Pollinator Partners In The North Country

Randy Young

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) understands the critically important roles bees and their pollinator partners—bats, butterflies, and wasps—play in supporting public health, our ecosystems and our economy. That is why DEC is abuzz with activity designed to support honey bees. 

    A honey bee’s daily job of collecting and discarding pollen is a heavy workload for a flying insect that only weighs .00025 pounds; 4,000 bees together weigh just one pound. Despite their size, New York’s ability to produce crops such as apples, grapes, cherries, onions, pumpkins, and cauliflower relies heavily on the presence of these and other pollinators. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators provide approximately $344 million worth of pollination services to New York and add $29 billion in value to crop production nationally each year. 

    Honey bees can fly up to 12 miles per hour and visit as many as 100 flowers each day to collect nectar. These bees live only five to six weeks and can produce about one tablespoon of honey during their lifespan. It takes the work of several hundred bees to fill a 9.5-ounce jar of honey. 

    Unfortunately, honey bees and their pollinator partners are facing a host of threats that are harmful and, in some cases, deadly. These threats include: 

  • habitat loss;
  • non-native species and diseases;
  • pollution;
  • pesticides; and
  • climate change.

These are just a few of the threats these species face. To combat these threats, DEC works with its partners to support the four priorities of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Pollinator Task Force, which works to conserve and grow the state’s pollinator populations. Priorities include sharing best management practices with pollinator stakeholders, enhancing habitat, research and monitoring, and developing educational outreach programs for the public. 

    With a third round of funding from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) allocated in the NYS 2018-2019 budget to implement the Pollinator Protection Plan, New York continues to make great strides restoring the health of pollinators. Our state’s leading efforts to promote the health of pollinators include policies to enhance foraging habitats, the creation of an inventory of wild pollinators, and encouraging pollinator-friendly planting and the use of natural forms of pest management on state lands, just to name a few. 

    For instance, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets is expanding its NYS Grown & Certified marketing program to include honey producers. The program markets local farmers and producers that adhere to food safety and environmental sustainability standards. To be eligible, honey producers must harvest 100 percent of their honey in New York and must successfully complete Cornell University’s Honey Food Safety Best Practices Manual test and label their honey products accordingly. Applicants must also submit the Honey Bee Health Information form and are required to have a bee health inspection every two years. These efforts are in addition to the state’s creation of a Technical Advisory Team that assists beekeepers in identifying and combating the causes of poor hive health. 

    DEC staff are also diligently working to educate the public on ways to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides that could be harmful to pollinators. Additionally, the agency has a dedicated hotline to report pollinator incidents (a situation where several bees or other pollinators have died or appear to be dying). The public can call DEC’s Pesticide Program Headquarters at 1-844-332-3267 to report it. 

    We also participate every year in promoting “Pollinator Protection Week,” which highlights New York’s key pollinators, including butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. This past June, Governor Cuomo issued a proclamation commemorating the importance of pollinators to New York’s environment and agricultural economy and affirmed New York’s commitment to promoting the health and recovery of the state’s pollinator population. 

    Recently, DEC’s Region 6 operations staff and wildlife experts planted approximately one-quarter acre of pollinator seed in a small field at Perch River Wildlife Management Area. DEC plans to increase this acreage over time in hopes of providing flowering plants to benefit the declining native bees and other insect pollinators. DEC also plants flowers at its regional substations and campgrounds to attract pollinators and encourages the public to participate by planting their own native plant species. These so-called Pollinator Pathways can make a big difference in a bee’s lifespan and will add color to properties. 

    The St. Lawrence – Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management has a brochure online that contains everything the public needs to know about pollinator pathways https://www.sleloinvasives.org/learn/educational-material/slelo-pollinator-pathway-project-brochure/ so that all New Yorkers can support DEC’s work to protect this crucially important wildlife. 

DEC Plays Critical Role in Strong Local Economies

Randy Young

If asked, few people would associate the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with economic development. However, DEC plays a critical role in maintenance and improvement of local strong economies. Indeed, our mission statement says that we protect and enhance the environment in part to protect the “…overall economic and social well-being …” of the people of the state.

    A few examples of DEC directly supporting local economies include our programs to clean up blighted properties with the hopes of redevelopment and returning these properties to the tax rolls.

    DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) was established to support private-sector cleanups of contaminated properties and reduce development pressure on greenfields.  Tax credits are provided to parties that perform cleanup activities under the BCP to offset the costs associated with site investigation and cleanup, site preparation, and property improvements. Specific examples of sites that have been redeveloped under the BCP include abandoned gas stations, former factory and mill complexes, and foundries.

    DEC also assists with the cleanup of abandoned gas stations and other petroleum spill sites through the New York State Spill Fund. Within DEC Region 6, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Herkimer counties, DEC spent approximately $1 million in 2017-2018 to clean up six sites within the city of Rome, and we’re poised to invest an additional $1 million this year on nine sites in St. Lawrence County. 

    Once these cleanups are complete, the municipalities will be able to market the properties for redevelopment and place them back on the tax rolls. 

    Millions of dollars in grants are also awarded to assist local communities with infrastructure improvement assistance. In Jefferson County, the village of Adams was recently awarded a Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grant of $1 million for extensive improvements to its 38-year-old wastewater treatment facility. These improvements to the nearly 40-year-old wastewater treatment facility include the addition of disinfection equipment, which will substantially reduce the number of microorganisms discharged into Sandy Creek.

    “This award supports a much-needed project that the village of Adams has been planned for some time, and the grant will help the village to move it forward,” said David Rarick, DEC Region 6 regional water engineer.

    The WQIP program is a competitive, reimbursement grant program that funds projects that directly address documented water quality impairments. The village of Adams, plus 10 other municipalities and not-for-profits in Region 6 received WQIP awards totaling nearly $4.5 million.

    The town of Theresa was awarded $325,000 to build a new salt storage facility at the town’s highway department, while Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) was awarded $555,771 for a land acquisition project for source water protection. TILT plans to place perpetual conservation easements on six parcels of land totaling more than 310 acres of undeveloped habitat and three miles of vegetated shoreline and riparian habitat in the town of Clayton. This project will protect riparian vegetation, natural shoreline, and the surface water quality of the St. Lawrence River.

    The awards were announced mid-December 2018 and affect many statewide communities. Governor Cuomo announced more than $103 million in grants for a statewide total of 124 projects. While all WQIP projects will improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms and protect drinking water statewide, these funds provide an economic benefit, as well. Communities that can improve and expand wastewater collection and treatment capacity are better positioned to accommodate residential and commercial growth opportunities.

    “Access to clean water is critical to the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of our communities. With Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York is investing millions of dollars to protect and restore invaluable water resources statewide and addressing growing threats like harmful algal blooms,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

    In other promising economic news, 12 municipalities in Region 6 received Engineering Planning Grant (EPG) awards totaling about $600,000. This includes $30,000 for the village of Dexter Wastewater Treatment Plant Disinfection Study. The EPG program funds engineering studies that will ultimately lead to wastewater treatment improvement projects that can be funded through the WQIP or other funding opportunities.

Randy Young is the regional attorney and acting regional director. He has been with the DEC for 25 years.