Government Updates: The Great American Outdoors Act and A Community Preservation Plan for the Town of New Paltz, NY
FEDERAL Great American Outdoors Act Moves to the House On July 22nd, in a 310-107 bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). An identical bill passed the Senate in June with a resounding 73-25 majority. The GAOA was signed by President Trump on August 4th and became public law on August 9th. Many believe this is the most important conservation legislation passed in the last 50 years! And it has been a priority for conservationists for decades. The GAOA will dedicate $6.65 billion over five years to addressing the $11.9 billion backlog of maintenance projects across more than 400 national parks, monuments, recreation areas and historic sites. An additional $2.9 billion will be used for repairs on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education. The GAOA will also finally fund the important Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at the $900 million annual rate authorized in 1964 (when President Johnson signed the bill into law). The LWCF, funded from royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters, was created to both foster recreation and acquire more open space annually to supplement the nation’s public lands. It also supplies grants to states to protect historic sites, steward natural areas, preserve rare species and create recreational opportunities (like ballfields, picnic areas and swimming pools). LWCF money has been used in virtually every county in the country! The Land Alliance applauds every member of Congress who voted in favor of enacting the GAOA. At a time when Americans are finding peace in nature, the GAOA will go a long way to ensuring that our natural resources are protected and access to the outdoors is available for all. This great outcome was the result of many years of committed efforts from conservation advocates like the Land Alliance. We are grateful to our members who made the calls and wrote the emails to help achieve this legislative victory. We have definitely been a part of ensuring that our public lands will be there for generations to come. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet on seeing any results. As of this writing, land acquisition lists due to Congress on November 2nd are held up in the political morass. Conservation Ballot Measures Across the Country The importance of nature and the environment was evident this election as voters across the country approved more than two dozen conservation ballot measures resulting in nearly $3.7 billion in new funding for land conservation, parks, climate resiliency and habitat. Here are some of the most notable measures that were passed: CALIFORNIA The $487.5 million bond in Prop A for San Francisco parks and recreation will direct $239 million to parks and open space. COLORADO Climate sales tax in Denver – Measure 2 will introduce a “climate sales tax,” a quarter-cent sales tax increase that is expected to generate $720 million for a variety of climate-related programs. The measure also mandates that funding “should maximize investments in communities of color, under resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change”. Residents in the Colorado River Water Conservation District chose to increase their property taxes to protect streams and improve water use. This measure could generate $100 million over 20 years. FLORIDA Three Florida counties will raise property taxes to pay for environmental programs. • Residents in Volusia County voted to increase property taxes to renew the Volusia Forever land conservation program and pay for the Environmental, Cultural, Historic and outdoor Recreation program. The measure is expected to generate $100 million. • Increased property taxes in Collier County are expected to raise $287 million for the acquisition and management of environmentally sensitive lands. • In Manatee County, a property tax increase is expected to produce $108 million for the acquisition, improvement and management of land to protect water quality, preserve wildlife habitat and provide parks. Marijuana initiatives passed in five states. Initiative I-190 in Montana included a provision to allocate 50% of tax proceeds from recreational marijuana sales to land conservation. The measure is expected to generate $360 million over 20 years and is an unprecedented move for a major U.S. city. NEW YORK STATE The 2020 Saving Mother Nature Bond Act was postponed at the last minute due to COVID-19. Hopefully we will have another chance next year. There was one local ballot measure in the State of New York. The town of New Paltz has established a Community Preservation Fund. Modelled after a successful program that has existed in the five East End towns of Long Island for decades, the New Paltz Water Quality, Working Farms, Wildlife Habitat and Natural Areas Preservation Fund creates a small real estate transfer fee on sales that exceed the median home value in the town, and directs funding generated to an account that will help the town protect affordable housing while leveraging private, state and federal dollars to conserve local forests, family farms and clean water. The measure is expected to generate more than $3.5 million over the next 20 years. More than 70% of town voters supported this measure, which was approved as part of the November election. Environmental bond measures tend to do extremely well in years of big voter turnout as was experienced this year.
Thank You to the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Charitable Trust for Extending the Grant for our O’Neil Conservation Stewards Program for Another Five Years. North Shore Land Alliance is excited to announce the renewal of the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Conservation Steward Program for the next five years. We are very grateful to the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Charitable Trust and Trustees John Crabill and Hollis Russell for continuing this fabulous program which both helps the Land Alliance and trains the next generation of conservation stewards. Interns at Shore Road, Cold Spring Harbor About the Program The Land Alliance launched its college intern program in May 2016, thanks to funding from the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Charitable Trust. The program was modeled after the Student Conservation Association. Through this new program, our interns, who are selected on a competitive basis, will gain a variety of skills from writing management plans for preserves, mapping trails, organizing volunteer and fundraising events, managing invasive plants, installing a woodland trail at Wawapek and educating the public about conservation. It is our hope that this experience with a variety of projects, will help the O’Neil Stewards build their job skills and inspire them to consider a career in conservation. For more information about the Program, please visit our website at www.northshorelandalliance.org/oneil-stewards-program. Contact Information Meghan Leverock Phone: (516) 922-1028 Email: email@example.com
Water Issues Are Not Unique to Long Island: Conservation in the “River of Grass” “The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we may get to keep the planet.” ~ Marjory Stoneman Douglas, founder of Friends of the Everglades Guest Author Philip Kushlan, president of Friends of the Everglades, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting, preserving and restoring the only Everglades in the world. Learn more on Facebook or at everglades.org. The Florida Everglades is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. Home to the American alligator, the Florida panther and countless other endemic species, the Everglades also provides important ecosystem services to South Florida such as replenishing our freshwater aquifers and buffering us from storms and flooding. The Everglades also face some huge challenges to its conservation. It depends on just the right amount of fresh water flowing through the southern end of the state, in wet years and in dry years. It needs incredibly clean water, devoid of any extra nutrients, or it quickly shifts from the sawgrass dominated ecosystem the rest of the native animals depend on to a cattail dominated one. Discharges of toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee through the St. Lucie river to the coast in 2016. Photo credit: Greg Lovett, Palm Beach Post Photo credit: Greg Lovett, Palm Beach Post Nature gave us the blueprint for how to keep this balance – when it rained too much, the water sheeted across the wide, flat state and the hot Florida sun evaporated the excess. When it rained too little, the porous limestone bedrock sucked up every drop and shuttled it south. The marshes between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades took care of any excess nutrients, sequestering them as plant biomass as the water flowed south. But that was then. Today, in large part because of the influence of the agricultural industry, water is held back in Lake Okeechobee for irrigation purposes. Decades of pollution from stormwater and agricultural runoff north of Lake Okeechobee have resulted in massive blooms of toxic algae. When the lake is held too high and a big storm comes, the Army Corps has no choice but to dump the water to the coasts, toxic algae or not, and that’s what happened in the summer of 2016. Our coastal estuaries and their fishing and tourism-based economies were decimated, not to mention creating a legitimate health crisis for the people living there. These toxins have been shown to cause serious respiratory problems and there is evidence that the neurotoxins released may lead to increased instances of diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS. South of the lake, we lack the land we need for “treatment marshes” to clean the water flowing south to below the 10 ppb of phosphorus that the Everglades needs to survive. In 2018 Florida passed a plan to create a 23-foot deep reservoir south of the lake that included less than one third of the treatment marsh acreage needed to clean the water it can hold, risking us creating a new, “mini-Lake Okeechobee” in the southern end of the system. Classic tree hammock swamp in the Big Cypress National Preserve, adjacent to Everglades National Park. Photo credit: National Park Service Photo credit: National Park Service Despite these challenges, we have a good idea of how to fix them. Nature, after all, has already provided us with the blueprint. We need to alter the Army Corps lake operations manual to send more water south in the dry season, lowering the lake level so that if a big storm comes, the lake can simply absorb the excess water without discharging toxic algae to the coasts. For this effort to be successful, more land needs to be secured for use as treatment marshes and that takes political will. The best way to generate political will is through grass roots advocacy. So when people ask what they can do to help solve the problem, I say they can learn about the issues, they can support organizations doing the hard policy work and they can support political candidates who are champions for the cause. But the single biggest thing they can do is to get out there and spend time in these amazing places. Go camping in Big Cypress, go kayaking along the mangrove shores, go for a full moon bike ride along Shark Alley, take a drive around Loop Road or a stroll over alligators down the Bobcat Boardwalk! Take someone who has never experienced these magical places and post your amazing photos on social media! The Everglades may be a very different ecosystem from Long Island’s North Shore but our conservation challenges are similar. In many ways these conservation efforts are a test for all of us, and the biggest key to success is showing people the reason these places are worth saving in the first place. So, for those of you who may spend time in South Florida this winter, be sure to take a day and see for yourself what makes the Everglades so special and worth fighting for!
Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate! Over the course of our lifetimes, it is possible that another 130,000 plant species could be wiped out if we do not take action now. Biodiversity is being lost – locally, regionally and globally. It is now estimated that approximately one third of global plant species are at risk of extinction. Scientists say that plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally. Over the last 250 years, almost 600 plant species have disappeared. Over the course of our lifetimes, it is possible that another 130,000 plant species could be wiped out if we do not take action now. Plants are very important to our planet; they form the critical base of food chains in nearly all ecosystems. Without plants there would be no oxygen to breathe and no food to eat. In addition, plants help filter water and air, contain many medicinal properties and provide humans with the ability to make fire and build houses. Scientists believe humanity is a long way from utilizing the full potential of biodiversity, in particular plants and fungi. They also believe it is critical to explore the solutions plants could provide to the many global threats we face today. For example, rice and corn are staples to more than half the people on earth. It is estimated that by 2050 10 billion people will inhabit the planet. (That is a lot of rice and corn to go around!) Researching the earth’s edible plants is key to finding food sources that will be able to sustain our growing population. According to a study conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, there are nearly 7,000 species of edible plants on earth (not including famine foods eaten during emergencies), yet only around 400 of them are currently considered food crops. Scientists are working to find alternative food sources. Why are plants disappearing? It’s plain and simple – human activities are accelerating the loss of biodiversity. The greatest threats to plant species include habitat loss, climate change, pollution and overexploitation. Every hour, 6000 acres of rainforest are burned or cut down to make way for agriculture, livestock, logging and mining. In a single year, the ozone pollution in India kills enough crops to feed 94 million people. What can YOU DO? Long Island is home to many different species of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. If you are not already doing so, consider planting Long Island natives on your property! Restoring native plant communities is vital to preserving Long Island’s biodiversity, providing shelter and nutritious food for pollinators and other desirable wildlife and helping prevent invasive species from taking over. Sources for Native Plants (1) Long Island Native Plant Initiative and its native plant sales – the best! Plants sold by LINPI are not only native but also genetically appropriate (ecotypic) for Long Island – www.linpi.org (2) NYC Parks Department of Parks Natural Resources Group’s Greenbelt Native Plant Center – availability of plants for sale to general public may be somewhat limited but DEFINITELY worth looking into. www.nycgovparks.org/greening/greenbelt-native-plant-center/products (3) Long Island Natives – www.longislandnatives.com (4) Glover Perennials – www.gloverperennials.com
This past spring the Land Alliance made application to have the Schmidlapp-Humes Estate Historic District listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The area making up the historic district encompasses 81 acres of the original 83-acre country estate that Carl and Frances Schmidlapp built from 1923 to 1927. The District includes the Land Alliance’s Humes Preserve and John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, the lower half of Shu Swamp (30 acres formerly known as the Schmidlapp Lowlands), Nassau County land protected as part of the 2008 Environmental Bond Program and two private properties that were the former estate’s main house and stable complex. The Schmidlapp-Humes Estate is recognized as a significant cultural landscape associated with the development of summer estates on the North Shore of Long Island during the second wave of the Country Estate Era. It also is considered significant in the areas of architecture and landscape architecture because of people the Humes and Schmidlapps hired to make improvements on the property from 1921 through 1966. Some of the Gold Coast’s most noted and prolific architects and landscape architects including Peabody, Wilson & Brown, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Ferruccio Vitale and Innocenti & Webel were involved in projects there. Later architects included Bradley Delehanty and Alfred Shaknis as well as Japanese Stroll Garden designer Douglas DeFaya. They all helped to craft what the property reflects today. Preservation grants supported this project and allowed the Land Alliance to work with historic consultants on the surveys and inventories that served as the basis for our application for listing. This historic designation makes the properties eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching grants. The Land Alliance has already begun to pursue grants for the adaptive reuse of the Tavern House to serve as our future offices. The surveys, inventories and application also permanently document the significance of the former estate for the community and broader public. An overview of the evolution of the property is on display at the Humes Preserve tennis hut. To view the presentation that Patricia O’Donnell of Heritage Landscape Architects has shared with us: please click the link: www.northshorelandalliance.org/videos. Frances and Carl Schmidlapp’s pool circa 1930 designed by Ferruccio Vitale, Vitale & Geiffert (now part of a private residence) Jean Schmidlapp and John Humes pool circa 1970s designed by Innocenti & Webel. Richard K. Webel and Umberto Innocenti worked for Vitale & Geiffert in 1930 and later formed their own firm.
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