(Southold, New York… April 2018) After nearly two years of research and development, Group for the East End (groupfortheeastend.org) unveiled the New York State Wildlife Action Plan (nyswap.org) website at a press conference on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at the 225-acre Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead. In celebration of Earth Day, and as part of the organization’s 45-year commitment to the protection and restoration of local wildlife populations, the New York State Wildlife Action Plan website is a powerful conservation resource and a sobering reminder of just how many local wildlife species are currently experiencing a decline in population and even local extinction. Bob DeLuca and Aaron Virgin of Group for the East End were joined by NYS Senator Kenneth LaValle, NYS Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Director, Carrie Gallagher, Robert DiGiovanni of Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, and Mike Bottini of Long Island Nature Organization to launch the website and provide an update on the conservation status of local species.
The website features valuable information on more than 50 high priority Long Island wildlife species that have been deemed by the State to be in imminent need of conservation action. In addition to providing specific information about all of Long Island’s threatened species, the site provides visitors with specific information about where they can see wildlife, how they can learn more about the wildlife in their community, how to manage their property to enhance its value to wildlife, who to contact if they find injured wildlife, some helpful “Dos and Don’ts” about interacting with wildlife, how to get involved. Visitors will also find current case studies of ongoing species restoration projects and campaigns including Plum Island preservation, shorebird monitoring and protection, osprey monitoring, and even the restoration of Long Island’s river otter population, which was once believed to be locally extinct.
“Once we read the (SWAP) plan, and consulted with the NYSDEC, we felt an obligation to raise awareness about the plight of our local wildlife and educate others about the issue,” said Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca. “More importantly, we are working to teach others what they can do to help restore the local wildlife populations that enrich our lives and, in many cases, have substantial economic value for our region.”
“This is a good time to get the public engaged and involved,” said Senator LaValle. “When we look at our habitat, it is constantly being challenged. I think it’s critically important for our young people to start getting involved, and I think today the general public are more into protecting the habitat.”
Assemblyman Fred Thiele touched on the importance of sharing our habitat with wildlife. “What we need to keep in mind is that these lands and waters are thankfully not sterile, and we’re not the only ones occupying them,” he said. “Part of the richness of life out here is the wildlife that we enjoy. The fact is, knowledge and information are power, and outreach to the public and providing information to them about the fact that we do have a wildlife action plan, and species and animals that we take for granted that are a part of our lives every day but are endangered. If the public is informed about that, they will be with us to help protect those species.”
The site was developed with research assistance provided by interns from Dartmouth College and George Washington Universities. With the support of the Long Island Community Foundation, Group for the East End launched this site as part of a wider regional campaign to educate the public about local wildlife populations and engage more Long Islanders in the effort to protect and restore our native wildlife populations, including many marine fish and shellfish which were found to be on the State’s list of species in significant need of conservation. In fact, this was a specific recommendation of the SWAP plan which was adopted in late 2015. Based on this recommendation, Group for the East End volunteered to be a local assistant in getting the message out, as well as working directly on species recovery and habitat restoration projects.
“One goal is effectively communicating with all audiences regarding conservation of these species to inform the public and engage the conservation community,” said Carrie Gallagher, Regional Director of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, in regards to some of the main goals of the website. “What better tool? We haven’t had the ability to do that at DEC but now we have a partner who has taken on that responsibility that this is going to make sure the information is going to be communicated effectively.”
Following a “scroll-through” of the website, several environmentalists and scientists provided updates on their own species research and its relationship to the SWAP. “In all my years of doing stranding response, I have responded to over 4,500 animals, and I’ve never been the person to call one in,” said Robert DiGiovanni, founder and chief scientist of Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. “The public has always done that. We need to give more tools to the public, and this is a great tool for the public to understand what to do and what not to do. That’s a big part of why Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was formed; we wanted to engage the public in their backyard and in their community.”
“The distribution of otters on Long Island has at least doubled,” Mike Bottini, naturalist and founder of Long Island Nature Organization, compared to a river otter survey conducted about 10 years ago. “Their nocturnal habits are saving them. Surveying Long Island is quite an undertaking. After putting the word out, I realized there’s a wealth of information out there from people that write down everything they see. It was amazing how many people have been involved.”
Group for the East End vice president Aaron Virgin discussed shorebird and osprey monitoring programs across the East End. He also shared how resources such as this could set young individuals on a path toward wildlife conservation. “We’re collaborating with the New Suffolk Waterfront civic to have an osprey camera go live very shortly in New Suffolk,” he said. “That’s a window that could be a wild moment for a seventh grader that’s on the web and they come across our camera and say ‘Wow, I think I’ll watch this for a while.’ That could be the turning point that allows that child to go to study wildlife ecology.”
In addition to the Group’s outreach work, dozens of organizations, government agencies, civic institutions, and others are working to implement and educate the findings and recommendations of the New York State Wildlife Action Plan.
For more information about the New York State Wildlife Action Plan, visit nyswap.org. For more information about Group for the East End, visit groupfortheeastend.org or call 631.765.6450. Find them online at Facebook/groupeastend, Instagram/@groupfortheeastend, and Twitter/@g4ee. For media inquiries, contact Rachel Bosworth at email@example.com or 631.220.1220.