By Steve Mosco
Legislation to change the name of a Queens wildlife center in honor of a former U.S. senator from New York passed the House of Representatives, but it is still a long way from being a wildly popular idea.
U.S. Rep. Bob Turner’s (R-Middle Village) bill, H.R. 5958, to rename the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center after Sen. James L. Buckley, passed the House last week and now faces a Senate vote.
According to Turner, bestowing the visitor center with the former senator’s name is a fitting tribute as Buckley was a strong proponent of environmental causes in the state.
Turner said Buckley, a conservative Republican who is now 89, played a central role in the creation of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which houses the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
“Along with fellow New York Sen. Jacob Javits, Sen. Buckley had the vision to create a national wildlife refuge in an urban area accessible to the millions of people in New York City as well as the millions of other residents of the New York metropolitan area,” said Turner. “Now 40 years later, that vision has turned into the gold standard for urban park space with more than 8 million annual visitors.”
But not everyone shares Turner’s enthusiasm for Buckley’s role in preserving the state’s natural wonders. Outdoor advocates who either work at the refuge or use its resources are still questioning why Buckley is getting this honor.
“No one is saying that Sen. Buckley is a bad guy or that he didn’t care about the environment,” said Dan Hendrick, communications director for the New York League of Conservation Voters. “But we just aren’t sure how his name comes up before other people who we think did a lot more for the refuge.”
Among the names mentioned is Herbert Johnson, appointed by Robert Moses as the first manager of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in 1952. Hendrick said Johnson spearheaded efforts to improve the natural habitat at the park and made the area easily accessible to the public.
“This was way back in the 1950s — well before Buckley was involved in 1972,” said Hendrick, referring to Buckley’s co-sponsoring of the Clean Water Act. “And it might be controversial to name anything after Robert Moses, but he probably had more to do with the creation of the center than anyone.”
Turner contends that Buckley’s involvement with the Clean Water Act and the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act both illustrate the senator’s commitment to conservation. He also said Buckley was an avid birdwatcher and that it would be fitting for the center, which boasts 325 bird species, to bear his name.
“James L. Buckley served to protect his state, his country and the environment,” Turner said. “This is a fitting tribute to a man who spent most of his life sharing his intellect and his talent in an effort to serve others.”
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.