East River’s South Brother Island Protected (NYC)

The Bronx, NY, 11/20/2007: Today, Congressman José E. Serrano and The Trust for Public Land signed over the deed for South Brother Island to the New York City Parks Department, preserving the untouched island– one of New York’s last wild places– for generations to come.

South Brother Island is an uninhabited island in the East River which has been in private hands since the earliest days of European settlement in the New World. Previous owners never developed the property for commercial uses and it has consequently emerged as a haven for shore birds and other wildlife. The seven-acre island is a key nesting colony for several types of these birds, including the great egret, double-crested cormorant, snowy egret, and black-crowned night heron.

Laying half a mile off the shoreline of the Bronx, South Brother Island is often overshadowed by its larger twin, North Brother Island, which was once home to Riverside Hospital, a quarantine facility for TB and typhoid cases from the 1880’s to the early years of the Second World War. But South Brother Island’s history is no less compelling. It was owned for many years by Colonel Jacob Ruppert, a beer baron and President of the New York Yankees who in 1920 famously lured Babe Ruth away from the Boston Red Sox for the then unheard of sum of $125,000. As legend has it, Ruth spent days off on Ruppert’s island, swatting balls into the East River.

The Parks Department intends to keep the isolated island protected, in order to study the wildlife and to develop a plan to best preserve and use the island.

“Today is a historic day for the Bronx, for New York City, and for conservation,” said Congressman Serrano, who secured multiple federal grants to underwrite the $2 million cost of acquisition. “This urban treasure will be now be preserved as a resource for our children and grandchildren. I commend The Point which first brought this island to my attention, the Wildlife Conservation Society which helped manage a portion of the grant funds used to purchase the property, and The Trust for Public Land which negotiated the purchase and transfer of the island. Their dedication to the goal of safeguarding this Bronx jewel is truly outstanding. I look forward in particular to learning more about the environmental riches of the island as more scientific studies are completed. This is a great day for the Bronx and New York’s urban ecology.”

“Home to a large nesting colony of herons and egrets, South Brother Island is one of the most important natural areas in the Bronx,” said Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “Thanks to Congressman Jos? E. Serrano for securing NOAA funds and The Trust for Public Land for working on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Society and The Point Community Group to facilitate the purchase and transfer the property to the New York City Parks Department, South Brother Island is joining its “twin,” North Brother Island, in creating a family of wildlife refuges in and around the South Bronx and adding to the City’s portfolio of nearly 29,000 acres of public parkland. We look forward to caring for and managing this unique natural preserve.”

“We are extremely grateful for Congressman Serrano’s leadership in securing critical federal funding to protect South Brother Island and for his efforts to better the natural environment of the Bronx and broader East River ecosystem,” said Trust for Public Land regional director Rose Harvey. “Having high quality wildlife habitat in the South Bronx is not only important for the community, but also for the native wildlife found there. The protection of this natural habitat so close to the urban landscape of the South Bronx is truly remarkable.”

From his seat on the appropriations committee, Congressman Serrano helped to fund the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP), which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and has thus far funded $198 million for 131 coastal conservation projects in 26 of the nation’s 35 coastal states. South Brother Island was purchased with CELCP funds secured by Congressman Serrano for the Wildlife Conservation Society and The Point Community Development Corporation in 2002.

“NOAA has been pleased to support the implementation of the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program since its creation by Congress in 2002,” said David Kennedy, Director of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. To date, funding support from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) has helped to preserve more than 32,000 coastal acres. In addition, $15 million was included for the CELCP in the fiscal year 2008 budget request for NOAA. “The CELCP’s objective–to help permanently conserve lands in coastal and estuarine areas with significant ecological, conservation, historic, aesthetic, or recreation values–will clearly be met by the protection of South Brother Island. Through the efforts of all the project partners, the property will be preserved for the benefit of New York’s coastal zone and enjoyed by present and future generations.”

“Participants in our on-water program first set foot on South Brother Island in the summer of 1997,” said Maria Torres, President of The Point Community Development Corporation. “We knew then that South Brother was an unmatched natural resource and when we brought this project to Congressman Serrano’s attention, he understood immediately the significance of preserving one the very last wild places in New York. That it happens to be in the South Bronx, in the middle of busy shipping lanes, makes it even more miraculous. We are grateful for his vision and his support of this and many other projects along the South Bronx waterfront over his many years in public life.”

“The Wildlife Conservation Society is delighted to be part of this historic transfer of South Brother Island, one of New York City’s last wild places,” said John Calvelli, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Through our work in the nearby Bronx River – as well as at our 600 field conservation projects around the world – we have seen first hand the value of parkland and protected areas for wildlife, whether it’s lions on the Serengeti, bison in Yellowstone National Park, and now – today – harbor herons and other colonial nesting birds on South Brother, right here in New York City.”

“South Brother Island is currently the largest wading bird colony in the New York Harbor, and has been a top priority for acquisition for nearly 20 years,” said Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of the New York City Audubon Society. “The island provides a safe place in the middle of one of the world’s busiest harbors for over 1,000 heron, egret, cormorant and gull families to raise their young. NYC Audubon is grateful to Congressman Serrano and The Trust for Public Land for their efforts to protect this precious and extraordinary natural place.”

“South Brother Island is a great example of the breadth of Bronx history,” said Anthony Greene, Education Director of the Bronx County Historical Society. “First named Gesellen or Brethren Island by the Dutch in the 1640s, the island has seen a variety of owners and once served as the summer retreat of New York Yankee owner and beer magnate, Colonel Jacob Ruppert. Reopening the island to the public marks a great moment in Bronx history and gives us access to yet another piece of our collective past.”