Gateway ⁄ Jamaica Bay Coalition Report — 11/26/2013

On November 26, 2013, the coalition of concerned wildlife organizations and individuals met with National Park Service officials at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan to discuss the general management plan for Gateway National Recreation Area as well as plans for the rehabilitation of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Representing the Linnaean Society of New York were President Jeff Nulle and Conservation Committee Chair Andrew Rubenfeld. Others in attendance included Harry Maas, Peter Post, Doug Futuyma, Andrew Baksh, Don Riepe, and David Speiser. Representing the NPS were Joshua Laird, Commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, and Jennifer Nersesian, the new superintendent of Gateway.

Harry Maas, acting as spokesman for the coalition, presented the group’s concerns that GMP alternative B (emphasizing recreation) could adversely affect wildlife in critical areas such as Plumb Beach, Fort Tilden, Breezy Point, and the islands of Jamaica Bay. He cited the coalition’s insistence that “wildlife” should be named as a “fundamental resource” in GNRA, that sensitive habitats should be protected from disturbances and active recreational use, and that there should be increased enforcement and improved natural resource management practices throughout Gateway.

Regarding the refuge specifically the coalition believes that a freshwater West Pond should be restored to some semblance of its former self, observing that before Hurricane Sandy the West Pond was the only significant freshwater habitat in the Jamaica Bay ecosystem. Lack of freshwater habitat at the refuge would have a detrimental impact on breeding species such as glossy ibis, least bittern, blue-winged teal, ruddy duck, and common gallinule. Plans for a wetlands center at the northern portion of Floyd Bennett Field are encouraged, but not at the expense of loss of freshwater at the refuge. Also needed is better management of other parts of the refuge, notably the former tern-nesting area in order to provide essential habitat for common terns, American oystercatchers, and diamondback terrapins.

Commissioner Laird responded that an environmental analysis of the West Pond will be undertaken by the NPS itself. This analysis will also address the feasibility of restoring a freshwater West Pond from an engineering perspective. The results will be available in mid-January; feedback from concerned groups and individuals will then be welcomed as part of the public comment process. Although they acknowledged the importance and uniqueness of JBWR, neither Laird nor Nersesian would commit at this point in time to the restoration of a significant freshwater pond at the refuge, claiming legal and procedural constraints. They did, however, note the concern and expertise of the coalition and promised to include the group in on-going discussions concerning the future of both the refuge and the national recreation area.

Andrew Rubenfeld
Chair, Conservation Committee