Our Barren Woods—Thanks to Deer!
Restoring our botanical heritage requires immediate and tough choices.
THERE IS AN ENCLOSURE at the corner of Veterans Road West and Tyrellan Avenue. It is a sad, little enclosure surrounded by a ten-foot tall, chain-linked fence at the entrance to Target and Home Depot in the Bricktown Centre at Charleston. Within this enclosure is a stand of a rare, flowering herb, the Torrey’s Mountain Mint.
When the development of the Bricktown Centre at Charleston was proposed, environmentalists set out to educate government representatives to have the community understand that there was an endangered species of plant on-site. After litigation, the five-foot-by-forty-foot slice of green was fenced off to protect this critically imperiled herb.
For many years Protectors of Pine Oak Woods fought to prevent the development of senior housing at Northern Seaview and a large complex of ball fields at Bloomingdale Woods. Compromise led to the preservation of more than half of both sites and the conservation of Staten Island’s unique flora and fauna.
Similarly, Protectors fought the early proposal to develop the wetlands and woodlands in Graniteville. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Protectors supported the efforts of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to prevent such development. When Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a new, economy-minded regional administrator, the DEC agreed to a Stipulation of Settlement in court which secured the preservation of more than ten acres of wetlands while allowing the property owners the opportunity to build.
The mission of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods is twofold: advocating for the increased stewardship of park properties as well as the preservation of open space through the education of Staten Islanders and their representatives in government. Though the battles to preserve the Goodhue Woods, Pouch Camp and the Saint Francis Woodlands are instances when government interest aligned with that of Protectors, not every effort to preserve open space has the support of our representatives in government.
We now find ourselves at a critical juncture. Staten Island is an environmental last-stand for the city, an essential bastion of endangered species of flowering shrubs, trees and mosses. Within the properties Protectors has fought to preserve, there are pockets of endangered or critically threatened plant communities. These plant communities are isolated, found nowhere else in the State of New York. Remnants of these communities survive on Staten Island for the time being.
Recently, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods co-hosted a Forest Ecology Forum with the office of the Borough President. Researchers from the Smithsonian Institute, NYS DEC and NYC Audubon offered a presentation highlighting the devastating impact that white-tailed deer have had on forests across America and, in particular, Staten Island. It was the absence of deer that made Staten Island a stronghold of endangered species this past century. And now the deer are here.
White-tailed deer are ravaging endangered species of plants across Staten Island. The rare plant communities Protectors fought to preserve—those plants are disappearing fast. Many have been lost already. The cranberries of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve are gone. The clubmosses (Lycopodium) and Turk’s Cap Lily of Blue Heron Park are gone.
Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve was set aside as a nature preserve in 1975 with an explicit mandate to protect such plant communities. Protectors continues to fight for preservation, but too many of those plant communities we preserved are gone.
New York is the most dynamic city in the history of mankind. Development and redevelopment is inevitable. In spite of the rampant development that has occurred these past few decades, Protectors has successfully championed the preservation of natural areas and the rare plant communities they contain. We are the Borough of Parks due in large part to the work of Protectors. Now, however, the migration of white-tailed deer has brought an imbalance to the natural world on Staten Island and threatens the very areas we fought so hard to preserve.
The extirpation of endangered species is real. What we do now will determine the future of our island. With few alternatives to consider we must decide now how best to protect the few remaining outposts of rare plants on Staten Island.