Adrian Benepe has spent most of his life promoting outdoor activities in New York City, from working as a park ranger in the 1970s to becoming a parks commissioner nearly 30 years later. However, he is stunned by what he has seen around town recently.
“I grew up in gardens,” said Mr. Benepe, now president. Brooklyn Botanical Garden. “There were no red-tailed hawks or peregrine falcons or bald eagles. You didn’t even see raccoons; there were pigeons and rats and squirrels, that’s it. Now there is bald eagles All over the city. This winter they were there Places You haven’t seen them for generations, and they’ve been hunting in Prospect Park.”
Birds of prey are the tip of the iceberg.
it was there bat and endangered butterflieswild and rare original bee; a American wolf – Coyote In Central Park beaversand salamander and tiger frogs in Staten Island; bobcatAnd the mink and several foxes In the Bronx, along with endangered herring alewife American eels traverse fish ladders in the Bronx River while hungry eagles and egrets lie nearby; wild big Oysters and little sea horses on piers along the Hudson River; Baby damselflies, the most vulnerable in the world sea turtle and baby stamp In Queens and strange insects We haven’t seen it in decades in Brooklyn.
New York City is experiencing a sudden resurgence of local wildlife, in numbers and diversity notable even to local ecologists and park officials. “You see miraculous events of wildlife right in the middle of the city,” said Mr. Benepe.
It would be easy to guess that nature flourished and the creatures appeared during the New York City lockdown last year. But wildlife needs a habitat, and the animals back, according to Kathryn Hines, CEO of New York City Audubon Society, due to the city’s 40-year effort to expand and clean up parks, rivers, forests, and wetlands. This included planting more trees, wildflowers and herbs that are native to the area, ban pesticides In parks, billions are spent turning former landfills and industrial wastelands into nature reserves.
Ms. Haynes said that New York is now “the greenest major city on Earth”.
But while park officials say they are excited about these environmental breakthroughs, many point to concerns about the city’s relatively low park budget, which they say is a threat to natural habitats due to degraded drainage systems and understaffed maintenance teams.
Ms. Heintz, Mr. Benepe and other officials said funding is more important than ever.
Park financing remained at 0.6 percent of the total budget Over the decades, while other cities are spending 2 to 4 percent, Mr. Ganser said. Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral candidate, said he’s committed to raising the budget to 1 percentWhile Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa He said in a discussion Earlier this month it would raise the percentage to 2 per cent. Mr. Gancer said such a move would be transformative.
said Rebecca McMain, horticultural director at . Brooklyn Bridge Park. “We need to protect them.” Under Mrs. McMackin’s direction, the park, built on the quays of the East River, is now home to a growing number of rare bees, moths, pollinating flies, butterflies, and birds.
With pockets like these, the city now has 77,580 acres of green space, including wetlands, cemeteries, parks, and woodlands, according to the Preserve natural areas, a nonprofit organization formed under Mayor Mike Bloomberg in 2012. The city manages about 30,000 acres, said Megan Lalor, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (Chicago has only 8,800 acres of green space; in San Francisco, 5,810 acres.)
For Sarah Charlotte Powers, executive director of the conservation, the city’s wetlands and forests deserve priority, as their benefits extend far beyond providing wildlife habitat. Wetlands play a critical role in flood reduction during major storms, she said, adding that the city has lost 85 percent of its salt marshes and streams, and 99 percent of its freshwater wetlands, since the 17th century.
“The longer we delay investing, the more likely we are to lose key regions and species forever,” she said. “I feel a real sense of urgency.”
According to the City’s Department of Parks, it has restored 148 of New York’s 5,650 acres of wetlands since 1993. But because of sea-level rise and erosion, the city is losing six acres a year, Ms. Charlotte Powers said. “We need to build the marsh to keep up with that,” she said.
She said stronger regulation is needed to protect wetlands. Currently, a group of Staten Islanders are trying to stop an approved commercial Development on a large wetland There that helped prevent flooding from Storm Sandy. The retail development was approved because the wetlands did not qualify for state protection.
Forests are another area of concern. Without more funding, Ms. Charlotte Powers said, they risked becoming “wine fields of intertwined herbs”. “We are losing biodiversity, which means less stored carbon, in local cooling and rainwater sequestration. These things require active management.”
Big city forests are found in the Bronx, in Van Cortland Park And the Pelham Bay Park – The latter is 2,700 acres including beaches, bike trails, grasslands and wetlands built partially on a covered landfill – and within Greenbelt in Staten Island. There are many other forest stands, though, such as the old growth canopy in Inwood Park In Manhattan, where tulips are “as tall as skyscrapers,” Jennifer Greenfield, assistant commissioner for Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources, said.
Another habitat, globally threatened, also calls New York City a home: grasslands. There is a very large landfill on what used to be the largest landfill in the world, new kills, on Staten Island. The 2,200-acre preserve is still under construction but already has over 200 bird species and a thriving population of foxes. Once complete, it will be three times the size of Central Park.
When you’re there, it’s great,” said Ms. Hines. “You could be in Nebraska.”
Despite concerns about funding and maintenance, the city’s network of new and restored parks and a proliferation of green roofs work symbiotically to support wildlife, said Ms. Charlotte Powers.
Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park are two examples of parks that also serve as wildlife sanctuaries. Over the past month, their wildflower beds have provided stopping places for hundreds of endangered Monarch butterflies as they travel from Canada to Mexico.
This spring, a rare blueberry borer bee, seen only once in Brooklyn over the past few decades, was discovered in one of New York’s native blueberry bushes in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since then the bees have multiplied. Ms. McMain, the director of horticulture there, encourages residents to plant shrubs on terraces, rooftops, and in yards in an effort to bring back the blueberry (and cranberry) bees.
But even that progress, Ms. McMackin said, took 40 years to prepare. She attributes the work of the city Greenbelt Native Plant Center, which opened on Staten Island in the 1980s to conserve and propagate hundreds of native seeds and plants, providing the native plants necessary to once again attract wildlife. Center seeds currently germinate in Prospect Park and Central Park, and their native grasses have been used to restore sand dunes in the Rockaways, which are located near the nesting areas of endangered shorebirds.
“People see cities as deteriorating,” said Ms. McKimkin. “Cities can provide a haven for animals that cannot live in rural and suburban areas,” she explained, largely due to the extensive use of pesticides on suburban lawns and rural agricultural fields.
Mr. Benepe is excited about the animals’ return, but sees them as part of the planet’s evolution. “Wildlife, by habitat loss, has been forced to adapt,” said Mr. Benepe.
He continued, “It’s almost as if the wildlife said, ‘You robbed our home. Well, we will live in your possession.”