Stopping the Privatization of a Federal Island

Photo of a piping plover

Credit: Katherine Wittemore/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

New York’s 840 acre Plum Island has been in federal ownership since 1901, but under a law passed during the Bush Administration, the government is considering selling the land to the highest bidder.  Parts of the island currently serve as a Department of Homeland Security animal disease research facility while 90 percent of the island exists as a de facto nature reserve for wildlife including seals, osprey and threatened piping plover sand roseate terns.  The island is part of a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area and we hope to see all or most of the island made into a National Wildlife Refuge.

There are two outcomes that will maintain the wildlife value of the island for the public: keeping the search facility in place, or if is moved, transferring the land to the Department of Interior as opposed to a private buyer.

New York Congressman Tim Bishop has been trying to stop the move which would close the island’s research facility and replace it with a new $900 million facility in Kansas.  It’s not clear that an island in the middle of Long Island Sound is the best place to research animal diseases, but it’s certainly a better place that putting the research in the heart of ‘cow country.’  The National Academy of Sciences estimates that if the new facility is constructed in Kansas, there is a 70 percent chance that foot-and-mouth disease would be accidentally released outside the facility during its 50 years of operation, causing a $9-$50 billion impact on the U.S. beef industry.

If the animal disease research facility is moved, a strong coalition of groups – including Defenders of Wildlife – is working to convince the government to keep the land instead of selling it to a private buyer.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated its interest in making the island into a National Wildlife Refuge.

Sign a petition here if you want to add your name to the growing list of people asking Congress to stop the sale of these precious federal acres of wildlife habitat.

This post was written by:

- who has written 17 posts on dotWild.

Tim Male is Vice President for Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife. Tim directs a number of Defenders’ conservation policy programs, including Habitat and Highways, Conservation Planning, Federal Lands, Oregon Biodiversity Partnership, and Economics.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.