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APEC event urges people to take initiative on the environment

By Rich Bockmann

With the songs of the center’s birds chirping in the background, environmentalists gathered at the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston last week to discuss urban biodiversity and hopefully encourage a new generation of environmental stewards to take action.

Frank Cantelmo, an ecologist and associate professor of biology at St. John’s University, defined biodiversity as the “totality of genes, species and ecosystems of a region.” He said Friday that variation, both within and among an environment’s species, plays a huge role in their adaptability and survival.

In an attempt to make a younger generation aware of the issue, APEC hosted a photo contest in which young people across the city submitted their entries in the categories of wildlife, landscapes and flora and fauna.

Organizers said they received nearly 100 submissions and the prize for best photo went to 11th-grader Karin Backert, who took a picture of a striking red sky behind Francis Lewis HS in Fresh Meadows after her soccer practice.

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) stopped by to speak about his involvement in the environmental movement and his work on the Council Environmental Committee.

“Nature photography was how it got started for me,” he said.

Amateur photographers and professional environmentalists alike packed the center for two panels on the issues of Alley Pond Park’s biodiversity and its future.

Michael Feller, director of the Natural Resources Group of the city Parks Department, projected an image of Bayside as it was in the 1930s: pristine shorelines, salt marshes and a huge forest interrupted only by the Grand Central Parkway and Cross Island Expressway, before the area between them was covered with roads.

Paula Lazrus, assistant professor of history at St. John’s University, called the kettle ponds and salt marshes of the 635-acre Alley Pond Park the “last vestiges of the original environment of the region.”

The main threat to the park’s biodiversity, according to APEC educational director Aline Euler, is the Porcelain Berry— an invasive vine species that climbs up trees and shades out other plants so they cannot photosynthesize.

“It grows and grows and grows,” she said.

Volunteers at APEC spend much of their time properly removing the vine, which can grow hundreds of feet long.

With an 8-acre restoration beginning this summer, Minona Heaviland of the NRG said that kind of effort will be required to ensure the thousands of trees that will be planted in 2013 have the chance to grow large enough and sustain themselves.

“The city will not function well if we continue to lose the plants, animals and ecosystems we started with,” said William Nieter, director of environmental studies at St. John’s University. “There are no quick answers to this. Everything you heard is going to take a lifetime. We need a lifetime commitment to the young people in the audience.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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