If you’re in any way involved in environmental protection efforts, then you’ve already seen the news that 2023 was the hottest year on record in 150 years, or rather, the hottest year on record since we started keeping records of temperature. Those who haven’t seen this news already can find a plethora of articles from just about every major news publication, but we’ll just link the article from Reuters here. I doubt anyone reading this needs any convincing as to the severity of the climate crisis, so I won’t bother going over the broader aspects of it. What I think will be useful though, is just how this is currently affecting, and will continue to affect Long Island in the coming months and years, so that you can be informed, and so that you can inform others.
Not Retreading Old Ground
The LIPBS has already published an article on how climate change affects the Island, and if you want to do so you can read it here. The points covered can, now, seem almost simple in how normalized they’ve become. Even if it’s not a hurricane we’re dealing with some manner of destructive storm almost every month now, even just this month! The problems listed here are all still happening, but most have already accelerated, or been worsened.
We’re not here to discuss what we’ve already gone over, and we’re certainly not here to reiterate points all of us already know, so we’ll be leaving this article alone for the time being.
Droughts and the Aquifer
While we were able to avoid a severe drought last year, most of us I think were somewhat caught off guard by the 2022 drought, which came with a while host of recommendations from the water authority to reduce our usage. Of course, 2022 was just the culmination of a series of droughts stretching back to summer 2020, with 2023 being the exception to this. Droughts have, of course, been ongoing on the Island since 2016, with subsequent years only intensifying an issue that was once far from our minds.
When our life here on Long Island is already so dependent on what little water resources we have, droughts occurring so frequently are an issue we cannot afford to ignore in any capacity. This is, of course, not even considering the already occurring contamination of the aquifers, making this at-risk resource so much more delicate. Seawater contamination is at the forefront of this, where rising sea levels and constant droughts only serve to further intensify the problem. Then there is the issue of pollutants entering the ground, which is an entire can of worms itself that could take up an entire blog all on its own. The danger of a drought is very real and is contributing to an issue that only our grandchildren will live to see. Long Island losing its clean source of water is now a very real threat that many of us may very well live to see.
What have we been doing about it?
Issues like this are quickly reaching a point of being too much to handle, but what can be done at this point? For decades, every environmental group has called for these issues to be addressed at a legislative level, yet for every victory, it comes with a plethora of losses. Even the Pine Barrens Protection Act, which marked such a massive victory in 1993, today is sometimes little more than a suggestion to big developers like Discovery. So then what course of action remains, if even our greatest victories are sometimes compromised?
Consider the decades of nonviolent action that have failed to produce results the next time you hear about an activist acting out in front of a government building, or about the interruption of some awards you looked forward to by people screaming in the planet’s name. Consider the fact that the very first widely reported eco protest happened 54 years ago, and how we’re on an even faster course to environmental destruction now than we were then. That for all our peaceful efforts, the forces that are polluting our water and planet have more power today than they ever have before. It’s easy to distance yourself from the most extreme protestors and advocates, who are willing to put their livelihoods on the line so easily for their causes. Even easier than to condemn their actions as too extreme, or the wrong way to do things. But when the right way of doing things has gone so long not only without results, but with a constant downward trend, then what reason is there to continue doing things the right way?
The environmental movement has a long history of victories, but very few of them directly affect the quality of life for the people around it. Despite the researched and confirmed health benefits of living in or around green areas, a lovely trail does little to help those living in poverty. It’s only in recent years that the topic of Environmental Justice has come closer and closer to being a core part of the movement. Environmentalism as a cause cannot survive so long as it tries to push itself above more ground level social causes. As long as housing inequality exists, as long as income inequality exists, as long as race inequality exists, and as long as our economic system rewards the rampant destruction of the planet, no lasting change will be made. As social justice movements expand and move towards the future, the environmental movement needs to move with them, lest we be left behind in the dust.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Last year we held a yearly wrap up on our social media accounts. It was an enjoyable way for us to recount the year’s events in an episodic way, highlighting a different event each week leading up to the New Year. This year we wanted to do something similar, but here on the LIPBS website instead! This way, you can binge through all our highlights from this year at once, instead of needing to wait a week to get your fix of the LIPBS!
Let’s open this with our big event from the summer, the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Pine Barrens Protection Act! Or rather, the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the *Signing* of the Pine Barrens Protection Act. Our event was held in the very same Southaven County Park where former Governor Mario Cuomo signed the act into law in 1993. There, the founders of the LIPBS were joined by current staff, as well as supporters and locally elected representatives, all to celebrate the anniversary of the landmark act.
At the event we reminisced about the past, but also looked to the future with our “The Best of The Rest initiative,” which has currently brought approximately 900 acres out of the desired 3,800 to the appraisal/negotiations/acquisition table. Playing between speakers, was the very same band that played at the original signing in 1993, a but older, just like the rest of us. The entire event capped off with a guided hike around the park from Society Board Member, co-founder and renowned environmentalist John Turner.
Also at this event was the awards ceremony for our Middle School Kids Go To College program, which was held a month prior. For the first time since 2019, the college component was live, held at Stony Brook University, on the SOMAS campus. There, students from three Patchogue-Medford middle schools were treated to a lecture from Dr. Chris Gobler, a world-renowned scientist, and professor at the university. Dr. Gobler went over the water-related issues plaguing Long Island, as well as some of the solutions which have been put to work over the last few years.
Once Dr. Gobler finished his presentation, it was time for the students to put on presentations of their own, showing off their own projects, which they had been researching and preparing for months before. These projects differed from student to student, as observed by both Dr. Gobler and the LIPBS staff. After the event had concluded, the Society staff took their time reviewing the projects, before selecting just a select few to be presented with awards at our summer celebration.
And speaking of celebrations, we once again hosted our yearly Gala in October, this time marking the 46th anniversary of the Society. This event was focused largely on recapping the two events we just went over, but did come attached with our ever popular Silent Auction, with a host of getaways and restaurant trips included as the incentives.
Regardless of what big events we hosted this year though, our focus has remained on securing parcels through “The Best of The Rest.“ Progress has been steady since we began, and we are on good pace to ensure that Long Island’s open space will stay preserved for generations to come.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
As anyone who’s ever had to take a back road on the north shore can tell you, Long Island has an abundance of wild turkeys. Around now they can be a bit of a festive sight to see crossing the road, but any other time of the year it can be a bit stressful to see these big birds loitering in the middle of the road. You really don’t want to hit one of these birds while they’re just hanging out so you might find yourself just sitting and staring at them for a few seconds, waiting for them to cross the road. This isn’t an experience unique to turkeys though, as plenty of us have probably had one or two scares when a deer jumped in front of us out of some brush.
In general, avoiding these big birds can be a challenge, especially because of how well their dark feathers blend into the color of the ground and trees. This, combined with just how calm turkeys tend to be around humans, makes them a real risk on the road. So, be sure to practice basic driving safety, eyes on the road and all, but even then there’s a real chance you might not see a group of turkeys until you’re just a few yards away from them. In these sorts of cases, assuming you’re going the speed limit, combined with how low that limit is on most back roads where you’re likely to encounter a turkey, a sudden stop should still be perfectly safe.
Of course, if you’re going well over the limit, or maybe on a road where the limit is much higher, a sudden stop can be dangerous. Tempting as it might be to swerve out of the way of a pack of birds, the sad reality is that a turkey is a whole heck of a lot softer than the trunk of a tree, and if there’s not ample road, you’re a lot better off not risking a hospital trip over a couple of them. This is of course, a last resort scenario. Ideally you’ll either be going the speed limit, or have enough road that a higher speed swerve won’t take you off the road. In any other situation though, it’s important to place the safety of yourself and your passengers first.
All of this is magnified in hazardous weather conditions. If there’s heavy fog or worse, heavy rain, then the odds of you being able to see anything in front of you, much less something rushing out of the brush, is low. If an unfortunate turkey or deer jumps out in front of you trying to make any evasive maneuver, even going a reasonable speed, will put you and other drivers at risk. If you do happen to hit something in hazardous weather, it’s important not to stop driving, or to look behind you to assess damage done. If you want to check on the wildlife you collided with, gradually slow down, and pull over some distance ahead. Stopping suddenly or taking your eyes off the road puts everyone in danger, and you should only go to investigate once you’re safely parked on the side of the road.
We realize this isn’t a particularly enjoyable conversation to have at any time of year, but with winter coming soon and recent bouts of heavy fog, it’s important to take all possible measures to keep yourself and others safe on the road. We all love our wild neighbors on the island, but if the worst-case scenario happens, it’s important to place you, your passengers, and other drivers’ safety above that of the wildlife. An animal collision is tragic, but not as much so as a car driven into a tree or home.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Cover Photo by Matt Foster on Unsplash
Last week, we hosted our 46th Annual Environmental Gala! There was quite a leadup to the event itself, and after a live broadcast on Facebook and a Premiere on YouTube, everyone at the Society got to breathe a sigh of relief. In case you missed the Gala, you can watch the full video now on YouTube! But, in case you were looking for something more newspaper adjacent to go with your morning Coffee, we’ll also be summarizing it here!
A Lot of the footage for this year’s Gala actually came directly from our Summer celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Pine Barrens Protection Act’s signing! We covered that whole event in a separate blog post back over the summer, but we’ll run it down quickly here. Opening speeches from Executive Director Dick Amper and Society Board Member Tom Casey opened the event, with kind remembrance of the work done and some light humor. After they got their words in, a number of local politicians took the stage to recount their own experiences with the Pine Barrens Protection act, and where they were when the Act was passed. This section of the Gala was closed out with some music from the Sunnyland Jazz Band, the same band that played all those years ago when the act was first signed!
The next section of the Gala was a recounting of our yearly Middle School Kids Go To College program, with a brand new video produced just for the Gala! In it, We showed off some of the event itself, from our grand assembly of 3 different schools at Stony Brook University, to our individual visits to each school, you’ll get to see every bit of the program right from the comfort of your home! Once we were done at the schools, we went back to our 30th anniversary celebration to present individual awards to some of the winning students!
Finally, the event closed out with an important presentation by Society Board Member and environmentalist John Turner on our new initiative, The Best of The Rest. In his presentation John covered all the different parcels we’re still fighting to preserve, as well as the various flora and fauna which inhabit the parcels. Not naming this year’s gala after the initiative doesn’t mean we’re pushing The Best of The Rest any less, and we’re always working behind the scenes with local government and other non-profits to try and secure as much of the land for preservation as possible.
And with that, our Gala was closed out by Executive Director Dick Amper, before shifting into some highlights of our special Silent Auction (which may or may not be over by the time you read this). The Gala season is, to put it lightly, a bit of a busy time for us, but every bit of the work we do is worth it to share with people our continual progress and history.
We hope you enjoyed watching Splash: Clean Water Now as much as we enjoyed putting it on. We’ll see you next year for our 47th Gala!
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
The topic of water quality and quantity is very much so central to the LIPBS’s core mission. If the Pine Barrens themselves are our bread, then the underground aquifer is our butter. Protecting Long Island’s precious aquifer has always been the goal as much as protecting its precious forests, but that focus on water becomes more and more important with each passing year.
Recently, an article published in the New York Times highlighted Long Island’s water problem, as just a piece of a greater issue happening across the country due to overuse. The article is hardly an enlightening read if you’ve been paying attention for the last few decades, though it’s sobering regardless. While the article is paywalled on the NYT website (unless you are a subscriber), it can be read for free through the internet archive, a free online library (the formatting is a bit messy though, so you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the main article).
The article, in its entirety, confirms one thing that should come as no surprise to Long Island environmentalists. One of the largest obstacles to better regulations for our water supply is overuse and contamination by for-profit organizations and companies. Right here in Suffolk County, the County legislature has not let resolutions advance so that residents could vote to incur a slight sales tax increase to ensure clean water! Another issue is loss of open space for water recharge. While the article highlights industrial farmer associations as a significant opponent, Long Islanders will be much more familiar with land developers being significant opponents to better regulations. And then there are golf course owners, with their “need” to overuse their sprinklers to keep a palatable green grass across the course.
If it’s not some sort of for-profit organization though, it’s the government itself highlighting profit over people’s lives, with one of the interviewees claiming that “If we start showing that kind of data, that kind of goes into your property values,” a quote from Oklahoma’s own Water Resources Board as to why data on water quality was not conveyed directly to homeowners. The mere potential for future tax dollars was enough to deny people the right to know that their drinking water was drying up. This is hardly a new problem anywhere though, corporations and government putting profit over lives has long been a staple in areas like Southern Philadelphia, where an oil refinery was able to operate for 150 years, poisoning the local residents and workers with cancer causing smoke and runoff. Despite decades of protests from local residents over the very obvious health risks posed by the refinery, no government intervention ever occurred, even with generation after generation being led to either early graves or livelong complications. The refinery was only ever shut down when its own safety violations compounded, and resulted in an explosion which even further poisoned the local residents, who still have not been offered justice in the wake of their century-long fight.
Such instances, when put alongside the constant fight across the nation by environmental groups, highlights the deeper root of our water issues. More so than any one person might waste a few gallons of water by taking a 20-minute shower, or more so than one person can contribute to the pollution of the ocean by forgetting to recycle a can. The root of these threats to our water, and our land, have always, at their core, been the for-profit nature of corporations and government inaction.
For over 40 years now Long Island has been under constant threat from both of these groups. Corporations and developers who have been poisoning our water as far back as the first suburbs, and government that refuses to act even when given the resources, highlighted as far back as the Suffolk Country Sewer Scandal, and now recently when Suffolk Country tried to steal millions from taxpayers by using money for general operations meant for water quality improvements.
Change and recovery, as far off as they may seem, are entirely possible. However, it will take more than just turning off our sprinklers or taking shorter showers to achieve it. It will take changes from the ground up, on a far deeper level, that can only be achieved through proper large-scale reform. Reform that is already being fought for by innumerable different groups on the ground, that require support to continue their causes. The work we and those other groups do today is done on the hope that 50 years from now, future generations will not have to do the same.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Summer has nearly come and gone; did everyone get to have some fun out in the sun? Even if you didn’t, hopefully you were able to see some of the bright green trees from out your window! There’ll be even more beauty to catch from the comfort of your home in the fall, but for now we’ve got other matters to press.
Back when Spring first came into bloom, we made a few posts on our social media advising folks to cut back on their sprinkler use during the season. We mentioned that, even though we all enjoy a nice green lawn, there’s ways to have it while saving water. But what if you don’t enjoy having that lawn? What if it’s actually a bit of an eyesore? What if the stench of chemical pesticides sprayed on top of it every time your neighborhood landscapers come through is starting to get to you? That last part might be a bit of a projection, but the point remains that if you’ve got space in front of your home, there’s a million things you could do with it that’d be prettier, and better for the environment than a lawn. The process of pulling up that lawn and replacing it with something just a bit more helpful to the local ecosystem is called Rewilding.
What is Rewilding?
Rewilding is something of a blanket term that can refer to a number of processes, but for our sake today, it’s the process of replacing a lawn with local and native plants to support pollinator colonies. A lawn has just about one use and it’s to look nice for a HOA, not even local deer can enjoy munching on it with all the pesticides they tend to need. Rewilding then seeks to use all that wasted space to create a miniature ecosystem right in your front yard, utilizing local flora to attract and support local pollinators as well as some of the bigger fauna on the island.
Rewilding is also something entirely different to just leaving your lawn to grow unchecked. Letting the kind of grass most of us have just grow without trimming is an open invitation for ticks and mites to settle into your yard, which none of us want. Rewilding is instead the process of completely removing your lawn, so that the space can be used more efficiently.
By planting small shrubs and flowers where there was once a lawn, pollinator species will have a much easier time gathering the resources they need to survive and thrive, though it’s important to recognize that bees aren’t the only pollinators on the island. Wasps, hornets, and even flies all pollinate different plants on the island too, and if you don’t want whole swarms of them in your yard, it’s important to pick your plants and seeds carefully, and to know which are pollinated by what.
How to Start.
The very first step to rewilding your lawn is to check if you’re even allowed to do so. Those living under especially restrictive HOAs may not be permitted to have anything but a ½ in cut lawn in their front yard, and we’d hate to leave any of our supporters with fines (unless defying your HOA is a hobby of yours, in which case stick it to ‘em). Certain communities may also share a contract for landscaping services, which you’ll want to get yourself out of as to avoid damage to your new yard.
Once you’ve cleared the prefatory hurdles though, you’ll need to start removing the lawn. There’s not exactly a single species of grass shared by the suburban nightmares of LI, and if you didn’t plant your lawn yourself, you’re not likely to even know what kind of grass you have. That said, no matter your grass, removing it is a fairly simple process. In fact, if you already contract landscapers for lawn care, you can likely just pay them to remove your lawn if the process is too much of a hurdle for you. If you enjoy having your hands in the dirt though, a tool like a tiller or sod cutter won’t exactly make short work of it, but it’ll be a lot faster than doing it with a shovel.
Planning it out
The next step before going any further, is getting a rough idea of how you’ll want your new yard to look. Consider taking some photos of your yard, or grabbing one off of google earth so you can have an easy diagram to work with and draw over. Consider what plants you’d want where, consider walkways or any decorations and where they would go. Maybe even consider going for a theme with it! There’s a lot you can do with a green space when you’re not worried about that 1 inch limit, so get creative with it and try different ideas!
Once you have a layout decided, it’s time to actually buy your new plants. Every plant you get for your yard should be native to your area, in our case Long Island, so that the local pollinators can benefit from it. There’s a lot more to consider even when you narrow down the selection like that though. Buying seedlings or shrubs already grown will be the fastest and easiest way to reach your goal, but it’s going to be far more expensive. Seeds alone on the other hand will be a long process that may not bear fruit if you don’t have experience growing form seed. It can take years for some small shrubs to grow large enough to cover land after all. Ideally you would want to go for a split between the two in favor of seedlings. Knowing how everything will look and being able to see the spacing between everything will be important in the long run.
On the topic of the long run, this is very much so a marathon more than a sprint. Your new yard isn’t going to be the prettiest at first, especially if you’re more used to the vibrant green that a lawn typically provides. Especially in the winter months you’ll be dealing with an especially barren looking space, but given time and care you’ll find there’s so much more to be done with your space than we’re left to believe. Not to mention the space you’ll clear up by getting rid of that old noisy lawn mower.
Those of us privileged enough to own a home tend to waste the space we have much of the time. A clean and vibrant front lawn might look nice up against a dozen other identical lawns, but what does it do for us? The damage that pesticides and herbicides do just to keep a green lawn can be devastating to ecosystem, and that space is better used for quite literally anything else. We hope you will consider then the prospect of rewilding, not just as a way to beautify your space, but as a way to help support your wild neighbors on the island.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
As much as a pair of sweats and a stretched out t-shirt may be one of the most comfortable outfits a person can wear, it’s hardly a stylish one. That said there’s certainly an argument to be made for the form over fashion benefits of an elastic waistband and breathable top. Such dilemmas can pop up all throughout our daily life, but looking good is not the most important in the quiet solitude of the wilderness. Will the birds judge me for having mismatched socks? Will the trees laugh at me for my color coordination? Are the ticks actually avoiding me because my pants are ugly? There are plenty of tips and tricks to keep yourself comfortable and coordinated on your hikes, especially in the summer months.
Keeping It Long
We’re no strangers to tick awareness here at the LIPBS, and we’ve made a few different guides to keep yourself safe on hikes, so we’ll just gloss over the basic dress code here. A long sleeve shirt, tucked into long pants, tucked into long socks. Minimizing skin exposure is always ideal but be sure to use repellant for the areas that can’t be covered. This will also help to protect you from cuts or scrapes should you pass through a particularly branchy area.
Keeping It cool
Ok, so you’ve got your long sleeve long panted outfit, but it’s the dead of summer, and temperatures are regularly climbing into the 90’s, how do you compensate for that? Just as important as coverage is making sure that your clothes are breathable and light, which will typically come down to material. Nylon is the biggest contender. It is light, breathable material that easily stretches without deforming. A tight knit also makes sure nothing is going to get through.
That being said, nylon can get really expensive, really fast. Some of the top-rated nylon hiking pants can run you well over $100. Not to mention, nylon can just as easily be made to trap in heat given the right construction. You certainly wouldn’t want to go hiking in a pair of 100% wool pants, but there’s a wide range of materials that can keep you cool. When buying clothes for hiking, consider looking for the same style of clothes you might wear during a workout. Quick drying shirts and socks will keep you the most comfortable in high heat, but if you’re on a budget the socks will be the most useful in keeping you comfortable.
Keeping It Colorful
Just like with materials, the color of your outfit will have a big impact on your ability to stay comfortable in the heat, but there are a lot of other things to consider too. Lighter colors are best for our local Pine Barrens, beige being something of an iconic color for environmentalists, but any lighter shade will also be good. This is a two- sided benefit, for one, the lighter color will trap heat less easily than darker colors will, keeping you a bit cooler in the sun. On top of that, especially across Long Island, lighter colors will make it easier to spot and remove any ticks that may have latched on to your person during a hike. The pants are the area most likely for a tick to attach to though, so if you need to buy new and want to stay on a budget, focus there rather than on the shirt.
However, when trekking outside of Long Island, or even on some of our more wild trails, you may want to be wearing some clothes that are more vibrant in color than plain lights. This is because, in the event of a worst-case scenario where you end up lost or missing, bright colors like red or orange will make it easier for people to find you in the brush. This is why you’ll typically see such bright colors on mountain climbers, who need to be easily identifiable against sheets of white. While our local Pine Barrens aren’t quite subject to the same conditions that would necessitate such color choices, you wouldn’t want to go hiking in woodland camo either way.
Keeping It Fun
No matter what choices you make based on the above, you should always prioritize comfort on a hike over anything else. Hiking should be a fun activity, and if you force yourself to wear stuffy or uncomfortable clothes just to follow one of these guidelines, then you won’t be enjoying yourself at all. Yes, long pants and shirts are important to keep ticks off, but even if a tick does bite you, it can be easily removed with a pair of tweezers with minimal risk to you. Yes, lightweight clothes and colors will keep you cool on your hike, but especially in the summer most of the Island’s trails are covered by a dense brush that will already keep you shaded for your hike. And yes, identifiable clothes can be important, but as long as you keep to the trails laid out on each hike, your risk of getting lost along the way is negligible.
Hiking is supposed to be fun, so have fun! And don’t obsess over what you’re wearing too much, the trees won’t judge you, we promise.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Cover Photo by Jon Flobrant via unsplash
Last Saturday, June 17, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society packed their cars full of tents and posters, and made their way to Southaven County Park, where a very special celebration was held. The tents were built, and posters placed, a single podium was the center of attention, as a long banner was strung between two trees behind it. Slowly, the chairs behind the podium were filled with representatives from all across the county, and by the time 10AM came around, the stage was set for the Pine Barrens Protection Act’s 30th Anniversary.
The event, much like the act it commemorated, was in turmoil all the way up until the morning it was meant to take place. The forecast called for thunderstorms starting at the very moment the celebration would have begun, and the night before was fraught with anxiety over how the event would be held in a downpour. Despite that though, the weather on the day of the event was some of the best we’d had that week; clear skies and chirping birds made the atmosphere perfect for the commemoration taking place.
The day opened with a short speech from our Executive Director Dick Amper, offering a retrospective of what it took to make it to this point, through all the work that spanned not just the last 30 years, but the society’s entire existence. After he stepped away from the podium, Amper was quickly replaced by Society Board Member Tom Casey, who offered some words of his own, before introducing our “star-studded” lineup of speakers.
Local representatives, both former and current took to the podium, to offer not only retrospectives, but their hopes for the future, and what work remained for the Society and Long Islanders to do. While many of these speakers had been there when the Act was first passed, several were also newer figures in Long Island politics. The speakers offered the insights of those who were allowed to serve a Long Island that had already been, in many ways, preserved. These talks took up the first hour of the day and led directly into the second highlight of the event, The Best of The Rest.
After a short break in speeches, and some live music from the returning Sunnyland Jazz Band, Society Board Member and environmentalist John Turner took center stage, to offer the crowd and attending representatives a deeper insight into the Society’s newest endeavor. The Best of The Rest will be one- year-old in August, and its progress and plan were told with a dedicated eloquence by Turner, keeping the energy of the event high as he spoke on the natural flora and fauna of the different properties. While many of us were already deeply involved with the initiative, Turner’s confident speech made it once again seem like a brave new campaign to preserve Long Island.
When Turner stepped away from the podium, another round of music followed, keeping the crowd in good spirits before moving into the last speaker of the day. It was about an hour and a half into the event when Society Board Member Nina Leonhardt took to the podium, to announce the results of the 2023 Middle School Kids Go To College Science Fair. The science fair, the culmination of a program sponsored by the National Grid Foundation since its inception, has slowly but surely become just as much a part of the Society’s identity as its preservation efforts, having run now for just over 10 years. The program has brought middle school students into a college environment, affording them the opportunity to visit Stony Brook University and hear a talk from SOMAS Professor Dr. Chris Gobler. Even in the deep years of the pandemic, students were assembled via Zoom, and given the chance to hear an in-depth explanation of Long Island’s water quality issues, before being asked to create projects of their own on the matter. Students would research, prepare, and present their projects independently, impressing Society staff more and more with each passing year.
This year offered us the unique opportunity to present the winners of the science fair their awards during the 30th Anniversary Celebration, instead of via zoom or at an indoor location. Leonhardt called students one by one to the podium, to be presented with their certificates of recognition. Dick Amper congratulated each student-scientist.
By the end of the short ceremony, moods were kept high by the band offering one final performance, before the speakers took a final bow, and dispersed for the more independent portion of the event. On the west side of the site, students had their award-winning projects on display for attendees to view and interact with. Right next to them was a collection of boards, detailing the timeline of events leading up to the Pine Barrens Protection Act’s passage, as well as plenty of materials about the Society itself.
And for those too giddy being in a park to stay in just one place, John Turner offered a special guided hike of the park, taking guests from the event site down to the Carman’s River. While it wasn’t a particularly long walk, it was jam-packed with observations and information. No plant went unchecked, and no single tweet from a bird went without identification. Though the walk itself would have only taken about five minutes to complete, the hike lasted closer to an hour as every possible detail was explained along the way.
And then, the event was over. Attendees stayed to chat for a bit, but by 12:30, you could barely tell there had ever been an event at the park. Then, as the last box was packed into the last car, the skies opened up, and the forecasted downpour finally came, lowering a literal curtain down over the Pine Barrens Protection Act’s 30th anniversary.
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Cover Photo by Wayne Cook
For those lucky enough to own a home, Spring is the season of lawn care. There are many fast spreading weeds and invasives to be on the lookout for, but none are quite as prolific as the dandelion and garlic mustard.
While dandelion is something of an icon in the world of weeds, garlic mustard is a bit more of an unsung pest, at least if you don’t know to look for it. Why not use your weeds to your culinary advantage, and try eating them?
Foraging was, for all intents and purposes, the first job any human ever held, and while it could somewhat share that title with hunting, there’s a whole lot more hoops you’ll have to jump through to go hunting on LI. Foraging, on the other hand, does not require permits, and in the case of weeds and Invasives, can usually be done right in your backyard. There’s a whole world of edible plants right here on the island, and community databases like fallingfruit.org can make it even easier to find them in your area. For the sake of simplicity though, we’ll just focus on the two big ones, dandelion and garlic mustard.
If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen a post from us a few weeks ago about eating dandelion. In that post we talked about using the greens for a fresh salad, or cooking them as a side dish. But did you know there’s even more you can make from the dandelion? If you find a young dandelion which hasn’t yet flowered, you can pull it out of the ground to find a much larger and denser root than you might otherwise. Dehydrating this root, either in a fancy machine or a low heat oven before crushing it in a spice blender will produce an earthy tea that can be enjoyed in place of any store bought bags. For the more mature plants that have already flowered, dandelion jelly makes quick work of those bright petals! This one is a bit more complicated, so we’ll just link our favorite recipe for the stuff instead. https://www.homestead-acres.com/how-to-make-dandelion-jelly/
As for the already tasty sounding garlic mustard, its uses are just about what you’d expect from the name! One thing to note about garlic mustard before going any further though, is that the plant, especially when young, contains a non-negligible level of cyanide. Although you would have to eat quite a lot of it to have negative effects, this can still be a concern for those who may consume cyanide through some other common foods. The best advice for dealing with this is to cook the harvested garlic mustard thoroughly to remove the cyanide (and also mellow the flavor) or to just follow the same rule as seafood when watching out for mercury, and consume in moderation.
When it comes to harvesting garlic mustard, you’ll want to take the tender upper stalks and flower from the plant. You should be able to easily snap the upper stalk right off, similar to asparagus, but if the stalk doesn’t easily break it may be too tough for consumption. Once harvested, the plant can be broken up into 3 core components: the stalk, leaves, and flower. The stalk can fill a role very similar to dandelion greens, and be eaten raw in a salad or cooked for a side dish. The flower and leaves will both have a much stronger, somewhat bitter flavor however, and should be used with caution. Small amounts of each can be added into anything where you might use normal garlic for a heavy hit of flavor, with dishes like pesto or hummus being the most common.
Hopefully, this has given you a bit of inspiration to finally deal with that patch of weeds slowly spreading along the edge of your garden, and if not, hopefully it’s at least reminded you to eat your greens today!
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Cover Photo by Annie Spratt Via Unsplash
We’re a month into spring now, how is everybody enjoying (or not enjoying) the warmer weather? While it may still vary fairly wildly, the warmer temperatures are a great incentive for most people to get out and go for a hike! If you’d prefer to just rest in a nice park or along a pretty trail though, we have you covered with the perfect activity for doing so, reading! For this month’s blog, we asked a few members of our Board and our executive director for their best environmentally- themed book recommendations and compiled them here.
Of course, if you have any recommendations yourself, do let us know as well! It’s hard to go particularly wrong with a book recommendation.
To start, Board member Elina Alayeva had two recommendations to share with us that were so detailed that we’d feel bad offering you anything but her direct quotes!
The Overstory, by Richard Powers.
“It’s an incredibly ambitious novel and a deeply moving exploration of the interconnectedness of all living things, particularly trees. It tells the story of nine characters whose lives are all profoundly affected by trees, whether they know it or not. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, and the book is both informative and emotionally resonant. Reading it outside in the spring will only deepen an appreciation for the natural world and the complex web of life that sustains us all.”
An American Sunrise, by Joy Harjo.
“A poetry collection by Joy Harjo. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and the first Indigenous Poet Laureate of the United States, writes emotionally resonant poetry often touching on her heritage. This collection explores themes of history, memory, and resilience, as she reflects on her own family history and the history of Indigenous people in America. It’s a lovely celebration of the natural world and a reminder about the power of storytelling.”
Next up, was a recommendation from Board member Suzanne Ruggles.
“Profound interactions between people and nature … perfectly written.. my favorite page turner.”
Suzanne recommends Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver, an anthology of stories about people who share the same land, and how that land affects and changes them, and their relationships. The book connects themes of the human spirit and of nature, to create a story that stands tall even among its contemporaries.
Our third Board member to offer a recommendation this month is Nina Leonhardt. Nina recommends Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina.
“This wonderful volume explores animal intelligence, communications and feelings from the perspective of the animal, rather than trying to define how animals are similar to us. Each species should be valued and appreciated for its traits and understood in those terms.”
Next, Board member John Turner offered an in-depth review of An Immense World, by Edward Yong.
“One of the best books I’ve ever read. It highlights the countless sensory adaptations possessed by animals such as echolocation in bats, bloodhounds’ sense of smell, elephants’ use of infrasound, and birds and insects seeing ultraviolet light. The book makes clear we live in a remarkable world filled with wonder……I would HIGHLY recommend the book. “
Mr. Turner also wrote an even lengthier review of the book to be featured in TBR Media’s “Nature Matters” section later this month.
Finally, no list of book recommendations from the Society would be complete without the first publication from our own executive director, “Saving Long Island: The David and Goliath Battle to Preserve the Pine Barrens”. Written by Richard Amper, this book describes the long road from the founding of the LIPBS to the passage of the Pine Barrens Protection Act. Called an “Essential reading for Long Islanders” by its author, this book is a must not just for conservationists, but for anybody looking to learn more about what it takes to protect even the smallest park.
We hope you’ll take some time this spring to get out and get reading while the weather is still nice, though keep an eye out for those April showers!
By Andrew Wong, Long Island Pine Barrens Society