Panel Discussion – Biodiversity in the City

SPN Panel: Biodiversity in the City – The Case for Urban Nature
Time: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 6 – 8 pm
Location: The New School 65 West 11th Street Wollman Hall (5th Fl.), Manhattan
RSVP for this event –

Description: Did you know that there is nature in New York City? The five boroughs are rich with forests, marshes, and meadows – more nature than any other city in North America. Yet these natural resources are threatened by habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation – the same factors that threaten biodiversity everywhere. In fact, about one-third of the native flora and fauna in the United States faces extinction. In our urbanized world, the idea of cities as “concrete jungles” is inaccurate and only further alienates people from the natural world. Conserving and maintaining the ecosystems on which cities depend is essential to the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of their citizens.

This panel will discuss the status of urban ecology in regional policies and national trends and especially the newly revised PlaNYC which mentions biodiversity and natural systems for the first time. The panel will examine how cities can develop comprehensive, collaborative, and proactive strategies for biodiversity conservation, management and restoration through government policies, public education, grassroots initiatives, business strategies and living systems design.

Moderator: Marielle Anzelone, Conservation Biologist & Executive Director, NYC Wildflower Week

Panelists: – The following are invited to participate – Marcia Bystryn,
Executive Director, New York League of Conservation Voters; Chris Garvin,
Partner, Terrapin Bright Green & Senior Associate, Cook+Fox Architects; P.
Timon McPhearson, Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School;
Samara Swanston, Pratt Institute Graduate School of Urban Planning and
Hunter College Graduate School for Urban Affairs and Urban Planning


June 11, 2011 at 4:43 PM Leave a comment

Help Pull Invasive Plants on Off-Limits Prall’s Island

Our friend Alex needs your help!  The Northern area of Prall’s Island has been invaded by the exotic European Buckthorn. This island is critical breeding grounds for many species of herons in NYC, and is normally off-limits to the public. Help save the great native indigenous plant species located there by hand pulling the saplings of buckthorn before it grows into a bigger problem. You will learn about the local flora and fauna and history of the island.

For human visitors – it has no amenities.  It is a natural area with no facilities, so what you bring in is what you have.  Access will be by canoe or boat depending on numbers. The time period for this event is April 16,18-20, and 23rd. Contact Alexander Summers <hawkwolftree {AT} gmail((DOT))com> for more information.

April 8, 2011 at 5:07 PM Leave a comment

Speak Out Against JFK Runway Expansion Into Gateway National Park

Environmentalists Speak Out Against JFK Runway Expansion Into Gateway National Park

Who: Representatives from dozens of environmental, recreational, civic groups, agency and elected officials as well as members of the fishing and boating community.

What: Town Hall Meeting Speaking Out Against Port Authority Proposal

Where: American Legion Hall – 209 Crossbay Blvd. Broad Channel  (718) 474 -5029

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The Jamaica Bay Task Force Group is hosting its first meeting to respond to the highly controversial report by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) which calls for the destruction of up to four hundred acres of wetlands in Gateway National Park  located in Jamaica Bay to accommodate runway expansion at JFK Airport.  An act of Congress would be required to make this unprecedented change to a National Park

Such an expansion of JFK would have unacceptable adverse impacts on Jamaica Bay, irreversibly harming what is not simply New York City’s ecological crown jewel but a wetlands and estuarine area of national importance. Hundreds of acres of the Bay would need to be permanently filled in something currently prohibited by federal law.

Jamaica Bay encompasses more than 25, 000 acres of water, marsh, meadowland, beaches,  dunes and forests in Brooklyn and Queens,  all accessible by subway.  It contains a federal wildlife refuge the size of 10 Central Parks. It provides nursery and foraging, habitat for the region’s fisheries and other marine life.  Bay waters adjacent to JFK are renowned for some of the region’s best fishing for bluefish and striped bass — and is a critical bird habitat area that is visited annually by what is estimated to be nearly 20 percent of North America’s bird species.  It is also home to various endangered and threatened species – from sea turtles to peregrine falcons. Intrusive commercial jet noise would potentially increase Wildlife conflicts with aviation safety. Water pollution from the airport – which currently discharges run-off from the millions of gallons of toxic de-icing fluids used each winter directly into the Bay – would likely increase.

Dozens of environmental, recreational, and civic groups are vehemently opposed to this plan. On March 17, a letter was sent to Port Authority Executive Director Christopher O. Ward  to voice their strong opposition (see attached). The groups are asking that the Port Authority consider other available alternatives for meeting the region’s airport capacity needs. The letter was signed by 21 groups.

The report,”Upgrading to World Class – The future of the New York Regions Airports” (pages 150-154) was funded by the Port Authority and developed by a consortium of major federal, state, city and county government stakeholders. No local environmental input was sought.

From NYC Park Advocates Inc. – a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group dedicated to restoring public funding, improving public parks, increasing public recreation programs, expanding open space and accessibility, and achieving the equitable distribution of these vital services in New York City for all. It is the only non-profit park advocacy group dedicated to all City, State and Federal parkland in New York City.

April 7, 2011 at 4:15 PM 3 comments

Nature in New York City

Dominated by soft rush (Juncus effusus) and fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata) is Lily Pond, an example of an intact urban ecosystem, located in Blue Heron Park, Staten Island.

“Skyscraper national park.” Kurt Vonnegut’s description supports the widely held view that New York City is a paean to the built environment. This collective image includes towering edifices, taxied roadways and neon billboards. The last thing one would expect in this milieu is nature. Yet sprinkled throughout the five boroughs are approximately 28,000 acres of city parkland. Discounting ball fields and swing sets, nearly half of these have significant areas of flora and fauna. They harbor the city’s true treasures: freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, and forests. Ensconced within these ecosystems are more than 40% of New York State’s rare and endangered plant species.

Still, it isn’t easy being green in the Big Apple. Over the past century, 75% of the city’s woodlands, wetlands and meadows have been destroyed. The persistent pressure of urbanization and its concomitant ailments has driven many of the city’s native plants to the brink of extirpation. We have already lost 43% of our flora including such treasures as the yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) and swamp pink (Helonias bullata).

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

February 24, 2011 at 6:47 PM 2 comments

NYC Nature 101: Urban Ecology

Looking forward to the release of PlaNYC 2.0 and what will hopefully be the Five-Borough Year of Biodiversity, what is nature in NYC? Urban ecology. The study of urban ecology is a recent development. For decades, ecologists defined nature as the pristine green spaces far from people. True ecological observation could only occur away from human intervention, in the “wilderness.” It was universally held that cities were unnatural consortia of weeds, pigeons and rats.

This perspective has changed within the last 25 years. Ecologists have begun to do their field studies closer to home. In the process, they have discovered that nature survives, and even thrives, in the city limits, with a surprising variety of native plants and animals. As formerly open spaces are devoured by development, understanding and protecting urban ecosystems is crucial to our environmental future.

Additionally, studies done in “pristine” nature show that the concept of “wilderness” has been rendered an anachronism. All areas of the globe now bear the mark of humanity’s existence, even places as remote as the South Pole (ozone hole), or as untrammeled as Alaska (elevated levels of mercury in wildlife).

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

February 24, 2011 at 6:43 PM Leave a comment

2011 Is Five-Borough Year of Biodiversity

Will healthy forests and natural streams like Corson’s Brook Woods in Staten Island be part of PlaNYC 2.0?

As the year 2010 drew to a close, so too did the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity. This year-long, global recognition of our planet’s vital biological diversity was meant to elevate this issue nearer to the top of the political agenda. I’m not sure that this goal was met.

February 24, 2011 at 6:38 PM Leave a comment

More Than the Million Trees, Where Is Nature in PlaNYC?

Doll’s eyes is the kind of plant you remember. Not in spring, when its small, starry white flowers are easily overlooked. The season when it shines is fall. About this time of year, its berries have ripened to a ghostly white with dark “eye” spots in the centers. Contrasted on a grape juice-colored stem, these striking fruits are hard to miss during a walk in the woods.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post.

February 24, 2011 at 6:24 PM Leave a comment

What Edward Norton Should Know for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit

Actor Edward Norton is unhappy. He is miffed because although he had starred as The Hulk in an earlier movie, he was not cast as the great green hero in a follow-up film. Cheer up, Ed! You’ve landed an even greener role: United Nations’ Biodiversity Ambassador. As the former botanist for New York City, I know first-hand the importance of biodiversity. In fact, I’ll be hosting international diplomats on a tour of New York’s nature this fall for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit. Since we’re going to be colleagues, I’d like to help you prepare for your new role. Here are some things you should know.

Click here to read the full article at The Huffington Post.

February 24, 2011 at 6:23 PM Leave a comment

conifer stamps

I’m over the moon about these conifer stamps.  For the 2010 holiday season, the US Postal Service issued first-class letter stamps in 4 species of conifers that are native to the US.  One species, Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to NYC. The post office has done a good job of recognizing native flora.  Now to get the rest of the world to jump in.

December 15, 2010 at 5:18 AM 1 comment

NYC Botanist’s Take on New York Magazine Article

Hooray for Robert Sullivan!  In one fell swoop he did what I’ve been trying to do for years – make NYC’s nature cool.  His article “The City As Ecological Paradise” was excellent – beautifully crafted and a joy to read.

During my tenure as City Botanist (April 2001 to November 2007) I learned that people have no idea there is nature in NYC.  This is a rather shocking fact, considering The Big Apple has so much of it.  At nearly 1/8 of its landmass, NYC has more nature than Chicago and Los Angeles combined.  Not gardens, not turf lawns – real, wild nature.

I was in charge of the floristic heritage of over 8 million people, who didn’t even know it existed.  Most people are surprised that New York City has nature at all.  Yet old-growth forests, expansive marshes and grassy meadows cover nearly one-eighth of the city, making it the greenest in North America.When I talked about my job, people asked if I worked in Central Park (no) or with daffodils (again, no).  I spent my days in hip waders counting saltmarsh cordgrass stems, pruning sumac branches to encourage the rare green milkweeds, pulling the invasive garlic mustard from overtaking native spring ephemeral wildflowers, and inventorying the flora of parks throughout the five boroughs.  Most New Yorkers are excited by a chance glimpse of Robert DeNiro, but my colleagues and I were thrilled to rediscover pinesap in Pelham Bay Park.

It’s important for New Yorkers to have a vested interest in this nature, because we are losing itOf 1,357 native plants ever recorded in the New York City, only 778 species remain.  Since 1990, Staten Island, the most bucolic borough, has lost more than 30% of its indigenous vegetation, including such botanical treasures as nodding trillium and yellow ladyslipper orchid.

The Big Apple’s nature is so much more than “tree pits and pigeons, <tee hee hee>” (which was sadly the tenor of a recent interview with Mr. Sullivan).  He notes that my old division: “Natural Resources Group…has done more than any other group to change how this city – and urban areas worldwide – think about nature.”  What an honor it was to work there with such smart, dedicated people. I’m so pleased to see the division finally recognized and lovingly rendered.  It really was an amazing place to be.

Sullivan ends the article ends with a call to action, “We didn’t know until recently how much urban nature was doing for us. Now that we do, we have to ask: What can we do for it?”  For those of you that want to see this nature, join me on a botanical foray of Inwood Hill Park on Saturday, October 23. Want to do even more?  Find out what you can do for NYC’s nature here!

Written by Marielle Anzelone

October 5, 2010 at 9:43 PM Leave a comment

Older Posts