Joe Martens, who has been the state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner since 2011, is stepping down to rejoin a New York-based environmental nonprofit he once headed, an agency email and a source said Tuesday.

Acting DEC Region 1 director Ajay Shah told DEC staff in an email Tuesday that Martens was leaving the agency, and that Marc Gerstman will serve as acting commissioner. Gerstman currently is the DEC's executive deputy commissioner.

An agency source confirmed the move.

Martens will become a consultant for land conservation and climate-change issues at the Open Space Institute, according to Tally Blumberg, the group's senior vice president for programs. Blumberg said the group hopes he will begin work there this summer.

Martens served as executive vice president and later as president of the Manhattan-based agency that works to protect land through purchases or conservation easements across North America. He worked there from 1995 until he joined the DEC in 2011.

Martens and DEC representatives did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.

The news came a day after the DEC released a findings statement that banned hydrofracking in New York State.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs that body's environmental conservation committee, called Martens "one of the best commissioners the agency has ever had."

"He's a very fine man, and we will miss him," Englebright said. "And we'll miss the strength and integrity he has brought to the job."

Englebright said he was "somewhat surprised but not astonished" at Martens' departure.

"I know the last few years have been very wearing because of the cuts" in funding to the agency, he said. "Doing more with less -- that's a really corrosive assignment."

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called Martens "terrific," citing his leadership on nitrogen reduction in Long Island's waterways, among other topics.


"For Long Island, he knew and was engaged in the most important issues," she said.

Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said Martens was aware and engaged on Long Island's environmental concerns.

"Whether they are coastal issues dealing with nitrogen and dealing with our sole-source aquifer, he was a great partner and I'll be sad to see him go," Martins said.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said Martens did his best to bring environmental values to New York's government.

"I think Joe Martens genuinely wants to do what's good for the environment, and now I think he has a better chance of doing it than he ever had at the DEC," Amper said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Before his roles at the Open Space Institute and the DEC, Martens worked as assistant secretary and deputy secretary for energy and the environment under Gov. Mario Cuomo in the early 1990s and also was chair of the board of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, according to a biography on the DEC's website.

He was nominated as commissioner of the DEC by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011.

A representative from Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.