Looking for horseshoe crab counting clubs? Seeking to meet fellow black duck enthusiasts? At last, a “relationship” website has been developed targeted to the deep, dark desires of local conservationists.
Last week, in honor of Earth Day, Group for the East End launched a new website that aims to forge connections between citizens, benefactors, politicians, and conservation groups who share a passion for the protection of local wildlife.
The website, NYSWAP.org, is a dynamic, digital realization of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2015 “State Wildlife Action Plan,” an assessment of the population status of 600 species of wildlife in the state. The site is intended to familiarize visitors with the core findings of the DEC study, educate the public about living harmoniously with wildlife, and provide a virtual meeting place through which volunteers, donors, and environmental groups can exchange information and resources.
According to the DEC report, 366 of the 597 species assessed were designated as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need,” 166 of the 366 were classified as “High Priority,” meaning their population levels are already or may become critically low if threats to their survival continue without intervention, and 55 of the 366 are Long Island natives, such as American black ducks, fin whales, eastern scallops, harbor seals, North American river otters, horseshoe crabs, and winter flounder.
“The good news,” said Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, “is that progress is being made in the preservation of species receiving attention, like terns, plovers, and osprey. The bad news is that based on what the state is telling us, there are species the DEC doesn’t have any data for yet. There are others in critical need of attention if the goal is a sustainable population. And to be honest, there are local species listed as ‘at risk’ that surprised even me, like the box turtle.”
After reading the report, members of the Group for the East End met with NYSDEC to discuss what needed to be done and how they might be able to help. The consensus was that a website would be the most cost-effective way to create an effective and engaging communication vehicle.
“The fundamental goal was to raise awareness about conservation efforts and needs in our area and beyond,” Mr. DeLuca said. “But since the SWAP report is species-based, we knew we had an opportunity to reach people through stories about critters. We could have click throughs to DEC fact sheets, case studies about habitat restoration projects, and posts about monitoring projects in need of volunteers. In theory, someone with an interest in the protection of horseshoe crab populations could be able to find groups conducting research on just that. And, if not, then might be inspired to start a group.”
“What better tool?” said Carrie Gallagher, Regional Director of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, of the website. “We haven’t had the ability to do this at DEC, but now we have a partner who has taken on the responsibility to make sure the information is communicated effectively.”
With the funding from the Long Island Community Foundation, the Group for the East End was able to hire college students from Dartmouth College and George Washington University to sift through the primary source wildlife action plan, convert it into a user-friendly format, summarize the findings, and feature the information that is most relevant to the East End. “These guys worked diligently on the site for two years,” Mr. DeLuca said. “They did an excellent job.”
Just how excellent? Pretty excellent, says Mr. DeLuca, considering that last week’s press conference at the 225-acre Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead brought the support of Senator Kenneth LaValle, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Director, Carrie Gallagher, Robert DiGiovanni of Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, and Mike Bottini of Long Island Nature Organization. “Going forward, we’ll try to maintain the intern project to keep the site updated and fresh,” Mr. DeLuca said. “And if they haven’t done so already, it would be great if this site became a model for the other eight DEC regional offices to create something similar for threatened species in their areas.
Visitors to the site can learn about places to visit to experience wildlife, such as Quoque Wildlife Refuge, Orient Beach State Park, or Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue, preservation efforts at Plum Island and the Calverton grasslands, and tips for wildlife care, including what to do with injured, sick, or abandoned wildlife.
“This isn’t just about appreciation. It’s about interaction, conflict resolution, and assistance. There are practical realities to living in connection to wildlife, for example, what to do when you find a baby deer or an injured bird. But it’s also about fun, which is why the family section includes a scavenger hunt,” Mr. DeLuca said. “I know from experience that sparking the interest and excitement of children is the key to future sustainability. I myself got into this whole “conservation business” because my mother, who was a librarian, gave me a Golden Guide to birds when I was young. I took it out into the backyard, and that’s it. I was hooked.”