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Pol recruits scientists to save Jamaica Bay

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The Jamaica Bay Wetlands, a salt marsh at the southern base of Queens and longtime home for Canadian geese, snowy egrets and warblers, was to receive some much-needed attention from environmental experts this week.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is the largest urban refuge in the United States built on landfill wholly within the boundaries of a city. The bay, however, according to a study released last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is rapidly eroding and could cease to exist within 20 to 25 years.

“Jamaica Bay may be losing marshland at a fairly high rate,” said Dave Avrin, assistant superintendent of the Jamaica Bay unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. “There’s a real problem here. We’re going to fast-track it as quickly as we can.”

Between 1974 and 1999, 800 acres of the wetlands were lost, the report stated. To preserve the New York City marshes, now under the care of the state DEC, a panel of scientists was recruited by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) to study the problem and discuss solutions Tuesday.

On the panel are a dozen biologists and environmentalists from throughout New York and New England, including Susan Peterson of Teal Ltd. Environmental Consultants in Rochester, Mass., R. Scott Warren of Connecticut College, Arnold Gordon of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and David Franz of Brooklyn College.

The scientists will be asked to focus on potential causes and environmental impacts of such an erosion on the bay. The rapid deterioration was first detected during a statewide land survey in which scientists mapped the marshes, Avrin said. When researchers compared their findings to older maps, they witnessed significant shrinkage of the bays, he said.

Like much of the New York City, Jamaica Bay was formed by the last Ice Age some 11,000 years ago when an enormous glacier shifted into the area from Canada. As the ice retreated, ocean levels rose and flooded the valley, covering most of the land.

Before the arrival of the Dutch, the bay was a favorite fishing and hunting ground for the Canarsee and Rockaway Indians. It was lightly settled until 1880 when the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway railroads built a wooden trestle five miles long across the bay to connect the Rockaways to the rest of Queens.

Jamaica Bay could very well become a model for the restoration of urban estuaries throughout the world, Weiner said, because of its dense urban environment.

“Jamaica Bay and its wetlands are some of New York City’s most valuable hidden treasures,” Weiner said. “And we must do everything possible to see that they are preserved.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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