Off-road driving policy and other 2022 initiatives for FINS

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By LINDA LEUZZI

According to Fire Island National Seashore superintendent Alexcy Romero, plans for 2022 include kicking off a scoping process addressing off-road driving on Fire Island, which revisits the National Environment Policy Act.

“Within the boundaries of the park, there are approximately 4,200 homes,” he explained of the 17 communities. “Within those homes there are about 300 to 400 year-round residents. We have to have permits for essential drivers who do things like garbage pickup and fuel delivery, so we issue permits for them as well as for year-round residents. The permits are capped.” Year-round residents are capped at 145, part-time at 100, 80 for contractors, 30 for essential services including PSE&G and Verizon; on-island municipal permits are at five per community.

“The policy has been in place since 1986 and is a little outdated,” Romero said. “There are requests that come into our office for exceptions; some have to get on and off the island, but there’s an approximate three-year waiting list. It’s a controversial program because there are year-round residents who need a permit and seasonal renters who don’t want any cars. So we’re looking at this policy and getting input. There will be a public engagement process at establishing a new policy. Fire Island was founded on its roadless character to prevent Robert Moses from creating a roadway straight through it. So we’re faced with, how do we strike that balance?”

Romero said FINS was also working with communities regarding rising e-bike use. “Entering from Field 5 to the first community is Kismet,” he said. “There’s a road at first but then when you get into Kismet, that’s when the system of boardwalks begin. So these e-bikes are going at a high speed—some go 20 miles per hour on these mixed-use roads. The Fire Island Association and the community leaders are working on details for e-bike enforcement.”

New Friends groups are also being established. “We’re having conversations with interested groups like Friends of the Carrington Tract between Cherry Grove and the Pines also, either a conservancy, a Friends group, for Fire Island National Seashore, and are re-establishing one for Watch Hill,” Romero said. “These Friends groups expand the mission of the National Parks Service as an extension of our work force and are concerned stewards. So they are no different from the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.”

Piping plovers, an endangered species, blossomed a bit last year.

“We had a successful season with over 50 pairs of piping plovers nesting along the seashore and that’s been our largest nesting season we’ve had, and we’re working with all the folks, but we can expect another busy nesting season in 2022,” Romero said.

There has been no increase in staffing. “We’ve been at a steady level for staffing,” he said. “There hasn’t been an increase in our budget, so we’re using our discretionary funds carefully.”

Romero said FINS officials would also work on identifying a plan for all agencies to develop a path forward should a new storm like Sandy take place again and how they would coordinate.

“We’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the state, the towns, county and villages; they’re all coordinating with this,” he said.   

FINS staff have noticed coyote sightings on FINS’ property. “It’s a sanction for wildlife. We have foxes and other animals that you would find in a national park,” Romero emphasized.

Romero said the deer removal operations, which were approved through the Fire Island National Seashore White-tailed Deer Management Plan during Jan. 3 through Feb. 28, 2022 at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of Fire Island National Seashore located on Long Island, and on NPS-lands on Fire Island, has been contracted out only with expertly trained animal specialists who will shoot the deer. “It will be conducted within the federal tract of Fire Island and 500 feet away from the residential area of the William Floyd Estate.,” he said. “We’re noticing with this program, entering our fourth year, that populations are reducing.” 

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