New York City Council Committee on Parks & Recreation
Oversight Hearing on Ensuring the Short and Long Term
Preservation of the City’s Natural Forest
October 25, 2018
Good afternoon, my name is Lynn Kelly, and I am the Executive Director for New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P). I would like to thank the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation for inviting us to speak on this important issue today.
Representing one quarter of our entire City parks system, our 7,300 acres of natural forests provide a critical resource for New Yorkers seeking respite, a connection to nature, and opportunities for active and passive recreation among some of our most precious landscapes. New York’s natural forests provide us with a view of our city that predates our dense, urban environment, and for this reason, they also provide us with a vitally important ecological buffer against some of the worst impacts of climate change. We believe the City should ensure the long-term care and preservation of these landscapes, and we are glad to see the Council Parks Committee examining the issue today.
We want to reiterate that the Forest Management Framework, as put forth by the Natural Areas Conservancy and the Natural Resources Group at NYC Parks, has created a clear and concise vision for the conservation and maintenance of these open spaces. We believe the Council and Administration should adopt this framework, and ensure that the 25-year funding plan is incorporated into our City Budget each fiscal year until the funding has been fully allocated. The $385 million needed to implement the Framework over the coming years may seem like a large investment, but is one that we believe will pay dividends in ecological and public benefits.
With the U.N.’s recent report on climate change, it is clear that our planet, and our city, is at a tipping point. This is a moment, and an opportunity, for today’s local leaders to cement a legacy of ensuring the long-term protection of our environment and our residents, and the future New Yorkers yet to come. Our natural forests, if properly maintained and protected, provide ample ecological benefits, from protecting native species of flora and fauna, absorbing storm water, cooling our neighborhoods, and cleaning our air. These benefits can only be provided on the condition that these spaces are able to be properly maintained, and as it stands now, that is not a threshold that the City is able to meet.
Many acres of natural forest are currently struggling with the presence of invasive species, issues of illegal dumping, and poorly maintained trails. Without adequate investment, conditions will further deteriorate, making these spaces unsafe for public access. There are thousands of acres of natural forests that are located in parks within some of the City’s low- and moderate-income communities, and we believe the proactive maintenance of these trails and natural areas constitutes an equity mandate. As an example, for residents of Cypress Hills and Highland Park in Brooklyn’s District 37, Highland Park itself represents the only sizeable open space in their neighborhoods, and their Council District. If the natural forests in Highland Park aren’t kept clean, safe, and well-maintained, it becomes a barrier to public use, effectively cutting off neighborhood access to the only large park they have.
As this Committee knows, NY4P has repeatedly called on the City to properly invest in its maintenance workforce for our parks. We believe that robust, sustained investments in the funding of essential maintenance and operations positions is an investment toward not only the essential infrastructure of our parks, but our people as well. As such, committed funding to provide for the staff lines needed to implement the Forest Management Framework must not get lost in the larger conversation around parks maintenance funding. Additionally, the ongoing care of these spaces represents an opportunity for partners from parks conservancies citywide to contribute to the implementation of the Framework, as many acres of our natural forests occur in some of our City parks that benefit from the management of a nonprofit conservancy.
We again want to thank the Council for taking the opportunity to examine the state of our natural forests and how they are maintained. This is a crucial step in recognizing the budgetary needs that will keep these spaces held to the highest standard of care - a standard that is science-based, and thoughtful in its approach. Our natural forests are some of the most incredible places in the City, and now is the time to invest in the long-term care and conservation of them.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak and I welcome any questions you may have.