The American eel, New England cottontail rabbit, the barn owl and other animals that once thrived on Long Island are among 366 species that need the most help to survive, according to the state's 10-year proposal to protect wildlife.
The State Wildlife Action Plan is being updated by the Department of Environmental Conservation, a once-in-a-decade task that paves the way for the state to get conservation grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The plan and its list of species expire this year. In drafting the next list, the DEC and its environmental partners whittled down 597 species to 366, including 167 that are classified "high priority" because they are fast disappearing.
"The State Wildlife Action Plan will help guide DEC's work to protect and restore wildlife and ensure that these precious natural resources are conserved for future generations," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a news release.
The deadline for public comment is Friday. See the proposal, broken into attachments with suggested relief for each species, at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7179.html.
Almost half the 366 species are on the Island, said John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association in Islip.
"It's discouraging and depressing, because a decade ago, these were species that were common," said Turner, naming the monarch butterfly, the diamondback terrapin and others on the list.
State officials use the plan to help document the wild population of rare and endangered species. It helps them decide which species and types of habitats need intervention, which groups get research money and also how wildlife and humans can coexist.
Six years ago, for example, DEC and private biologists were surprised to find whales year round off Long Island and New York City, including the fin, right and blue species, all on the federal endangered list.
By documenting their habits, the DEC and scientists hope they can join with other coastal states gathering data and, as one DEC official said, "tell a story" about the whales. They could have enough details one day to map where the whales go and overlay it with one showing shipping lanes, they said, an effort that could help prevent vessel strikes, a leading cause of death for whales.
In the past 10 years, the state got about $2 million annually in grants, which DEC funnels to local researchers, said Joe Racette, the DEC coordinator for the wildlife action plan.
The proposed plan is not organized by geographic region, a drawback that the DEC coordinator acknowledged in a recent hearing in Setauket.
But Racette said Long Island is one of the state's most biologically diverse regions, emphasized by the fact that half the comments to what should be considered for the list had come from Long Islanders.
The draft says several species appear to be on the decline due to the biggest culprit, pollution, and other factors such as loss of habitat and human intrusion.Turner said putting together the wildlife action plan has been a herculean task for the DEC, but he wishes that recommendations for saving each species had cost estimates.
The environmental and conservation community can be a partner in pushing for state aid, he said, but if costs are unquantified, "it's hard to go to go to Albany and argue for funding."