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The Need For Local Stewardship
The Long Island Conservancy was founded in July of 2021 in response to the need for local environmental stewardship. The hundreds of parks in Nassau and Suffolk Counties are in great need of tending. Most are overrun with invasive plants, with their remaining native habitats degraded and dwindling. As scientists, educators, advocates, and practitioners, we take it as our mission to revitalize Long Island’s natural environment in every community, rebuilding crucial habitat.
For The Long Island Conservancy, this is a generational challenge, and one that begins at home. Our extensive experience in creating local environmental movements over the years taught us to seek out and empower local stewards, those with local knowledge and connections, those who above all would care the most about a local pond or park or woods.
Forming The Long Island Conservancy was a natural evolution from our building Save The Great South Bay previously. We’ve been in a number of broader conversations about LI’s environmental challenges over the past decade. We were named to various committees – shellfish restoration, pesticides, mosquito control, coastal resilience, marsh restoration, native plantings, green roofs, septic tank / wastewater technology.
Along the way, we came to know every environmental organization on Long Island, and the issues they were facing locally. The Long Island Conservancy’s strategy is to support these small local organizations, those dedicated often to a single park or bay, or pond, through grant-making, in-kind donations, scoping out projects, and through local education.
A local park will have its advocates, but do they have an actionable plan to remove the invasive plants and replant what should be there, restoring native habitat? The Long Island Conservancy takes it as its role to advocate for a local project, and to garner the talent and resources necessary to implement local projects.
2021 July – December
Our inaugural project was the creation of The Michael J Sperling Memorial Bird Sanctuary, a project undertaken with The South Shore Audubon Society July 2021. A three acre sump in Massapequa, LI, was converted into a bird sanctuary. The sump, overrun with invasive plants, trash filled, and prone to stormwater damage, is now being transformed into an essential native habitat for our vanishing pollinators and songbirds.
In dense suburban Long Island, there are many hundred sumps among the sprawl, now blight and environmental dead zones. They could be local nature preserves, such as we have built.
Our initial board assembled around a Habitat Restoration Working Group we created in September 2021 that is focused more broadly on New York State and the development of sound environmental policies and best practices. We have a dozen in the group, including Prof. Doug Tallamy.
It’s overall goal is to promote local habitat protection and restoration. We support local-based environmental mapping, re-knitting fragmented habitat, and building awareness about how essential native plants are. We work with other New York-based environmental groups we’d connected to through The Aspen Institute. The group also includes two New York State legislators, one Republican, one Democratic.
In September, The Long Island Conservancy hosted Prof. Tallamy for a Zoomcast to discuss his work, Nature’s Best Hope. We invited local legislators. As a result, one of our founders now Co-Chair the newly formed Pollinator Corridor Committee for Suffolk County.
Foster Marina Park
Also in September 2021, The Long Island Conservancy began work removing invasive plants and planting natives in an eight acre park in Sayville along The Great South Bay. We had 60 volunteers come out to clear 8 truckloads of invasive vines while planting 50+ native trees. In March 2022, we presented The Town of Islip with a planting plan for the eight acres, with 17 distinctive planting zones envisioned.
In March 2022, The Long Island Conservancy was asked to advise our local State Senator Alexis Weik on habitat restoration and wetlands mapping. To meet this challenge we are bringing to the table the leading practitioners in citizen-based environmental mapping so that we can begin to inventory locally our flora and fauna.
Every community needs to know what is living there. This will lead to greater local stewardship, a systematic removal of invasive plants, and the preservation and return of native habitat. Through all of this, we are employing leading edge spatial analytics, and are data driven. We look forward to developing new data visualization techniques for the public that map native habitats.
Around this time frame,The Long Island Conservancy’s Frank Piccininni, Co-Director of the Long Island Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, began his work here. We’ve successfully sprouted 1000 chestnut saplings. These are slated for our breeding program.
We first locate a chestnut stand, one where the tree continually regrows from its roots only to die off once more when it reaches into its maturity. Then if there is a tree mature enough to produce nuts, they are gathered and pollinated. In ten years or so their nuts will be cross-pollinated with pollen from a genetically modified tree, yielding a harvest of 50% blight resistant chestnut trees. It’s a generational effort. We are planning our chestnut groves with Meadow Croft and already have one established at SMLI.
April saw The Long Island Conservancy invited into Suffolk County’s Coastal Resiliency Task Force. The group consisted of some forty participants – environmental groups, politicians, business interests. What was discussed there was in part in preparation for deciding or justifying how the Prop One money will be spent.
The Long Island Conservancy champions Nature as the true architect, and the best return on your investment. We can anticipate everyone looking to fund their pet projects now. It’s our responsibility to have people consider what emerging science says.
The Long Island Conservancy also hosted a native plant Sale in Sayville on April 23rd, “Sayville Goes Native!” and sold 12 different varieties of native pollinators.
In May, The Long Island Conservancy began offering guided tours of our yard in Sayville, all .44 acres of it. We gave regular tours to garden clubs, chambers of commerce, for the library, and for local schools. The Suffolk County News wrote on it.
The tour, as designed, is a model of how The Long Island Conservancy will be rolling out our park tours. Visitors move counterclockwise around the perimeter of the property to the nine different stations or plantings, each marked with a QR Code, from the bioswale along the street to the Native Forest to The Pollinator Garden, etc. The tours take a full hour. This is Tallamy’s “Homegrown National Park” come into being. If you grow to love what is in your yard, you will want the rest to be as vital as well.
In June, we worked to establish projects at Coindre Hall in Northport, and in West Hills. We found for these two locations local stewards willing to provide the finances to support their local parks.
July and August saw The Long Island Conservancy host a half dozen tours of our native plantings, with local coverage in The Suffolk County News – Sayville Library, The Brightwaters Garden Club, The Greater Sayville Civic Association, The Sayville Garden Club, The Sayville Civic Association, and The Bayport Blue Point Heritage Association.
In August, The Long Island Conservancy received a donation of native plants from Bethpage State Park after they met with us at Sayville Summerfest. We have since planted them at Meadow Croft as we recreate a native flower garden on the estate.
September – November With the help of SWEEP, the environmental group from Sayville High School, and the local junior civic, we harvested native wildflower seeds for 25 different plants, enough to seed at least several acres from our yard. We are overwintering the seeds now, which will be germinated and planted as flowerbeds throughout with the help of the community. This too was covered in The Suffolk County News.
Strategy For 2023
All our efforts are project-based. We first connect with a local group, seeking to address an environmental concern. We then define the scope of work with them, the costs and the timelines, just as we do with our private sector clients. Once we have defined the project, we can raise money against it.
Typically we are engaged by a local steward who already has some means to at least begin the project. From there, we will seek to identify local donors and volunteers so that the work can proceed on a long term basis. Different plantings will offer different sponsor opportunities. Rather than donating a brick or a bench, we are offering patrons the opportunity to dedicate a planting, with information on the planting and its donor and a QR Code by the planting.
We have found over the years that the more we can get people out there getting their hands dirty, the better. Engaging in a common cause builds community. We are always struck by how diverse the volunteers are – from 12 to 75, from all walks of life and ethnicities. People are seeking ways to make a difference in their community. All we need to do is give them the opportunity.