Back when I was in JHS 180, I wrote a long paper about endangered species. I have always admired the uniquely human efforts to save other species, though I take exception to this month’s Piping Plover PR push.
A full-page ad and op-ed implied that 9 out of 10 residents of Rockaway care about endangered species and that the other 10% are in favor of destroying nests and killing baby birds. Of course, this is as bogus as the statistic cited. Despite the claims of ardent plover protectors, almost everyone is in favor of both providing practical protection for endangered species AND respecting the rights of our own species. It’s the either/or position of extremists that perpetuates this unfair situation in Edgemere.
Going back a few decades, Edgemere was neglected and generally considered unsafe. While working-class and lower middle-class families in Belle Harbor and Rockaway Park had managed to build a nest egg – no pun intended – through homeownership, Edgemere and the surrounding area seemed stuck in neutral. The City encouraged African-American citizens who were pursuing the American Dream to invest in this blighted area. The government would also make investments in infrastructure, etc. The infrastructure did not come, but the piping plover did.
At first, the government simply put up a circle of sand fencing to protect nests. People were concerned these circles might grow, merge and take over the beach. Residents were told that won’t happen. “Just live in harmony with nature.” Living in harmony with nature is not that difficult – we do so with seagulls, pigeons, terns, sandpipers. Living in harmony with environmentalists can be a little more challenging. Over time, the residents of Edgemere lost all access to the beach during the summer.
As everyone in Rockaway knows, the beach is central to our quality of life and a key component of property value. This was a government taking with no input from or regard for the people in that community. This year, 100 acres of previously public beach were devoted to 34 plovers. These birds produced six fledglings. 8,500 people live in Edgemere. Is this reasonable or just? On the surface, it seems ridiculous.
Perhaps the environmentalists are correct that we need to take this draconian approach in order to save the species… except that there are a similar number of plovers living in harmony with humans in the Federally run parts of the peninsula. How come plovers and humans can co-exist in Gateway but not in Edgemere? That is where the conversations that I have observed break down.
Edgemere residents and their supports can document the many bad impacts the plover zone has on human beings in Edgemere and suggest compromise. They are met with claims like, “This is about convenience for you, it’s about survival for the birds.” Any compromise is akin to favoring extinction. This simply isn’t so. And it is counterproductive.
There is plenty of common ground. Let’s work together and give the humans in Edgemere a break.