New Yorkers and wildlife find solace in city parks


By Erika Ryan, CNN

(CNN) – New York City’s wildlife is thriving, and that’s thanks to the dedicated scientists and activists who have spent decades enhancing the rugged wildlife habitats of the city’s five boroughs.

Helen Forgione, Senior Ecologist at Natural Areas Conservancy, is one such scientist. For over 30 years, she has dedicated her career to restoring New York’s natural and unspoiled parks and green spaces.

“In some cases, we don’t really see animals coming back to New York City, but we do see the right habitat for them to be more visible,” she said. “We also see animals moving around and looking for the right habitat… They find the right kind of space to breed and live.”

New York is one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the country, but it’s also home to 30,000 acres of green space – 14% of the city – teeming with wildlife, ranging from skunks to deer, passing by dolphins and seals off Staten Island. , even Coyotes living in the wooded areas of Central Park.

The New York branch of the Audubon Society tracks the number of birds and species seen in different areas of the five boroughs for their annual Christmas bird count. In 2015, they recorded 4,264 birds of 55 different species in Central Park. Five years later, in 2020, Central Park’s numbers increased by almost 50% to 6,357 birds of 59 different species.

“What excites me today is not just the increase in diversity and abundance of wildlife in the Big Apple, but the public response and enthusiasm for their urban wild neighbors,” Sarah Aucoin, wildlife chief for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. and education said in an email.

The upsurge in wildlife is a by-product of extensive environmental advocacy and federal legislation to protect natural habitats.

The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 along with federal legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act made huge strides in cleaning up cities like New York and controlling pollution. This has teamed up with green initiatives to clean up New York’s green spaces like Brooklyn Marine Park, 530 acres of meadows and salt marshes.

Forgione remembers working in this area before it was even considered a park. Today, it is teeming with bird watchers, families and retirees.

“It’s really nice to see this space appreciated for what it is and not seen as a wasteland or a place that can be abused.”

And the city’s parks department is happy to see New Yorkers sharing their enthusiasm for wildlife.

“Where we needed to reassure the public that the wildlife belonged to the city and could thrive here, we are now spending more time answering questions about the best places to view wildlife throughout the city. This shift in public perception and attitudes toward urban wildlife is as much a testament to the work that NYC Parks is doing on behalf of wildlife as the overall increase in wildlife is. And they go hand in hand, ”continued Sarah Aucoin. “Wildlife doesn’t just need parks – green space, habitat, ecosystem – to survive, it needs us all to be good neighbors.”

While the New York re-greening was intentional, some of the species seen now were unexpected. Scientists and academics are trying to keep track of what exactly lives in the city’s green spaces.

Myles Davis is a Columbia University graduate student studying New York City’s mesocarnivore distributions – or medium-sized animals that need a combination of meat, inspections, and other plant material.

“A lot of New Yorkers don’t even know what’s going on,” Davis said. “I grew up in Brooklyn and didn’t know there really were raccoons until a few years ago.”

It focuses on areas of Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, using animal cameras to monitor animal activity in places like Prospect Park without disturbing them.

“Understanding the trends here can really let us know what to expect for the future as more and more cities urbanize,” he said. “We can look to New York as a model for this.”

New York is cleaner and greener than it has been in centuries, but Forgione believes the job is far from done. It will take the continued enthusiasm and retention of scientists and New Yorkers to keep the momentum going. And in a city like New York, parks are an essential outlet for wildlife and residents.

“This is the place where people have the most access to nature. It really underscores how important it is to keep these managed places, our forests and wetlands in good condition, for those people who have no other place to experience nature except in their own backyards. “

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