It’s easy to take local species like black ducks, horseshoe crabs and hard clams for granted, but New York State has identified them as in need of protection.
In all, the state’s recently-released Wildlife Action Plan lists 366 “species of greatest conservation need,” of which 166 are deemed “high priority,” including many local species that we see here every day.
To take this data out of the depths of stuffy government documents, Group for the East End has put together a new website, nyswap.org, which give information about the animals at risk, about what to do when you see an animal in distress and how to get involved in monitoring their populations, restoring their habitats, and where people can go to spend time in nature.
With funding from the Long Island Community Foundation, Group for the East End interns Micheala Cooke from Eastport (via Dartmouth) and Stephanie Licciardi from East Marion and NYC (via George Washington University) have spent the past couple years building the website.
“We wanted to make the information useful,” said Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca at an April 19 press conference at the new Hallock State Park in Riverhead announcing the new website. “It’s harder to get peoples’ attention, and people are more cynical.”
The site offers advice for people who, say, see a fawn by itself in the woods on the edge of their property and think it’s been abandoned when its mother likely left it there because she knew it would be safe, or how to tell if seals on a beach are stranded or sunbathing.
Rob DiGiovanni of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society said that all 4,500 strandings he’s responded to were the result of members of the public calling in a sighting of an animal in distress.
“We want to engage people in their backyards, in their community,” he said.
Wildlife ecologist Mike Bottini has spent the past several years trying to find river otters on Long Island, and his work has been helped greatly by tips from the public, which he’s hoping will increase using the tools on the website.
Group for the East End has been monitoring nesting sites of birds ranging from ospreys to piping plover for years.
The Group’s Vice President, Aaron Virgin, said his organization is now monitoring 400 osprey nests on the East End, and 20 piping plovers in Southold Town, and is in the process of putting up an ‘osprey cam’ trained on a now-famous pair of birds living at the New Suffolk Waterfront. He hopes the osprey cam will inspire kids to care about the natural world.
The Group has also located eight bald eagle nesting sites, and are in search of more, said Mr. Virgin. Despite their awe-inspiring size, bald eagles nest in notoriously difficult-to-locate places.
“We rely heavily on our partners in conservation,” said DEC Region 1 Director Carrie Meek Gallagher. “We don’t have the staff to be everywhere.”
Ms. Gallagher said the website will be useful in helping the DEC communicate with other agencies, and with members of the public, to let them know how they can help with citizen science projects and habitat restoration.
“It does seem like there’s more and more wildlife around us, like we’re creating more habitat for species,” she said. “We’re interested in creating, managing and restoring habitats so they will be self-sustaining.”
“Young people today are more into protecting habitat,” said State Senator Kenneth LaValle, who added that his neighbors in Port Jefferson have been more and more active in preserving the environment.
“Our lands and waters are not sterile, and we’re not the only ones occupying them,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, joking that, after a recent fracas after an osprey nest was removed from a utility pole in Riverside, conservationists might need to get into the osprey housing business.