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Make Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge

A new report, prepared by advocates to protect Plum Island in its natural state after the animal disease research center there is closed, makes a compelling case to permanently designate it as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Unique is an overused word, but in the case of Plum Island, it fits.

Since 1954, the 840-acre island that lies 8 miles from the region’s shoreline has been the home of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. It has the goal of preventing and, when necessary, quickly recognizing accidental or intentional outbreaks that could decimate animal stocks.

With abundant precaution given the nature of the research on the island, no cloven-hooved mammals — meaning primarily deer — were allowed on the island. It was also largely closed to visitors, except for the employees and visiting scientists.

As a result, numerous species of wildlife found the right conditions for habitat safety and rare plants reappeared and flourished.

“Nature found refuge,” succinctly states the report “Envision Plum Island.”

“Eighty percent of Plum Island has become a de facto wildlife sanctuary,” it states.

It should soon become an official one.

According to the report, 227 species of bird have been seen on the island. About 280 species of plants grow there, including two dozen considered endangered, threatened or rare. Rare Needham’s Skimmer, Rambur’s Forktail and Golden-Winged Skimmer dragonflies share the island with 270 other insect species so far inventoried.

Harbor seals find safe rest ashore the island and its marine habitat features rare sea turtles. Its adjacent marine environment remains relatively unexplored, the report authors found.

“Plum Island should be viewed in the context not only of its nearby islands, as perhaps the biological linchpin of the archipelago, but also in the context of the clean, oxygenated waters from which it emerges,” the report states.

The future of the island, part of the state of New York, is in question because the disease research center will be closing, that activity to be undertaken by a new high-security facility in Manhattan, Kansas, in 2023.

Laws passed by Congress during the first term of the Obama administration mandate the sale of the island to the highest bidder. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Granted, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition that prepared the report — made up of environmental and conservation organizations that have banded together to oppose the planned sale — is not remotely impartial. Yet its documentation of the island’s status is well grounded and its logic unassailable.

Rather than turning over this gem to a high bidder, it calls for allowing the public to safely take in its beauty, with visits monitored and limited by ticket sales for the ferry landing that now serves the research center. Some of the research center could be repurposed for conservation work and the analysis of scientists documenting its treasures.

Bravo to Southold, N.Y., which the island remains part of even though it has had no access for a century. In 2014, Southold officials passed zoning regulations to restrict uses to conservation and research, a move intended to prevent the island from being transformed into a resort playland. That has certainly lowered its sale value. Good.

In the context of how the federal government spends and wastes money, the estimated $17.5 million that would be gained from a sale is hardly worth the loss of control in protecting Plum Island’s natural resources. The figure represents an appraisal conducted for the report.

We strongly urge Second District Congressman Joe Courtney and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to join with their counterparts in New York to continue pushing legislation to repeal the planned sale. The House has passed several bills to do just that, only to see them stall in the Senate.

We trust most local citizens agree the marketing and sale of Plum Island is a bad idea. We urge them to unite their voices in calling for repeal.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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