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All Hail the Wild Places

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 17:14


Now that the ticks are mostly bedded down for the cold-weather months, many of us are taking to the woods for walks. Sometimes we overlook this treasure — a network of trails that lace the South Fork from Montauk Point to the Flanders pine forests, as well as the mostly volunteer groups that maintain them. In the region, though, one giant preservation puzzle remains to be solved: What to do about Plum Island.

No one can give more than ballpark estimates of the many miles of paths and old roads that web through the woods. There are marked trails, then there are power lines, beaches, even roadsides to be walked and enjoyed. State, county, and town officials over the decades have been instrumental in assuring there will be unbuilt places for future generations to enjoy. Even the federal government has had a role, converting military properties to parks, creating the Amagansett National Wildlife Refuge, and, we hope, saving Plum Island from being sold to the highest bidder once its animal disease center is relocated to Kansas.

Two years ago, Congress reversed an earlier decision that would have forced Plum Island’s sale, which had been envisioned as a way for the government to pay for a new, larger facility to be built elsewhere. President Trump signed the December 2020 massive spending bill, which included billions in Covid-19 relief, as well as the measure to save the island. There was a definite quality of irony to his signature; from time to time, the Trump companies had been mentioned as a potential buyer of the island.

More than 100 organizations from this side of the Long Island Sound and across southern New England had poured on the pressure since at least 2008, when Congress had ordered the sale. Because of the need for high security, Plum Island had become a nesting haven for wildlife, including endangered plovers and terns. Seals haul out to rest along its rocky shoreline. Migrating raptors float overhead in search of prey. Yet, despite all of its environmental significance, there is more reason to preserve it contained in the land itself, which hosted millenniums of the Indigenous Montaukett people who hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants there and then later was part of the nation’s coastal defense system, dating most significantly to fortifications built around the time of the Spanish-American War.

What happens next is unresolved. The 122 member organizations in the Preserve Plum Island Coalition have asked President Joe Biden to make the island a national monument. The move has nearly universal support among New York and Connecticut elected officials, including the states’ four senators. Nonetheless, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut only recently put the odds at 50-50 that Mr. Biden would grant the island the ultimate protected status.

Time appears to be of the essence, with a divided Congress coming in the new year and a Republican House of Representatives majority eager to thwart any White House plans. Making Plum Island a national monument is well within the president’s power. What a wonderful gift at the holidays it would be if Mr. Biden picked up that pen to make it so.

All hail the wild places; we can never have too many of them — especially in the densely populated Northeast.


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