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Cuomo's DEC Ignores Endangered Snakes in Rush to Complete Maid Boatyard

By James Hufnagel

Milk Snake

Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake.

Numerous sightings of endangered Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes in the vicinity of the new Maid of the Mist boatworks at the bottom of the environmentally-sensitive Niagara Gorge are insufficient to warrant a site investigation, according to a state DEC response to a story that appeared here two weeks ago.

The day after we reported several eyewitness accounts of the elusive, though deadly, rattlesnakes in close proximity to the Maid of the Mist, an inquiry was made to the local office of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency in charge of protecting endangered and threatened species. It went unanswered for two days. Another request was submitted before business hours early Friday morning, this time copying DEC commissioner Joe Martens among other high-ranking Cuomo bureaucrats. It too was ignored.

What eventually elicited a response from the DEC, which gave Gov. Cuomo passes on State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations for both the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements Plan and Maid's new Schoellkopf construction, was a third urgent communication over the weekend, this time copying the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife.

According to DEC Regional Attorney Marcia A. Brady, "Although there is no record of this species at this site, we asked our wildlife biologists to review the issue. They are unaware of any verified sightings of any rattlesnakes in the Niagara Gorge. The Eastern Massasauga species referenced in your article is known to exist at just two sites in New York... However, we would be happy to review any photos or other evidence that you may have."

The government lawyer continued: "In fact, the 2009 blogger you quoted in your article shared his findings with Dr. James Gibbs, herpatologist (sic) at NYU who reported as follows: 'Very interesting... but I am at a loss to suggest what you saw. The Massasauga is strictly a wetland animal in NYS and never recorded from dry outcrops/cliff sides nor near there although not so far away on the Ontario side. The copperhead's range is restricted to SE NYS. And the timber rattler is highly unlikely. There are lots of escaped/released animals in the environment now. Also several NYS species rattle their tails as a form of mimicry - e.g., milk snakes. If you pass there again a photo would be extremely valuable!'"

Tony Wagner of Lockport, a past President of Buffalo Audubon Society who has for decades worked for the protection and preservation of local wildlife, has a different take.

"These snakes can be found on the rocky shores of the Bruce Peninsula so it is conceivable they would be here. I have received two reports of Massasauga rattlers in the gorge in the past 15 years from knowledgeable people. One around Artpark and the other in the Glen area on the Canadian side... (There were) rattlesnake roundups early in the last century. Also they reportedly let pigs range in the gorge to kill the snakes... I was struck in the boot by a Massasauga in Byron-Bergen years ago."

The DEC, of course, has the final say, and as DEC attorney Brady channeled from her carpeted office in downtown Buffalo late last week, "The snakes are most likely Eastern Milksnakes or watersnakes, neither of which are threatened, endangered, or of special concern in New York State."

The ironic twist to all this is that Gov. Cuomo is a Democrat, the Democratic party supposedly the party of good environmental protection and stewardship.

Yet it was Gov. George Pataki who greatly expanded the acquisition of parkland in New York State, including the setting aside for posterity of one of the only old growth forests in an urban setting in the United States at DeVeaux Woods State Park. It was Pataki's agencies that signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Niagara Falls to begin the scoping process on removal of the north Robert Moses Parkway and naturalization of the Niagara Gorge rim. It was Gov. Pataki who signed the Niagara Greenway legislation, directing hundreds of millions of dollars over and above the standard NYPA relicensing package towards improvements for the Western New York waterfront.

In contrast, Andy Cuomo wants to upgrade the south parkway so tourists can more easily park, dine, sightsee, buy souvenirs and then exit the Niagara Falls State Park without having need or reason to enter the city. He's spending $25 million of those Greenway dollars to pave more parking spaces and ruin Three Sisters Islands so that James Glynn and Albany can grow richer at our expense, breaking both SEQRA laws and the federal Clean Water Act in the process.
Cuomo shelved the National Historic Preservation Act so that, in addition to the obtrusive Observation Tower, even more Glynn infrastructure can clutter up the Niagara Gorge at Schoellkopf. And the north Moses Parkway? Who the hell knows what's going on with that.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

AUG 06, 2013