Thursday, March 31, 2005

Raw Sewage, Rain, and a Continuing Problem

This week's heavy rains were a reminder that there's still plenty to be ashamed of when it comes to water quality and Long Island Sound, and indeed in the entire urbanized northeast. Heavy rains become conveyor belts of raw sewage and contaminants into the Sound and its tributaries. Seven or eight cities near the Sound -- including New York City, Bridgeport and New Haven -- still have sewers that are designed to empty untreated sewage into the Sound and other waterways when it rains. In other towns, the sewers are so old and poorly maintained that rainwater seeps in and forces sewage out. And of course in many places the streets are filthy enough so that stormwater in heavily contaminated.

Newsday reported yesterday that the heavy rains forced state officials to shut down shellfish beds on the north shore of Long Island, to make sure that nobody eats oysters or clams loaded with pathogens. I didn't see any reports from Connecticut but I'm certain that Connecticut officials did the same. Assuming it doesn't rain again soon, the beds will remain closed to shellfishing for a week to 10 days. Only the Providence Journal seems to be giving this story the emphasis it deserves, focusing on Narragansett Bay of course rather than the Sound.

Peach Island: Conserving Land for Wildlife and People?

At Southern Connecticut State University the other night, much of the discussion after my talk was about how hard it is to physically get to the Sound. Most of the waterfront is privately owned and most of the "public" beaches are owned by shorefront towns that have restrictive access policies (these beaches are technically open to everyone but the costs and the process of getting passes makes it not worth the trouble). The feeling in the class -- and it's a feeling I share -- was that the difficulty of getting to the Sound prevents a stronger constituency for the Sound from growing.

Today's news is that the amount of public land on the Sound has grown by 2.6 acres, which is small but not insignificant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired Peach Island, in Norwalk Harbor, from private the Norwalk Seaport Association yesterday, for $600,000, thus delivering the association from the temptation to sell it to a developer. The Trust for Public Land brokered the deal.

Peach Island will become part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Will the public be allowed on? "If we find some public use is compatible with the wildlife, then we will allow that use," said Sara Williams, a wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the Stamford Advocate.

There are a couple of issues here. Obviously a national wildlife refuge exists for wildlife, and there are clearly times when wildlife and people are incompatible. The section of the McKinney Refuge at Milford Point, for example, is fenced off for a good part of the year so piping plovers, a federally threatened species, can nest without being stepped on by humans. And the fact that Peach Island is an island means that nobody is going to set foot on it who hasn't already gotten access to the Sound somewhere else, so the acquisition won't increase public access.

But the Trust for Public Land's motto is "Conserving Land for People," and in this case I presume they mean more than the handful of Norwalk waterfront residents who no longer will have to worry about looking at a big new house on Peach Island.

So I hope they open up the island, and allow kayakers and outboards to pull up to its shores, if only in late summer, fall and winter if it turns out to be an important nesting site. It would be a shame if bird watchers, fishermen, people who simply wanted to walk around the island looking for shells were kept off this new piece of public property year-round.

Here's the Advocate story. Warning: It contains numerous press release quotes that were never actually said by anyone (trust me here -- I do that sort of thing for a living).

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Breeding Season

I gave a talk late yesterday afternoon at Professor Vincent Breslin's course for environmental education grad students at Southern Connecticut State University (it's a good deal -- every couple of semesters Vince uses my book as a text, which means I sell a couple a dozen copies, and in exchange I visit his class and get to rehearse my performance while he gets to sit and listen instead of teaching). I was done by 6:30 or so and headed out across the parking lot. The remains of the sunset had left a streak of light above the western horizon, and West Rock was silhouetted against the sky. I was on the phone with my wife, to let her know when I’d be home, when a woodcock flew past me from behind, about 10 feet above my head, and zig-zagged away over the acres of parking lots, searching maybe for an open patch from which to launch its spring courtship display.

This morning’s Stamford Advocate has an interesting column, by Peter Davenport, about a search for woodcocks in an unlikely place.

Earlier yesterday afternoon, when the afternoon sun finally emerged, peepers were calling from the woods near my house, but at night, in the cold, they were silent. Further south and a bit to the west though, in Greenwich, they were out. Tom Baptist, the executive director of Audubon Connecticut and a good naturalist, sent me this e-mail:

For the first time this spring, tonight I can hear the calls of Spring Peepers chirping unanimously, almost bird-like, from a manmade wetland just downhill from my residence. I am heartened and moved by the moment. I'm reminded of the importance of connecting people with nature. If divorced from nature, people will not learn from nature, respect nature, or defend nature.

I long for this moment each spring, energized by the tenacity, persistence, and resilience of wildlife, and hopeful that those same hardy amphibians will similarly inspire future conservationists, ultimately, to become resolved to act in their defense, for their protection and preservation, for our benefit and theirs.

And finally, ospreys have returned to the vast salt marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River. Check out Connecticut Audubon’s “osprey cam.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Davids Island

A Sphere reader (part of a small but loyal group, or more likely a small group with enough time on their hands to read blogs) sent me an e-mail this morning with a link to a news story about Davids Island, which is in the far western end of the Sound, off New Rochelle. I hadn’t linked to it or to a story from last week about an Army Corps of Engineers meeting to discuss the island’s future. Here’s what I wrote back:

I'm conflicted about Davids Island because the organization I work for has been involved in trying to convince the county to buy it, and we'll probably get more involved as time goes on. I've been trying not to blog about things I do for work, to avoid conflicts -- I want to be able to say what's on my mind, regardless of whether it pisses anyone off; and I don't want to piss anyone off that we need to keep on good terms with to do what we do here at work. It's a problem because I was so heavily involved in the Davids Island stuff 15-20 years ago, when Xanadu was trying to build there.

Maybe I should just explain that on Sphere and link to stories without comment.

And as I wrote it, I realized that was a reasonable idea. So henceforth I’ll link to stories about Davids Island and otherwise keep my mouth shut about the issue, except to say perhaps that it should not be developed into anything except a park for relatively low-intensity use.

Here’s today’s, and here’s last week’s.

Update: My friend and former boss and colleague, Phil Reisman, has a good column today about Davids Island. Phil met up with a fellow named Michael Cavanaugh who lived on the island when it was Fort Slocum and has been contacting fellow former residents. He has a website with lots of really interesting pictures of the fort. Click here and then scroll and click around. Phil’s column is here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Jar of Crabs

While everyone else carried briefcases and files and notepads, Art Glowka arrived at last Thursday's meeting of the Long Island Sound Study's Citizens Advisory Committee carrying a jar of Asian shore crabs. Glowka is a retired airline pilot who was one of the founders of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, the predecessor of Riverkeeper, so he's not exactly a novice, or unsophisticated. But he's the kind of advocate who gives government officials, managers, bureaucrats a severe pain in the neck.

Way back in 1963 he and two others discovered that the Indian Point nuke plant was killing thousands of fish a day. A few years later, Art came up with the idea for pre-paid, pre-printed "bag-a-polluter" postcards so people living near the Hudson could simply fill them out and mail them in to report polluters. He was involved in stopping the Storm King power plant, in the Hudson Highlands, a seminal case in environmental history and law.

And as long ago as the 1960s, he began showing up at government meetings and in government offices to ask inconvenient questions and raise inconvenient issues. In Bob Boyle's book about the Hudson ("The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History," Norton, 1979; it was the source for the historical information about Art), he writes:

Art Glowka has a persistence and an equanimity of soul that cannot be rivaled by a Buddhist monk, and for many months he began appearing in [U.S. Army] Corps headquarters and asking about polluters.

On sign-up sheets at government meetings, where those in attendance are supposed to write down who they are representing (usually an agency or organization), Art always writes "the critters." His point last week was that while the CAC, and the Long Island Sound Study in general, were fiddling with issues such as Broadwater's plan to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of the Sound, a biological fire is already overtaking the Sound's ecosystem. And that fire is the Asian Shore Crab.

Jennifer Wilson-Pines, a CAC member, told me in an e-mail:

Art Glowka ... pointed out while we were debating something that might happen, we have a biological disaster taking place - these babies have the capacity to be the zebra mussels of salt water in terms of impact. They can be the cause of up to 95% disappearance / replacement of all native crab species in an area in less than 5 years, not to mention their habit of consuming the larval stages of just about anything that comes within their reach - like baby lobsters. Art put [the jar of crabs] on the sign in sheet and since they lacked a phone #, someone who shall remain nameless added, "1-800 Go Crabs."

Asian shore crabs were first discovered on the east coast in 1988, the same year as zebra mussels, and already they've spread as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Maine. The heart of their east coast range seems to be the Sound. This site has some good, basic information about just how devastating Asian shore crabs can be.

No one is sure how Asian shore crabs arrived in the area but, as with zebra mussels, a good bet is that they escaped in the ballast water of an overseas ship. I'm not sure what the CAC could or should be doing about Asian shore crabs. But it was an interesting coincidence that on the day Art Glowka brought a jar full of specimens to the CAC meeting, the CAC discussed a report by its ad hoc Broadwater committee that included the following paragraph:

The LNG barge and tankers require the use of ballast water. During operation the tankers will intake ballast water from the Sound to keep the vessel balanced. It is unclear how much ballast water is needed to balance the vessel and whether the amount of water taken from the Sound 2-3 times a week will in any way affect the Sound.

Two or three tankers a week doesn't Sound like much. But over a year, it would mean up to 156 additional foreign vessels in the Sound. Currently, as many as 700 foreign vessels make port calls in the Sound. So Broadwater's terminal could result in a 19 percent increase.

To me that's significant, and it means there would be a significant increase in the chance that other invasive species could take hold. Art Glowka's jar of Asian shore crabs is a useful reminder of that threat.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Safe Place to Store Your Canoe Paddle

Indians in southern New England in the 1600s navigated the local waters in dugout canoes, propelling themselves with wooden paddles. One such Native American, who lived near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, left his paddle in the Stanton-Davis house, for safe-keeping.

Apparently he picked the right place, because the paddle is still there -- and not just the paddle, according to this very interesting story from New London Day columnist Joe Wojtas.

The Davis family bought the Stanton farm, in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, in 1772, when the farmhouse was a century old and was probably already something of a museum. A Davis has lived there ever since and, from the sound of it, never threw anything away -- or at least anything worth keeping.

Now, the farm has been protected with conservation easements, money is being raised to restore the house, and the collection of artifacts is being catalogued, all as part of the effort to turn the Stanton-Davis farmstead into a museum.

John "Whit" Davis, who is 80, lives there now. Wojtas writes:

After stiffly making his way to the attic, Davis shines a flashlight on the wooden slats. Slaves who worked on the Stanton-Davis farm carved pictures of slave schooners on the slats, using white paint to depict swordfish and a pregnant woman.

From the closet that held the canoe paddle:

...he pulls an Indian war club made from a tree root, explaining that it belonged to the same Indian who owned the paddle.

As Davis slowly turns it in his hand, he points out where the man carved a duck's head, a turtle with an eel in its mouth, a bird in flight and a man's face. Men would carve their images in the wood after seeing themselves reflected in a pool of water.

And also:

Many trunks in the house have not been opened in years. Davis has been unable to reach some in the attic because piles of others block access.


The artifacts are now being documented, filmed and placed in large storage containers until the nonprofit museum organization raises the $1.5 million needed to restore the sagging house. The work is expected to take three-to-five years.

Lobster Sightings

Matt Sasso, whose diving blog I linked to the other day, reports that, from one observer's perspective, the lobster situation in Long Island Sound might be improving. In an e-mail, Matt wrote:

Last year I had the opportunity to do a few dives off of Cranes Neck. I was very pleased to find my old buddies the lobsters back in town. None of them were larger than 1 1/2lbs but they were back and [it] felt really good to see them there and healthy again.

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped warblers, always an early-spring migrant, were in the area this morning, foraging in a mixed flock of winter birds -- juncos, titmice, downy woodpeckers, chickadees. Robins scratched among the leaves beyond the stone wall. Yesterday a mourning cloak butterfly alit from an old woodpile in the sun. But the reservoirs, which form the headwaters of two small tributaries of the Sound, are still covered with milky white ice.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Protestors Want Guarantee They Won't be Arrested Again; Plan 'Day of Action' in April

The “Greenwich Three” – the three environmentalists from the Rainforest Action Network who were arrested in Greenwich earlier this month for expressing their opinions – want a written guarantee from the town within 10 days that they won’t be arrested again for handing out protest material. Their ACLU attorney, Annette Lamoreaux, asked for the guarantee in a letter sent yesterday to the town attorney and police chief. From the Greenwich Time:

“We want to talk with them and work out an arrangement that is constitutional and agreeable to both sides,” Lamoreaux said. “We would like to work this out prior to litigation but we consider this issue to be sufficiently serious that I would advise my clients to take legal action.”

Jess Eisen, one of those arrested, told me that RAN is preparing for “a big National Day of Action on April 12,” and although she didn’t say they’d be in Greenwich, it may explain why her attorney wants a guarantee they won’t be arrested again.

The police chief said he’d meet with them to talk about what forms of protest don’t violate the law. Those arrested were Jess Eisen, Althea Erickson and Robert Nixon. Nixon lives in Old Greenwich, Eisen in Brooklyn and Erickson in Manhattan.

According to the Greenwich Time:

"they were arrested and cited with creating a public disturbance, after the two women hung fliers on trees, telephone poles and elsewhere on Vineyard Lane. Nixon was arrested for chauffeuring the women to the scene of the protest. … Eisen and Erickson are also charged with posting bills on public property. The ACLU does not dispute the constitutionality of that charge.”

The chose Vineyard Lane because it’s the home of William Harrison, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the policies of which RAN opposes.

The three will be arraigned in Stamford on Monday. Eisen told me they have hired a local attorney, Elias A. Alexiades, to handle the criminal charges.

What's Under the Surface?

I don’t fish, I get seasick on the shortest of boat rides (the trip to Block Island can be trying without the proper OTC medication), and I don’t dive, so learning about what’s happening on and under the water can be a challenge. In the 1980s and ‘90s I spent hours interviewing fishermen and, when I could find them, divers for first-hand accounts of what they catch and see.

Today I came upon a blog written by a diver who apparently lives on Long Island’s north shore. Much of it is of interest only to divers – posts about wet suits and dry suits and whatever – but this one is an interesting account of what there is to see off Mount Sinai and Cranes Neck, and in Smithtown Bay, among other places.

There is something marvelous that happens when land, sea and structure all come together with changing tides. Besides the massive currents that can develop, marine life seems to gravitate in frenzy to these locations. Often the depths are no greater than 30' but in that 30’ a scuba diver can experience diversity like nowhere else in the north east. Stripers, Lobsters, Eels, Black fish, fluke, flounder, and bluefish all piled up in one dive. And don’t forget the opportunity to find some Indian artifacts or memoirs from Long Island’s early shipping era.

Click the link above and read more.

Two-Day Conference to Review Sound Cleanup Progress

The cleanup of Long Island Sound has been proceeding for more than 10 years, ever since the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan agreement was signed by the states and EPA in 1994. The work is broad-ranging, and it can be technical and difficult to make sense of, particularly when the question of water quality improvements is raised.

The people who are overseeing the work – the Management Committee of the Long Island Sound Study – apparently agree. They've decided to hold a two-day conference, on July 20 and 21, to look at the overall picture and to talk about what has and hasn’t been accomplished.

I think it’s a great idea, but one that should be planned with the public, as well as the Management Committee, in mind – adequate room; and presentations that aren’t so technical and jargon-laden that no one can understand them - and publicized widely.

The justification, according to a Management Committee memo, is basically that the committee is too busy during regular meetings to focus on the big picture, and that there’s not enough time in a single day to review and discuss everything.

“Existing Management Committee meetings are crammed with ongoing business. A special one-day meeting is inadequate to support both presentations and discussion. A forum is needed for extended discussion and interaction.”

(There's a summary on page 5 of this memo, although the attachment that I took the above quote doesn't seem to be part of it.)

Apparently the conference is still in the planning stages, but the general goals are to summarize the environmental conditions that the cleanup is focusing on, including accomplishments and shortcomings; review research and monitoring; and review priorities for 2006.

It seems as if no location has been chosen yet, although they might be considering SUNY Maritime College, at Throgs Neck.

Quotation Marks: Spring Bloom, Long Island Sound

Algae take in far more nutrients than they use, and they are among the most generous organisms in the estuary in passing it along -- their own growth requires only ten percent of the nutrients they capture, leaving ninety percent, in the form of nitrogen-rich detritus, for other organisms to use. In Long Island Sound, the most explosive period of growth of algae happens in late winter and spring, a bloom of critical importance to the estuary. As winter wanes, the days lengthen. Ice in the Sound's harbors and bays plows into the salt marshes, mowing the broad flats of Spartina grasses into a copper-colored stubble, and grinding the grasses into smaller and smaller bits. The tides wash this organic matter into the deeper water, where it fertilizes the algae, the most abundant of which are the diatoms.

Diatoms are the estuary's basic food crop. They thrive in coastal areas, where winds keep the surface waters well-mixed, helping to give the diatoms the sun's full benefit by suspending them near the top. Diatoms come in many shapes--some are bladder-like or needle-like, some like discs or subtly curving worms. In February, fed by the grasses and stimulated by increasing sunlight, the diatoms and other phytoplankton (a survey once found one hundred and twenty-five species in Long Island Sound) reproduce at a tremendous rate. The diatoms can double in number every day. More than forty million individual phytoplankton cells may cram into three cubic feet of water; eighty cubic feet may hold a billion individual plants.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Citizens Committee Skeptical of Broadwater

A citizens group that is taking a preliminary look at the Broadwater LNG proposal has drafted a report that raises a skeptical eyebrow at the appropriateness of putting a fuel terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound. The report also makes it clear that so little is known about Broadwater’s proposal that it is very difficult to make an intelligent assessment of the plan.

The group is actually an ad hoc committee of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee. Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment is the chair of the ad hoc committee, and Maureen Dolan, CCE’s program coordinator, is a member, as is Kyle Rabin, of Friends of the Bay. All three are members of the Anti-Broadwater Coalition. In the interests of my own full disclosure, two ad hoc committee members, Cesare Manfredi and Dan Natchez, were sources of mine (generally friendly and cooperative, but not always) when I was a reporter, and more recently Manfredi and I served together on the board of a non-profit environmental group.

John Atkin, co-chair of the CAC, sent me a copy yesterday (the list of CAC members who declined to send me a copy is long, which surprised me, considering that the CAC has always operated openly and the document is clearly in the public domain). Atkin said the CAC would discuss it at a meeting today but would take no action on it.

The ad hoc committee had its genesis in December, after Broadwater made a presentation at a CAC meeting.

…the committee wrote a letter to Broadwater requesting answers to our specific questions and concerns. Broadwater replied to the committee that they would like to again meet with the committee members. The committee sent a follow up letter asking if the suggested meeting would address the committee’s specific concerns and provide answers to our questions….

The committee intends this interim report to act as a first step guidance document. We can revise sections upon the request of the CAC as more information becomes available either from Broadwater or other sources….

The onus is on Broadwater to provide adequate answers to our questions and, more importantly, to prove that their proposed facility is safe and environmentally sound. Broadwater needs be responsive to all levels of government and the public.

That said, the ad hoc committee report raises dozens of questions. I’ll start with a long excerpt that addresses the issue I continue to think is the most important: whether an industrial facility is a proper use for the middle of the Sound (I’m leaving out the citations from the report, but if anyone wants them let me know).

Industrialization is evident on both sides of Long Island Sound. Each of those areas began with the siting of one industrial project. There are two key questions we need to ask ourselves - Do we want to turn the middle of Long Island Sound into one of those industrial centers? Will this project pave the way for other industrial uses?

Long Island Sound is held for the citizens of New York and Connecticut under the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD). The PTD is a law that has been handed down from justice system to justice system since Justinian times. In the landmark United States Supreme Court case Illinois Central R.R. v. Illinois (1892) the court stated “…the state can no more abdicate its trust over property in which the whole people are interested…so as to leave them entirely under the use and control of private parties…than it can abdicate it[s] role in the administration of government and the preservation of peace.” Cases since have clarified that the “trust” is a real trust in the legal sense of the word, with the trustees (the State Legislature and its delegates) being responsible for and having a duty to protect the trust. “There is a clear purpose for the trust: to preserve and continuously assure the public’s ability to fully use and enjoy public trust lands, waters and resources for certain public uses.”

Common uses for the public trust grow as times change; generally it has included fishing, navigation, commerce, shellfishing, swimming, boating, and general recreation purposes. However, it is important to note that all of these uses “must take into account the overarching principle of the public trust doctrine that trust lands belong to the public and are to be used to promote public rather than exclusively private purposes.” “Because these goods are to be enjoyed by all, the government must assume a trust-like duty not to waste or expend them for the benefit of just a few.”

Safety considerations will require a “no access/exclusion zone” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the life of this platform. The benefit of use for that portion of Long Island Sound will be stripped from the public and given over to benefit TransCanada and Shell. There are some existing places along Long Island Sound and river shores that have safety and security zones maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Some have safety/security zone in place around the facility on land while other safety/security zones exist only while vessels are in port; none of these locations are in the middle of Long Island Sound.

The report also raises questions about the potential for contaminated stormwater from the terminal, and for cooling water and ballast water to damage fish and shellfish. It outlines a number of problems that could be caused by the installation of the underwater pipeline that would distribute natural gas from the terminal.

The ad hoc committee is concerned about the safety of the terminal for other vessels:

It is reasonable to anticipate some navigational challenges since the Broadwater facility would be moored in the middle of the Sound. This facility will not be stationary and will move in a huge arc controlled by the tide and wind. There is concern on how this proposed facility will be identified with appropriate lighting and audible signals. In addition, it is unclear what strategies will be available for providing safe passage during the night or other periods of low visibility, such as storms or dense fog. This is of particular concern to smaller recreational boats that do not have radar.

The report contains sections on safety and terrorism, the demand for natural gas, and the need for a sustainable energy policy for the region.

Although there is no particular conclusion, the report ends with this caution:

In the United States, there are currently over 40 LNG terminals in existence, proposed or classified as potential projects. The nation does not need all of them and the companies know that and, as a result, companies are in a race against each other. It is possible that some proposals may be less sound than others, but are being fast-tracked through the regulatory process. But the question remains whether the regulatory process is set up in such a way to ensure that only the most sensible projects, with the least environmental impacts, get permitted.

The ad hoc committee’s report isn’t online yet, but when it is, I’ll link to it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Oh, So THAT'S a Meme...

Do you know what a meme is? It’s a word I’ve encountered only in blogs. The online dictionary I just checked defines it this way: A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Memes seem to have a life of their own on blogs. I saw a good one a month of so ago, for example, on Terry Teachout’s blog. The meme was this: write 10 things that you’ve done that your readers probably haven’t. I immediately came up with seven or eight of my own, including riding in a four-man bobsled with Bobby Orr, the hockey great. But I never bothered posting it.

Jon Christensen, at the Uneasy Chair, has a meme that’s going around (like a mild flu, I fear). Read it and then follow the link back here.

I’ve taken up the challenge. Here are my answers.

You’re stuck in Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
Walden, or Life in the Woods. It’s the ultimate self-help book.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Who hasn’t? -- The Princess Estradina in The Custom of the Country. Both sisters in Howard’s End. Lily Bart in The House of Mirth. Jordan Baker, even though she cheated at golf. Catherine Barkley…

The last book you bought is:
Birds of Paradise: Travels with Cranes, by Peter Matthiessen. One of the many who makes me take a deep breath and think, “If only I could do that.”

Last books read:
Birds of Paradise: Travels with Cranes
Love and Ambition, by Ward Just.

What are you currently reading?
Beyond the Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn, edited by Rob Miraldi. Because Miraldi is my cousin and close friend, and because I once had drinks and a long, interesting, fun talk with Kahn.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.
The Library of America volume of Thoreau that includes Walden, Cape Cod, and the Maine Woods.

The Poetry of Robert Frost

The Food of France, a great, somewhat unknown book by Waverly Root, a writer who understood the connection between the land and the food we eat.

The Sibley Bird Guide, assuming the deserted island was near North America.

Fierce Pajamas, because I’d need a laugh.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And why:

No one. Memes are for blogs, and the bloggers I’d like to see answer these questions are extremely unlikely ever to read this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Thrush Music, Hark!

It was about a quarter to six this evening, and I was walking through the twilight along a road that crosses the Silvermine River, north of Norwalk. I stopped to tie my sneaker on a bridge above the water. As I bent, the reflection of a large bird glided across the water. I looked up to see a great blue heron on the wing. I walked on, past towering white pines and an old house with dark brown shingles, and from the woods I heard a bird singing, a long introductory note followed by a flutey phrase. It was a sound I knew but had not heard in 20 years, the sound of the north woods, of the Adirondacks. In the twilight on this early spring day, the first mild day of the season, a hermit thrush was singing.

Speaking Engagement at Greenwich Audubon

I’ll be the keynote speaker at a daylong gathering that Audubon Connecticut is holding on Saturday, April 2, in Greenwich to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Audubon Society. My topic will be “What is Long Island Sound For?” -- how we have used the Sound and its watershed in different ways over the centuries, how the Sound has been essential to the region’s growth and economic well-bring, and how that led to the ecological crisis the Sound is still experiencing. I also plan to talk about how Broadwater’s LNG terminal proposal fits in to the Sound’s history.

Part of the day’s program will also focus on Audubon Connecticut’s new Long Island Sound campaign.

You can click on the title above for information on how to register, or e-mail Carolyn Hughes at

(Speaking of Audubon and birds, as I'm writing this, two wild turkeys are peering in at me through the glass door of our office here at home. With their feathers puffed out, they look remarkably like those fold-out paper turkeys that are used for Thanksgiving decorations.)

Lobster for Dinner

Sometimes it’s the details that reveal the most about the condition of Long Island Sound. Lobsters used to be abundant in the Sound, until they started dying mysteriously half a decade ago. Last summer, the crew of SoundWaters, an 85-foot schooner that takes students and campers on educational voyages on Long Island Sound, had lobster for dinner once: the captain brought them down from a visit to Maine.

Bronx River Sewage: A Further Explanation

If you read my post from last week about sewage problems on the Bronx River, scroll down and read Robert Funicello’s response in the comments. He provides some details on what Westchester County has done to fix sewer infrastructure problems, and is less pessimistic about long-term prospects.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Field Research

The Long Island Sound watershed is vast – 16,246 square miles encompassing part of Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.

It would be the work of a lifetime to know all its valleys and sub-watersheds. In that spirit, however, I’ll be doing some field research here over the next few days.

Friday's News: Deer Hunt in Greenwich Ends

I had thought that an organized deer hunt sponsored by a government or an environmental organization would be a much hotter potato politically and public relations-wise than it has turned out to be. Now though I think the Greenwich (town and Audubon) experience will encourage others to do the same.

The town’s deer hunt ended for the season this week. Greenwich officials announced hired sharpshooters had killed 42 deer at the Pomerance-Montogomery Pinetum Park, 26 at the Griffith E. Harris Memorial Golf Course and 12 at the Babcock Preserve. …

Officials said their next step would be to monitor the deer population and promote hunting on private land as a second step to managing herd size. Lash said officials have not ruled out using sharpshooting in future years.

From the Greenwich Time.

Tom Baptist, of Greenwich Audubon, tells me this about Audubon’s effort:

At Audubon, we shot 25 deer this season (ending January 31, 2005). We are careful not to call this a “success,” since our best measure of success is not how many deer are killed but whether the forest ecology begins to recover. We continue to monitor the presence of ground-nesting birds and certain wildflowers...the pace and extent of their return will enable us to gauge whether the program is successful or not. Each of the deer shot on Audubon land (23 doe and 2 buck) were donated to the Foodbank of Lower Fairfield County. Hours per deer shot was 13.5.

Friday's News: Deer Hunt in Greenwich Ends

I had thought that an organized deer hunt sponsored by a government or an environmental organization would be a much hotter potato politically and public relations-wise than it has turned out to be. Now though I think the Greenwich (town and Audubon) experience will encourage others to do the same.

The town’s deer hunt ended for the season this week. Greenwich officials announced hired sharpshooters had killed 42 deer at the Pomerance-Montogomery Pinetum Park, 26 at the Griffith E. Harris Memorial Golf Course and 12 at the Babcock Preserve. …

Officials said their next step would be to monitor the deer population and promote hunting on private land as a second step to managing herd size. Lash said officials have not ruled out using sharpshooting in future years.

From the Greenwich Time.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Will This Help the Sound's Lobsters?

Connecticut may be on the verge of a program that it thinks will help Long Island Sound’s decimated lobster population. The environment committee Connecticut House voted for a bill that would require commercial lobstermen to return females to the Sound, after notching their tails; they can then turn the notches in to the state for a fee. The idea is to make sure there are plenty of females for breeding.

Of course if global warming and the rise in water temperatures that go with it are for real, programs like Connecticut’s may be a desperate attempt to save something that’s unsaveable. The Sound is at the southern end of the lobster’s inshore range and therefore might simply not be able to thrive here as before.

You can read a brief summary of the lobster situation here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sewage in the Bronx River

Sewage treatment plants on Long Island Sound and in its nearby cities have gotten a lot of attention, and rightly so. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, first to bring them up to the standards of the Clean Water Act and, more recently, to remove nitrogen. But the condition of the sewers that lead to the plants is appalling if not scandalous. Maintenance is ignored, and every city or village has sewers that are crumbling and in disrepair.

Compare conditions in one Sound tributary a century ago, with conditions now:

… in Westchester County … sewage clogged the Bronx River, destroying the stream’s ecological value and, most critically from the standpoint of motivating government, depressing real estate values …

For years the suburban towns from North White Plains to the Bronx border – White Plains, Scarsdale, Mount Vernon, Yonkers, Bronxville – had been dumping their sewage into the Bronx River, which empties into the westernmost end of the Sound. By 1906 it was apparent to officials in Westchester that the pleasant rural and suburban brook that had been the Bronx River was now a turbid, stagnant sewer. The county Board of Supervisors established the Bronx Valley Sewer Commission, which built a large sewer line to intercept the sewage before it reached the Bronx River. The solution was hardly revolutionary – in keeping with the time-honored tradition of giving your headache to someone else, the new pipe diverted sewage to the Hudson River – but its completion in 1912 was unusual in that it was a successful attempt to clean up a tributary to the Sound.

That’s from my book, page 80. Here now is an excerpt from the New York Times, 99 years after the formation of the Bronx Valley Sewer Commission:

Because of aging pipes and faulty hookups … Yonkers has been discharging raw sewage into the [Bronx] river for years – hundreds of thousands of gallons a day – through more than a dozen storm pipes. …

“Closer to the Bronx, we found toilet paper coming out of pipes, and tampons – and you could smell the sewage,” said Philip Bein, an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Protection Bureau in Albany. He said that all the samples were taken in dry weather, when there "should be zero discharge."

A judge has ordered Yonkers to stop the sewage discharges. Again, from the Times:

Yonkers officials say they want to correct the problem but are concerned about the schedule. The court order requires the city to videotape its network of pipes and to use dye tests to pinpoint the spots where sewage is flowing into the wrong pipes and ultimately into the Bronx River.

"It's very difficult to do this job quickly, as opposed to methodically and over a period of time," said Frank J. Rubino, the city's corporation counsel. "We're not talking about a small village. We have miles of sewer pipes."

Mr. Rubino said that the city had identified more than 100 houses whose waste lines connect to storm pipes instead of to sanitary pipes. The city is asking those homeowners to undertake the repair themselves; if they refuse, Yonkers will carry out the work and put liens on the houses.

Another source of the discharge is the seepage from cracked sanitary pipes into adjacent storm pipes that are also broken, Mr. Rubino said.

Court order or not, none of us will live to see the day when a municipality fixes homeonwers' sewers and puts liens on their houses to pay for it. Politically, it's impossible. The political benefit is negligible (unlike a new park or repairs to a road, nobody sees sewer repairs) and the political risk of having your actions portrayed as being unfair to hard-working homeowners is great.

But I've been wrong before, and let's hope I'm wrong this time.

Public Support for Clean Water

Americans overwhelmingly want the federal government to spend more money to make sure water quality improves in places such as Long Island Sound. That's what two polling firms – one Republican, the other primarily Democratic – learned when they teamed up to ask about environmental issues. The Long Island Press carried a story by the Environmental News Service:

The survey put this question to respondents, "Generally speaking, which of the following programs do you think is in greatest need of a dedicated trust fund that would guarantee federal money to help state and local governments pay for maintenance and improvements?"
Clean and safe water got 71 percent of the positive responses, roads and highways got 20 percent, while airports and aviation got a three percent positive response. This result was found across red states and blue states.

On the other hand, according to ENS:

The Bush administration has proposed to cut clean water funding from the EPA’s budget for fiscal year 2006 by $500 million—from $8.1 billion to $7.6 billion. Most of this reduction would be achieved by a proposed cut of $360 million (from $1.09 billion to $730 million) to the agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The revolving fund, a loan program that helps local communities repair and replace aging wastewater treatment plants, has been the primary source of federal support for clean water infrastructure projects since its creation in 1987.

Studies by the EPA, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network estimate a water infrastructure funding gap exceeding $300 billion over the next 20 years.

Luntz Research Companies, whose principal, Frank Luntz is the bane of progressives because of his purported ability to create buzz phrases that resound with voters, and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates conducted the poll.

Justice Department: A Loyal Reader

Does the U.S. Department of Justice monitor blogs (and if so, couldn’t they find one more subversive than mine)?

I ask because every morning between 5 and 6, Sphere gets a hit from the Department of Justice. It’s always the same time of day and it’s always via the same post – this one, from February 14. Now, this was a good post, but who’d want to read it every workday?

The stat counters I use tell me how many readers I get and also what internet service provider they use – Optonline and AOL, for example, but also private companies (Shell checks in every once in a while, perhaps because they like my style but more likely to read Broadwater posts), universities and government agencies, including the Department of Justice.

Are other bloggers routinely read by the DOJ?

I wonder if I simply have a fan in DC, or if for some unfathomable reason, the DOJ thinks it should monitor Sphere? If so, the miracle of the Internet lets me know when Big Brother is watching.

Wednesday's News: "Don't Sell the Sound" to Broadwater; 65 Deer Bagged in Greeenwich Hunt; $2 Million for Beach

Protesters on Long Island held signs saying "Don't Sell the Sound" as the Suffolk County Legislature supported a resolution opposing Broadwater's plan for a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound. The resolution was purely symbolic -- with the proposal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, no one of LI has any power to stop it.

Newsday "balanced" the story by writing:

Broadwater supporters say the project will help the region meet its future energy needs and keep a lid on rising costs.

But I wonder who those supporters are. Is there any real support for Broadwater's plan, besides of course those people Broadwater is paying to support it, like Rudy Giuliani's security firm and Robert Gaffney, the former Suffolk county executive?

Sharpshooters nailed 65 deer in three nights of Greenwich's town-sponsored hunt. The Greenwich Time reports that protesters watched throughout the night. Apparently none of the protesters were arrested for expressing themselves, which sometimes happens in Greenwich.

The lead hunter, Anthony DeNicola of White Buffalo Inc., also told the newspaper that some deer had parts of arrows in them, apparently from bowhunters who weren't good enough marksman to actually kill what they shot. The Greenwich Time reports DeNicola's assertion without noting that the town's bowhunters have said publicly that the hunt is a waste of money and that they could do the job better. Could that be the implication of DeNicola's response -- that if the bowhunters were so good, his men wouldn't be finding deer with arrow remnants stuck in them?

(Addendum: I was out of town for a good part of yesterday and forgot to note that New Jersey Audubon is now advocating a hunt to reduce the state's deer herd, or hoid, as they say in Joisy. The Times reported it here.)

Further east, Connecticut is spending $2 million to replenish the beach at Hammonasset State Park, according to the New Haven Register. About 1.7 million people a year use Hammonasset, which probably makes it the busiest beach on the Sound.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tuesday's News: Update -- Greenwich First Amendment Case

Jess Eisen, one of two Rainforest Action Network employees (Althea Erickson was the other) arrested in Greenwich earlier in the month for expressing themselves in public, tells me they have decided to work with the ACLU to fight the charges based on First Amendment grounds, rather than use a criminal lawyer. Presumably this means they'll be arguing that no crime was committed because they were exercising their free speech rights.

Having once been charged with a misdemeanor for breaking Connecticut's environmental protection laws (a good story for another time), I can attest that fighting the criminal charge probably would mean hiring a lawyer to convince the prosecutor that you're basically a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record and that therefore the charge should be reduced to the equivalent of a traffic ticket, and that a small fine (in my case, $35) should be considered your debt to society.

For activists who are trying to make a point rather than simply stay out of trouble, the First Amendment route has the obvious advantage of possibly earning more attention for their cause.

Update: By way of clarification, Jess Eisen tells me that they'll have a lawyer for their criminal defense too. I assumed that if they had a civil liberties lawyer, they wouldn't also have a criminal lawyer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Greenwich First Amendment Case

I asked Annette M. Lamoreaux, legal director for ACLU of Connecticut, why newspaper reports made it sound as if the ACLU wasn’t sure if it would take the case of the three environmentalists arrested in Greenwich for protesting. In an e-mail, she told me the Rainforest Action Network and the people who were arrested haven’t decided how to proceed. She wrote:

… It’s really up to them…. We don't do direct criminal representation, so our involvement would be on the broader First Amendment issue. I agree with you that the arrests are very problematic from a constitutional perspective, but truthfully, the crackdown on any sort of political dissent since 9/11 has been so widespread that nothing surprises me anymore.

The Rainforest Action Network, by the way, has photos of the perps, and a reproduction of the wanted poster on their website. The Talkleft blog has picked up the story as well.

Monday's News: Meetings to Discuss Broadwater, Davids Island; Federal Budget Cuts

Broadwater's LNG proposal will be one of themain topics at the next meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Long Island Sound Study. The committee will hear briefings from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on their role in the Broadwater proposal, and the committee will discuss and vote on a resolution opposing regulations that would allow FERC to ignore the wishes of the states when it decides on the LNG terminal.

The meeting will be on Thursday, March 24, at Pfizer World Headquarters in Manhattan. The meetings are open to the public but you need to let EPA know ahead of time, for security reasons. E-mail, if you'd like to attend.

The future of Davids Island, off New Rochelle, is still up in the air despite environmentalists having won a major fight with a developer and the local government more than a decade ago (I wrote about it in my book because of its significance as one of the first development proposals halted because of concern for Long Island Sound).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started to study the environmental issues associated with demolishing and removing the old Army buildings on the island. The corps will hold a public meeting to discuss it, on March 22, in New Rochelle. More information here.

Speaking of the Army Corps, federal budget cuts are threatening coastal habitat restoration projects just east of the Sound. The Providence Journal has a story that summarizes the cuts that Rhode Island's coastal programs, including sewage treatment projects, are facing.

Free Speech in Greenwich (Except for Environmentalists)

Greenwich police say they arrested three environmentalists last week because they were afraid the fake "wanted" posters that the three were putting up near the home of the JP Morgan Chase CEO would alarm local residents. According to yesterday's New York Times:

the department had concluded that the posters "could be cause for alarm" because passers-by might think criminals were at large.

Does that make even one ounce of sense? Would anyone living in Greenwich in 2005 think that a "wanted" poster on a utility pole was for real? I wonder when the last time a real "wanted" poster was displayed anywhere in Greenwich besides the post office? Here's how the Times describes them:

The posters were designed as old-fashioned "Wanted" posters, featuring photographs of the chief executive, William B. Harrison Jr., referred to as "Billy the Kid" in the accompanying text. The posters criticized the bank for what was described as its "reckless investment in environmentally and socially destructive projects in dozens of countries," and urged anyone who spotted Mr. Harrison to "ask him to do the right thing."

The ACLU of Connecticut seems to be deliberating about whether to take the case.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Quotation Marks: Endangered Species

If man wants the last wild land and life to illuminate his world, he will have to pay dearly to undo his damage, and he must. The time is past when large, rare creatures can recover their numbers without man's strenuous intervention.
-- The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, Peter Matthiessen

March Snow

This morning's snowfall could not have been more beautiful. The landscape was colorless in the gray light. The early morning was windless, and the flakes sifted from the sky. Overnight a deer had licked the bird feeder clean of sunflower seeds, which should serve as a lesson to me not to bother filling it in the evening so the birds won't have to wait. Two red-bellied woodpeckers called to each other, and when I walked downhill through the snow to get the paper from the driveway a cardinal and a Carolina wren were singing.


Four years ago we had an inch of snow on March 26, which didn't stop a rufous-sided towhee from gleaning seeds from under the feeder, and three years ago it snowed on March 18, March 20, March 21 and during the first week of April. We can expect wood frogs and spring peepers to start calling from the swamps any day now.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday's News: Anti-Broadwater Meeting on LI; Deer Hunt Starts in Greenwich

Anti-Broadwater activists from Connecticut traveled to Long Island last night to meet with their counterparts from the Island . Newsday covered:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizen's Campaign for the Environment, said she worried the Sound could become an industrial zone. "If Friday it's Broadwater, does that mean tomorrow it's Exxon and BP the day after?" Esposito asked.

In Greenwich, the shooting has begun, according to the Greenwich Time.

After weeks of delay, sharpshooters began killing deer on two town-owned parks last night.

If ecosystem integrity is a goal, I’m not sure there’s anything more important in the out suburbs than killing deer. The Greenwich Conservation Commission has information

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sara Stein

When I opened my New York Times yesterday I read, to my surprise, that Sara Stein had died, on February 25.

A fellow town resident, a friendly acquaintance, and a naturalist and writer whom I respected, Sara Stein was notable to me not just for having converted her six-acre property into a naturalistic garden of native plants and for writing about it in Noah's Garden and other books, but for the completely practical, unsentimental way she went about her business.

She was the first one I knew of, for example, to point out that local tree protection ordinances might make us feel good and they might protect big trees, but they did nothing to prevent anyone from cutting down or pulling out everything that lived beneath and between the trees, and therefore did nothing to protect the larger, more complex ecosystem that we were all concerned about – namely, the woods.

I once told her that my wife and I had looked at and seriously considered buying a very interesting contemporary house near us that, as we learned during the course of our deliberations, had been designed by her husband, Martin, and lived in happily for a number of years by Sara, Martin and their young children.

Ultimately there were several things about the place that prevented us from laying out the $480,000 that the owner was asking, but chief among them were the dense oak and laurel woods around it.

We wanted to put in a garden. “It was too much in the woods, too closed-in for us,” I told her.

“That’s why we moved too,” she told me.

They moved across town more than 25 years ago, to a house that I believe Martin designed as well – and put in a garden they did, although Sara wrote that at first it was more akin to farming than to gardening. I visited her there once, on a glorious autumn afternoon about seven years ago. Their six acres were bordered by a strip of woods, through which she and her husband had erected a deer fence that rose from the ground at a 45-degree angle, a design that was far less visually intrusive than a big ugly deer fence and, she said, just as effective in keeping out the baffled deer. The driveway was short but it wound up to the house, which was pleasant but not as aggressively contemporary as the one we had considered buying.

Her household was busy -- my recollection is that one of her four sons was getting married that weekend, and people were buzzing about, including Martin. I was there to talk to her about deer and their affect on the local ecosystem for a newspaper article I was writing, and we sat at a small table in her kitchen, she rolling a cigarette and smoking it as I asked questions. She was small and bespectacled, with no-nonsense graying hair and what seemed to me an impressive knowledge of local botany.

Because their property and all the work that she and Martin had done to it would have been reduced to nothing had deer been allowed in, we walked around to see what they had accomplished.

Most notably, there was no lawn. The landscape was like a quilt of colors and textures – asters, ironweed, coneflowers, goldenrods, bluestem grasses (I'm reciting from memory rather than notes) – sloping to a pond that they had had dredged.

Practical and unsentimental: She told me that before planting, they had rid the property of invasives and other unwanted plants by spreading a herbicide, as shocking to environmentalist orthodoxy as encroaching on a wetland. She added though that she would recommend only a glyphosate herbicide, which was not persistent and was less toxic than others and therefore acceptable.

After that, they burned – controlled grass fires once every three years: In her mind it was particulates, soot, and global warming gases versus gasoline-powered mowers, blowers and weed-whackers, and chemical fertilizers.

“I agree,” she wrote in Noah’s Garden, “that the perfume of burning autumn leaves and the thrill of bonfires in the winter are pleasures too light to outweigh medical and environmental caution, and leaves are better used for compost, brush better chipped for mulch or stacked tidily to decay in place. But everything considered, I’m not sure that grass fires and the ecosystems they maintain don’t outweigh the environmental onus of the lawns prairie plantings usually replace.”

She was proud of their property, and indeed was an active proselytizer for planting native vegetation, but she was under no illusion that she and Martin had recreated an ecosystem that was in any way native to this part of New York. On the contrary. What they had created was closer to a tallgrass a prairie. But it was a prairie with bluebirds and butterflies and hummingbird moths and an astonishing number of other creatures.

I make no claim to having been close friends with Sara Stein. After my visit to her house, we saw each other only three or four times. Our most recent encounter was last May at a cocktail party in town that was too crowded for much comfortable conversation except for a quick hello as she smoked one of her hand-rolled cigarettes.

Once I invited her to explore a tract of hemlock gorge that our town was interested in preserving. Its beauty impressed her and she wondered aloud if maybe she and Martin should buy it and establish a small family compound on it – something they were thinking of doing in Maine, I believe, where they had a cottage on a tidal inlet (the Times said she died at her home in Vinalhaven, Maine).

In Noah’s Garden she wrote that prairie plants grow down, establishing deep roots, before they look like much of anything above ground.

“Curious to see if magic were happening yet, I dug down one day three years after grass had first germinated in the clay. I found an earthworm. But my eager human rhythm was out of step with grassland time, and my vision was insufficiently nearsighted. I couldn’t see that much was happening. Let my grandchildren dig the hillside at my age, though, and they’ll see a topping of good earth

“What else will they see, will they point out to their grandchildren? Will they see the walking stick that I knew in childhood but that hasn’t yet returned? Will they be startled by the noisy flight of red-legged grasshoppers whose legs kick hard enough to hurt and who spit brown drops like chewed tobacco? I see meadowlarks, but there aren’t any bobolinks yet. I look in vain for the green grass snakes of my childhood.”

When I drove past her house in town this morning, the name on the mailbox still said “Stein,” the deer fence was intact, the driveway gate shut, and the prairie covered with hard, bright snow.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wednesday's News: In Greenwich -- Competing to Kill Deer; What 1st Amendment? Groton: March Snow Can't Stop Warming Conference; & More Water for Trib

In Greenwich, they're arguing over who should be allowed to kill more deer -- bowhunters or town-hired sharpshooters. Greenwich Time reports that the bowhunters killed 80 percent more deer this year than last, and that at the Greenwich Audubon Center, they killed 25 deer this year (down five from last year).

Also in Greenwich, Vineyard Lane residents were annoyed when environmental activists put up posters criticizing William Harrison, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase for the company's environmental policies. Greenwich police decided that the right of Vineyard Lane residents not to be annoyed trumped the First Amendment, and arrested the activists. Here's the Greenwich Time story. Here's where Vineyard Lane is located. I'm rooting hard for the ACLU on this one because it's not a stretch to imagine officials at certain energy companies, say, being annoyed at environmentalists for protesting a proposal for an industrial facility in the middle of Long Island Sound. Greenwich police need to back down.

On a March day when what felt like the worst storm of the winter descended, scientists and advocates argued that global warming is affecting the Long Island Sound region. From the New London Day:

Tundi Agardy, executive director of Sound Seas — Washington, D.C.-based environmental consultants — said the warming sea and air temperatures and increased rainfall will cause cold-tolerant species to decline and those that thrive in warmer temperatures to multiply. Coastal lands will shrink as sea levels rise, and pollution levels will increase as sewage treatment plants become inundated by storm surges more often and wetlands that filter out pollutants become flooded. New diseases affecting humans and wildlife are also expected to spread.

Waterbury has settled a lawsuit and agreed to let more water flow down a tributary of the Housatonic in warm weather, which should help aquatic life (as well as kayakers and canoers). The Hartford Courant reports.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bullwhips Cracking: A Fad I Hope Never Comes to My Town

The streets in Scuol, where we stayed in Switzerland last month, are narrow and cobblestoned, and the houses are big and solid, made of stone and wood, with stuccoed facades. Sounds in the street – especially sharp sounds – reverberate loudly. On our first evening there, jet-lagged and hoping for a good meal and then bed, we decided to walk up the hill from our apartment to Giovanni’s, a restaurant where we ate last year and where you can get a good bowl of pizzocheri, a mountain dish of the region made of potatoes, buckwheat noodles, cheese, garlic and Swiss chard. As we trudged up the hill – and make no mistake, we were trudging – we heard a noise, a sharp crack. Then again -- crack! Before we had time to think about what it might be, we saw a boy of about 12 in the middle of the street holding a bullwhip.

The bullwhip must have been 12 feet long. Using his entire body for power, he'd swing the whip into action, cracking it on or just above the cobbles. As we drew nearer he stopped and moved aside. When we had passed, he started again. We raised our eyebrows, exchanged bemused glances, and walked to the restaurant.


We finished dinner shortly before 8 and strolled back down to our neighborhood. The air was clear and crisp and, in this narrow valley, the Alps were like huge dark shadows. We first visited this area in 1987 and have been back three or four times, and the beauty of the mountains, the river, which is fast and green with minerally ice-melt, and the village astonishes us each time. Walking back to our apartment that night was no different. Fatigued and well-fed, we were relieved to be there and filled with a sense of well-being.

The area outside our apartment is known locally as Plaz. It’s a small piazza (Plaz, place, plaza, piazza) circled by large, solid Engadiner houses from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a fountain from which mineral water flows. As we walked through the cold night, we heard the sounds again – cracks and snaps, this time many of them. Five or six boys were in the middle of Plaz, cracking their bullwhips. There was nothing mean or menacing about them. They were simply hanging out with their friends, cracking bullwhips under the street light.

From the balcony

We were in Scuol for eight nights and for eight nights the whippersnappers, as my son dubbed them, were out in force below our apartment. They would arrive after dark and begin whipping. The apartment was on the third floor, and we’d glare down at them from our windows and balcony. On some nights they appeared to be with an older teenager or an adult, who held a sheet of paper, and we thought perhaps this was an organized activity, perhaps practice for a competition. On nights when we went out to dinner, I ignored them. But when we ate at the apartment, I felt like our Alpine idyll was being spoiled by a pastime that I couldn’t help associate with brutal beatings. I played CDs, tuned the radio to local stations that were broadcasting Mozart and Brubeck interspersed by commentary in German, but I couldn’t drown out the sound. Eventually the cracks of the bullwhips faded into the background but I never learned to ignore it.

Every night the whippersnappers remained until almost nine, when the bells at Munt Biselgia, the ancient church that rises above Plaz, rang out the hour and sent them on their way.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Endangered Species: The ICU is Full

The Endangered Species Act is the equivalent of intensive care.

I was reminded of that yesterday at a community discussion on biodiversity, land protection and land use planning that I helped organize. The main speaker was Michael Klemens, Ph.D., a herpetologist and conservation biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. It was Michael whom I was referring to a couple of weeks ago when I described a conversation I had had with the scientist who wrote the federal recovery plan for the bog turtle when it was listed in 1997 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

I asked him if he could give me a couple of examples of where the recovery plan has been at least moderately successful. He looked at me as if I had asked him for a recipe for turtle soup.

“Nobody’s doing it,” he said. “There’s no money for it.”

Yesterday's discussion was about how communities and individuals could protect an important landscape-scale habitat. During the course of his talk, Michael referred to his bog turtle work, and he mentioned something in the recovery plan that I had overlooked -- namely, the estimate of how long it would take the bog turtle to recover and be de-listed, if the plan were carried out. Recovery plans for endangered or threatened species are required to include that estimate.

The plan that Michael wrote predicts that the bog turtle recovery will take 50 years.

Why so long? De-listing the brown pelican, the American alligator and the peregrine falcon didn’t take that long.

Lack of funding is a problem, he said. But for most endangered species, recovery and de-listing is hindered by something just as bad.

"They're too far gone," he said.

In other words, the problem with the Endangered Species Act is that it waits until a species is endangered. It is the intensive care unit of biodiversity, and inevitably some critical patients are going to be lost. Michael's message was that if we care about wildlife and biodiversity and protecting intact habitats, we can't wait until the patient is critical. We need to intervene earlier.

Addendum: The Thoughts from Kansas blog has three recent posts on endangered species -- pygmy rabbits, marbled murrelets and their habitat, and this one, with a fascinating link to the Anchorage Daily News, on wood buffalo and an account of a controversy over the dwarf wedge mussel in North Carolina.

And here's a list (from the website of an organization that does not like the Endangered Species Act) of the species that have been de-listed: 25 in all, but only six because they're recovered.

Monday's News: Global Warming on the Sound, Revitalization on Narragansett Bay

Signs of global climate change in the Northeast? The temperature of Long Island Sound rose 1.6 degrees between 1880 and 2001. Annual rainfall increased in the region by 8.4 inches between 1900 and 2000. Intense storms are happening more frequently. Sea level has risen about 16 inches in Boston and New York since 1850. So says a new study by the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and an advocacy group called Clean Air-Cool Planet. The study will be discussed at a daylong program (titled Global Warming Indicators and Coastal Impacts in Connecticut) tomorrow at UConn's Avery Point campus, in Groton. Here's a PDF with details. The New Haven Register had a story yesterday.

In Providence, Save the Bay is opening new a Explore the Bay Education Center on the city's waterfront. ProJo covered a media-and-politicians-event yesterday. For those who haven't been there, by the way, Providence is a much nicer town than you would expect.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Martha Stewart at Home

Apropos of nothing, I decided to drive past Martha’s house on my way to work today. Three or four clusters of reporters and cameramen were waiting on the road, beyond her stone wall, which is only about three feet tall and easy to see over. Two police cruisers and a police SUV were idling nearby, and a temporary “no parking on local roads” sign had been erected.

Having been a reporter for a good many years, it still isn’t absolutely clear to me why the media stage these stakeouts. Do they think Martha is going to pop her head out the door and wave? Or walk to the road for an interview? In fact, that might be a good PR strategy for Martha, or anyone else subjected to a stakeout -- stop by for a little chat with the reporters, throw them a morsel, and then let them be on their way. Reporters are as susceptible to celebrity as anyone, and nothing flatters them like a celebrity returning their call or submitting to an interview.

Friday's News: Mohegans to Shut Down Stonington Bivalve Operation

The Mohegans are closing up their shellfishing business, which they restarted five years ago (after a roughly 350-year hiatus). They had invested $7 million and weren't expecting to break even for another three or four years. The operation was based in Stonington, which will now be looking for someone else to fill an important spot on their waterfront.

The New London Day has a good account of the economic difficulties of starting a shellfishing operation.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Endangered Species: Sage Grouse, Sea Turtles

Westerners got their wish when the federal government declined to list the sage grouse as endangered. But having gotten what they wished for, it’s now their responsibility to keep the bird alive.

In his column in Conservation in Practice, Jon Christensen writes:

The decision not to list the sage grouse signals the beginning of a bold experiment. For many years, people in communities around the West have been arguing that they are the best stewards of local public lands, resources, and wildlife. Now, we're being given the chance to prove it.

I have no opinion about whether the endangered species act is good or bad, a success or a failure. But as Christensen makes clear, whether the species is listed or not makes no difference in terms of the threats it faces. And those threats come from changes and encroachments to habitat brought on by development.

The link, by the way, came from Christensen’s blog, The Uneasy Chair.

And after you read his column, read Carl Safina’s and Wallace J. Nichols’s piece on turtle poaching, which I’d been looking forward to and finally got around the reading. Much of it is preachy, and the conversations they depict themselves as having are unconvincing. It also left me wondering what species of sea turtle they were talking about -- the poachers probably don't discriminate but I wanted to know whether they were leatherbacks or Pacific ridleys or whatever (they certainly weren't Kemp's ridleys, which occasionally visit Long Island Sound but which nest on the Gulf Coast, not the Pacific, of Mexico). But their sketch of a turtle poacher named Gordo is fascinating because of the banality of the character, among other things.

Poetry & This Fine Piece of Water?

Of all the essays that discuss my book, William Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens, I like this one best (it’s a pdf). Philip Terrie of Bowling Green University wrote it and the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies published it a while ago but put it online relatively recently.

In all seriousness, it’s a good read, called “Hope or Despair: How Can an Environmentalist Keep Up the Struggle?”

Thursday's News: What Did They Do With All That Sand on LI? Sound Business Lecture

Twenty thousand years ago, the ice sheet created a fish-shaped island of sand and gravel and rock called now Long Island. One hundred forty years ago, Cow Bay started mining the sand and eventually shipped 140 million tons to another island, Manhattan, where it was made into concrete for sidewalks, bridges and the Empire State Building. Today, the Town of North Hempstead wants to put a sand miners monument in Port Washington, which is what Cow Bay is now called. Cynthia Daniels has an interesting story in Newsday.

SoundWaters has put on a consistently interesting series of talks and lectures. The next, part of its Business & Environment Series, is March 16. The speaker is Richard Fuller, president of Great Forest Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in environmental issues for corporations. The talk is at UBS Warburg, in Stamford. You have to register in advance, you can't bring a camera or a recording device, your bags will be inspected, and you have to have a state-issued ID card to get in (which will might tend to limit the number of New York residents who attend). Despite all these restrictions (which I'm sure have more to do with UBS than with SoundWaters), it's probably worth the effort, if you're in the neighborhood. Check with SoundWaters for more information.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How Awful Will the Broadwater Terminal Look?

Go to the Anti-Broadwater Coalition’s website and scroll down. You’ll see the following paragraph, highlighted in red type:

The proposed facility would be 75 to 100 feet tall. It would be four football fields long and larger than the QE2. It would be anchored 10.5 miles from Cosey Beach Park in East Haven, about 17 miles from the Long Island Sound Ferry, and 18 miles from Hammonasset Beach.

Clearly this is meant to make you think that Broadwater’s LNG terminal would be an intolerable visual blight.

Right underneath the red paragraph, though, is a map that shows parts of the Long Island and Connecticut shores. Halfway in between, in the middle of the Sound, is a black dot that is small enough and far enough away to make you think that maybe the terminal wouldn’t be such an eyesore after all, at least to those of use who don’t plant to sail past it very often.

Therein lies a problem. If the LNG plant is such a visual blight, why can’t we see how bad it will be? An interesting blog called DesignObserver has a recent post about the very same problem as it relates to a proposal for a big cement plant in the Hudson Valley.

“… there is no single rendering ominous enough to establish public fear; no image so compelling as to create political momentum; and no symbol so memorable as to unite the opposition. Whether through artistic renderings or information design, no one has made a visual case against these plants that is wholly effective. This is, I believe, a fundamental failure of design.”

The anti-Broadwater people should read it and figure out a better way to depict their concern, or consider dropping what is probably an ineffective tactic.

Wednesday's News: Broadwater Forum, Lecture at Yale, a New Sound Alliance

The Anti-Broadwater Coalition and the new Sound Alliance (see below for more) are holding a public forum to talk about Broadwater's LNG proposal. The forum is Thursday, March 10, at The Inn at East Wind, in Wading River, from 7-9 p.m. More information is available here.

The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is continuing its Munson Distinguished Lecture Series today at 5:30 with a talk called Conflicts at Sea: Values and Ethics in the Marine Environment, by Dr. Tundi Agardy of Sound Seas. Contact the Yale Center for Coastal & Watershed Systems at 203 432-3026 or email This lecture series has sounded interesting but 5:30? Good luck to anyone who has to drive the Merritt or I-95.

Other thoughts: The Sound Alliance

Connecticut Fund for the Environment: Save the Sound is forming yet another coalition, which is being called either the "Sound Alliance" or "Sound Alliance, No! to Broadwater" -- based on what I've been told by CFE, I'm not sure which.

I'm also not sure who may join. Their original e-mail, sent last week, says the alliance is "a new coalition of organizations, elected officials, and individuals," but in an e-mail to me, Christopher Zurcher of CFE said "Sound Alliance is for organizations at this point."

The Sound Alliance is also distinct from the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance, which is concerned with issues larger than just Broadwater's proposal, and from the Anti-Broadwater Coalition, which seems to be the Long Island-based equivalent of the new alliance. Christopher Zurcher also told me that in the future the alliance "may take other forms depending on the issue around which we're trying to build support, or opposition.

"We're also hoping that we gain support for the Connecticut opposition from both sides, which may very well include some of the same organizations from the LI-based ABC."

Here's CFE's website, although I couldn't find anything about the alliance on it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Here's Where We Were...

This piazza, called Plaz in the local language, is outside the apartment we stayed in. Mineral water flows from the fountain, one of 10 or so in the village.


The steeple of the church in the background dates from the Middle Ages.


A street and houses in our neighborhood.


This facade below features a sundial and sgrafito, etchings in which shapes are formed by scraping away light-colored cement or stucco to reveal darker stucco.


The sgrafito below indicates that the house was renovated in 1966.


And this exterior wall illustration probably indicates that at some point the resident was a bookbinder.


Now That We're Back...

I've posted a new story on my other site:

Bobsled Driver, 1980
I'd never actually seen anyone eat an entire bowl of salsa before. I don't mean chip by chip – I mean the whole bowl, sucking it down in one big slurp...

Here's the rest.

While We Were Away...

Oceanus Magazine, an online publication of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, has a useful primer on the importance of estuaries.

Scientists in Rhode Island are baffled by the lobster shell disease that is killing up to half the area’s lobsters. From the Providence Journal.

A research assistant at Brown makes the case for cleaning up Narragensett Bay.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment, which merged last September with Save the Sound, is now working with Restore America’s Estuaries on Long Island Sound projects. The New London Day published what sounds suspiciously like a press release.

New York and Connecticut want to find someplace other than the Sound to dump dredge spoils. From Newsday.

Lee Koppleman dismisses the argument that it is unacceptable to put a huge industrial facility like Broadwater’s LNG terminal in the middle of the Sound because the Sound is already industrialized. Funny, but I haven’t noticed any factories halfway between the Long Island shore and the Connecticut shore.

eXTReMe Tracker