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Tidal Exchange: Spring 2007

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Spring 2007 Issue

Harbor Estuary News Contents

An Oasis for the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary
Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS),
The Graduate Center / CUNY
(Click Here)
Steven Romalewski

Public Access Work Group Formed (Click Here)

A Victory for Habitat and Open Space
Mount Loretto Woods Acquired by Port Authority
HEP Priority Habitat Acquisition Site AK14
(Click Here)

HEP Recognizes its Partners (Click Here)

Biologist Frank Steimle Retires (Click Here)

Comprehensive Restoration Plan for Habitat in the Harbor (Click Here)
Robert Nyman and James Lodge

Cathy Yuhas Teaching Biology (Click Here)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) (Click Here)
Dr. Susan Elbin

An Oasis for the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary
Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS),
The Graduate Center / CUNY
back to top
Steven Romalewski

Before Google launched its popular on-line mapping service, Google Earth, the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) saw the value in publishing web-based maps of habitat sites throughout the region. With online maps, HEP could highlight the locations – and therefore the importance – of these sites for a wide audience.

To achieve this goal, HEP collaborated with a project that provides the most comprehensive, one-stop, online mapping application in the New York region focused on enhancing open space stewardship: the Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS) found on the internet at www.oasisnyc.net. HEP realized that collaborating with OASIS would be more efficient and timely than developing its own website showing the locations of the more than 160 HEP priority habitat acquisition and restoration sites.

This habitat information was added to OASIS’s maps in 2003 and has been available for viewing since then by the more than 300,000 annual visitors to the OASIS website.

OASIS maps make it easy for someone to “see” how close they live, for example, to the Four Sparrow Marsh, a 4.5 acre restoration site in Mill Basin, Brooklyn (see Figure 1). The maps include information about the marsh’s wading birds and wetlands, as well as information that the restoration project there needs additional funding.

The maps also reveal that a shopping mall is proposed adjacent to the property, while shaded land use maps show that the marsh is owned by NYC’s Department of General Services and is considered a “Forever Wild” site by the NYC Parks Department. Perhaps most important, the map identifies three schools within a mile of the marsh, providing a potential team of parents, teachers, and students to aid in the restoration of this important habitat site.

The OASIS project was conceived by the USDA Forest Service in 2000 as a way to bring together grassroots groups, agencies, businesses, educational institutions, and individuals to enhance stewardship by providing a common, online, open space inventory.

But equally impor tant, the organizations involved in OASIS – numbering more than 40 – provide a networking vehicle for the private and public sectors, creating coalitions and opportunities focused on issues of protecting and acquiring open space in the region. In addition to HEP, OASIS partners with the NYC Audubon Society to highlight “natural areas” within the city’s parklands, the Council on the Environment of New York City to map community gardens, and Greening for Breathing to map and publicize greening efforts in the South Bronx.

OASIS is also an educational resource for habitat information, serving as a research tool for students from grade school through graduate school, as well as a mechanism to teach adults how to utilize visual data for planning and advocacy.

The OASIS-HEP partnership – now in its third year through the generous support of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission – has two main goals. One is to enable HEP and others to easily display and analyze the habitat sites in relationship to other resources such as wetlands, parks, gardens, and waterways, as well as infrastructure such as transit routes, ferries, and land use patterns.

The second goal is to enhance the OASIS website by adding the HEP information as a public resource, and to include the Harbor & Estuary Program as an OASIS partner to share information, resources, and environmental stewardship strategies. Both goals have been achieved, and the OASIS team – coordinated by the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center – is now working to expand and enhance the website to better highlight habitat resources throughout the region.

Due to the popularity and ease of use of Google’s new mapping software, OASIS integrates HEP data with Google’s maps (see Figure 2). From OASIS you can automatically display habitat sites in Google Earth with its fly-over experience and aerial photos. Then, from Google Earth you can link back to OASIS to see habitat sites plus a wealth of other mapped data not yet available through Google.

Habitat site information is updated regularly on OASIS, including soon-to-be-added data from the Hudson Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan lead by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Other new features will include a mechanism for HEP participants to post comments and feedback about habitat sites so future OASIS map users can get a more comprehensive picture of habitat protection at particular sites. And a new search option will be available to provide access to the maps based on habitat site names and related information.

OASIS maps will soon display habitat locations with color-coded symbols identifying sites that have been acquired, restored, or lost to development. This will make it easier for web users to pinpoint areas based on need. Accompanying the new color-coding will be a list including habitat site name, status (acquired, restored, or lost), acreage acquired or restored, and updated point of contact information.

The Harbor & Estuary Program has expanded its reach through OASIS’s strong and growing following. The website is used by tens of thousands of people who make more than 1 million maps every year. City agencies rely on it, community groups and schools describe it as invaluable, and even the New York Times featured it as a “great source of information about the built environment in New York City,” in addition to the green environment.

This combination of information makes OASIS a uniquely important tool for the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program. And par ticipation by HEP makes OASIS a much richer resource for citizens throughout the Harbor Estuary region. Please visit the website and offer your feedback so we can work together to make this an even more effective partnership. For direct access to HEP habitat sites on OASIS, please visit www.oasisnyc. net/hep_map.htm.

Steven Romalewski oversees the development of the Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS) partnership at the CUNY Graduate Center. He consults with groups in other cities engaged in similarly collaborative web-based projects; enhances the delivery of other interactive online mapping applications; leverages the value of OASIS and these other mapping applications as educational resources by developing curriculum programs around them as appropriate; provides consulting and mapping as a service for CUNY and institutions outside CUNY; and provides educational services around geographic information systems (GIS).

Public Access Work Group Formed back to top

The public access subcommittee of HEP’s Citizens Advisory Committee gained full work group status at the end of 2007. The newly formed Public Access Work Group is composed of former public access subcommittee members and agency representatives from New York and New Jersey. Identifying opportunities for public access in the Harbor Estuary and the providing related necessary resources are the goals of the work group.

The work group is currently exploring the following projects:

• A GIS analysis of the database of existing access points in light of census data in order to identify areas with more than ½ mile between access points that also have where higher concentrations of young people, lower-income people, nonnative English speaking people

• Organizing “water event days” in local communities to support the efforts of local groups

• Researching and publishing a list of good examples or “model” access points that can stand as case studies or Best Management Practices (BMPs)

• Compiling a list of potential access points (using a nomination process similar to HEP’s habitat and acquisitions sites) around which the Work Group can help to rally and focus local resources and energy If you or your organization is interested in becoming involved with the Public Access Work Group, please contact Bob Nyman at 212-637-3816.

A Victory for Habitat and Open Space
Mount Loretto Woods Acquired by Port Authority
HEP Priority Habitat Acquisition Site AK14
back to top

On December 17, 2006, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Board of Commissioners approved the terms of an agreement with the Trust for Public Land for the acquisition of the North Mount Loretto property on Staten Island. The approximately 75 acre property is to be conveyed to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the purposes of conservation and recreation. The Mount Loretto property, HEP Priority Habitat Acquisition Site AK14, is a wooded area with ponds and wildlife on the south shore of Staten Island.

This approximately $12.5 million acquisition is the most recent in the Port Authority’s Hudson-Raritan Estuary Resources Program. It is a beautiful and environmentally significant site and we are very pleased to have ensured that it will remain open space.

HEP Recognizes its Partners back to top

As the assessment phase of the Contamination Assessment and Reduction Project (CARP) project wraps up, HEP would like to recognize all those involved with this monumental project. Especially worthy of appreciation are the States of NY and NJ and Port Authority for technical work and funding, as well as the Hudson River Foundation for relentless coordination efforts. Thanks also go to the Model Evaluation Group and all those who contributed to the vision of what the Harbor could be. HEP will now be taking advantage of the powerful CARP modeling tool for the development of TMDLs for toxics.

Biologist Frank Steimle Retires
back to top

After 40 years of dedicated federal government service, our good friend and colleague, Frank Steimle, has retired. Through his position at NOAA Fisheries in Sandy Hook, Frank has provided valuable insight, practical know-how, and quite a lot of expertly written material for the New York - New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program. Frank has served on the HEP Management Committee, Habitat Work Group, and numerous living resource subcommittees. His expertise on benthic communities and fish will be sorely missed. We all wish him well in whatever he chooses to do next. Best Fishes to you Frank!

Comprehensive Restoration Plan for Habitat in the Harbor back to top
Robert Nyman and James Lodge

By this time next year, all of us dedicated to the restoration of the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary will have a powerful new tool to help us get the job done. This tool is the Comprehensive Restoration Plan (CRP). It is part of the overall Hudson - Raritan Estuary (HRE) Ecosystem Restoration Study that is being facilitated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. To be clear, this is not just a Corps plan, but a stakeholder plan which in 2006 was endorsed by the HEP Policy Committee as the habitat restoration plan for the Estuary. This is particularly meaningful and powerful because the Environmental Commissioners of NY and NJ are among the HEP Policy Committee members.

The CRP is to be a comprehensive, system-wide restoration plan that will identify all actions that collectively would restore the valuable habitat of the Harbor Estuary. The CRP will build upon the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), as well as other initiatives and programs of HEP, Regional Plan Association, Harbor Round Table, Hudson River Foundation, the two States, and others. The CRP is envisioned as a unified restoration agenda for the Estuary reflecting the collective vision of all the stakeholders, clearly specifying what we are trying to accomplish while establishing a coherent framework for achieving our desires and monitoring our progress.

The highly urban nature of the NY-NJ Metropolitan region poses many challenges to restoration, not least of which are limited available land and, in some areas, highly contaminated sediments. The CRP study area encompasses approximately 2,000 square miles with an average density of nearly 6,000 people per square mile. It includes the tidally influenced sections of the Hackensack, Passaic, Raritan, Shrewsbury, Navesink, Harlem, and East Rivers. Because of the dramatic changes that have occurred in the region, the restoration philosophy of the CRP recognizes the irreversible nature of many of these alterations and is focused on re-naturing, rather than restoration to a particular historical state. Our restoration goal is to develop a mosaic of habitats that provides society with new and increased benefits from the estuary environment.

For the CRP to be successful, it is critical that stakeholders work together in support of reasonable goals. To that end, the Hudson River Foundation has been working with a group of scientists to develop a series of Target Ecosystem Characteristics (TECs). These TECs will serve to guide the study by providing basic goals and objectives, or design criteria, to focus the restoration agenda. The TECs describe important ecosystem attributes ranging from oyster habitats to maritime forests (see side box for draft TECs). In most cases, the TECs do not represent specif ic habitats or locations to restore, but instead provide a scientif ic rationale and quantifiable end point on which the HRE study can focus resources and evaluate opportunities.

Potential restoration areas are def ined as places where the establishment of one or more of the TEC goals and associated habitats could be possible. The Corps plans on using GIS tools to help identify suitable areas for specific types of restoration, especially restoration work that would be targeted to aquatic sites. Wetland and upland sites may well be selected from the recently combined HEP and Corps habitat lists that will soon be available on the interactive OASIS website.

Once the CRP is completed, the Corps plans on developing a focused feasibility effort to concentrate on those elements that have cost-sharing sponsor interest and are within Corps authority to implement. Concurrently, other participants, particularly the States, National Park Service, and NOAA, can use the CRP to guide their restoration efforts and implement other plan elements within their own authorities.

While a comprehensive, unified and cohesive plan may be easier for all stakeholders and participants to embrace, funding for the actual restoration projects is far from certain at this point. Continuing collaboration, strategic alliances and partnerships are essential. Federal, State, local and corporate funding mechanisms will need to be put in place in order for this effort to be fully successful. In addition, there remain some differences of opinion among environmental groups and regulatory agencies regarding which habitat types can and should be restored. While there is a great deal of positive interest and growing momentum toward a unified restoration agenda, unless these regulatory and policy issues can be resolved, certain kinds of restoration may never happen - and we will never realize our collective vision of a restored Harbor Estuary.

Robert Nyman is EPA Director of the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program. James Lodge is Research Project Associate with the Hudson River Foundation.

Cathy Yuhas Teaching Biology
back to top

Cathy Yuhas has been a key member of the HEP Office for five years, working with and supporting several of the work groups, developing important technical documents, and playing a lead role in two EstuaryLive productions. Recently, Cathy has decided on a career change and has begun teaching biology at a high school in Jersey City. Good luck Cathy, we miss you already!

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) back to top
Dr. Susan Elbin

A familiar sight in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, Double-crested Cormorants occur along coastal and inland waters across North America in five major regions: Alaska, the Pacific Coast, Canadian and U.S. Interior, Gulf Coast, and Atlantic Coast. Cormorants are a large (~ 2 kg), black/brownish bird built for swimming and catching fish, the mainstay of their diet. Perched on structures in or near the water, resting with wings spread open, or swimming low in the water, cormorants appear to be quite serene. But step into a breeding colony on islands of Swinburne or South Brother during June or July and you’ll experience something else entirely: hundreds of nests, many hundreds of young birds, and non-stop action! Cormorants are colonial nesters. They build their nests close together, often in mixed-species colonies with wading birds such as egrets, ibis, and herons. In 2006, there were over 2,200 cormorants nesting in the Harbor Estuary.

Once considered to be threatened and in need of federal protection, Double-crested Cormorants were protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since the mid 1970s, the population has increased dramatically and the increased population size is an indicator of success. Passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, along with the subsequent cleaning up of the waterways, have resulted in an increase in the fish prey base. In fact, cormorants are now over-abundant in parts of their range. With this tremendous increase in the number of breeding cormorants, potential management conflicts and impacts have developed, or re-surfaced, in three areas: impacts to fisheries, impacts on vegetation at cormorant breeding and roosting sites, and impacts to other species within the breeding colonies.

Is this the situation in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary? There are many questions about cormorants in the Harbor that we are starting to address: Are their numbers increasing in the Harbor? Do our metropolitan birds mix with the inland colonies? Where do they winter? Are they impacting vegetation, co-occurring species, and fish populations in the Harbor? During the summer of 2006, the Wildlife Trust’s New York Bioscape Initiative started a color banding program to individually mark cormorants hatched in the Harbor in order to learn more about their biology. The next time you see a cormorant in the Harbor, take a look at its legs. If you see a color band, please call 212-380-4478 to report the band’s color and number, as well as the location of your sighting. In doing so, you’ll help us learn more about the ecology of our local HEP cormorant population.

Dr. Susan Elbin is a Senior Scientist with the Wildlife Trust and is Director of the New York Bioscape Initiative. She has been studying colonial waterbirds for over 15 years.


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