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Turner angers advocates for wildlife center

U.S. Rep. Bob Turner's (c.) plan to rename the wildlife refuge's visitor center after a former senator is facing opposition. Photo by Steve Mosco
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A congressman’s push to rename the visitor center at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is ruffling the feathers of area conservationists.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village) announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at renaming the center after former U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley (R-N.Y.), who cosponsored the 1972 Clean Water Act. The congressman formally introduced the bill — HR 5958 — June 19, sparking a pushback from wildlife advocates.

“Everyone is comfortable giving credit where credit is due, but the rationale for renaming the center after Buckley is pretty thin,” said Dan Hendrick, communications director for the New York League of Conservation Voters. “It’s clear that this is an election year move and it doesn’t sit well with the well-known stakeholders in the bay.”

Turner said Buckley had a strong environmental record during his time in the Senate and had a central role in the creation of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a more than 26,000-acre area spanning three boroughs and stretching to Sandy Hook, N.J.

“He [Buckley] was an avid bird watcher and, along with fellow New York Sen. Jacob Javits, introduced the legislation to create the Gateway National Recreation Area, which houses the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge,” Turner said.

But Hendrick, along with others in the conservation community, believe there are others far more deserving of having their name on the center — if it should even be changed at all.

Among the names mentioned is Herbert Johnson, appointed by Robert Moses as the first manager of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in 1952. Hendrick said Johnson spearheaded efforts to improve the natural habitat at the park and made the area easily accessible to the public.

“He built it with his own hands,” he said. “And he’s just one of the people that did so much more for the refuge than the senator.”

Dan Riepe, a member of two organizations — the American Literal Society and NYC Audubon — with a longtime involvement with the refuge, said Turner’s move to rename the center is politically motivated.

“At his press conference, he [Turner] said this is a noncontroversial move. Well, it is controvers­ial,” Riepe said. “No one was given notice and, honestly, we never even heard of Buckley before this.”

Turner, who is campaigning for the Republican nomination to unseat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) this fall, said he was surprised this effort has received so much negative attention, as he saw the renaming as a nonpartisan way to honor Buckley.

A Gillibrand spokesman said Turner has yet to reach out to the senator on the matter.

“I will decline to comment on his publicity stunt,” Gillibrand spokesman Glen Caplin said.

And while some who oppose the idea are willing to learn more about Buckley and his role with the wildlife refuge, one conservationist called the effort to rename the center a waste of Congress’ time.

“I just think this is ridiculous,” said Regina McCarthy, director emeritus from the Gateway Environmental Study Center and a retired city educator. “I’m certainly willing to listen and learn who he [Buckley] is, but this is a world-renowned place and to name it after someone at this point in its history is criminal.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 9:03 am, June 28, 2012
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