The Borough President and the New York State DEC held this forum to raise awareness about the impacts deer are having on native vegetation and forest animals, and also the broader issue that our forests are ecosystems with interdependent roles for native plants and wildlife.
The DEC has documented the damage on Staten Island by over-browsing of deer to the point where few new trees are surviving past the seedling stage. Oak trees, for example, were heavily browsed. With no new trees growing, the future of our Greenbelt and other forests is at risk.
Evidence was also presented about how deer over-browsing on native plants and berries on the forest floor can collapse the woodland ecosystem and invite unwanted invasive species of plants. We can halt this rapidly growing threat, but we are running out of time.
Many of the 400 attendees were members of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and the Greenbelt Conservancy, two of Staten Island’s leading conservation organizations. Also in attendance were students and teachers from Staten Island schools and many concerned citizens. This was the first major briefing for Staten Islanders on this topic.
We were fortunate to have three experts present their work at the forum. Dr. William McShea, Research Ecologist from the Smithsonian Institute’s Conservation Ecology Center, spoke about the pressures on forests in the entire Northeast/Mid-Atlantic from overpopulation by white-tailed deer, which reach unhealthy densities as natural predators like bears, cougars and wolves have been removed from ecosystems.
Dr. Susan Elbin, NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science, followed with a presentation focused on the impacts on forest birds when native plants are over-browsed and supplanted with invasive species.
Ken Scarlatelli, NYS DEC Regional Natural Resources Supervisor, provided field evidence on the effects of over-browsing by deer in Staten Island’s forests – particularly on State lands. To view the PowerPoint presentations given by the listed presenters, please visit our website here.
The Borough President put together this forest ecology forum to educate and inspire Staten Islanders to join our call for action. To make a change, Staten Island residents who care about forests need to be active voices in future management decisions.
At the Forum, Borough President Oddo stated that we collectively want to hear ideas on addressing the problem: “I publicly have stated that I support a highly managed and monitored cull which is the only way to immediately and humanely reduce the deer population – an approach that is done effectively throughout New York State and the Northeast…but I also invited Staten Islanders to offer alternatives that will help reduce the deer population to safe levels and protect the forests.”
Borough President Oddo emphasized that we did not want to draw battle lines on this issue of deer management, but rather collectively discuss the options, using science-based facts as our guide.
A panel discussion followed led by the College of Staten Island’s biology and environmental science departments. Those on the panel included:
- James Oddo, Staten Island Borough President
- Dr. William McShea, Research Ecologist, Smithsonian Institute’s Conservation Ecology Center
- Dr. Susan Albin, Director of Conservation and Science, NYC Audubon
- Ken Scarlatelli, Regional Natural Resources Supervisor, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (Region II)
- Cliff Hagen, President, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
- Dr. Bonnie Johnson Fritz, Board President, Greenbelt Conservancy
- Neophytos A. Antoniades, Ph. D, Professor and Chair, Engineering & Environmental Science Department, College of Staten Island
- Chang-Hui Shen, Ph. D, Professor and Chair, Biology Department, College of Staten Island
- Patti Rafferty Chief, Resource Stewardship, Gateway National Recreation Area
- Dr. Susan Booth-Benczik, Wildlife Biologist, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
- Kristy King, Director of Natural Areas Restoration & Management, Forestry, Horticulture, & Natural Resources, New York City Parks Department
Panel members answered audience questions about deer and the state of Staten Island’s forests, issuing a call to action to Staten Islanders to be active voices in future management decisions.
One important take-away from this forum is that -- to care about animals, we have to care about the ecosystems in which the animals live. Otherwise we are fooling ourselves. The animals will starve and disappear if their habitat is compromised. This is a complicated issue but clearly there is a great deal of passion to slow the steady denuding of our Greenbelt, our parks and our woodlands.