Items tagged with 'environment'
The Cuomo admin released the final master plan for John Boyd Thacher and Thompson's Lake State Parks this week. The plan, which follows a draft plan from earlier this year, is like a road map for the future direction of the parks, identifying new uses and facility upgrades along with a general sense of how those developments are prioritized.
A quick scan of the highlights are after the jump. They include: a merger of the two parks, a redesigned main park area, rock climbing, cave access, mountain biking, expanded beach area, and new bathrooms.
After seeing this National Geographic continent-level map based on projections of sea level rise from melting ice, we were curious how rises in sea level could affect the Hudson Valley.
Wait, the Hudson Valley? Yep, it's tidal all the way up to the Federal Dam at Troy. From a Scenic Hudson report (link added):
Over the past century, sea level on the Hudson has risen about a foot--more precisely about 3.2mm per year--a rate greater than the global average. The best data available indicates that we can expect the Hudson's water levels to continue rising up to six feet by the end of this century, and perhaps that much again during the next century.
To help people get a better understanding on the implications of the rising water levels, Scenic Hudson has posted an interactive "Sea Level Rise Mapper." It's good -- it allows you to zoom in on a specific area to see what areas will be threatened, along with projected numbers for affected acreage and households, for the Hudson Valley from just north of NYC all the way up to Troy.
The short story for this area, based on the Scenic Hudson map: Even with a six-foot rise in sea level, many parts of this area along the river would still be protected from permanent inundation (though those low-lying areas of East Greenbush and Schodack along the train tracks get swallowed up). But the area in potential danger during a large flooding event would increase, covering significant portions of Green Island, Troy, Watervliet, Rensselaer, and downtown Albany.
Politics Recent argument from Bruce Gyory, a political consultant here in Albany and adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany: Climate change will become "the fundamental factor realigning American politics." [City & State]
Earlier on AOA: Photos of Irene flooding in Troy
map: Scenic Hudson
Kirsten Gillibrand's office announced today that the Senator is asking the US Secretary of the Interior to designate the Albany Pine Bush Preserve as a National Natural Landmark. From the letter KG's office released:
The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a unique ecosystem located on a 3,200-acre site in Albany County, New York. The preserve is one of the best-remaining examples of an inland pine barren habitat. The open areas and well-drained sandy soils of the preserve support a globally-rare pitch pine-scrub oak community and is home to more than 1,300 species of plants, 156 species of birds, 20 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 30 species of mammals, as well as rare species of butterflies and moths. Among its diverse flora and fauna, the Albany Pine Bush supports the federally-listed endangered Karner blue butterfly, as well as the rare inland barrens buckmoth. The Albany Pine Bush is the site of one of thirteen Federal Recovery Units working to rebuild adult populations and restore suitable habitat for the Karner blue butterfly across the range of the endangered species.
The term "National Natural Landmark" sounds kind of impressive -- and the National Park Service website says "NNLs are the best remaining examples of a type of feature in the country and sometimes in the world." But we get the impression it's a largely symbolic. The designation doesn't change ownership of the landmark, nor does it impose any land use restrictions, according to an FAQ about the program posted by the National Park Service. It's largely a voluntary commitment by the landowner to preserve the landmark. (The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a state preserve.)
If anything, the National Natural Landmark designation is another sign that people's perception of the place continues to evolve, to the ecosystem's benefit. The last couple of hundred years haven't been kind to the Pine Bush. It suffered from a rather poor reputation in the 19th century. The Thruway and Washington Ave Extension were plowed through it. A mall was built. A landfill sited in it. It's only in the last four decades or so that momentum has shifted in the direction of preservation.
The Pine Bush once covered an area of about 40 square miles -- it's now about 1/8 that size.
There are 596 National Natural Landmarks in the US and its territories -- and 27 sites designated as National Natural Landmarks located at least partially within New York State, according to the National Park Service. The list includes two in the immediate Capital Region: Bear Swamp in Albany County, and Petrified Gardens in Saratoga County.
After reading this interview with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, we were curious the closest, darkest place. We'll get to that in a second. First, a clip from the interview:
There's a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That's not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I've been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can't have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.
A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it's bright. That's the great thing--the darker it gets, if it's clear, the brighter the night is. That's something we never see either, because it's so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.
But we're not too far from a few spots that qualify as pretty darn dark (a scientific term). According to maps created by The World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness based on satellite data, there's a patch in the middle of the Adirondacks that qualifies for the second-darkest category on the scale used by the atlas -- here's a zoomable map. Specifically, the patch is just west of Blue Mountain Lake, around Raquette Lake. It's about 135 miles from Albany.
It's not surprising the Adirondacks have a spot like this -- it's one of the least-lit places in the eastern United States.
This is sobering: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that the national number of Lyme disease cases had been about 30,000 per year over the last few years. But this week it reported that preliminary estimates based on new research indicate the number is around 300,000.
So... that's a lot more.
From the CDC press release:
This early estimate is based on findings from three ongoing CDC studies that use different methods, but all aim to define the approximate number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. The first project analyzes medical claims information for approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years, the second project is based on a survey of clinical laboratories and the third project analyzes self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public.
Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC, making it the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States. The new estimate suggests that the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is roughly 10 times higher than the yearly reported number. This new estimate supports studies published in the 1990s indicating that the true number of cases is between 3- and 12-fold higher than the number of reported cases.
CDC says the three studies are still ongoing and it continues to analyze the data to "refine the estimates and better understand the overall burden of Lyme disease in the United States."
In 2011, the latest year for which the numbers are online, New York State had 3118 confirmed cases of Lyme (and 1372 more "probable" cases), according to the CDC. That amounted to 16 confirmed cases per 100,000 people -- the 12th highest rate in the nation. If the actual number of cases is something like 10x that reported count, New York is looking at a rate of 160 cases per 100,000 people.*
The draft plan is wide ranging, from relatively straightforward and much-needed stuff (like new bathrooms) to a redesign of the some of the park's most-used areas. Also part of the proposed plan: officially combining Thacher and Thompson's Lake into one park. A lot of the changes wouldn't happen overnight -- the plan's timeline could extend as long as 15 years. And, of course, everything is subject to the availability of funding.
There's a public hearing on the proposed master plan for the parks this Thursday (August 1) at the New Scotland town hall at 7 pm.
The planning docs are posted online. We read them through them this afternoon and pulled a few quick-scan highlights.
Perhaps arriving soon: the periodical cicada. A "brood" of the fantastically weird insects -- that climb from the ground every 17 years to molt, sing, mate, lay their eggs, and die -- are emerging along the East Coast this month. And we could see some of them in the Capital Region.
This particular cohort of cicadas -- Brood II, or "The East Coast Brood" -- last emerged in 1996. In previous appearances, its range has stretched from North Carolina to northern New York.
Coming up at the Radix Center in Albany: Regenerative Urban Sustainability Training (RUST), June 1-2. The workshop is focused on "skills for building ecologically resilient communities in today's cities." Blurbage:
In this class, Scott Kellogg and other sustainability experts give attendees a "toolbox" of techniques and knowledge usable by anyone wanting to create sustainable systems in their own communities. Through a combination of group hands-on activities and lectures, participants will learn how to build infrastructure for self-reliance that is simple, affordable, and replicable. These systems can be applied in either urban or rural environments.
The topics range from aquaponics to beekeeping to vertical farming to vegetable oil vehicles.
The cost for the workshop $150-$350, and includes meals. Space is limited.
Earlier on AOA: Startup contest update: The Radix Center
The Albany County Department of Health reported today that a woman in Cohoes was bitten by a potentially rabid grey fox this morning (area map). The fox got away, and officials are urging people to keep an eye out for wild or stray animals that are acting strangely -- and call 911 if one is sighted.
Rabid foxes turn up now and then in this area. Three foxes tested positive for rabies between January and October of 2012 -- one each in Albany, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties -- according to the most recent data posted by the state DEC. There were also three positives in 2011 -- two in Saratoga County, and one in Schenectady County. Statewide that year there were 26 positive tests for rabies in foxes, 21 of those in grey foxes.
Back in 2010 a man was bitten by a rabid fox in Greenwich, in a scene that sounds like something from a B movie. From the Daily Gazette:
Richard Leddy, 40, said he was lying on the town beach reading when he heard someone in the water say, "Oh look, there's a fox."
"I thought they meant on the other bank, but then I heard a snarl and looked over to see the fox in mid-leap," Leddy said. "Next think I knew he'd sunk his teeth into my arm."
The animals that most often turn up with positive rabies tests in the state, at least over the last few years, are raccoons and bats. In 2011, there were 162 raccoons that tested positive, and 64 bats. (That's just a raw count of positive tests by the state lab, not a measure of prevalence within the population of those animals compared to other animals.)
In fact, the last two people to die of rabies in New York State -- in 1995 and 1993 -- got it from a bat, according to the state's Wadsworth Center.
Karner blue butterflies typically have two broods per year, one in May/early June and the second in July. The discovery of a third brood is both remarkable and a bit alarming to Preserve scientists because the eggs produced by the July brood of adult Karners typically overwinter to produce adult Karners the following May. An early and very warm spring is the suspected cause of earlier broods this year and the additional late-season butterflies currently flying in the Preserve. The impacts of a third flight of adults to the long-term recovery of the species are unknown. ...
Only time and continued monitoring will determine if the late 2012 hatch will have an impact on the 2013 butterfly population and the longer-term recovery of the species. "We had no idea a third flight in a single season was possible before 2010" said [Albany Pine Bush Preserve Conservation director Neil] Gifford. According to Gifford, it was in 2010 that Karner blue butterfly managers from Wisconsin to New Hampshire suspected that the late season adults they were seeing may be a previously unknown third flight. "We don't yet have a good understanding of what the implications of a third brood will mean for the recovery of the species" said Gifford, adding "it will likely depend on whether the changing climate brings such conditions more frequently."
The preserve says this spring's emergence of Karner Blues was the earliest on record -- 10 days earlier than the previous record, and 21 days earlier than the 20-year average.
To say that the weather over the past year is odd would be an understatement. A handful of the signs and side effects:
Adult female Karners are captured from New York sites and immediately transported to the rearing facility in Concord, NH. Eggs produced by these butterflies are raised to chrysalises and returned to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. The adults that emerge are released into restored habitat to begin new colonies. ...
"This is a very exciting, and very limited chance to see this Federally endangered butterfly," says Discovery Center Director Jeffrey Folmer. "One question visitors often ask is 'Where can I see the Karner blues?' These beautiful, but tiny butterflies are rare, hard to spot, live only three to five days and are difficult to distinguish from other similar non-endangered butterflies. We now have 600 of them emerging from their chrysalises one by one and they're on view until they all emerge."
The commission says butterflies will available for viewing at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center until mid-July. Admission is free.
The Albany Pine Bush -- a sandy inland pine barren -- is one of the Karner Blue's native habitats (there aren't many remaining). In fact, the butterflies are called "Karner Blues" because of the no-longer hamlet of Karner, New York. Vladimir Nabokov -- yep, the author -- stopped to study the butterflies there in 1950 and ended up naming them. Nabokov once described the insects as being "like blue snowflakes."
photo: courtesy of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, once signed by the Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make public reporting about unsafe water conditions nearly as routine as severe weather warnings. The law will require public wastewater treatment plants to publicly disclose within four hours of releasing raw or partially-treated sewage. The state will also for the first time report annually on reported sewage discharges.
This is an important issue around here because of something called "combined sewer overflows" (CSOs). Basically, when many of the antiquated sewer systems in this area become overwhelmed with storm water, they start dumping the excess -- sewage and all -- into the Hudson and its tributaries. Yep, eww.
Riverkeeper did testing last year for sewage-indicating bacteria in Hudson -- and two of the worst spots for contamination were near Albany (Island Creek/Normans Kill in Glenmont, and the Dunn Memorial Bridge). The org reported that the Capital Region's CSOs "dump an estimated 1.2 billion gallons of combined sewage and wastewater into the Hudson each year."
Earlier on AOA: Something stinks about the Hudson near Albany (includes some good discussion in the comments)
Mappage: We came across this CDC map of reported Lyme disease cases over the last decade (ending in 2010). The CDC site allows you to switch from year-to-year -- we piled all those years into the animation above.
The thing that struck us about the map is the way it illustrates how Lyme has spread from the coast and the very central part of the Hudson Valley to the entire Northeast (as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota).
As it happens, the number of reported cases in New York was down noticeably in 2010, the last year for which the data's posted by the CDC. The state's incidence rate that year -- confirmed cases per 100,000 people -- was 12.3 that year (12th highest in the country). It was 21.2 in 2009, and 29.5 in 2008.
Delaware led the nation in 2010 with a rate of 73.1. Vermont's rate was 43.3 that year, and Massachusetts' 36.3.
Earlier this spring a research org in the Hudson Valley -- the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies -- reported the "northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring." And the reason wasn't the mild winter. Rather, researchers based their projections on mice and acorns:
After spending most of Wednesday hanging out in a tree, the North Greenbush bear finally came down shortly after 4 pm. It wasn't by choice -- he had been hit with a tranquilizer dart -- but it was a soft landing, apparently.
"This guy went down pretty good," said NYS DEC police lieutenant Jim Hays shortly after the landing. Hays said the bear appeared to hit the ground softly while zonked on tranquilizers. "They're like a big bowl of jello when they land."
The black bear had climbed a a large tree in the front yard of a house on Meadow Dr, just across Williams Road from the North Greenbush Town Park. DEC had originally planned to let the bear come down on his own. But after he seemed content to sit in the tree for hours, DEC decided it was time to move things along.
Hays said they were worried about the situation becoming a public safety issue. Williams Road was filling with rush hour traffic. A large crowd of media and onlookers had gathered just on the other side of road. And Hays said people had started to circle around the scene for a better look, cutting off potential escape routes for the bear.
This most recent bear is the third one captured in the the core Capital Region in the last couple of weeks -- the other two were in Albany and Schenectady. There was also a bear
"We need to learn how to live with them," Hays said, describing Albany and Rensselaer counties as bear country. "They're not going to go away."
As with the other recently captured bears, DEC will keep the North Greenbush bear overnight for observation. If he checks out OK, Hays says they'll take him some place more bear appropriate and release him.
There are a bunch of photos from today's scene after the jump.
Interesting story in the New York Times this weekend about a population of feral pigs in the Champlain Valley, about 150 miles north of Albany. DEC officials are worried the population will permanently establish itself, spread, and threaten farms and Adirondack habitats:
Perhaps most worrisome is their reputation as eating machines: the pigs devour ground-nesting birds and reptiles, fawns and domestic livestock, native vegetation and crops. Feral pigs have already proliferated in parts of western New York. But state officials are drawing a line in the topsoil, so to speak, determined to protect both the agrarian economy and the fragile ecosystem from the nascent herd -- or "sounder" in swine-speak -- in the town of Peru.
"There's a real sense of urgency," said Ed Reed, a wildlife biologist for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. "Once the pigs get established, they are very difficult to eradicate completely."
And what are they using to lure the pigs into traps: Jello-laced donuts.
The DEC says "people with a small game license may shoot and keep feral swine at any time and in any number." The resulting pork is said to be rather tasty -- although in some cases apparently there isn't enough sage to cover up the stink.
Feral pig populations are widespread in the South and California -- causing so many problems, in such great numbers, that as an official remarked: "With over 2 million hogs in Texas, we're not going to barbecue our way out of this problem." The animals reportedly cause $400 million in damage there each year and people have resorted to shooting them from helicopters.
photo: NYS DEC
The state Department of Environmental Conservation reports there were 1258 bears killed by hunters in New York in 2011. That's up about 18 percent from 2010 -- and higher than the five-year average (1,152) -- but short of the record on the books (1864 bears in 2003).
Last year's total did include a record number for the sub area that covers part of the Capital Region. The DEC attributes the record to bear hunting being opened in counties stretching from Rockland and Westchester counties north to Washington County. The cover of the DEC report includes a photo of a hunter with a bear killed in Columbia County, which the agency says might have been the first bear taken in the county since the 1800s.
There were 26 bears killed in the Capital Region's core counties last year: Albany (4), Rensselaer (11), Saratoga (11).
Counties in the greater Capital Region: Columbia (10), Greene (68), Schoharie (19), Washington (20), Warren (27).
In recent years DEC has said that bear populations in the state are "thriving."
By the way: the word used by the DEC to describe a year's take of bears (and deer) is "harvest" -- which makes sense. But it always makes us think of a field of bears growing in rows. And we suspect the bears have a different word for it.
Earlier on AOA: Don't feed the bears
photo: Flickr user peupleloup
Electronic gadgets are everywhere -- and in greater numbers every day. It's one side effect of an industry in which an item is considered "old" if was released just a year ago.
So, these items often have a short lifespan. And when the end comes, they have to go somewhere -- and increasingly, that place is not a landfill. As of the start of this year, businesses and municipalities in New York State are no longer allowed to pitch electronics into landfills. And by 2015 that restriction will apply to everyone -- even individuals.
With that in mind, a recent invitation to check out an electronics recycling business in south Troy made us curious to see where this stuff goes.
Well, that, and we almost never pass up the opportunity to see stuff get crushed.
White Nose Syndrome -- the bat disease first identified in the Capital Region -- has killed as many as 6.7 million bats, according to recent estimates by biologists working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Since first being documented in 2006, the disease has now spread to 16 states -- and at many sites it's killed almost 100 percent of the bats. It has some biologists worried that some once-common varieties of bats could be facing extinction. [US FWS] [NYT]
The "white nose" in the syndrome's name refers to a fungus that grows on the face of the bats. Last fall researchers confirmed the fungus was responsible for the syndrome after 100 percent of the bats exposed to it in captivity developed the symptoms in a study. The fungus infects the bats' skin and causes lesions. [Nature News]
In 2010, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation reported the White Nose Syndrome was likely in all bat caves in the state. The population of some species of bat had declined by 90 percent. [NYS DEC]
The disease was first identified in Howes Cave in Schoharie County -- it spread to other caves in the region and large bat die-offs followed.
Bats don't necessarily have the best reputation with a lot of humans, but they're an important part of the ecosystem because they eat huge numbers of insects -- including mosquitos.
photo: Nancy Heaslip, NYS DEC
Forestry fact of the day: the Adirondacks are one of the areas with the most tree mass in the country, according to a map of "above ground woody biomass" created by the NASA Earth Observatory.
A clip from the map, of New York State, is above. The darker the green, the more tree mass there is.
The national map is posted after the jump in large format. You can see the large swath of forest that runs from Maine, through New Hampshire and Vermont, includes eastern New York, and then runs along the Applachians. And as dense as parts of the swath are, the long, narrow (relatively speaking) forests of the West Coast still trump the East for density of tree stuff (the trees are rather large out there).
Researchers built the map as part of an effort to better understand how much carbon is stored in forests -- and which way that amount is trending.
Earlier on AOA: The darkness just to the north
The environmental org Riverkeeper released a report this week on Hudson River sewage contamination levels -- and the results for this part of the Hudson were... uh... gross.
Riverkeeper's testing found sewage-indicating bacteria levels were above acceptable limits more than 50 percent of the time at both Island Creek/Normans Kill in Glenmont (65 percent of the time) and the Dunn Memorial Bridge in Albany (50 percent). Those two spots were among the top-10 worst of all the spots tested. The data for all the locations tested are posted online -- and table with local data is after the jump.
So, what's causing this problem? The Capital District's combined sewer systems dump untreated sewage into the river when they're over capacity (example: after a heavy rain).
Riverkeeper says the systems release 1.2 billion gallons of untreated sewage and wastewater into the river each year.
The first flight of Karner Blue butterflies should be appearing in their habitats around the Capital Region right about now.
The beautiful endangered butterflies hang around sandy pine barren habitats. Two such spots in the Capital Region: the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Drew was at the Wilton preserve this past week and said the butterflies were easy to spot.
There's some great history Capital Region history involving the Karner Blue. The common name of the butterflies is linked to a spot here -- and Vladimir Nabokov classified the butterflies. Yep, the author.
In the event you were holding out on learning about hydrofracking until it was all set to music, your moment has arrived. The video embedded above was produced by NYU students as part of a collaboration with the journalism org Pro Publica.
Hydrofracking is potentially one of the biggest environmental issues facing the state. A rather large deposit of hard-to-reach natural gas runs through the state. And energy companies are reportedly eager to give it a good fracking. That could mean significant economic gain -- and significant environmental problems.
There's a new (old) way to combat invasive plant species in upstate New York: small flocks of sheep.
Gary Kleppel, a professor of biological sciences at UAlbany and director of the Biodiversity Conservation and Policy Program there, is in the process of setting up a "targeted grazing" project using sheep at Albany's city-owned Normanskill Farm.
His sheep start arriving in a few weeks and then, with the help of students, dogs, and a fancy fence, the sheep get to work -- eating and gnawing at the plants that cause problems for our ecosystem.