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Conservation / Sustainability

These Are the Natural Areas We Are Working to Save

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THE 2022 ENVIRONMENTAL BOND ACT to allocate $4.2 billion for environmental projects in New York State, including but not limited to  land conservation, passed easily statewide and received especially strong support from New York City voters. Land acquisition projects on Staten Island listed in the State’s Open Space Conservation Plan are eligible for funding through this act. However, there is a great deal of competition for these funds from other boroughs and from municipalities and counties in other parts of the State.

Protectors of Pine Oak Woods (through founding member Ellen O’Flaherty Pratt) has played a very active role in nominating parcels for inclusion in the State’s updates of the Open Space Conservation Plan for several decades now, working closely with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. 

Balancing environmental preservation with development

The population of Staten Island (and the City as a whole) is expected to grow in future years. And unprecedented development pressures will have a profound effect on the amount and quality of open space, parkland and historic preservation resources within the City.

Given these pressures, there is increased concern that, due to the rising costs of securing waterfront land, wetlands, woodlands, inner city parklands, hillsides and historic buildings for public use, potential high-priority conservation properties will be lost to development at an ever-accelerating pace. So balancing environmental protection, natural resources management and development pressures is an especially complex and delicate challenge on Staten Island and throughout New York City.

A multi-pronged effort

Elected officials, planners and agency heads on Staten Island have all made recommendations to protect land that may be prone to damage from climate change effects such as hurricanes, floods and storm surge, as well as land that may buffer or protect other lands from these risks. 

The City, through the Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has its own land acquisition program that often overlaps with and complements the State’s efforts. Staten Island’s Bluebelt projects, guided by the DEP, are especially notable. 

Land conservation principles

Funding and policy recommendations for open space conservation in the City are centered around the following eleven principles:


  • Providing sufficient funding and dedicated staff positions for the management of public open spaces.

  • Conserving precious natural resources, with attention to how stormwater management should affect the design, acquisition and conservation of open space. 

  • Developing flexible cooperative models with local nonprofit land conservation groups to manage smaller parcels, where mutually beneficial.

  • Ensuring equitable distribution of open space so that denser and poorer neighborhoods are not underparked and are not vulnerable to urban heat islands.

  • Connecting and augmenting already existing larger urban parks.

  • Protecting historic and cultural resources.

  • Facilitating land transfers from State. City and federal agencies whose purpose does not relate to land conservation.

  • Sequestering carbon – our fragile shorelands sequester seven times more carbon than woodlands and eleven times more carbon than grasslands.

  • Preserving and expanding the City’s tree canopy.

  • Responding to climate change in a myriad of ways.

  • Providing ecosystem services. 


Connecting to larger parks

Several of Staten Island’s high-priority conservation properties connect and augment existing parks. These include:

  • Arden Heights Woods, where three mixed wetland and woodland parcels totaling about 32 acres are wedged between the City-owned portion of Arden Heights Woods and the State-owned portion of Arden Heights Woods, and could be added to the existing 183-acre nature preserve.

  • North Bloomingdale Wetlands Corridor, where seven wetland and streambed parcels totaling over eleven acres are adjacent to the 138-acre City-owned Bloomingdale Park and could be incorporated into Bloomingdale Park.

  • Tennyson Drive, where a 4.08-acre parcel in a coastal flood zone along Nelson Avenue and Tennyson Drive could become an expansion of Seaside Wildlife Nature Park.

  • Tappen’s Creek Bluebelt, including eight adjacent parcels along Tappen Creek, which flows out of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. Some of these parcels are adjacent to DEC lands and are located on the Kill van Kull. They are located in and around Sharrotts Shorelands. These parcels total 53+ acres. They could be incorporated into Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve (a 265-acre nature preserve) or set aside as Sharrotts Shorelands. A conservation easement could be placed on part of another parcel to protect Tappen’s Creek. 

Supporting underparked neighborhoods

Some 35 to 40 percent of the funds from the Environmental Bond Act will be allocated to projects in Environmental Justice Neighborhoods. While such formally designated neighborhoods are found in most areas of New York City, those classified by the State on Staten Island are only near the North Shore. In general, these are densely populated, lower income neighborhoods, often with large minority populations.

Two of our top conservation requests are located in environmental justice neighborhoods. These include:

  • Serpentine Ridge, where numerous ecologically valuable parcels are located along the heavily wooded, steeply sloping ridge (and where many of these are clustered around the Serpentine Art and Nature Commons preserve).

  • Glossy Ibis Waterfront Park, a 1.9-acre peninsula north of the intersection of Housman Street and Richmond Terrace, jutting into the Kill van Kull.

Facilitating land transfers

Although the acquisition of privately held lands for the purpose of open space conservation remains critical, successes can be achieved through other means, including land transfers between public agencies and annexing new properties to already established public open space.

Many properties that are already publicly owned through federal, state and city agencies could be formally and permanently repurposed for recreational use. The relatively high-cost of land in the City makes this kind of land transfer from public agencies an especially important mechanism for open space conservation – often entailing little or no cost for many acres.

Potential examples of this include:

  • A lot on Serpentine Ridge, a 6.06-acre wooded, hillside parcel owned by NYC DCAS (the NYC Dept of Citywide Administrative Services) near the Serpentine Art and Nature Commons, and 

  • Screech Owl Woodlands, a 17.6-acre parcel owned by NYC Department of Sanitation, between NYS Rt. 440, Arden Avenue and Arthur Kill Road. This parcel is unused and is not adjacent to other Sanitation Department properties.


Preserving bluebelt and shorelands

Far more buildings around the City will be considered at high risk of flooding as the Federal Emergency Management Agency updates its base flood elevation maps. New inundation and surge maps have already been initiated, changing land use discussions as the City responds to future climate change effects. As recognized by the Governor’s NYS 2100 Commission, open space conservation can play an important role in mitigating these hazards and protecting people and property. 

Protecting Bluebelts, wetlands and other open spaces along shorelines can be instrumental in mitigating hazards in the coastal zone. Properly designed, these public spaces can absorb floodwaters and wave impacts, can protect homes, and can reduce exposure for residents, upland property and emergency service providers. Such Bluebelts can reduce erosion while sustaining fisheries and other important ecological benefits into the future.
Acquisition of properties along Staten Island’s rivers, harbors and coastal areas can help to mitigate the impact of storm surge and sea level rise. Therefore, three very important Bluebelt and coastal properties have been nominated for inclusion in the Open Space Conservation Plan. These are:

  • Tappen’s Creek Bluebelt (a potential expansion of Clay Pit Ponds State Park  Preserve and Sharrotts Shorelands) where Tappen’s Creek (which empties into the Arthur Kill) needs to be protected, so that it can minimize damage from storms.

  • Tennyson Drive, the four-acre wetland buffer zone parcel next to Seaside Wildlife Nature Park, where two Staten Island residents drowned during Hurricane Sandy due to flooding, sea level rise and insufficient building setbacks from the shoreline.

  • Glossy Ibis Waterfront Park along the Kill van Kull. 


Preserving wetlands

Three very high priority wetland properties have also been nominated for inclusion into the Open Space Conservation Plan. These are: 

  • Arden Heights Woods Annex – Three parcels totaling 32 acres would connect the State-owned portion of Arden Height Woods with the larger City-owned portion of Arden Heights Woods (a 183-acre wildlife sanctuary). These parcels are adjacent to both State (DEC) and City lands. This forested hardwood swamp is the largest wetlands that the DEC has classified anywhere in the New York metropolitan area. It contains several kettle ponds which are connected by an intricate network of streams and creeks. These wetlands provide natural flood control for the area, eliminating the need for a complicated and expensive storm water project.

  • Outerbridge Ponds – Also known as Page Avenue Woodlands, this property consists of pine-oak barrens and sedge ponds, which are rare ecosystems in New York City. Three wetland parcels here total about 22 acres. These parcels originally flowed naturally into Mill Creek Bluebelt and Estuary, and now flow into Mill Creek via a culvert. These wetlands are surrounded by very heavy commercial development. Development of these parcels would lead to the creation of an urban heat island and to the loss of valuable wildlife habitat, making preservation essential here.

  • North Bloomingdale Wetlands Corridor – These seven lush wetland and streambed parcels near Sharrotts Road and Clay Pit Road connect to the 138-acre Bloomingdale Park.


Preserving wildlife habitat

The Open Space Conservation Plan is also concerned with conservation of endangered, threatened and declining species. Preserving their habitat through land conservation is an essential tool in saving these species. 
Endangered and threatened species in NY State that benefit from preservation of wetlands, shorelands, grasslands and woodlands include mussels, snails, butterflies, moths, frogs, turtles, sea turtles, salamanders, grouse, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, piping plovers, terns, owls and bats. 
Likewise there are many NY State species of special concern that could benefit from preservation of ecologically valuable parcels. These include osprey, dragonflies, southern leopard frogs, spotted turtles, wood turtles, loons, several hawk species, whip-poor-wills, red-headed woodpeckers, warblers, seaside sparrows and grasshopper sparrows.

We are optimistic that many (perhaps all) of the properties discussed above will be brought into conservation status through the new availability of funds from the Environmental Bond Act and through advocacy by our elected officials on Staten Island.

—Mark Latour,
Land Preservation Committee Chair

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