Friday, November 11, 2011

Public Hearing On Eliminating Invasive Species At Crooke's Point

Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Richard T. Lynch, president of Sweet Bay Magnolia Conservancy, is part of the panel of speakers addressing the proposed restoration project at Crooke's Point, which was discussed at the annual meeting of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods on Nov. 2 at the Staten Island Zoo. (Staten Island Advance/Kathryn Carse)

Staten Island

Crooke's Point reaches around the eastern edge of Great Kills Harbor. (Photo: Coast Guard Auxiliary)

Representatives from Protectors of Pine Oak Woods (PPOW), the city Parks Department and the National Parks Service (NPS) have been meeting over the last year to discuss a proposed restoration project on Crooke's Point, a natural area in Gateway National Recreation Area in Great Kills, according to the Staten Island Advance.

The discussion went public last week with two walks at the site and a panel presentation at Protectors' annual meeting in the auditorium of the Staten Island Zoo.

Crooke's Point is a barrier beach that protects Great Kills Harbor. It also has a triangular interior area of 25 acres on which trees, bushes and vines grow. Much of the vegetation is invasive or non-native growth and there is disagreement about what should be done to remediate the site and how.

"The crisis is not environmental; it's about communication," said Dave Avrin to begin his presentation on the project. Chief of the division of resources management with the National Park Service, Avrin is also a Huguenot resident and member of PPOW.

"One of the goals of Gateway National Recreation Area is to reverse deterioration of all park resources," said Avrin.

They are concentrating on areas where 90 percent of the vegetation is invasive. Species that qualify as invasive include oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, porcelain berry and phragmites. In partnership with the city Parks Department Million Trees Project, the National Parks Service will conduct the restoration project as a way to enhance habitat.

A pilot program is to begin this winter on a one- to two-acre site, removing invasives and planting 800 to 1,000 trees and shrubs per acre.

Avrin said exotics will be removed by park employees with the help of volunteers and mechanical equipment. Herbicide will be used, where necessary.

The process will be phased to minimize disruption and trails will remain open. He emphasized that state of the art methods of removal of invasive, exotic plants will be used.

"Any chemicals used must be vetted at regional and federal level. We must make sure it is right, necessary and correct according to DEC (Department of Conservation) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, which are strict regulations," said Avrin.


There are almost as many concerns as there are invasive species.

The Staten Island Museum conducted a survey of plants and wildlife to establish whether a restoration is necessary and what is at risk. Ed Johnson, curator of science, presented the results which include 85 species of plants identified, 64 percent of which are native.

The birds and butterflies, oblivious of native and invasive designations, feed on the berries and flowers. Tree swallows amassed by the thousands and monarch butterflies feed and rest before moving down the coast on their long migratory journeys.

Osprey and ruby-throated hummingbirds are nesting on the point, something not seen for decades.

Johnson noted that a restoration project in Clove Lakes Park under Million Trees NYC had positive results, but the responsibility to do it right and not disrupt what is established is paramount. Herbicide drift, for instance, has the threat of killing valuable plants and contaminating the water, affecting crabs and fish.

Jane Alexander, an associate professor of geology at the College of Staten Island, reported on soil analysis and the efficacy of herbicides.

Staten Island Museum volunteer research associate Paul Lederer questioned the practicality of maintaining the plantings that need watering to get established.

"No one is really talking about upkeep. If you plant them, you have to take care of them," said Lederer.

Richard Lynch, a botanist with the Sweet Bay Magnolia Bioreserve Conservancy, a local environmental group, expressed frustration with making any headway in discussing the issues with the NPS and city Parks Department who didn't seem compelled to take seriously the recommendations of local naturalists.


"Before you buy drums of toxins, look for the least invasive way to get the job done," said Lynch. He recommended mechanical removal and landscape fabric which prevent weeds from germinatng. He also recommended using acorns and seedlings that get acclimated more naturally and don't need constant maintenance.

Ellen Pratt, co-chair of the conservation committee, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, questioned the "mantra to plant native species."

She noted the invasives are rich in food for the birds and butterflies who don't care that they are not native species.

She also questioned the resources the initiative would require. Crooke's Point has very few phragmites, but at the other end of the park, the phragmites are causing a tremendous problem.

"People with homes that backup to Gateway (on the north end of the park) would love to have trees rather than phragmites," said Ms. Pratt, proposing the project shift to that end of the park.

Despite the criticisms and red flags, Avrin remains positive. "We are in it for the long run. We think in terms of hundreds of years. Our hope is we can restore Crooke's Point to a habitat that is more productive and natural," said Avrin during the question-and-answer period.

(NEXT WEEK: A closer look at Crooke's Point.)

Mid-week Birding Walk
Crooke's Point
10 a.m. to noon,
Wednesday, Nov. 16

Meeting place
Park in the last parking lot before Crooke's Point

Read More:

Staten Island Advance - November 09, 2011- By Kathryn Carse

A Walk In The Park - October 27, 2011

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