Group highlights Little Neck Bay pollution

Queens Chronicle, October 5th, 2017


The environmental advocacy group Save the Sound has revealed that its tests of Little Neck Bay water this year revealed a large amount of sewage contamination.

During this year’s swim season, the group worked with volunteers to collect water samples from 11 locations in the bay. Among other findings announced last Thursday, Save the Sound said that 42 percent of the samples collected did not meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria for safe swimming water.

Most of the substandard samples collected were taken after rainfall.

“Little Neck Bay faces multiple sewage pollution challenges including antiquated septic systems along the shoreline, combined sewage overflows from NYC and municipal sewage discharges from Nassau County,” Save the Sound Director Tracy Brown said in a statement. “Save the Sound is happy to be working in partnership with the residents of the bay who share our commitment to reducing water pollution. To get lasting results here we also need New York City, Nassau County and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation to commit resources to cleaning up the bay.”

Only 58 percent of the samples collected this year met the agency’s safe swimming criteria; the remainder failed. While far from perfect, the statistics are an improvement from last year’s Little Neck Bay samples tested by Save the Sound: 60 percent of those failed the EPA swimming criteria.

In one part of the bay, though, there has been marked improvement from last year. Going down from 101 last year to 39 this year, the environmental group said the average bacterial count measured from testing water at Douglaston Manor Beach have decreased.

“This season we saw improvement at the Douglaston Manor Beach,” Save the Sound Water Quality Program Manager Peter Linderoth said in a prepared statement. “We want to see this scenario throughout the bay.”

The city Department of Environmental Protection did not return a request for comment about Save the Sound’s findings. Its state government counterpart did, though.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to require the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to construct and expand sewer system improvement projects to lessen the impacts of future Combined Sewer Overflows,” a spokeswoman for the DEC said in an emailed statement. “In fact, such improvements have reduced discharges to Alley Creek and Little Neck Bay by 60 percent per year.”

Douglaston Civic Association President Sean Walsh said that while Little Neck Bay has improved in recent years, he would like to see more done to mitigate the impact of combined sewer overflows, which pollute the body of water when rain overwhelms the sewer system.

“I’d like to see more holding tanks,” he said, explaining that an increase in them would result in less pollution from combined sewer overflows. He added that an expansion of the Tallman Island Wastewater Treatment Plant’s capacity would also be a good idea.


Staten Island deer kill was backed by state and feds, Oddo says

Staten Island Advance, October 4th, 2017


CITY HALL — State and federal authorities supported killing Staten Island deer in order to control the borough herd, officials confirmed.

The feds even undertook an environmental assessment of such a deer "cull" in 2015, but the NYPD "blanched" and the city refused, Borough President James Oddo wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

The Parks Department confirmed Oddo’s account, but said the NYPD didn’t "blanch." A cull was considered unrealistic because Staten Island is still an urban environment and even a controlled slaughter would require large swaths of borough green space to be cordoned off by the NYPD.

Police supervising the hunt would only add to the cost and complexity of the endeavor. Hunting is illegal across the five boroughs, so the city would have to get special state approvals for the kind of massive deer cull demanded by Staten Island’s large herd. And because hunting is illegal, any city slaughter would likely be delayed by potential lawsuits.

Ultimately the city decided to sterilize hundreds of Staten Island bucks. More than 875 vasectomies have been performed on them since the program began last year.

Oddo wrote about officials discussing the deer cull in a Facebook post that linked to an Advance story about an injured deer barging into a clothing shop on New Dorp Lane Monday afternoon. The deer was euthanized.

The borough president said that situations like this "might become more prevalent" during the mating season.

The number of collisions with vehicles tends to increase during the mating season or "rut" for white-tailed deer because bucks and doe are less cautious and are primarily focused on mating. The rut in New York is typically between October and January.

"I have long warned that one day we will see the tragic loss of human life occur," Oddo wrote on Facebook. "It has not yet happened, but it feels inevitable."

Oddo wrote he’s "tried to raise the alarm with literally every level of government."

"We even got the federal, state, and city officials together to discuss a solution that could have included a cull of the population, and the federal government undertook an environmental assessment throughout 2015," Oddo wrote. "In fact, the USDA and State DEC were ready and willing to undertake a cull, similar to what has been done in other jurisdictions similar to Staten Island. This was stopped because the NYPD blanched, the City of New York refused, and activists were waiting on standby to bring lawsuits that some believe would have delayed any action for many years."

Oddo’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional comment. The NYPD, U.S. Department of Agriculture and state Department of Environmental Conservation didn’t immediately comment.

"Under the current integrated deer management plan, the City has been able to act as rapidly and humanely as possible to limit the future impacts of deer on Staten Island," Parks Department spokesman Sam Biederman said. "We have sterilized an estimated 90% of the male deer on Staten Island, enhanced driver safety measures and educational efforts, and taken aggressive action to protect Staten Island’s natural resources. And as Borough President Oddo says, awareness is key: Drivers in Staten Island must stay vigilant for deer during rutting season."


An unrestrained deer herd can harm parks and private property, spread tick-borne illness like Lyme disease and wander into roads more often, increasing the risk for deadly vehicle collisions.

Manipulating deer fertility is only permitted by the state as part of scientific research. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates wildlife, approved the city’s vasectomy program last year.

Parks Department contractor White Buffalo will be paid up to $3.3 million by the city to perform vasectomies over the course of a three-year research program. The second year will be divided into two phases — from Aug. 15 and Oct. 20 and then in winter 2018.

The vasectomy effort is expected to eventually reduce the herd 10 to 30 percent annually, though some wildlife experts thought the plan won’t work because the city is ignoring basic deer biology and conventional herd management practices.

The Parks Department believes the herd is now growing mostly through reproduction, not migration, and sterilizing males instead of females is meant to be faster, cheaper and more humane.

There are between 1,918 and 2,188 deer across Staten Island, according to a estimate from White Buffalo using data from the vasectomy program.

That’s about four times the city’s last count and a 9,000 percent increase in the herd since 2008.


Before deciding on sterilization, city officials reviewed a variety of methods that could be used to manage New York state deer. They were outlined in a federal draft assessment prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Wildlife Services and released in November 2015.

Lethal solutions included shooting, hunting and euthanizing deer. Non-lethal methods included physically barricading or fencing deer, altering habitats, supplemental feeding to reduce crop damage, relocation, behavior modification with noise or visual stimuli, chemical pesticides or birth control.

De Blasio wouldn’t rule out killing the deer in March 2016, telling the Advance, "I don’t want to presume how we handle it yet until we finish the work of assessing the situation." That was two months before the city unveiled the sterilization plan.

Oddo has previously said lethal methods should be used to control Staten Island deer.

"Any deer management plan that does not take an integrated approach that includes lethal and non-lethal means is tantamount to kicking the can down the road and putting off the tough decisions. It is deciding by not deciding," Oddo said in a statement in March 2016. "Staten Island and Staten Islanders will pay a heavy price for that delay."

Oddo wrote Tuesday, "It seems no one is happy with the current deer situation."

"On the one hand, some want us to do nothing and leave them alone. Those folks cringe when they see bucks that have been tagged as part of the current male sterilization plan," Oddo wrote. "On the other end of the spectrum are those who want more aggressive action by government. Even those who favor the current male sterilization don’t really know what its impact will be."

Gov. Cuomo, stop this gas pipeline

An important climate-change decision right in our backyard

New York Daily News, October 3rd, 2017


Addressing the federal government’s very visible retreat from climate leadership, and reaffirming New York’s participation in an alliance of states that will strive to meet carbon reduction targets on their own, Gov. Cuomo this month said, “it is more important than ever for states to take collective, common-sense action.”

There is a pressing decision that Cuomo can make all by himself to demonstrate his commitment to combating climate change. As the summer heat dies down, a fight for the city’s coast is heating up.

Williams, an Oklahoma-based gas pipeline and processing company with a poor safety record, wants to build an expensive new pipeline from New Jersey to the Rockaways. It says this is important to “help meet the growing natural gas demand in the Northeast, including the 1.8 million customers served by National Grid in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.”

The Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline would run within a mile of Staten Island, then continue past Brooklyn’s beaches to link up with two existing pipelines off the Rockaway shore.

The project would require more than a year of construction, some of it around the clock, which could endanger beachgoers and marine life by churning up arsenic, lead, DDT, dioxins and harmful PCBs .

And the end result would be a new pathway for fracked gas — fuel that New Yorkers don’t even need, and that would worsen climate change.

This is exactly the wrong direction to head in if we really want to shift toward renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, which is the direction public policy and the market are really moving.

New York City has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 (compared with 2005) by retrofitting buildings for greater energy efficiency, switching to electric vehicles and using more renewable energy. New York State says that 50% of the state’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030 — just 13 years from now.

As fossil fuels go, fracked gas has some particularly bad qualities. It’s essentially methane, a greenhouse gas that captures 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide in the initial 20 years after its emitted.

And from an economic perspective, this pipeline is unnecessary. Even if all of the city’s boilers currently burning oil made the switch to gas, demand for gas would rise only 6%, according to a report prepared for the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

Meantime, the New York region is rapidly building out more solar and wind capacity, as advances in battery storage are making renewables even more attractive.

Williams says the proposed project would cost $926 million to build. You can bet National Grid’s gas customers in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island will wind up footing most of that bill through higher rates, which will rise even higher if gas demand were to fall short, as seems likely.

But ultimately, the case against a new pipeline comes back to climate change. We remember all too keenly the damage from Superstorm Sandy. It’s taken years, but now you can stroll on newly fortified boardwalks past rebuilt homes and grab a hot dog after a swim.

This pipeline will threaten that uniquely New York combination of city and shore, because even if the gas never leaks, burning it will worsen climate change. That will make storms more frequent, more deadly and more costly.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds most of the cards when it comes to deciding whether this new pipeline gets built. FERC has rarely met a pipeline it didn’t love. But New York State also has some cards it could play.

Williams can’t build unless the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation issues a water quality certificate and a protection of navigable waters permit. Williams would also need an easement for use of underwater land from the state’s Office of General Services.

In other words, Cuomo can stop this pipeline. Having just announced a redoubled commitment to climate action and the Paris accord’s goals, this is his perfect opportunity to lead.

New Yorkers who enjoy a swim at our beaches and who hope for a more livable planet should let the governor know we are counting on him to do the right thing.

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