer population. We’re not allowed to do that here. But in other areas, federal government sharpshooters have conducted controlled hunts, including at Civil War battlefields in Maryland.

There would probably be too much of an outcry for it to happen here, but it’s an option. It’s better than letting folks take matters into their own hands and put the rest of us at risk.