Testimony by the Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC) to the New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and Committee on Finance
FY 2022 Preliminary Budget Hearing
Greetings, Chair Peter Koo, Chair Daniel Dromm, and all Committee members. My name is ________________and I am the _____________of the Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC). I am grateful to the Committee for this opportunity to testify and to my team for the immense efforts to fulfill NAC’S vision. I will highlight NAC’S top policies, relevance, and how the budget will aid in their culmination, then answer any questions.
NAC is the only non-profit organization passionate about and specializes in preserving and maintaining natural areas and specifically in New York City, where we have 20,000 acres of natural areas. We understand that natural areas impact not just the environment but our social lives as well. Our work has seen us partner with relevant stakeholders, including volunteers, researchers, scientists, and the New York City Parks.
Our partnership with the New York City Parks has helped us preserve at least 50 city parks in the five boroughs and create the first Forest Management Framework for New York City, a 25-year plan to see to the preservation and management of the New York City natural areas (covering 7,300 acres) and create employment opportunities.
We also have the Wetlands Management Framework for New York City to aid in preserving and maintaining our wetlands and the New York City Strategic Trails Plan of 2021 to optimize the use and management of local trails.
Precisely, we conserve the City’s nature, increase its coastal resilience, care for its forests, and improve trails and park access. Our policies are comprehensive forest management, wetlands restoration, and the creation of a world-class trail system.
Leverage NYC’s Forests for Environmental and Economic Benefits
New York City has 10,000 acres of forests which is 5% and one-quarter of the City’s land and tree canopy, respectively. These forests aid in protecting our environment and social lives, e.g., they absorb 69% and emit 83% of carbon and are therapeutic, as witnessed during the pandemic when people were more drawn to natural areas by 65%.
As highlighted above, our partnership with the New York City Parks has culminated in the Forest Management Framework for New York City that is the first of its kind. As a result of 6 years of hard work and dedication, it will offer 25-year guidance on the preservation and maintenance of 7,300 acres of natural areas (one-quarter of New York City Parks) and green jobs creation.
We are requesting for adoption and complete funding of the Forest Management Framework for New York City. Specifically, immediate funding (for FY22) of 30 seasonal staff at NYC Parks and $120,000 in NYC expense funding. Long-term funding (for FY23) for 50 permanent staff at NYC Parks, $150,000 in NYC expense funding per year, and 10-year capital funding: $8 million per year will also be required.
Climate Resiliency Through Wetland Conservation and Protections
Wetlands are “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.” as per the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971.
In New York City, we are blessed with large swaths of wetlands, including tidal marshes, swamp forests, and streams that assist in mitigating climate change. Effective management, efficient planning, adequate funding, and protection can maximize the use of our wetlands.
The Wetlands Management Framework for New York City, created jointly by the New York City Parks and us, has 30 years of research and adequate information on the current state of our wetlands to help us improve on our management and preservation.
We are requesting adoption and complete funding of the Wetlands Management Framework for New York City, strengthening the zoning and regulatory protections, and increasing interagency coordination for land acquisition.
This will call for immediate funding (for FY22) of 2 seasonal staff, $100,000 expense funding, $8 million capital funding, and Long-Term Funding (for FY23) of 20 permanent staff, $50,000 expense funding/year, and $40 million 10-year capital funding.
Increase Access to Nature Through a Citywide Trail System
Statistics show that 1.35 million New Yorkers reside near natural areas with nature trails. However, according to the USDA Forest Service report, 50% of New Yorkers only enjoy nature in city parks. We currently have a 300-mile nature trail in our parks whose benefits and maintenance can be improved. We have attempted to do this since 2016 in partnership with the New York City Parks through a Citywide Trails Team.
The New York City Strategic Trails Plan was created in 2021 by us. We encouraged better management and public participation to sustain the local trails. Our policy for a citywide trail system will increase and develop recreational and outdoor activities, decrease unutilized land and habitat fragmentation.
We are asking for adoption and complete funding of the New York City Strategic Trails Plan. Immediate funding (for FY22) for two seasonal staff and the Long-Term Funding (for FY23) for 16 permanent staff and $50,000 expense funding per year.
Our vision is to see the preservation and maintenance of natural areas, specifically in New York City, and have a strong, environmentally healthy, and socially equitable city and ultimately the World. We have invested in research, some spanning for over decades, and we can confidently state that we are adequately informed on the steps we need to take to realize our objectives and vision.
We believe that the natural areas in New York City are answers to numerous social and environmental problems. Still, we face some challenges in preserving and maintaining them, and funding is one of the immense ones which I implore the Committee to assist in. We are alive to the impact that COVID-19 has had in the City and the World at large, not just in our health sector but the economy as well, but if we have learned anything from the pandemic, is that the World is a solid force to reckon with, we should therefore do our best to preserve it.
I want to thank the Committee again for your time and the services it has provided for New York City residents in preserving and maintaining the natural areas. I will now take any questions.
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