Esty kicks off 'Commissioner in Your Corner' series
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hampton - posted Mon., Mar. 28, 2011
Dan Esty has hit the ground running as the new commissioner of the DEP – or make that the DEEP. Esty was appointed earlier this month by Gov. Dannel Malloy to the agency, which he will be working to transform into the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “a new agency that would add energy issues to the DEP’s traditional responsibilities,” according to the Connecticut state government website.
On March 25, Esty traveled to the towns of Eastford and Hampton to kick off his “Commissioner in Your Corner” series. “This is the first of a promised monthly program,” said Esty, standing on the steps of the education building at Goodwin Forest in Hampton. “The idea is to bring a high profile to some of the parks and forests the state has.”
With 32 state forests and 107 parks, Connecticut has a wealth of natural resources. “Almost everybody has one in their town, or if not in the next town,” said Esty. “Some people aren’t even aware that they are there.” One of the goals of Commissioner in Your Corner is to draw attention to these resources and “get more citizens active and outdoors,” said Esty.
Another goal is to allow Esty to touch base with Connecticut’s residents - a goal he honored through a question-and-answer session at Goodwin. Among the concerns raised by the crowd was the Connecticut recycling rate. With an estimated 30 percent recycling rate, Connecticut falls below the national average. One resident questioned the current goal of increasing this rate to 58 percent by 2024. “I’m with you that we need to do better than pushing this out another decade-plus,” said Esty, suggesting that economic incentives might serve to boost the rate of compliance. “We’ve got to change people’s mindsets,” he said.
With a number of DEP employees in attendance, recent talks about state consolidations and cutbacks were another area of concern. Esty suggested that Malloy’s budget treated the DEP fairly well in comparison to other state agencies. “Are we going to get away scot-free?” he asked. “I doubt it.” But with the agency already taking hits under previous budgets, “I don’t think we’re at the top of the governor’s hit list,” said Esty.
The question-and-answer session was followed by a short tour of some areas of Goodwin Forest. With 2,000 acres, three large ponds, 14 miles of trails and numerous native plant wildlife gardens, Goodwin offers year-round opportunities for recreation. Among the duties of DEP staff is maintaining a healthy ecosystem at Goodwin and other state forests. This includes planned cutting of older trees. “A mixed-age-class ecosystem is more resilient to catastrophic events of weather, disease and pests,” explained Dick Raymond, service forester for eastern Connecticut.
“During the hurricane of 1930, the state lost a major part of its forest,” added Jim Parda, state forest management program supervisor. With a mix of both younger and older trees, a forest is less likely to be completely wiped out by a single event. A mixed-age ecosystem also provides habitat for a larger number of species. Summer birds - such as vireos, tanagers and some warblers - require a wide variety of ecosystems for breeding and feeding. “Some occupy the upper canopy, some the younger forest, some the brush,” said Raymond.
With spring officially here, Goodwin is gearing up for its seasonal programs. Ever wonder how critters and plants make it through the winter? Find out on April 16 from 10 a.m.to noon at “Spring Awakening,” a program facilitated at Goodwin by seasonal naturalist Juan Sanchez. “Wood frogs can freeze completely solid during the winter,” said Sanchez. Despite the cold temperatures and patches of snow still on the ground, “Peepers, wood frogs and spotted salamanders are already out breeding right now,” said Sanchez.
According to Assistant Director of State Parks and Public Outreach Diane Joy, the DEP is currently working on scheduling seasonal programming at Goodwin and other state properties. Activities will be listed on the website www.ct.gov/dep.