New York Finally Stops Killing LaGuardia Coyotes, Will Send One to Sanctuary, January 25th, 2017


A small family of coyotes once lived peacefully on the outskirts of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. These were animals living in their natural habitat, bothering no one. Why, then, did the powers that be insist that they die?

If you’re surprised to hear that coyotes live in this area of New York State, don’t be. Coyotes have been living and reproducing in the Bronx since the 1990s. They now periodically roam about in other New York boroughs as well. Despite the fact that they’ve been longterm residents, when the public notices them, they telephone authorities in a panic, asking that the coyotes be removed.

It’s no surprise, then, that when a family of coyotes took up residence near LaGuardia Airport and Rikers Island, some people became nervous. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey determined it had to do something about that.

“The coyotes pose a threat to our employees and members of the community, including children who use nearby baseball fields,” the Port Authority told NBC 4 New York in November 2016. “Repeated efforts to force the coyotes to leave the area have not succeeded.”

The airport and Port Authority told the New York Post that the coyotes had “threatened” employees near an airport parking lot. One parking lot attendant said a coyote pup began following him as he walked to his booth. I guess “following” equates to a threat, though I don’t understand why.

This activity prompted the Port Authority to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step in and deal with the situation.

Not everyone thought those coyotes posed a threat, though. LaGuardia Airport bus driver Rose Ortega saw the coyotes frequently and knew better. She knew they were simply out looking for food — often because people would throw food trash on the ground at the parking lot. Coyotes are smart enough to connect the presence of people with the likelihood of abandoned food.

“When I whistle to them, they come to the fence,” Ortega told the New York Post. “All they want to do is play and eat.” Had the airport done a better job of policing the trash strewn about the lot, perhaps this problem could have been avoided.

This coyote family appeared to be the first mating couple known to have established a den outside the Bronx area. I use the past tense because, well, those coyotes are all dead now. All dead, except for one lucky pup.

The USDA set up cameras and traps to find and eradicate the coyotes. They did that job only too well. They captured and euthanized the parents and five young coyotes in the late fall of 2016. That left three orphaned pups — nicknamed Dumbo, Tony and Floppy — to fend for themselves. The USDA managed to kill two of those pups in mid-January 2016. Only Dumbo survives.

While all this was going on, activists from The Wild Dog Foundation tried hard to shoo the coyotes away from the traps in order to spare their lives. They lobbied the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to relocate the pups to a safer area so they wouldn’t have to be killed. NYSDEC, sadly, rejected the idea of relocation to Outpost No. 4 Wildlife Rehabilitation Services in Delanson, N.Y.

Then something better happened. NYSDEC changed its mind. The surviving pup, Dumbo, will be captured and sent to an unnamed sanctuary in western New York.

“When the remaining coyote ‘Dumbo’ is captured, he will be transported to the sanctuary without burdening the taxpayers of New York,” announced New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright. “Animals do not have a voice, and it is up to us to identify humane ways to deal with coexisting in nature.”

Indeed. The coyote family was just trying to survive as humankind pressed ever more deeply into their shrinking domain. What was the problem, then? Why did they have to die? The short answer is — they didn’t.

“These coyotes never were aggressive to anybody. They never approached anybody,” the Wild Dog Foundation’s Frank Vincenti told the New York Daily News. “This was a debacle. This was horrific.”

We can be grateful Dumbo got some measure of kindness out of New York State. It’s a shame that Dumbo’s entire family had to be exterminated from land they occupied before the airport parking lot ever existed. That’s what humankind does. We need to do a lot less of it.

We share the earth with these animals. We should share. We should not dominate.

Trio of coyotes that hang around LaGuardia Airport may avoid ugly deaths with move to upstate sanctuary

New York Daily News, January 13th, 2017


Three wily coyotes who have been on the run near LaGuardia Airport might have received a stay of execution.

An upstate sanctuary that specializes in large carnivores has agreed to take them in, which could spare the pups the unfortunate end their parents and siblings came to in November. Those five coyotes were caught and killed after the Port Authority — which controls the airport — claimed the animals posed a risk to workers and locals.

Their deaths galvanized some animal rights advocates, who vowed to find them a home.

Philanthropist Jean Shafiroff had initially offered to pay for them to be trapped and released to a less urban area, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it was against the rules to move them to another spot.

However, the DEC said it would consider relocating the remaining coyotes — which went into hiding after their family members were caught and killed — if an appropriate sanctuary was found.

Shafiroff earlier this month secured a spot for them at Outpost No. 4 Wildlife Rehabilitation Services in Delanson, about 200 miles north of the city.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright has asked the DEC to quickly assess and approve the sanctuary so that if the coyotes are caught, they can be sent upstate. “Once the coyotes are captured, our office can immediately arrange for the same day transportation … to the facility,” she wrote.

The trip upstate would be funded privately, and not by taxpayers, she said.

A DEC spokesman said the agency is reviewing the proposal.

The Port Authority also said it will consider the sanctuary.

Frank Vincente of the Wild Dog Foundation, which has been working to save the coyotes, said the state should act quickly so the beasts have a place to go if they’re caught.

But he thinks that’s a big if.

“These three are pretty wily,” he said.

A one-antlered deer that was supposed to be moved to an upstate sanctuary died of stress after waiting for transport in December, but wildlife experts believe coyotes have better chances of survival in those circumstances because they are more durable.

Thousands of PCB-contaminated lighting fixtures finally out of NYC schools

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 6th, 2017


Here’s some good news for the city’s children: A multi-year effort to replace crumbling lighting fixtures containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in hundreds of public schools — many in Brooklyn — has been almost 100 percent accomplished.

Lighting ballasts and caulking installed between 1950 and 1978 contained the now-banned PCBs. The substance has been linked to cancer, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive and immune disorders.

Yet thousands of the old fixtures remained, crumbling and dripping, in the city’s classrooms.

The removal of the PCB-containing fixtures is “extremely important,” Rachel Spector, director of the Environmental Justice Program for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday.

“It’s an important accomplishment which removes the most acute source of PCBs. Children were having light fixtures leaking PCBs onto their desks,” she said.

Spector added that the replacement of the old units with new, high-efficiency fixtures also helps the city “achieve their goal of sustainability.”

Bloomberg administration downplayed threat

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the city learned that PCBs were leaking from the fixtures when the EPA investigated PCB-containing caulk used to seal windows in schools.

As the Brooklyn Eagle reported in 2011, the EPA found PCBs actively leaking in 93 percent of examined New York City schools, with about half of the contaminated schools in Brooklyn. Among these were P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights; P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights; P.S. 15 in Red Hook; Arts & Letters in Fort Greene; P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill; P.S. 146 in Carroll Gardens; I.S. 98 Bay Academy in Bay Ridge; M.S. 51 in Park Slope; and the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies.

The Bloomberg administration, however, downplayed the health threat to children from the PCBs, and set a 10-year timeline to remove the fixtures. Parents and elected officials became increasingly concerned after the city, in some cases, refused to admit that fixtures were dripping the toxic brew.

In a series of articles on this topic from 2011 through 2013, this newspaper publicized the worries of parents, including those at Brooklyn’s P.S. 146 Brooklyn New School and M.S. 448 Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies. At these schools, families were told by the city that their lighting fixtures contained no visible leaks — even after parents submitted photos of clearly-dripping fixtures.

After an outcry by NY Communities for Change, NYLPI, state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Brad Lander, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, then-District Leader Jo Anne Simon — and publication of the photos in this paper — the Department of Education (DOE) conducted another walkthrough and pushed these schools to the top of the priority list.

City forced to shorten timeline after lawsuit

NYLPI and the law firm White & Case brought a lawsuit against the city in 2011, representing the New York Communities for Change, a coalition of low and middle-income families. The city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In March 2013, however, a federal judge ruled against the city’s motion, criticizing the city’s "foot-dragging.”

In a settlement, the city agreed to cut in half its 10-year timeline. The settlement required the city to remove all PCB lighting fixtures by the end of 2016, a goal that has been essentially met.

“We’re still in the process of working with the city to make sure they’ve taken care of all the work,” Spector said. Some residue from the leaking fixtures still remains, she said, and that needs to be cleaned up.

“A number of schools have been newly identified as having some residue. I’m confidant they’re going to do it,” Spector said.

PCBs also remain in the window caulking of more than 700 schools, Spector cautioned.

“We still don’t fully know how widespread the existence of PCBs are and whether children and teachers are being exposed to dangerous levels,” she said. “The EPA and the city are working on a long-term plan — but they’re not going to remove all the caulking. We are calling on the city to take the most protective approach.”

Since PCBs travel through the air from caulk in a process known as off-gassing, NYLPI is pushing for air testing and the provision of proper ventilation in schools.

While NYLPI and the EPA have praised the city for following through with its aggressive cleanup, Spector points out that it took a lawsuit to make the city do the right thing.

“Without the lawsuit we filed, I don’t believe we would be anywhere near this point,” she said.

State admits to unsanctioned graveyard for deer killed by cars

New York Post, January 10th, 2017


The state set up an unsanctioned graveyard where it secretly dumped the bodies of dead deer stuck by cars in Staten Island, according to a report Friday.

At least three of the furry corpses — some of them headless — were found alongside piles of bones and sculls next to a highway in Mount Loretto Unique Area park, the Staten Island Advance reported.

“There were bones everywhere. I started to get a little freaked out,” said the aptly-named wildlife photographer, Tom Puma, who made the disturbing discovery.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation later admitted to The Post that it dumped the animal carcasses in the creepy unauthorized grave.

By contrast, Lefty — the beloved Harlem buck who died during a feud between Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo — met a more honorable fate when the city hired a vendor to burn his body last month, city officials said.

On Dec. 30, Puma of Tompkinsville stumbled onto the chilling state-run boneyard, he told the Staten Island Advance.

“There was a deer carcass, maybe 8 feet away from me… I turned around and saw another one, and then maybe another 10 feet away there was another one,” he said.

He added, ”I thought somebody was either coming in there and killing them or maybe they all were together and ate something that poisoned them.”

But he soon learned the state was responsible for the eerie and unsanitary sight.

The deer were improperly disposed of by staffers from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, an official said.

“In this instance, DEC staff deposited deer remains in a remote area of Mount Loretto Unique Area and did not follow proper agency procedures for burial,” DEC spokesman Sean Mahar told The Post.

“The deer had died from natural causes on state property or from being hit by vehicles, and have been buried. DEC staff have been reminded about the proper disposal procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”

The animals are scheduled to be buried properly later this week, he said.

Dead deer are supposed to be buried two feet under the ground, incinerated or disposed in landfills to prevent water contamination, according to the DEC.

Some neighbors were stunned to learn about the dead animals in the park. “I run over there in the summer — that’s gross,” Melissa Esposito, 47, of Tottenville.

Lefty the one-antlered buck died from stress while in captivity at a Harlem Animal Care and Control center — as de Blasio and Cuomo fought over whether to euthanize him or free him upstate — on Dec. 16.

The young buck had swam to Manhattan in search of a mate.

The Buck Stops Where? Case Exposes Rift Over Caring for Deer

ABC News, January 10th, 2017


A dramatic, ultimately tragic tussle over a one-antlered deer that somehow wandered into a tiny Manhattan park has cast a spotlight on a simple question: How much should humans step in to help troubled wildlife?

Recent guidelines by New York state officials mandating limited intervention by wildlife "rehabilitators" stirred heated debate and a lawsuit even before last month’s case of the white-tailed buck that became a celebrity for about two weeks when it appeared in Harlem’s Jackie Robinson Park.

TV and tabloid coverage of the deer, which likely crossed a bridge or swam over a river to get to the park, caused residents to worry about its safety. It didn’t seem fazed by the many onlookers who snapped pictures and fed it through the fence. And what if it scampered out into the streets and got hit by a car?

New York City officials announced plans to euthanize the deer, but New York’s governor stepped in with a late reprieve and a plan to relocate it to a wooded area upstate. In the end, the deer some had nicknamed "Lefty" for its single antler died in a shelter, officials said, apparently overcome by stress.

This was the kind of animal-in-peril scenario New York officials had in mind last summer when they issued new guidelines for the 1,300 licensed wildlife rehabilitators, who are called upon by police and other agencies when deer get sideswiped on highways, tangled up in suburban fences or otherwise imperiled.

Under the guidelines, the largely volunteer force can no longer nurse injured or sick adult white-tailed deer indefinitely. They have 48 hours to either release or euthanize them. They can’t take in adult moose and black bears at all. And fawns and black bear cubs can be rehabilitated only between April 15 and Sept. 15.

The rules exposed a rift between the state agency that regulates hunting and deer populations, and the wildlife rehabilitators who try to heal them. One rehabilitation center has sued to void the rules related to deer.

"Our argument is something got hit by a car, an animal is hanging from a fence, an animal is stuck in a park in Harlem, and we just need to help the individual animal," said Ginnie Frati, director of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center on Long Island, which filed the lawsuit. "They deserve to get a second chance."

Added Kelly Martin, president of the nonprofit New York Wildlife Rehabilitation Council: "We have the ability to alleviate suffering and help where we can. We don’t just turn our backs if there’s something we can do. … I don’t know how a person can see an animal with a broken bone and just say, ‘Oh well,’ and walk away."

But New York environmental officials said in an email that they became concerned about the deer rehabilitation after coming across some that were being held indefinitely.

A state wildlife biologist said in court filings that large animals kept by rehabilitators for long periods can become used to human contact, potentially creating problems once they’re released back into the wild. And survival rates for rehabilitated deer are low under any circumstances.

While states’ rules for big game wildlife rehabilitation vary widely, New York officials say there are similar rules in some neighboring deer-heavy states. For instance, standard wildlife rehabilitation licenses issued in Massachusetts do not allow taking in deer in without special permission.

Frati fears rehabilitators will ignore the rules, which could result in license revocations, or that untrained people will start taking in deer.

And she also sees something of a disconnect between the new rules that call for restraint and the intense interest top state officials showed in the Manhattan deer last month.

But New York Department of Environmental Conservation executive deputy commissioner Ken Lynch said this past week that animal incidents are considered on a case-by-case basis.

"That was a very unique situation," he said, "because of the location, because of the visibility and because of the public interest in it."

Tree Killers

The Cooperator NY, September 1st, 2016


Who knew that such a tiny insect could wreak so much havoc throughout the country?

That dubious distinction belongs to the emerald ash borer (EAB), which is native to Asia and bad news here in the U.S., where the insect is present in 27 states, including New York and New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Metallic-green in color and measuring just a half-inch long and one-eighth wide, the emerald ash borer is responsible for the death of tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, where it was first discovered in 2002, and hundreds of millions of trees in the affected parts of the U.S and Canada. The U.S. Forest Service says that the cost for treating, removing and replacing infected ash trees is estimated to be $10.7 billion. Some condo associations in parts of the country with ash trees have addressed the emerald ash borer problem in online announcements.

The emerald ash borer was first confirmed in New York State in 2009 by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and has been known to known to exist in at least 12 counties, including Albany, Ulster, Erie and Dutchess. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture said that infestations of the emerald ash borer, which was first detected in the Garden State two years ago, have been found in six counties—Bergen, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset—as of June 2016.

Origins and Introduction

Patrick Parker, plant health care director of SavATree, a tree and shrub care company with offices in 10 states and the District of Columbia, says the arrival of the emerald ash borer into the U.S. could be attributed to global commerce. “A lot of the most destructive insects we’ve had actually come in on wood crate packing materials where the insects themselves are already inside the wood when the packing material came into the country,” he says, “We see a lot of infestations start that way. Some of the larger port cities are where you’ll see these infestations start, where those products come in. Other times they could be brought in with plant material that’s imported from other areas.”

A Bug That Eats Baseball Bats

New York Times, August 29th, 2016


The emerald ash borer is a luminescent green insect that probably arrived in the Detroit area more than 15 years ago. These small Asian beetles, possibly coming to this country on wooden packing materials, have been devouring millions of ash trees as they eat their way from Michigan across the Midwest.

In recent years, the pests have also moved into the forests of New York, where experts believe they have infected 130 million ash trees within about six million acres of forest. By any standard, this is a plague, reminiscent of the Dutch elm disease or the voracious gypsy moth.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has worked hard to quarantine the ash borer menace. Until scientists find a way to defeat this insect — for example, with a wasp that eats the borer (researchers are trying to corral two types of predatory wasps) or a safe insecticide — the only real answer is to keep diseased lumber, wood chips or logs from coming out of infected areas and to cut down ash trees around an infected patch.

The battle against the borer has been costly for the state and for communities that must deal with limbs falling from dead trees. And federal money to fight invasive species is routinely rerouted to fight forest fires in the West. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, wants Congress to provide a separate disaster fund for these forest fires so that there is sufficient money for the Forest Service to fight invasive species. Mr. Schumer’s funding plan deserves support.

The disappearance of white ash trees would be devastating for the ecosystem of Northeastern forests. It would also spell trouble for baseball: White ash was the classic wood for bats for years. Some major leaguers have opted for maple or other woods for their favorite bats, but about 25 percent of bats are still made of white ash.

Ron Vander Groef, manager of the Rawlings bat factory near Albany, told NPR that if the ash borer is not controlled, “We will not be able to make any more pro bats or retail bats or anything out of white ash because it will be gone.” That would be a tragedy, and not just for lovers of the white ash baseball bat.