Thursday, November 17, 2011

Save Your County Parks!

The follow message was provided in an email from Michael Gambino, Curator/Director of Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, Rye, NY in regards to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's proposed budget cuts to the Westchester County Parks. Please take a moment to read Michael's message regarding the future of Westchester County's park system.

Dear friend,

I'm still in a bit of shock since yesterday when I learned that county executive Rob Astorino and the parks commissioner have targeted the entire Westchester County Conservation division for termination as of December 31. I am still trying to grasp the reality of this, but we do not have much time in which to mobilize people to demand that this plan be changed to keep the parks intact and the naturalists employed. Surely, there are other places to get that money instead of destroying all the work done by dedicated curatorial staff since the parks system was created in 1925. It can be done! The Trailside Nature Museum at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, just to give perspective, was built during the Great Depression!

The County Board of legislators will vote on the proposed budget and a final answer/vote is due by 12/27 (it may happen sooner). Please make some noise and pressure the legislators to demand that the nature centers and staff be put back into the budget.

What I am asking you to do, on behalf of the curators/naturalists and the tens of thousands of residents who visit these nature centers each year, is to send a notice to local environmental organizations and other interested parties to inform them, and ask them to write letters and e-mails and make phone calls to "keep the nature centers open and staffed".

Here are the implications for the future:
1. Parks that will be affected (that I know of): Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshlands Conservancy, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation (only the Trailside Nature Museum operations), Lenoir Preserve, Cranberry Lake Preserve, and possibly other county facilities. (Astorino stated that 6 nature centers would be closed).

2. All Westchester County operated nature centers will be shut down, and in some cases the parks themselves may be closed and gated.

3. There will be no rehiring in the foreseeable future for these parks. (Imagine a year or more without your park as beautiful as you know it today).

The implications and potential reality for these parks and facilities is that without staff on site to maintain the nature centers and the acreage of the parks, decades of progress has the potential to deteriorate in short order.

For example:
• when storms blow down trees, they will remain and accumulate there blocking trails and creating hazards

• buildings will be permitted to grow moldy and rodent infested, and subject to vandalism and property destruction.

• No trash will be cleaned from the trails or shorelines.

• dog owners who are non-compliant wit lease laws and sanctuary restrictions will let their dogs run wild potentially harming and stressing the wildlife.

• some cyclists/mountain bikers will take to the protected trails degrading and eroding them in short order

• no one will be available to take care of injured wildlife that happens at some point each year.

• Invasive plants will thrive unchecked, setting back decades of labor in opening and creating habitat diversity.

• Trails will be overgrown, as will all the open fields currently mowed to create habitat diversity.

• parks will potentially become less safe to visit since there will be no curator presence to act as guardians

• and more. . .

Additionally, there will be NO educational programs offered of any kind for the public or for the school children at these parks. There will be NO interpretive experts (curators/naturalists) at the parks to assist the public in learning more about nature, the environment and conservation issues. NO summer ecology programs will take place. NO special guest presenters at the nature centers.

Local tax dollars have paid for parks and for the staff to provide meaningful, family-oriented nature-based activities. Now these benefits are going to be cut out completely, but residents will still be paying those taxes. The curators and naturalists are dedicated civil servants who give their blood, sweat, and tears to provide wholesome, stress-reducing, educational experiences to anyone who visits one of these parks.

Please SIGN and send a copy of the attached letter to the legislators listed below (cut and paste text at very bottom of this message).

Westchester County Board of Legislators 800 Michaelian Office Building
148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor
White Plains, New York 10601
Main Tel: (914)995-2800 ; Fax: (914)995-3884

*Click on a name below to send an email.

John G. Testa1
Peter Harckham (Majority Leader)2
John Nonna3
Michael B. Kaplowitz4
Martin Rogowsky6
William J. Ryan5
Judith A. Myers (Majority Whip)7
Alfreda A. Williams8
William Burton9
Sheila Marcotte10
James Maisano (Minority Leader)11
MaryJane Shimsky12
Lyndon Williams (Vice Chair)13
Bernice Spreckman14
Gordon A. Burrows (Minority Whip)15
Kenneth W. Jenkins (Board Chair)16
José I. Alvarado17
Here is the budget proposal you can read for yourself:


Dear County Legislator (insert your legislator's name), 

I was deeply disturbed to hear that the budget cuts proposed by County Executive Rob Astorino include shutting down all the county operated nature centers and laying off the staff of curators and naturalists that work there. I am writing to inform you that I am opposed to such cuts, and respectfully and emphatically urge you to vote against including these cuts in the 2012 budget for Westchester County.

In a time when our government prides itself on how "green" it can be, it is inconceivable that our County Executive would even consider terminating the entire Conservation Division of the County Parks Department! Local tax dollars have paid for parks and for the staff to provide meaningful, nature-based activities for families, school groups, scouting troops, veterans outings, religious retreats, and other community organizations. With the growth of our urban areas, the parks remain the only sanctuaries where our community members can experience nature. These services are MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER for Westchester County residents to have access to in these depressed economic times. Now these benefits are slated to be cut out completely, and residents will still be paying the same taxes. The curators and naturalists who staff these nature centers in their respective parks are dedicated civil servants who give their blood, sweat, and tears to provide wholesome, stress-reducing, educational experiences to anyone who visits these parks. Nature-based education and experiential interaction with our natural world is a fundamental necessity for health and well-being for each person.

Our curators and naturalists do even more than provide public programming. They also serve a very important function in protecting the endangered species of our parks, as well as managing visitors so that their activities do not have a negative impact on the wildlife or habitats (e.g., keeping dogs away from animals, preventing treasure hunters from taking plants or rocks, reducing erosion from damaging activities, keeping fishermen away from protected waterways, protecting nesting birds, pollution control). They also maintain a safe system of trails and waterfront, including repairing/maintaining boardwalks, mowing/pruning paths/trails, removing hazards from storm damage, organizing community beach clean-ups and trail wood-chipping, and restoring areas damaged from over-use by people. One overlooked but vital function is the gathering and maintaining a scientific database of field observations. These scientific endeavors include: monitoring biodiversity by cataloging all the species of flora and fauna within our parks (which are important markers of the status of our park ecosystems), tracking the population growth or decline of endangered plant and animal species (another marker of successful conservation in action), water testing (a critical indicator of the health of our wetlands), and a variety of other field measurements. Our curators have initiated (including receiving grant funding!) or assisted in many scientific projects, including: the effects of filters in reducing contaminants from parking lot drains that are channelled into our parks' water systems, removing invasive plants and creating a protected native re-forestation area and a wildflower meadow studying the degree of overpopulation of invasive animals species (e.g., Asian green crab) or native species (e.g., deer), and many more activities too numerous to list.

We need our curators and naturalists, and we need our Nature Centers to remain open! I urge you to fight to keep the nature centers open and staffed.

Thank you,

(Sign your name)

Friday, November 11, 2011

EAB and ALB info session

Since this past summer's discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) at the West Point campus in Orange County, NY, our staff has been corresponding with Michael Singho, a Horticultural Inspector with the NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets.  If you've been in the museum over the past few months, you've probably noticed the big posters about Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) as well as information packets about EAB.  These educational brochures were provided by Mr. Singho as a cooperative effort to get the word out about the invasion and destructive potential of these two exotic insect species.

Mr Singho will be presenting a special lecture open to the public at the Greenburgh Public Library on Dec 8th at 10am.  Here is the text of Mr. Singho's email to Westmoreland:

I am writing to inform you that I will be giving an Asian Longhorned Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer update at the Greenburgh Public Library (300 Tarrytown Road, Elmsford NY 10523) on Thursday December 8 th , 2011 at 10:00am.

The session will last approximately 2 hours, and include a question and answer portion.

In addition to my presentation, Rick Harper of Cornell Cooperative Extension will be in attendance to answer pesticide and preventative treatment questions.

As many of you know Emerald Ash Borer has been found in Orange County.  Although it is unknown which direction the beetle will migrate in next, its arrival in Westchester County is inevitable.  When it does arrive, there will be some drastic changes to wood handling practices as the quarantine law is imposed.

Although I encourage everyone to attend, those who work in Orange County (or north) will find this session of particular interest.

Please contact Anne Jaffe-Holmes of the Greenburgh Nature Center to pre-register at 914-813-1251. 

The Westmoreland staff would like to encourage all who are available to attend to do so.  The control and mitigation of this problem will require the diligent eyes and participation of all NY citizens.  Please help us in the fight to protect our forests and community trees from these destructive pests.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist