Wetlands: Environmentalists were excited with the introduction, yet again, of a law to protect wetlands and streams in NY State. Wetlands are more than just swampy, buggy areas. They filter surface water, recharge underground aquifers from which we all get our drinking water, and house a huge variety of plant and animal species (including those pesky mosquitoes) that are part of the fragile interconnectedness of all things.
Once again, however this law was not passed. Without explanation, funding for the wetlands initiative was omitted from the state’s 2019 budget. (Gardiner’s Wetlands and Watercourse Law has stalled as well, in part due to the expectation that New York State was going to take care of wetlands with its statewide law.)
State personnel report about 11,000 requests per year to perform activities in NY State wetlands, and a new law would assist both applicants and municipalities. For example, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) does maintain maps of all the wetlands in the state, but many are at least 50 years old, predate the internet and were drawn without the benefit of Geographic Information Services (GIS) images. A property boundary can be erroneous by 50 feet or more on a hand drawn map, whereas GIS images show significantly more detail, with significantly more accuracy.
A new law would result in updated data and maps, and would also address the changing face of wetlands; between times of drought and flood, a full picture of a wetland can only occur over time. Current technology allows for such an assessment, but the state, instead, relies on a single aerial photograph.
While the wetlands law did not pass this year, there will be another opportunity in the future.
New York’s Green New Deal: There are two ways to deal with climate change. Mitigation is the act of trying to stop or slow climate change by changing what we are doing. Many believe that mitigation is no longer an option, and at this point in time we see no countries, corporations, or other giant entities making the leap to effective mitigation protocols (for more information google COP 25.) The other response to climate change—which many feel is now our only choice—is adaptation. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to the inevitable changes climate change will bring.
New York State, however, has set some lofty mitigation goals by passing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in July 2019. New York will suffer some of the most extensive economic damage in the United States due to climate change, having emitted 206 million metric tons of CO2 in 2016. That was 5% of annual global emissions, up from 46 million metric tons in 1990.
With the new act, the state plans to save 185 trillion BTU’s of energy by 2025. Rules for the process are required to be established by 2021, and the plan will be updated every five years. A nine-person Climate Action Council will be established. Member agencies will form six advisory panels to address some broad issues.
Those affected will include the transportation, building, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors. The first plan will take effect in 2022. 70% of electricity will be from renewable sources by 2030 and New York should have 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. The CLCPA also requires that New York, by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels and offset the remaining 15% by reforestation, carbon sequestration in soils, and other actions.
New York State Plastic Bag Ban: While we in Ulster County already passed the plastic bag ban, a statewide law will take effect and plastic “carryout” bags will no longer be used by retailers statewide. There are multiple exemptions to this law so note that the banned bags are primarily those grocery store type plastic bags given out by stores. Still allowable are bulk trash bags, produce bags, meat, fish, and deli wraps, and restaurant take out bags among others. The state ban takes effect March 1, 2020.
Natural Resource Inventory (NRI): In January, the Gardiner Town Board passed a resolution in favor of creating a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI), which compiles information on important, naturally occurring resources such as forests, streams, wetlands, and critical habitats, as well as scenic and recreational assets. A working group has been established by the Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC) and Open Space Commission, in conjunction with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), to describe the fresh water, parks, natural habitats and scenic spaces that are essential to ensuring Gardiner’s continued prosperity, quality of life and responsible growth.
When the NRI is completed, it will be comprised of a report and a series of maps, narratives, supporting data tables, and recommendations and will serve as an essential tool for the town by officially identifying sensitive land, water and habitat resources.
The NRI working group will be providing updates and asking for input and assistance via posts on the town’s website and Facebook page. The initial query will be related to the readability and accuracy of a baseline map that will be used to overlay various other data such as soils, slopes, habitats, wetlands, etc. Our first quest is to gather information about currently unnamed streams on the baseline map.
Please submit comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 16, 2020. 845-532-6400. If you are interested in volunteering on the ECC and/or specifically the NRI working group please contact email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Roberta Clements is the Chair of the Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC).