Field Guide to New York

April 05, 2018

Field Guide to New York

One of the sticking points of this project has been creating a feel for states that I'm not all that familiar with. On the one hand I want an objective, fact-based representation of the state's biological makeup, and on the other the more that I do this the more I am keenly aware that I don't know all that much about my own country, and much of how I perceive states is a little bit of American folklore. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, and obviously these guides aren't meant to be used as scientific guides, but I'm trying to strike the right balance of science and authorship. And on that note, much of how I perceive New York's landscape is based on a handful of trips to the city, one trip upstate, and my constant reading of Judy Blume's "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great" as a kid. 

The upside to not having much of a feel for the state is I end up doing quite a bit more research on the ecoregions and wildlife of the state, and it was during this that I was surprised and delighted to find out how much work the city has done to promote urban biodiversity and environmental sustainability. I won't get into it too much, but I'm linking to a paper in the sources that noted that there was 24% tree canopy coverage in New York City in 2013, and they were aiming for 30% by 2017 (couldn't verify whether or not that was achieved). This was far more than I would have expected, and a really heartening look at how city planning can embrace both the sustainability of city living with the need for natural habitats. 

Alewife Herring - Also known as the river herring, the alewife was one of the most valuable resources to colonists and native people, and were strictly regulated to preserve their numbers. Over time damming of the rivers blocked the alewives from their freshwater spawning grounds, and in 2015 a fish ladder was built to allow alewives easier passage to the Bronx River. 

American Elm - In the early 20th century elm bark beetles carrying the fungal Dutch Elm Disease wiped out over 75% of the 77 million elm trees in North America. Central Park is home to nearly 2000 elm trees (one of the largest standing collection of elms in North America), where the trees have been protected by the difficulty of beetles reaching the park. The trees are still at risk, but scientists have been working on resistant measures such as genetic manipulation through cross-breeding, cloning, and even cryopreservation. 

American Beaver - The beaver was considered the sacred center by native Americans for its ability to create sustainable habitats for so many other animals, and it has been the symbol of New York since the Dutch controlled New Netherlands. Beavers continue to play an important role in engineering healthy natural landscapes - their dams help prevent flash foods, and their ponds raise groundwater levels and filter sediment and pollutants. 

That's all I'll get into for now, I had planned on covering everything I've learned about the unsung plight of freshwater mussels, but I'll save that for another state (since it's happening almost everywhere). This week was my daughter's spring break so I didn't get the chance to work on anything new, but I'll be posting Pennsylvania's guide tomorrow, and I'll be starting work back up on the guides next week with Ohio and Illinois. 

SOURCES:
https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-94-007-7088-1_19.pdf
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/nyregion/alewife-herring.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_elm_disease
http://nautil.us/blog/new-york-city-battles-on-against-dutch-elm-disease
https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/new-york/state-mammal/beaver

 




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