Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Transforming the Hudson River

By Angel Engman and Lauren Davis

Ms. Frances Dunwell, Director of the Hudson River Estuary Program with the NYDEC addressed “Transforming the Hudson River,” at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry on Tuesday, March 29, 2005, as part of the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series. Sponsors for the seminar included ESF’s Women's Caucus, Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology, and Graduate Student Association.
The Hudson River is renowned as spawning grounds for coastal fish populations. The river itself is 152 miles long and buffered by limestone bedrock.  The Hudson River estuary comprises the tidal portions of the river. Ms. Dunwell introduced the relevance of the Hudson River through slides of historical sites such as Revolutionary War battlegrounds as well as the river’s 19th century industrial importance.
The Hudson was an important industrial river up to the 1970s when factories along the river began to shut down. Chemical pollutants from the factories destroyed the ecological integrity of the Hudson River and the river was deemed dead. The turning point in the ecological health of the river was the Storm King case. Hudson River residents sued to prevent the construction of a hydropower facility on Storm King Mountain that would have greatly damaged the scenic views along this stretch of the river. As a result of this case, organizations were created such as Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper, and Clearwater.  In addition, a coalition was formed from these organizations. Governor Pataki adopted an Action Plan for the Hudson River in 2001, which allowed for “a real plan with real money.”
                The Hudson River Estuary program has seen dramatic positive results in environmental conditions by building understanding between the communities along the estuary. The program has many goals, including:  restoring the sturgeon (a native fish species) population to the river, understanding and controlling invasive species, cleaning up pollution, and restoring scenic vistas.
Ms. Dunwell serves as a Special assistant to the commissioner for the Hudson River Valley at NYS Department of Environmental Conservation where she directs the implementation of the Hudson River Estuary Plan. She is also author of The Hudson River Highlands, an award-winning book on the region's natural and cultural history.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Esnard Speaks twice: Disaster Planning and Environmental Justice

By Tina Notas and Cheng-Yi Pu

            Dr. Ann-Margaret Esnard, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning and Director, GEDDes Computer Lab, Cornell University, presented her research on The Nexus of Disaster Planning, Geospatial Technologies and Local Land Use Planning Strategies on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 as part of the SUNY-ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series. The seminar was sponsored by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Foresty, and its Graduate Student Association, Women’s Caucus, Council of Geospatial Management and Analysis (CGMA), and Diversity-Council/Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Dr. Esnard discussed the issues of zoning and controlling population densities when considering land planning, and asked the audience to consider whether an area being developed is concentrated in a hazardous area or one that is vulnerable to natural disaster. She stressed the importance of creating dialogue with the people affected by the plan, and establishing decision support systems or alternative public policies at the watershed level. She also explained that it is important to understand the weight vacant land holds. A land planner needs to consider if vacant land is currently zoned as open space and whether there is potential for development.  For further inquiry into land use planning, Esnard recommended the books Disasters by Design by Dennis S. Mileti (Director of Natural Disasters Center in Boulder, Colorado); Cooperating with Nature by Raymond Burby; and Disaster Resistance by Donald Geis. Esnard stated that the NYS GIS Clearinghouse is a good source of data for land planners.
            Esnard also presented her experience with Environmental Justice in Real and Virtual Communities on Wednesday, March 23. She stressed that, as a GIS user, one cannot be in front of the computer all the time, but instead needs to learn to receive and use feedback constructively from the community the planning affects. When reflecting on GIS in this way, the user ensures the community’s quality of life. On the other hand, if GIS users stay behind the computer screen, they create assumptions that influence policy in the mapping program being used.
Esnard discussed her work with the Community University Consortium for Regional Environmental Justice that includes New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, the Iron Bound Community Corporation (Newark, New Jersey), and West Harlem Environmental Action. According to Esnard, land planning needs to be democratic, and Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) need to shape appropriate planning data. Land planners need to ask the community how useful the data being collected is. Another crucial point made by Esnard was that GIS planners need to make sure that maps are easily understood by the audience. Esnard and her students accomplished just that by helping the Ironbound community in Newark, New Jersey set up a map of their community on the Internet. In this way, the GIS users handed off the project to be continued by the community. Environmental Justice websites that should be taken into consideration are www.epa.gov/enviro/ej and the Toxic Release Inventory found at www.epa.gov/tri.
Dr. Esnard received her B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from University of the West Indies, and her M.S. in Agronomy and Soils in University of Puerto Rico. She got her Ph.D. in Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Esnard’s most recent projects have focused on hazard mitigation planning, and decision tools for post-disaster planning. She directed the natural hazards and vulnerability-mapping project for eleven counties in New York State and for the Tompkins County Chapter of the American Red Cross. She is the co-author of the Hypothetical City workbook and has written on other topics that include quality of life and holistic disaster recovery, spatial analysis of New York metropolitan urban expansion, vulnerability assessments of coastal and flood hazards, public participation GIS, environmental justice, GIS education, and ethics.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Domestic Violence and a Woman's Self-worth

After a round of self-esteem exercises on our own, Vera House, Inc. co-exective director Randi Bregman joined the Baobab Society and Women's Caucus to answer questions about recognizing domestic abuse, and helping our friends and families find the sense of worth and safety they deserve.  People stay in abusive relationships for lots of reasons, including fear of the unknown and some comfort with the familiar (the devil you know....).  Often, they "want the relationship to continue, but the abuse to end." The best thing that we can do for those we know are at risk:  be good supportive listeners and keep at it.   Model a concerned relationship. It's a big decision about whether or not to involve authorities--you might fear reprisal, or fear that this act might offend the person you are trying to protect. "Do not put yourself at risk by trying to intervene directly."  Direct them to local resources:  locally, Vera House and the Rape Crisis center have recently merged (Vera House, Inc) to provide comprehensive assistance, 24/7. Sadly, 70% of the clients of the Rape Crisis Center are children.
When are children at risk?  It used to be that they were only considered to be in harm's way when abuse was directed at them.  The current thinking has evolved, however, to recognize that it isn't good for their emotional and long-term well being to repeatedly witness such acts.  Teachers and medical professionals are mandatory reporters if they suspect a child is in any danger.
We also asked about the sensitivity of police when someone has been raped, should the initial response be to call the police?  No--first go to the hospital to 1. tend to  physical injuries 2. collect evidence and 3. talk to an advocate who can advise and notify authorities if victim chooses to do so.