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History of DEC- 1990s

In DEC's third decade, emphasis begins to shift from large-scale programs and efforts to education and programs developed for small-scale operations and the average citizen. In addition, expanding environmental awareness begins to emphasize prevention of pollution, rather than just cleanup. New ways of using technology, and new ways of looking at the relationship between habitat and land, and the animals and plants that use them, enable DEC to continue to build on its tradition of excellence in natural resource programs. Milestones include:


  • New York City signs an agreement with the state to clean up, improve operations, and submit an application to operate Fresh Kills Landfill; at this time, the largest landfill in the country.
  • EPA develops and implements new Clean Air Act amendments under which states must, for the first time, demonstrate continuing progress toward meeting national health-based air quality standards for harmful pollutants such as ozone and carbon monoxide.
  • New York State adopts the Hazardous Packaging Law, setting specific requirements and restrictions on the use of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium in packaging. The law is designed to reduce the toxicity of packaging, which comprises up to one-third of all solid waste, so more post-consumer materials can be recycled without health and safety concerns.


  • Significant amendments to the Mined Land Reclamation Law are enacted to reduce litigation. The amendments also establish annual regulatory fees and encourage more effective reclamation.
  • The use of lead shot is prohibited for waterfowl hunting in New York State.
  • DEC estimates the coyote population in New York State at 18,000.
  • Governor Mario Cuomo issues an executive order directing all state agencies to reduce the amount of solid waste they generate, to recycle recoverable material from solid waste, and to buy recycled products as much as possible.


  • The first NYS Open Space Plan is signed, forming the blueprint for acquisition of unique and environmentally sensitive lands for protection.
  • New York City signs an agreement with the state to design and build Combined Sewer Overflow abatement facilities.
  • New York State adopts California's stringent vehicle emissions standards. In addition, federal Clean Air Act Amendments require DEC to bring air quality for the entire state up to EPA standards, and to control urban smog, acid rain, toxics and stack emission pollution.
  • DEC, in a cooperative effort with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Friends of the Greenway, opens the 90-mile Genesee Greenway along the abandoned Genesee Valley Canal.
  • To protect seashore recreation, ocean life, and the fishing industry, EPA bans dumping of sewage sludge into oceans and coastal waters.


  • The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is created. EPF generates millions of dollars in support of state and local programs to preserve open spaces, farmland, coastlines and municipal parks. Funds are also provided for closing landfills and improving recycling programs.
  • Zebra mussels are discovered in Lake Champlain and DEC releases a comprehensive aquatic invasive species management plan the same year.
  • DEC and the Lake George Park Commission reach an agreement on oversight of Lake George water levels.
  • DEC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Adirondack Council sue EPA over an amendment that would weaken the Clean Air Act.


  • Active landfills in New York State drop from more than 500 in 1984 to about 50.
  • DEC presents its first annual Governor's Pollution Prevention Awards.
  • New York becomes one of 14 states to hold a "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" workshop, sponsored by DEC and other organizations, to teach women skills relating to fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities.
  • DEC approves a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for cleanup of Long Island Sound. The State of Connecticut and EPA adopt the plan shortly afterwards.
  • EPA removes the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List.
  • New York reaches agreement with Occidental Chemical Corp. to settle Love Canal litigation, including payment by Occidental of $120 million in cleanup costs and restoration of the Lake Ontario fishery, ranking it as one of the largest natural resource damages settlements in the nation at that time.


  • Special migratory bird commemoratives are issued to mark the 100th anniversary of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, which began as the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission in 1895.
  • The New York River Otter Project begins. Over the five years of the project, 270 North American river otters will be released in Central and Western New York, where they had been absent for more than 100 years due to loss of habitat, water pollution, and unregulated hunting and trapping.
  • Governor Pataki sets a goal of preserving one million acres of environmentally significant land throughout the state.
  • Two-thirds of U.S. metropolitan areas with unhealthy air in 1990 now meet air quality standards, making the air safer to breathe for 50 million Americans in major cities.
  • DEC forest rangers, Division of Lands and Forests personnel and ECOs respond to the major Long Island Central Pine Barrens wildfire called the Sunrise Fire because it burned on both sides of the Sunrise Highway. No lives were lost and the fire was successfully controlled after burning more than 3,000 acres.
  • A series of severe thunderstorms blow down thousands of trees in and around the Five Ponds Wilderness area in the Adirondacks. DEC decides not to allow timber salvage over concern about the additional damage salvage operations would cause. The incident becomes known as the Blowdown of 1995.
  • Invasive zebra mussels are discovered in Lake George.
  • DEC revises its forest preserve access policy to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
  • For the first time, DEC limits the fishing season for winter flounder in New York State's marine waters to prevent overfishing.


  • New York State voters approve the $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act for various environmental projects including land acquisition, clean water and air, dam safety and flood control projects, historic preservation and brownfields redevelopment.
  • Poisonous invasive plant, giant hogweed, is discovered growing near Buffalo.
  • The state enacts the Pesticide Reporting Law requiring that commercial businesses licensed to apply these potentially hazardous substances report which ones they are using and post signs warning that pesticides have been applied. The new law is among the first of its kind in the nation.


  • DEC signs a landmark agreement with New York City which forms the basis for protecting the watershed the city relies on for clean water.
  • The Mined Land Reclamation Award Program is created to recognize reclamation efforts above and beyond regulatory requirements.
  • The New York State Bird Conservation Area (BCA) Program is created to safeguard and enhance bird populations and their habitats on state lands and waters.


  • DEC establishes the Pollution Prevention Unit to plan, monitor, manage, coordinate and encourage efforts by business and industry to prevent pollution at its source.
  • Lyme disease pathogen is found to be endemic in the southern counties of the Adirondacks.


  • A special SPDES permit category is created for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to ensure proper management of agricultural waste from large livestock facilities.
  • The Office of Environmental Justice is established to address environmental concerns in underserved areas and ensure equality in community participation in the state's environmental permitting process.
  • High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan is approved after 21 years of study.
  • Governor Pataki directs DEC to mandate that utilities cut sulfur- and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 50 percent. These two chemical compounds are major components of acid rain, smog and ozone.
  • New York's Natural Heritage Program develops a list of the state's rare plants.
  • Forty-two mating pairs of endangered Peregrine falcons are reported to be nesting in New York State.

Other Milestones of the 1990s

  • DEC acquires or protects more than 100,000 acres of land from 1990 to 1998, including the addition of 15,000 acres to the Adirondack Park from the wealthy Whitney family's estate.
  • The Division of Lands and Forests develops a Geographic Information System (GIS) as a powerful planning and data-gathering tool.
  • DEC works with citizen task forces to set deer population objectives for deer management units.
  • DEC establishes the Natural Resources Damages Unit to recover damages caused by polluters and invest in natural resource restoration projects.
  • New York takes over stormwater discharge control programs from EPA. With the cleanup of big sources of water pollution by sewage treatment plants, many remaining water quality problems can be attributed to more widespread discharges.
  • DEC starts the Voluntary Cleanup Program to encourage private parties to voluntarily clean up hazardous waste sites in which they were involved.

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