Environment

by Carola Lott

October 24, 2014

More than 80 people turned out on Saturday, October 4t, in support of Ducks Unlimited and wetlands conservation at a sporting clays competition at Beretta Shooting Grounds and a Conservation Program at Madava Farms. 

Dr. James Utter received the Dutchess County Ducks Unlimited Annual Conservation Award for his work protecting lands in and around the Great Swamp, a 6000 acre wetland in eastern Dutchess and Putnam Counties. As Chair of FrOGS, (Friends of the Great Swamp) Jim along with partners in both the public and private sectors helped conserve over 1900 acres, including Pine Island and the Slocum-Mostachetti Preserve. 

Jay Erickson, member of the DCDU Benefit committee, the Oblong Land Conservancy Board and the Planning Board of Pawling, presented the award to Dr. Utter. “Dr. Utter’s work … has been critical for the Great Swamp, which I regard as the jewel in the crown of the natural world in our area,” he said.

Green solutions save water
by Tonia Shoumatoff

October 13—Watershed officials learned at the Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s annual conference on October 7 that water quality, wastewater and stormwater are intricately connected and that current wastewater practices are  ineffectual when storms dump unusual amounts of water that our systems can’t handle. “Older systems use too much water to move small amounts of waste,” said Simon Gruber, president of the Hudson River Watershed Alliance, at the conference, which was held at the F.D.R. Library Wallace Center.

Smaller, decentralized systems are better in some situations and easier to manage. Reusing water is going to become more important as sea levels rise and toxic algae blooms, said Gruber, adding, “We should be looking at nutrient recovery for agriculture.”

September 30, 2014

A few years ago the term was little more than a head-spinning neologism. Now, thanks to worries about population growth, resource depletion, and especially global warming, it’s common coin — at least among scientists. “Sustainability” today stands alongside century-old areas of inquiry such as biochemistry and physics.

What it means was a significant part of Steven Cohen’s talk at the Cary Institute September 12. A compact bundle of restrained energy, Cohen is executive director of Columbia University’s The Earth Institute (note definite article) under its head, the visionary scientist Jeffrey Sachs. He’s been mixing environmental science and policy since his first job fresh out of Harvard at Nixon’s fledging Environmental Protection Agency.

One way to define  “sustainability” is the way Çohen spends much of his time: thinking about how society can extend the benefits the developed world has identified as beneficial and rewarding to the emerging world without wrecking the planet. 

by Carola Lott

On August 15 the 12 students in this year’s Cary Institute’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program presented the results of the research they conducted during the ten weeks they spent at the Institute this summer. The program, under the guidance of Dr. Alan Berkowitz for the past 27 years, is the largest REU program in the United States, attracting college and university students from all around the country. 

Working under the guidance of a mentor, each participant crafted a project, carried out the research, and analyzed the data before presenting his or her findings in both a paper and a 15-minute talk at the symposium. In addition to their ten weeks of research, students were taught what Dr. William Schlesinger, the recently retired president of the Institute, called “translational ecology.” The goal is to describe the results of research in a way that people in the nonscientific world can understand. Done successfully, this creates a bridge from scientists to the public and decision makers. 

on self-proliferating landscapes
by Tonia Shoumatoff

Larry Weaner, a landscape architect and frequent lecturer, specializes in managing native landscapes so they self-proliferate with minimal assistance from the gardener. He designs landscapes that require no maintenance and look totally natural.  His techniques involve a complex mix of plant-, earth and environmental science.  Weaner has taught classes on meadows at the Cary Institute and gave a Friday lecture there on August 8.

“If you do nothing, it will grow, so you need to ask yourself, where is it headed if I do nothing.  Then you need to ask, ‘What techniques can I perform to manage that landscape so that I enhance the desirable and eventually replace the invasives?’”

Weaner showed photographs of woodlands and meadows and areas around houses.  He tweaks both plants and landscape to get extraordinary effects, such as a lovely field of white blossoming amsonia among already-existing ferns under trees.  

The guard changes at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies on the first day of July, and it welcomes Dr. Joshua Ginsberg on September 1, who, as of this writing, is the president-elect.  We met with Bill Schlesinger, the outgoing president, on Saturday.

What challenges did you face when you arrived at Cary seven years ago? 

First, I had to overcome the problem of inertia, that is the idea that things are just fine the way they are.  I introduced some  changes, as my predecessor, Gene Likens, had been in office for 24 years, since the institute was repurposed  from a horticultural institution to a scientific research institution in 1983.  Second, I had to balance the budget. I did that by completing the changeover. We closed the gardens at the Gifford House and we closed the greenhouse.  That closed much of the hole in the budget, and let us concentrate on our mission, which is environmental science. 

Looking back, what do you feel were your main accomplishments? 

The June 30 decision by New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to allow New York communities to ban hydraulic fracturing is a victory the whole spectrum of political opinion can celebrate. Conservatives can welcome a blow against big government’s ability to impose rules on localities. Liberals who tend to be environmentalists see an improved opportunity to ban fracking statewide. 

But the victory is only partial for anybody, and far less than total defeat for the fracking industry.  If a town can opt for fracking, it means adjacent towns – even if vehemently opposed – will still be forced to indulge the very real impacts of the fracking town.

The problem is identical to that of spot zoning, an evil to civic planners who know that exceptions to the rule leak and dilute it.  Or as a caller to WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show noted, it’s like a smoking section on a plane or in a restaurant: unless it is an airtight chamber, second-hand smoke still permeates the space.