Save Westchester County's Nature Curators!

  • by: Melinda Quintero
  • recipient: County Executive Robert Astorino, Westchester County Board of Legislators

The recently released Westchester County 2013 draft budget calls for
eliminating several Curator positions along with the Wildlife Manager. While the nature centers would be open to some extent with
part-time staff, the educational programs would not be offered as they
are now, and the parks would lose the Curator's work as a natural
resources manager who maintains the trails and ensures the protection
and preservation of the park's unique habitats.

Some important facts:

(1)  Claims that environmental education will be unaffected and that
the three remaining Curators will be able to meet the demand of five
nature centers and manage wildlife and habitat are FALSE.

o   The Trailside and Marshlands nature centers have a full slate of
programming already – their Curators are being kept on. Cranberry Lake
will have offered over 100 educational programs by the end of 2012 (up
300% from 2008!)  - it also requires a full-time educator. All three
aforementioned sites run thriving summer camps. Lenoir and Read also
offer environmental education programs and have large volunteer groups
who work in conjunction with the Curators.

o   Environmental education is one of the ways to keep young families
in our County

o   Environmental education is a great way to get kids outside.
Whether it's a campfire with ghost stories, frog-catching in vernal
pools, or quarry-hiking and deer-tracking adventures in summer camp,
these education programs gets kids outside, moving, and learning in a
way that sticks with them because it's fun and challenging --
something that is increasingly rare and valuable.

(2) Dan Aitchison, the Curator of Wildlife, is irreplaceable – no one
else in the County has his expertise in managing the deer population
that has been threatening our forests’ health. He has also been
guarding against the expanding beaver population that has caused
flooding and the Canada Goose population that has been breeding and
defecating in our waterbodies. These programs, implemented in the last
few years have already been showing results and are a model for many
other towns and municipalities.

(3) At the beginning of the 2000s, there were 6 Curators, 2 Assistant
Curators, 2 Senior Curators, a County Naturalist and a staff assistant
– the proposal is now to go from the 7 remaining Curators to 3.
Government cuts have disproportionately targeted the Conservation
Division of the Parks, Recreation and Conservation department, despite
the fact that nature study and nature trails are more popular than
golf, pools, athletic fields and more [according to the Friends of
Parks-commissioned 2007-2008 citizen survey.  Respondents when asked
which facilities they visited in the previous year listed those as 2nd
most visited (the survey split nature study, nature museums, and
nature interpretive centers into 3 separate items – if grouped our
percentages would be even higher)].

(4) Published budget lines do not include revenue brought in by the
nature centers! Cranberry Lake brought in approximately $50,000 last
year that is not included in the budget numbers for 2012. When
factored in, the Curator position just about pays for itself.

(5) Curators embody the Conservation Division – they are the ones who
have been observing changes in our County’s wildlife, protecting rare
species and communities, and creating natural resource management

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