INTERVIEW: FINS SUPERINTENDENT ALEXCY ROMERO
By Laura Schmidt
PHOTO BY LAUREN CHENAULT.
Alexcy Romeroís appointment as superintendent of Fire Island National
Seashore (FINS) was announced in August 2018, and he took office the following
October. He is a native New Yorker with a bachelorís degree in environmental
science from the State University of New York at Old Westbury. With a three
decade career in the National Park Service, his prior appointment was as
superintendent of George Washington Memorial Parkway in the Washington, D.C.
metropolitan area. While at the Fire Island helm for less than a year, Romero
has already made some controversial decisions during his tenure, including the
culling of the white-tailed deer population within Fire Island National
Seashore jurisdiction at William Floyd Estate last March; plans are presently
underway to expand this operation. Romero intends to continue on Fire Island
proper at least through the year 2020.
Fire Island News (FIN): What are some achievements that youíve
been proud of this summer thus far as superintendent?
Alexcy Romero (AR): Oh, thatís a very good
question. I would say itís reaching out to the communities through their
scheduled Town Hall meetings. I had one last Saturday, July 27. [I] have
another one scheduled [August] 10, the other one scheduled [August] 24, just
focusing on the vulnerability study, FIMI, FIMP, and driving, so actively
engaging the communities. Working with the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation
Society on replacement of the steps. And, again, I think this summer season has
been focused on outreach and civic engagement. Working with non-profit groups
regarding the Carrington tract and seeing how we could work together to utilize
the facilities that fulfill the National Park Service mission. So thereís a
couple things in the works.
FIN: Regarding one of the Town Hall meetings held in July, you
mentioned the addition of driving restrictions on the island. Is there anything
new to report regarding this?
AR: Weíre still using the Blue Book as our regulations. Thereís
some changes that we can make under the current Blue Book but what the Town
Hall meetings are focusing on is fact-finding, testing the assumptions. Iíve
heard a lot of concerns from the interactions that Iíve had with communities
regarding driving. So [we ask] very simple questions that weíre just looking
for responses from the community just to make sure that weíre on the right
track. To make sure that we are making informed decisions based on community
concerns or issues. So thereís no changes, just fact-finding
FIN: On the same subject of island transportation, since some
Kismet and Saltaire community leaders expressed concerns with the new Fire
Island Pedicab service Ė they were concerned with it blocking emergency
vehicles or other cars Ė have there been any conversations discussing this
AR: Well, Iíll be honest with you, there is both, people
expressing concern and there are people that are actually applauding this new
experience to access Fire Island. So, there are people that are very happy with
having two Ė weíre talking about two Ė pedicabs, leaving from Field 5 to the
old fire house, that are transporting probably four people every hour compared
to the hundreds of people that are walking from Field 5 to Kismet. So weíre
talking a small fraction of people that are being transported. Itís not what
you see in New York City with a whole bunch of pedicabs, weíre talking about
two pedicabs transporting four people probably every hour. So itís not a huge
influx of people that are being transported. And the other thing I wanted to
point out is that the permit that was issued, was issued through the state at
Field 5, and they were just coming through our property.
FIN: Regarding the Deer Management Environmental Impact Statement
that was entered in the Federal Register at the end of 2015, now that itís been
fully implemented this year, what can be expected this upcoming fall with this
AR: Right now, we are still figuring out Phase Two. One thing
has been identified: we have to work with our partner agency, with the
[National] Park Service, and we are not Ė we have not engaged with them because
of staffing issues that theyíre trying to resolve now. So we donít have a plan,
a strategy or a timeline until theyíre able to backfill behind some positions
in order to begin the planning process. So thereís nothing set just yet.
FIN: Will Phase Two still involve the removal of deer?
AR: Yes, it would involve the culling of deer. Yes.
FIN: Ok. Many Fire Islanders as well as some animal rights groups
have not been pleased with the way by which the deer culling has been
conducted. Would you and FINS consider non-lethal methods in the future to
appease these groups?
AR: In the future, I guess, yes, we will explore all options.
We, many years ago, used a contraception method for up to 10 years as a study,
and right now itís not considered a study unless itís 10 years or more so we
were advised to stop using this as a study. What we will look into in the
future is other methods. Of course, they have to be state-approved. Right now,
PZP [an immunocontraceptive] is not state-approved, and weíre just following
the standards of the state in order for us to begin implementing contraception
in the future. But, yes, we will explore other options in the future to
maintain deer population. And the other thing I wanted to mention, the study
for contraception has shown in areas to be effective and other areas not to be
effective. And thereís a number of things that we can provide in the future to
FIN: Did you explore other options such as deer repellents,
deer-resistant plants, or visual or auditory deterrents?
AR: I canít speak to that right now. I would have to talk to my
Chief of Resource Management regarding that, but I understand that the study
was comprehensive in exploring all options. But I canít confirm that.
FIN: Would you be able to say some of the reasons non-lethal options
were denied during the planning process?
AR: Again, Iím going to have to confirm that with my Chief of
Resources and get back to you.
FIN: Regarding the Seashoreís claim that deer are ruining growth
in the Sunken Forest, were you at all concerned about the agreement made when
Wildlife Preserves deeded Sunken Forest to FINS in 1966, which stated that
these lands must be maintained in their natural state and act as a sanctuary
for the wildlife that exist within it? Was this a concern that was brought up
when creating the deer management plan?
AR: Thatís a legal matter right now that I canít speak to until
FIN: At what point will the deer culling come to an end? Is there
a goal population number to be reached and do you think it will still be
ongoing in 2020?
AR: Deer management will continue in 2020, and beyond, as
necessary. Deer densities of 20 to 25 deer per square mile have been shown to
allow for a healthier, more diverse forest habitat, which can support a healthy
deer herd as well as other native wildlife. This initial deer density goal will
be maintained until vegetation is given ample time to recover from over-browsing.
Information collected through deer and vegetation monitoring will guide future
management actions. The deer density goal can be adjusted if and when
vegetation goals are reached.
FIN: What are some things that are at the top of your list to
accomplish by the end of 2019?
AR: I would say to continue working with the Army Corps of
Engineers in finalizing the FIMP and FIMI beach nourishment process,
coordinating those efforts by issuing the proper permits to complete FIMI, and
in parallel tracks completing the necessary steps for the Fire Island to
Montauk Point plan with the Army Corps to have the final draft signed off and
approved by the Secretary of Army and Interior in Washington, D.C.
Remaining scheduled NPS Town Hall meetings take place at Saltaire
Village Hall on Saturday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m.-noon; and at Woodhull
Elementary School, Surf Road, Corneille Estates, on Thursday, Sept. 12, from