Earth Matters: Legislative wrapup

Earth Matters: Legislative wrapup

By Jennifer Wilson-Pines

New York State’s legislative session ended last week. There was good news, OK news and future bad news.

Good news first – the Legislature passed the Birds and Bees Protection Act. This bill would ban unnecessary uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, including seed treatments for soy, wheat, and corn as well as lawn and garden uses. Neonicotinoids are extremely toxic pesticides that are linked to declines in insects and birds, broad water contamination and negative health impacts in humans.

The EPA recently released a study finding that three neonicotinoid chemicals jeopardize the continued existence of over 200 federally threatened or endangered species. This represents 11% of all listed endangered species and essentially admits that the EPA’s approvals of the pesticides broadly violated the Endangered Species Act.

Support for the Birds & Bees Protection Act came from a wide range of environmental, health, garden, social justice, and farm groups. The bill now goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for signature, and support will again be needed in the fall to counteract opposition from pesticide manufacturers.

In OK news, the Legislature again passed the Class C Streams Bill. Last year Hochul vetoed the bill.  The bill was designed to protect New York’s streams by putting them under the supervision of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Waters in New York State are assigned a class based on their use. Class C streams are designated to allow fisheries and other non-contact activities, such as picnicking, fishing, camping, and marine life study. More than 5 million New Yorkers get drinking water from small streams, which also replenish groundwater aquifers around the state.

Currently unregulated Class C streams can be subject to polluting activities. By putting these streams under the DEC’s purview, the state can better protect this valuable resource, estimated at 41,000 miles of stream corridors. Again, support will be needed when this bill reaches the governor’s desk this fall.

And the future bad news. The Dogs on the Beach bill did not reach the floor for a vote, but it will come back in the fall. This is being pushed by a group on Long Island, but would affect all  New York State parks, excluding the Catskills and Adirondacks. State Sen. Monica Martinez (D—Bay Shore) and State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D—Melville) are co-sponsoring the legislation.

The dog group whines about “people being banned from beaches,” but only those obsessed with taking their dogs everywhere are restricting themselves. I have two rescue dogs, and they have a happy life, but it doesn’t include taking them to places where they would present a threat to birds and wildlife, traumatize people who have been frightened by badly behaved dogs, and leave their reminders in places where families with children play. It’s impossible to clean up feces 100% and no dog owners clean up pee – not what you’d want to build a sand castle.

While the bill would require dogs to be on leash and owners to clean up, enforcement would be difficult. I was recently in a park that allows dogs on a leash. On the trails, I encountered nine dogs and their owners. Zero dogs were leashed, and several were clearly not under the owner’s voice control. I also didn’t see any owners wading into the woods to pick up either.

I’ve also witnessed dog owners deliberately sending their dogs to chase birds and wildlife, aggressively excusing their dog’s bad behavior, refusing to leash up when requested and generally acting as if they and their pets have more rights than other park goers. Unfortunately, it’s not a case of a few bad apples, but a lot of people who don’t think the rules apply to them.

The dog pushers don’t understand that winter doesn’t mean the beaches are empty. Fishermen, surfers, birders, and walkers use the beaches all year round. As do shore birds. Even out of breeding season, thousands of shorebirds are feeding along the beaches. Shorebirds cannot differentiate between leashed dogs and unleashed dogs, nor can they differentiate between dogs and other predators like foxes and coyotes.  Numerous studies have proven that while the presence of humans is disturbing, human presence is far less disturbing to birds than dogs.

Dogs currently are permitted in scores of public spaces on Long Island. Many local governments have established dog parks for pet dogs and more are planned. Given the ecological sensitivity of state beaches and the ready availability of alternative sites this is a selfish and ill-conceived idea.

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