Connecticut Audbon Society


The Fate of Plum Island

Plum Island. Photo by Jillian Liner/Audubon New York

Connecticut residents interested in the conservation of the greater Long Island Sound area will want to keep an eye on plans by the federal government to sell Plum Island.

The island is 840 acres in size, is part of Suffolk County, N.Y., and lies off the tip of Orient Point at the eastern end of the Sound. It has long been the home of an animal disease research station run by the U.S. government. For several years government officials have been working on a plan to move the research facility and sell the island, although neither is imminent – they hope to move the facility in 2019. Last week the feds released a draft environmental impact statement recommending a sale.

The research facility itself covers only about 40 acres, which means Plum Island contains about 800 acres of coastal habitat – dunes, beach, forest, grassland, wetlands, shrub-scrub habitat – some of it apparently relatively undisturbed, some of it showing the effects of decades of use, as evidenced by invasive plants such as poison ivy, multiflora rose, bittersweet, etc.

Plum Island and nearby Great Gull and Little Gull islands are included among 33 sites in the Long Island Sound Stewardship program because of their ecological value.

View Plum Island in a larger map

Roseate Terns (federally endangered) and Piping Plovers (federally threatened) both nest on Plum Island, as do Willow Flycatchers, Osprey, Orchard Oriole, Northern Harrier, American Oystercatcher, and Barn, Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

You can download a copy of the DEIS here. The study’s bird data come from the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, which is here. You can read a good backgrounder on, here.

Save the Sound sent out an alert last week and said the following:

“The DEIS examines four potential uses for the island — reusing the existing buildings for a new purpose, low-density residential, high-density residential, and conservation/preservation — but does not make a recommendation about which use is best. Instead, they are punting, foisting responsibility onto New York state and local agencies to establish conservation restrictions.

“… The [U.S. General Services Administration] has the power, under law, to establish the conditions of a public sale — they could design the sale to ensure that habitats and public access are protected. The approach they took instead — sell to the highest bidder and hope it works out — risks the loss of a rare and valuable resource. Looking around at the overdevelopment of our shoreline, it’s easy to see that such a scheme offers very little protection to this crown jewel.”

Although Plum Island is in New York, our first reaction is that a shared resource such as Long Island Sound requires us to consider looking at issues beyond our state border. We’ll be taking a close look at the DEIS over the coming weeks. – Tom Andersen, director of communications and community outreach






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