By: Kacie Gehl, ESF Graduate Student
Ms. Patricia Riexinger, Director of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, presented Freshwater Wetlands: Conservation Policy in New York State Tuesday, April 8, 2008. Ms. Riexinger’s presentation was sponsored by the Environmental Studies Randolph G. Pack Environmental Institute and the ESF Women’s Caucus, and was the third presentation this spring in ESF’s Women in Environmental and Scientific Seminar Series.
Ms. Riexinger began by defining herself as a “good bureaucrat”. She elaborated that she began her career with the DEC doing field work which she one day decided wasn’t actually protecting the habitat of the species she cared for in a direct enough way. She decided that in order to feel as though she was really making a difference, she would have to get involved with the politics and decision-making processes. She conveyed that science alone will not manage habitat. Although she feels DEC is making a big difference, she added the disclaimer that DEC can only do the “legal thing” not always what they feel is the “right thing.” This idea was further discussed with examples of federal court cases and county- level disagreements.
Ms. Riexinger described wetlands and the painstaking process of mapping wetlands with differing views between agencies on the exact definition of wetland delineation. She reminded the audience that only wetlands 12.4 acres or larger in size are protected which only protects about 75-80% of wetlands by acreage. This specification may exclude wetlands that are of smaller acreage, but which are of unusual local importance. She emphasized that it is still very important to protect smaller wetlands but a compromise had to be made between the political and scientific levels of the argument.
Ms. Riexinger asked the question, “What will climate change mean for managing natural resources in New York State?” She encouraged the audience to think “big and bold” with their ideas for conservation and management because you have to think big to make change. One change that the DEC is making currently is to amend their existing freshwater wetland maps to be defined on a watershed basis rather than along political boundaries. This will stimulate the community to think about freshwater as watershed systems and will lead to a greater understanding of the science behind the hydrologic processes involved in watershed management.
Ms. Riexinger received her B.S. from Cornell University in Wildlife Biology and her M. S. degree from the University of Albany in Biodiversity Conservation and Policy. Along with her Director’s position, Ms. Riexinger is also an outdoorsperson who enjoys birding, snorkeling and traveling. She is on her town Conservation Board and leads a Girl Scout troop.