Restoring our Forests and Protecting our Water from East to West: Life though Controlled Burns

Today, The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina gave us notice they will light the first control burns on a newly acquired property in Brunswick county, North Carolina. These restoration efforts, supported by Louis Bacon’s Orton Foundation, are just the beginning of a long restoration process of the unique and rare Longleaf pine system – carnivorous plants, orchids, grasses, birds, bears, bobcats, and many other animals. We’re excited to hear this news and laud the Conservancy on their forest health management efforts here and across the country. 

These efforts are desperately needed: also this week, Colorado State Forest Service officials unveiled their 2016 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests, warning state lawmakers that unhealthy forests and wildfires increasingly will affect people and water supplies. Numbers are stark: one in 14 trees is dead in Colorado forests and the number of gray-brown standing-dead trees has increased 30 percent since 2010 to 834 million.

Fire module member Andrew Merriam (left) and Kevin MacBride of the Conservancy’s Colorado chapter “mop up” after a prescribed burn, which involves finding and extinguishing any still-smoldering spots and clearing away debris that could reignite. © Jason Houston

Fire module member Andrew Merriam (left) and Kevin MacBride of The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado chapter “mop up” after a prescribed burn, which involves finding and extinguishing any still-smoldering spots © Jason Houston – Nature Conservancy

So let’s really focus on our partner’s and other experts’ efforts to protect our forests, our water and our people – and achieve important ecological and economic goals – by restoring a less damaging and more natural role for fire in our forests. Enter The U.S. Fire Learning Network (FLN). Established in 2002 through a national partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, the FLN has engaged dozens of organizations across the nation, including The Rio Grande Water Fund in NM and The Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network in Colorado, in a process that accelerates the restoration of fire-dependent landscapes for the great benefit of people, water and wildlife.

And the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – New Mexico. Through training and service, Corpsmembers discover their potential for healthy, productive lives AND make a real difference for their environment and community. Recent numbers makes the case: 154.56 acres of forest restored; 31 miles of trails built or restored; 44 homes received full weatherization services; 66 homes had additional energy efficiency measures installed. As for the Corpsmembers? 106 certified in First Aid/CPR; 28 trained in Mental Health First Aid; 55% returned to post-secondary options after service term; 17% found employment post service term; and 15% returned for another community service opportunity. Way to go, RMYCNM – read more:

Further north in Colorado’s White River National Forest, Wilderness Workshop supports bringing fire back to the landscape on public lands at the discretion of the Forest Service, helping officials by educating the public and communicating with the press about upcoming burns and what the public can expect in each instance.

As 2017 heats up, MCF “West” affiliates The Trinchera Blanca Foundation and The Taos Ski Valley Foundation, we’ll look forward to supporting the advancement of forest health management best practices in the form of controlled burning. Stay tuned to our channels for more news on this front

‘Tis the Season to Be Giving: Supporting Conservation and Community this #GivingTuesday

November 29th will mark the fifth annual #GivingTuesday, a global day of charitable giving that harnesses social media’s powers of inspiration, motivation and collaboration. A counterpoint to the consumerism of our holiday season (i.e., Black Friday and Cyber Monday), #GivingTuesday kicks off the season of end-of-year giving and encourages participation – from physical volunteering to social amplification to writing checks to favorite champions of favorite causes. And since 2012, when it all began, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

As Tuesday draws near, then, we would like to remind the readers of this blog about the causes that are near and dear to us, and encourage amplification and volunteerism of, and charitable giving to our amazing partners. The Moore Charitable Foundation (MCF), founded in 1992 by lifelong conservationist Louis Bacon, is a private family foundation that works to preserve and protect natural resources for future generations. The Foundation and its affiliates support non-profit organizations that protect land, wildlife, habitat, water resources and communities primarily in the following regional areas: Southern Colorado, Northern New Mexico, Long Island, Eastern North Carolina, The Bahamas, and Panama. The Foundation engages leaders in conservation, habitat management, and local communities to identify innovative programs and projects that take a collaborative approach to solutions in the following priority areas:

  • Land: Preserving open spaces to ensure that future generations have access to our most precious natural resources
  • Water & Air: Defending the vitality of our oceans, bays, rivers, and wetlands, as well as the air we breathe, for all people
  • Wildlife Habitat: Strengthening habitat restoration efforts in order to protect threatened species
  • Marine Research and Conservation: Protecting marine resources through strategic research and advocacy efforts

From Oceana and NRDC and The Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance, to The Taos Land Trust and Panacetacea and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation and the National Smokejumper Association, we are incredibly proud to support real champions of conservation and community.

See a full list of MCF partners here – and consider support one this #GivingTuesday. We can vouch that each is worthy of your attention and pocket book. And here’s raising a toast to the giving season.

The Controversy Continues with New Hanover County’s Industrial Special Use Permit

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is leading the My Community: My Voice Campaign to engage citizens and business leaders to help prevent polluting industry and support clean and responsible economic growth in New Hanover County by adopting an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Louis Bacon, The Moore Charitable Foundation and the affiliate Orton Foundation are strong supporters of NCCF and the improved SUP campaign, which has strong business and community support and envisions a bright future for all. However, recent actions taken by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) are stalling the process. We recently received the following note from Jennifer Salter, NCCF’s Clean Communities Organizer and the The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team and are publishing it in full here. Please take note of next steps below. 

On Monday, November 14, with more than a hundred people in attendance and a dozen people lined up to speak, the current New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted to postpone the public hearing on the two year-long effort led by the federation and the community that focused on developing a more comprehensive Special Use Permit (SUP) for a small number of high-risk intensive industrial applicants. The Industrial SUP proposal included an extended timeline, community involvement and notification, and for the most impactful heavy industry uses a disclosure of external impacts that could pose a risk to local public health, environment, and natural resources, such as water quality and quantity.

As a result of the BOCC decision, the New Hanover County Planning Board held its fourth work session on November 15 from 2 PM – 5 PM to review the county planning staff’s proposed SUP text A-425 amendments. Although the NHC Planning Board is in support of a required community information meeting and an extended timeline (35 business days) for review of intensive industrial applicants, the majority of Planning Board recommends DELETING all requirements for intensive industries to disclose anticipated external effects of their proposed project upon the community. The majority of the Planning Board did not think it was fair for intensive industry applicants “to testify against themselves” and that requiring an intensive industry applicant to disclose their proposed project details is a burden to the applicant and is troublesome.

We disagree. Take for example the disclosure process that is common in real-estate. A seller must provide disclosure about the condition and any issues about their property. This helps increase the buyer’s confidence that a seller is dealing fairly. This is analogous to how an SUP process utilizing best practices needs to include a disclosure of a review of external effects about its proposed project. This requirement is customary in the most urban and progressive counties in NC and was the cornerstone of the SUP language adopted by the Board of Commissioners in 2011. It is in the best interest of our community and minimizes the opportunity for the applicant to withhold information that is necessary for the Board of Commissioners to make informed decisions on whether an intensive industry is an appropriate use for our area.

During this most recent Planning Board work session, Hal Kitchin, of McGuireWoods LLP,  a legal representative for clients in industry and development interests, recommended alternative language requiring intensive industry to simply list “anticipated” permits from federal, state, and local agencies. This does not provide a full description of an intensive industrial applicant’s proposal and does not provide the needed clarity or objectiveness in the review process.

New Hanover County has a legacy of 29 superfund sites that were developed under the guise of state and federal oversight. State and federal regulatory agencies do not adequately protect a local region’s natural assets, including air and water quality and quantity.  As another example, no state or federal requirement currently exists to regulate the amount of groundwater that an industry may extract from the region.

Without a local SUP process of disclosure and an evaluation of impacts, an intensive industry could withdraw an unlimited volume of public groundwater resources, and potentially pollute this same water supply. In a county with predictions of increased growth which could affect the quantity and quality of clean drinking water, this scenario could have devastating impacts on our current residents, businesses, economy and human health. These experiences of existing and proposed intensive industries in New Hanover County demonstrate the need for an informed, educated local decision process with regard to whether certain heavy intensive industries are appropriate for this community.

What Happens Next

Another Planning Board work session is scheduled for December with a Planning Board public hearing in January with an anticipated action by the Board of Commissioners in February 2017. Stay tuned for those finalized dates and times.

What You Can Do

It is imperative our community stays engaged by writing Letters to the Editor, Op-Eds and meeting with the Planning Board members and the Board of Commissioners.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement,

The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team

Fixing It: Edwina von Gal and the Perfect Earth Project

From August’s Hamptons Beach House magazine – a great article about The Moore Charitable Foundation partner Perfect Earth Project.

Our land and water has become polluted to the point of being hazardous. Edwina von Gal is changing that, and she needs all of us to get on board.

Edwina von Gal on her deck overlooking wetlands in Accabonac Harbor. Photo by David Harry Stewart/AGEIST.

Edwina von Gal on her deck overlooking wetlands in Accabonac Harbor. Photo by David Harry Stewart/AGEIST.

Owning land is at the heart of the American Dream – a little corner of the earth that you can call your own. But the concept that our land is somehow separate from our neighbor’s, separate from our waterways and farms and aquifers, is entirely manufactured by the human mind. No hedgerow or picket fence will stop the chemicals we put on our land from seeping into the environment because we are a part of the environment: we literally cohabitate with it.

That’s why, in 2013, Edwina von Gal, a fixture in the landscaping industry since she launched her business in 1984, created the Perfect Earth Project.

“My goal is that we will ultimately transform the landscape industry into a community of land stewards,” said von Gal. “It’s everyone’s job to be a conservationist on their own property. You can have your own piece of the environment. That’s what it is. It’s all part of one thing.”

The Madoo Conservancy, located in Sagaponak, celebrated its 50th year of toxin-free gardening this summer. Photo by Mick Hales.

The Madoo Conservancy, located in Sagaponak, celebrated its 50th year of toxin-free gardening this summer. Photo by Mick Hales.

Bob DeLuca, President of Group for the East End, has seen water quality deteriorate over the years. There are four categories of contaminants that make their way into our waters, explains DeLuca, and two of them are directly related to the landscaping industry. Phosphorous and nitrogen from fertilizers, categorized as nutrients, can affect surface water, which creates problems like algal blooms. This can increase toxicity to the point of hazard, as one Georgica Pond resident realized when her dog died after drinking from the pond in 2012. Georgica was closed to swimmers earlier this month because of the toxicity.

“We are seeing more harmful algal blooms in our surface waters, they’re lasting for longer periods of time and are existing in greater profusion,” said DeLuca. “Whether it’s Hook Pond, Georgica Pond, or Lake Agawam, problems that were once occasional are now catching up with us.”

When it comes to bigger, more global change, DeLuca is a firm believer in the power of local government.

“Years ago, Western Long Island Sound was given up for dead,” he said. “Over the course of two decades, investments were made, and in the last couple years nitrogen levels have gone down and oxygen levels have gone up. We’ve had beluga whales and dolphins back in the sound. It’s evidence that the investment works.”

Pesticides are a second problem.

“Presently, there are about 117 pesticides and pesticide bi-products found in Suffolk County drinking water,” he said.

To that point, von Gal recalls starting out in the landscaping industry, when Roundup was considered benign. Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, is the brand name for Glyphosate, which is still one of the most widely used non-selective herbicides in the United States even after the World Health Organization designated it as a probable carcinogen last year. It kills everything herbaceous, i.e., not woody, without damaging monocots like grasses and corn.

“We used it on everything,” said von Gal. “We were told it wouldn’t leave any residuals. Just spray it on and in a few weeks it’s gone.”

Since then, von Gal says that Roundup has proven disastrous for reptiles and amphibians and has appeared in our drinking water. The impact on amphibians is like the canary in the coal mine: it tells us when something is wrong.

“Amphibians’ skin is so porous – they literally breathe through their skin,” said DeLuca. “They are an indicator species, and they’re being born with mutations.”

And it’s not just Roundup. Chemicals have become such a part of the landscaping industry that von Gal says there are 255 million pounds of pesticides put on American landscapes every year. A study done with golf course turf managers, who are exposed to large quantities of lawn chemicals over the course of their careers found they were twice as likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease. von Gal’s goal through the Perfect Earth Project is to eliminate those chemicals. Entirely.

This, from a landscape designer whose waterfront Springs home is a work of art, no matter where your gaze falls. She’s not saying stop having beautiful landscapes. She’s scraping away the myth that beautiful landscapes require chemicals. The first step, she says, is awareness.

Bridge Gardens is a public toxin-free garden in Bridgehampton, maintained by the Peconic Land Trust. Photo by Peconic Land Trust.

Bridge Gardens is a public toxin-free garden in Bridgehampton, maintained by the Peconic Land Trust. Photo by Peconic Land Trust.

“We need to retrain the landscape industry and land management decision makers,” she said. “This is a process. Not a product.”

She says many products are applied to lawns unnecessarily because there’s a one-size-fits-all approach that blasts landscapes with a cocktail of chemicals. If you were treating your lawn with chemicals to kill crab grass, she says, and you just stopped using those chemicals, of course the crab grass would grow.

“But if you take the chemicals out and put observation and intelligence in,” she said, “then you can deal with the problem. Mow higher to block out the sun for the crab grass, and fix your lawn in the unhealthy patches where crab grass is taking over.”

She points out that lawns get a lot of attention but trees, shrubs and gardens are all part of the landscape, and none of them require chemicals to thrive. But once a landscape has become dependent on chemicals, it’s much like a person dependent on drugs. There may be withdrawal symptoms.

“The more you use chemicals, the more your lawn needs them,” she said, “because you’ve destroyed its immune system. The process of going chemical free is simple, but it requires some attention.”

She compares it to the diet pill fad in the 80s, when people were so thrilled to find they didn’t need to eat well or exercise. They could just pop a pill and lose weight.

Bridge Gardens is a public toxin-free garden in Bridgehampton, maintained by the Peconic Land Trust. Photo by Peconic Land Trust.

Bridge Gardens is a public toxin-free garden in Bridgehampton, maintained by the Peconic Land Trust. Photo by Peconic Land Trust.

“Everyone was basically taking speed,” von Gal said with a laugh. “It was so simple! Take the pill and you have no appetite and, boy, was your house clean! But then we realized there were some serious downsides. This is the same. We are asking people to become conscious.”

On the practical, hyper-local level, that consciousness means looking at your lawn and your plants and noticing what they need. Perfect Earth offers tips to maintain a beautiful, chemical free lawn. Try mowing high, for example, to give each blade of grass maximum surface area for photosynthesis. Water infrequently-and deep-to draw the roots down instead of watering a little bit every day, making your lawn dependent on keeping the roots shallow to soak up the water.

When feeding, they recommend you think of feeding the soil, not the plants. Soil is the foundation, and that’s where a healthy root system starts. Raking compost, compost tea, or slow-release organic fertilizer into the soil surrounding trees and shrubs stimulates soil health and also reduces run-off, which helps protect our waterways. This should all be done in the fall, because spring fertilizing encourages weeds and disease.
Letting-go fits with Perfect Earth’s  overall approach. Allow clover to grow – it’s a natural fertilizer. “Clover is a nitrogen fixer,” said Jess Tonn, Director of Communications at Perfect Earth, “so it gives the lawn an extra boost of nitrogen when mowed. We also encourage people to leave their grass clippings because they’re an excellent source of nitrogen for the soil.”
While Perfect Earth emphasizes that a “perfect” lawn doesn’t need to be overrun with dandelions, it’s helpful to note that these “weeds” do help to aerate the soil and create diversity for pollinators like bees and butterflies. If you prefer to be dandelion-free, they recommend mowing high and then pulling out any remaining dandelions by hand.
They also encourage people to trust that trees and shrubs can take care of themselves most of the time, and don’t need intervention. Even organic sprays often kill beneficial insects alongside pests.

Perfect Earth - Lief - Toxin-free landscapesAt Perfect Earth, the primary objective is awareness. That’s where Lief, their little insignia that’s popping up from the Madoo Conservancy to Bridge Gardens, comes in. The little dancing leaf was conceived in the spirit of the Certified Organic symbol. It serves as a trustworthy notice that a certain landscape is toxin free. The town of East Hampton, Guild Hall, and the High Line in Manhattan are all in talks with Perfect Earth to get Lief on their property. The idea is they’re already perfect: this is just giving them the recognition they deserve.

“That’s what the name ‘Perfect Earth’ is all about,” said von Gal. “What is perfect? Nature is perfect. Look at your landscape: If it’s toxic, how perfect is that lawn?”

This coming November, voters will have a chance to advocate for this kind of change in our water quality. The Community Preservation Fund, which has preserved tens of thousands of acres of open space on the East End, could now allot 20% of its funds to water quality improvement. That’s an estimated $500-$600 million over the next twenty years.

“That ballot proposition could serve as the foundation to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” said DeLuca.

Von Gal has watched the concept of consciousness in landscaping ebb and flow over her decades in the industry, but she feels it’s now gotten to a critical point.

“There’s so much pressure on the environment now that every single piece of land has to be counted,” she said. “You can’t put land into a category where we can destroy this because we’re saving that. If we can get the people of the United States and then the world to treat their land in a way that promotes it as a place that is biodiverse and toxin-free then we’ve made a small revolution.”

Perfect Earth will host the third annual Perfect Picnic Benefit at the Springs home of artist Cindy Sherman on September 3 from 3 to 7 pm. Isaac Mizrahi will be the MC, and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie will headline an amazing musical lineup. Visit the Perfect Earth Project for tickets or more information.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership: Making Water a Top Priority for all East Enders

Symbolically, summer starts this weekend, and New Yorkers are flocking east to the bucolic end of Long Island. In advance of Memorial Day weekend, The Moore Charitable Foundation (Robin’s Island Foundation) team met up in the North Fork – an area dear to our founder Louis Bacon –  with four partners, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Group for the East End (GFEE), New Suffolk Waterfront Fund (NSWF) and the Peconic Land Trust (PLT) to discuss seasonal and year-round issues. Water is of course the critical subject of our times. The dilemma is not only what to do about its quality and quantity. It’s about how to make all kinds of people with differing connections and attention spans pay attention to it.

long island -2With that in mind, this post is dedicated to an innovative partnership connecting dozens of organizations in support of clean water: The Long Island Clean Water Partnership (LICWP), founded in 2013 in response to the increasing pollution in Long Island’s water, which threatens the longevity of the rich ecosystem of the bays, estuaries and coastal areas, and the health and quality of life of all residents. Working with leading conservation organizations across Long Island, LICWP is focused on transforming sewage management (a major source of water pollution on the East End), improving clean-up of hazardous waste, eliminating pesticides and fertilizers from drinking water, strengthening disposal requirements for pharmaceuticals and household hazardous materials, protecting undeveloped land, and creating a management entity with the sole purpose of improving Long Island’s water quality.

The “Frequently Asked Questions” section of their website, published below, covers why the water of Long Island is particularly vulnerable, and some of the steps we need to take to protect it. Net net: Get involved with the Partnership. Once a member, the website will allow you to send a letter to your elected officials asking them to make clean water a priority. Partners can stay informed on Facebook and Twitter. Lastly, everyone – those who love the East End on weekends, between May and September, or every day of the year – should spread the word and talk about these issues with family, friends and fellow Long Islanders. We encourage you to do your part to protect the water of this true gem of New York State.

Q: What is the Long Island Clean Water Partnership?

A: The Clean Water Partnership is a coalition of Long Island’s leading conservation organizations including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Group for the East End, Long Island Pine Barrens Society and The Nature Conservancy. Together, we are partnering and collaborating with scientists, public officials, community members, and a number of other stakeholders in order to implement solutions to the decline in water quality on Long Island.

Q: What is an aquifer?

A: Aquifer means “water bearing rock”. It is an underground layer of unconsolidated rock and soil materials that carry and transmit groundwater. Long Island has a federally designated sole-source aquifer which means that 100% of our drinking water for 2.8 million Long Islanders in Nassau and Suffolk Counties comes from the groundwater.

Q: How is our drinking water connected to our surface waters- our bays and estuaries?

A: Drinking water and surface waters share a vital connection. On Long Island, underground aquifers store our only source of fresh drinking water for Nassau and Suffolk Counties. These aquifers are not static; they slowly flow from high ground to low, recharged by rainfall, and they supply the majority of fresh water entering our streams, lakes, and bays.

Q: What evidence is there that water quality on Long Island is declining?

A: Science conclusively shows deteriorating water quality in Long Island’s groundwater. Nitrogen pollution from sewage, most notably aging sewer and septic systems, flows from our aquifers into our bays and harbors, damaging salt marshes, causing harmful algae blooms, reducing fish and shellfish populations and closing our beaches. Additionally, 117 pesticides have been detected in our groundwater as well as toxic and volatile organic compounds, and pharmaceutical drugs.

Q: Who is in charge of protecting Long Island’s water and why are they failing to do so?

A: Many government agencies share responsibility for protecting Long Island’s waters resources. As a result, water quality protection has never been effectively centralized. No single agency has final responsibility or public accountability for restoring and maintaining clean water. Water quality standards, rules, regulations, policies and programs derive from an array of local, regional, state and federal agencies. For example, in Nassau County alone, 40 separate entities distribute drinking water.

Q: How does the Partnership propose Long Island fund water quality improvement?

A: There are many ways to fund water quality improvement: tax credits, upgrade incentives, sales tax, bond act, water rate adjustments and many more. Once new water quality standards are set and enforcement has been provided for, we’ll know what funding mechanisms make the most sense. One thing’s for sure: the cost of fixing the water problem will be far less than the cost of destroying Long Island’s drinking water and surface waters.