The Long Island Pine Barrens Society’s mission to combat overdevelopment and preserve 100,000 acres of land in Suffolk County began in 1989 and was accomplished in 2019. But the organization is not stopping there.
While 108,000 acres preserved is a mighty accomplishment, the team at the Pine Barrens Society has begun this year brainstorming actions to preserve the remaining 3,800 acres.
“Long Island had been selectively paved over from west to east from the Queens-Nassau border all the way out to western Suffolk,” Executive Director Richard Amper says. “Rather than see the rest of Long Island paved over, we really built an oasis of 100,000-plus acres that will be preserved for generations to come.”
Bob McGrath, John Cryan, and John Turner, high school and college students at the time, started the Pine Barrens Society in 1977, began its preservation efforts in ‘89, and saw the first piece of land preserved in ‘93. The founders are still involved in the work today; McGrath serves as Pine Barrens Society’s vice president.
Over the years, the organization has won 10 out of 12 lawsuits to stop developers from building in the Pine Barrens, and has educated and campaigned for state, county, and local officials to preserve the large diverse ecosystem.
“It didn’t get done overnight. It took time to win in court and win in the court of public opinion,” Amper says. “The Pine Barrens Society and the Long Island public, who were just enormously supportive, obtained a remarkable achievement worth literally billions of dollars.”
The Pine Barrens is home to thousands of plant and animal species, as well as aquifers that hold the cleanest drinking water on Long Island. In addition to its preservation efforts, the Pine Barrens Society hosts educational programs and tours of the area’s preserves spanning from Upper Yaphank Lake in the west to Shinnecock East County Park in the east.
“It’s a remarkable thing, a beautiful place with beautiful plants and animal species,” Amper says. “There’s not a week that goes by that there are no tours of specific sites, especially kids going with their parents.”
To learn more about the Pine Barrens Society and Pine Barrens nature preserves, visit pinebarrens.org.