Parks and Conservancy group release report on wetlands

Bronx River shoreline
Photos courtesy of Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC)

The Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC) and NYC Parks released a 30-year plan last week that aims to restore and protect thousands of acres of wetlands across the five boroughs.

On May 19, representatives from the agencies gathered at Pugsley Creek wetland in Castle Hill Park, where they discussed the report.

The 10-year study examined salt water marshes throughout the city, including Ferry Point Park, Soundview Park and Pelham Bay Park.

“New York City has never before had a plan this comprehensive for the management and restoration of its remaining salt marshes, streams and wetlands,” said Sarah Charlop-Powers, executive director and co-founder of Natural Areas Conservancy. “We developed it with NYC Parks now because the need has never been more urgent. Our city’s wetlands are vital to protecting New Yorkers from climate change, but are at risk of being lost forever if we don’t work together to conserve them. We hope to mobilize the city around this goal and seek support from local officials to build investments, staff and volunteers to save these natural areas.”

The report is New York City’s most extensive plan to care for its wetlands. Out of the city’s 5,640 acres of marsh, the plan calls for continued protection of 50 percent of fragile wetlands and dozens of streams that are under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks.

Since the 1600s, New York City has lost 85 percent of its salt marsh area and stream miles, as well as 99 percent of its freshwater wetland habitat. Today, there are 5,650 acres of remaining wetlands in New York City, approximately half managed by NYC Parks.

By the 2050s, predicted sea-level rise will drown many of NYC’s remaining wetlands—unless action is taken now. NAC’s and NYC Parks’ new framework identifies dozens of wetlands under greatest threat, proposes dozens of new projects to protect them, and sets out a vision for a city that’s more resilient against climate change and where New Yorkers can escape to wild, biodiverse green spaces without ever leaving the five boroughs.

“We are pleased to have partnered with the Natural Areas Conservancy on this new extensive study for the management of our city’s vital wetlands, shining a light on the work already accomplished and providing a framework for protection into the future,” said Jennifer Greenfeld, NYC Parks assistant commissioner for Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources. “We remain committed to the ongoing protection, restoration, and management of our wetlands, and we thank the NAC for their continued advocacy and partnership in maintaining these vital areas.”

Some highlights of the report are:

  • NYC’s wetlands support more than 325 species of birds, over 315 species of plants and over 200 species of fish, making them the most biodiverse places in the entire city.
  • Development and lack of active management threaten NYC’s wetlands, with six acres disappearing every year—an area the size of Madison Square Park.
  • Half a million New Yorkers live near wetlands within NYC Parks, and improving wetlands will improve their access to nature and recreation, especially in underserved communities.

Goals of the Plan:

  • Create new wetlands and allow space for wetlands to migrate as sea levels rise
  • Transfer approximately 93 acres of publicly-owned property to NYC Parks jurisdiction, and acquire another 50 acres currently under private ownership, to be managed as wetlands and buffers
  • Dedicate funds for capital restoration of 288 acres of salt and freshwater marshes
  • Increase dedicated wetlands staffing, ensuring personnel to actively manage wetlands and engage volunteers
  • Remove invasive plant species that choke waterways and reestablish native vegetation
  • Remove debris within salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, streambanks and floodplains
  • Expand community engagement programs to improve access and promote stewardship