Friday, December 29, 2023

What could happen in state government in 2024


Being able to predict what New York’s lawmakers will do during their legislative sessions and budget workshops is increasingly difficult. So far, the 2020s and all its struggles (Covid, social unrest, learning loss, inflation, supply chains, mass immigration, and more) have really upended what the expectations for government are – by it and the people. It has been somewhat of a mess.


2024 is going to be no different. Here are some of the things we can expect in the year ahead:


Another stab at the housing crisis: Heading into the 2023 session, Governor Kathy Hochul made housing a major goal of hers, shooting for the stars with hopes for 800,000 new units built over the next decade. Nothing happened after a rather aggressive back-and-forth with the legislature that left a bitter taste with all involved in the budget process and the two months of legislating that followed its passage. But, unlike last year, there’s a big motivator for Hochul, the Senate, and Assembly to get things done – and that’s finding someplace to house the tens of thousands of asylum seekers being bussed and flown to New York. Some things we should expect to see are tax breaks for constructing affordable housing, and mandates, resources and funding for cities, towns and villages to increase their housing supply.


Attempts to address the migrant crisis: In the two weeks before Christmas, 7,000 asylum seekers arrived in New York City, taking the total, going back to the spring, to 158,000. It’s going to be a raucous session as the urgency of the crisis forces legislators to buckle down to find answers for employment, benefits, healthcare, education, onboarding and more to address this sudden, significant need and pressure. I used the word “raucous” because, right now, potential solutions being offered are few while finger pointing is being exercised in volume between both parties, the city and the state, and Albany and Washington DC. There’s a lot of salesmanship going on and not much in the way of statesmanship. That needs to change, quickly.


An updated bottle bill: 2023 marked 40 years since the passage of New York’s bottle bill, which put a 5-cent return deposit on bottles and cans. While generally successful (in 2020, the bottle bill helped to recycle 5.5 billion plastic, glass, and aluminum beverage containers), a third of eligible containers in New York still end up in landfills. There was a push by environmentalists to update it for its anniversary, but, oddly, there was little legislative urgency to get it done. This may be the year, especially on the heels of Attorney General Letitia James leveling a lawsuit against PepsiCo for pollution from its bottles. Proposals would double the deposit to 10 cents and place even more beverage containers under the return umbrella (water bottles were the last addition…way back in 2009).


The Extended Producer Responsibility Act: Not only will the bottle bill’s proponents be emboldened by James’ lawsuit, so will lawmakers who have tried to make EPR a reality in recent legislative sessions. Under EPR, producers of plastic and paper/cardboard packaging and the manufacturers who use it would be required -- depending on what variation of the proposed law is passed -- to cut back on its usage in defined regular increments and/or contribute to a fund that would pay for recycling and reuse. Also, a state office would be created to oversee what producers are doing. Similar laws are in place elsewhere, like California, Colorado, and Maine.


Bereavement leave: In 2018, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly (61-1 in the Senate, 111-32 in the Assembly) to add a bereavement leave benefit to the state’s paid leave program. Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill that would have allowed up to 12 weeks of paid leave, at two-thirds salary, for someone who lost a family member. Cuomo was against it because it would have been too burdensome on employees (it would have increased the worker-funded insurance premiums) and employers (12 weeks was considered an exorbitant amount of time). I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to the drawing board and pass a leave package in the 3 to 6 week range in 2024. One has to figure they’ve got to do something like this to keep alive the trend of employment-related laws that have seen, in recent years, higher minimum wages, paid leave, paid sick days, covid leave, sexual harassment training, salary disclosures, lactation protections, and mandatory retirement plans.   


Many more items will be discussed in Albany, everything from further solidifying the path to addressing the state’s obligations under the Climate Act to ironing out a long-term agreement with the Seneca Nation.


2024 is going to be a wild session, for sure.


Fasten your seat belt.




From the 02 January 2024 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun

Exploring the Western NY Wilds: Mountain ash – an important tree for wintering songbirds


The mountain ash is a small tree, reaching 25 feet in height on the most impressive specimens.


What it lacks in stature it makes up for in terms of its beauty and its importance to local wildlife.


As its name implies, the mountain ash (which is not an ash but rather kin of hawthorns and apples)
frequents mountains. Abundant in cooler climes and stony, yet rich soils of Ontario, Quebec, and Maine, we find that New York is at the southern edge of its range. Nonetheless, it can be found in good numbers across the Adirondacks and at some of the higher elevations of Allegany County.

You are more likely to encounter the European species of it in backyards and in the woodlots near them (the latter is where birds contribute to their planting through their droppings). It is an extremely popular ornamental, as many people plant them to accent the appearance of their yard. They are sold at a few nurseries and are also available on the cheap every spring through the annual sapling sales run by the state and various counties. 



They have proven to be popular because of their small size and the showy fruits, found in large clusters, that last from September until March – or when songbirds consume them. The fruits on the American version are an intense red. The Eurasian version – also known as the Rowan tree – has orange fruits.

Those fruits aren’t poisonous, but that doesn’t mean you should make it a point to eat them. They aren’t especially flavorful. They are heavy in tannin, which gives black tea its flavor. Thus, the pulpy berries tend to be too bitter for consumption. Some folks counter that by making jellies and marmalades from the fruits while some adventurous souls make wine out of them.
The most common use is as "dogberry" jam, which mixes these berries with apples and ginger. It's a concoction found throughout the Canadian maritimes.

While most people won’t eat the berries, animals will – and they love them. Grosbeaks, cardinals, waxwings, and other berry-eating birds will browse on them during the winter. Deer will nibble at low-hanging berry clusters while turkeys and grouse will eat any that have fallen. In hard winters, birds are blessed to have access to this high-energy food. Mountain ashes have saved many a robin or bluebird that has spent the coldest months in Western New York.


It should be noted that especially at the tail end of gentle winters (sort of like the one we’re having now) many berries will remain since birds could easily find nutrition elsewhere. Those holdover berries contain an extra kick: If they’ve gone through a bunch of freeze/thaw cycles and linger in the warmth, they will ferment and birds that eat them will get drunk! Drunken birds will fly erratically, miss perching branches, and slowly fly into things. Every so often you’ll catch national news stories of flocks of birds exhibiting this “strange” behavior.  

You should consider mountain ash as an addition to your backyard. I am a big fan of growing trees and shrubs that are natural to the area and/or contribute to the health of local wildlife. This lovely tree certainly fits the bill.


From the 29 December 2023 Wellsville Sun

Friday, December 8, 2023

Exploring the Western NY Wilds: What backyard astronomers can expect in 2024


If you live in Allegany County you’re probably a backyard astronomer of sorts. You might find yourself outdoors on a clear night marveling at the countless stars in the heavens. There’s something innate, something primeval, about the love affair with the nighttime skies. The universe is fascinating, awe-inspiring, and relaxing – after a day of hustle and bustle and going in a hundred different directions, it’s comforting to look skyward, see that vastness and realize that we and our human experiences are but tiny, inconsequential blips in the whole scheme of things.


Far from the inescapable light pollution of big cities and their suburbs that haunt WNY locales like the Buffalo and Rochester metro areas, we’re blessed in Allegany County with incredible dark skies that lend themselves to great viewing of the cosmos.


As a matter of fact, some people even travel here to take in the nighttime sights.


They plan for it, based on the calendar of events for celestial activities.


You should plan accordingly, too. Mark your calendars now, so you’re ready to get the most out of looking skyward.

To help you plan for skywatching in 2024, here’s a look at some of the nighttime sights – and daytime sights -- on tap for the year.


Lunar eclipses


On the night of March 24th/25th there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse. Such eclipses aren’t very dramatic. They occur when the outer shadow of Earth falls upon the moon’s face. It doesn’t create blacked out parts of the moon. Instead, it creates a more subtle shading, so subtle that most people don’t notice the event at all. 


Early in the morning of September 18th there will be a partial lunar eclipse…as in very partial. Most of the event will present itself as a penumbral lunar eclipse. Only a very small part of the moon, 4% of it near the cap, will be made fully dark. 


Northern Lights


The aurora borealis or northern lights are more abundant when the sun’s face is covered with sunspots and it is emitting all sorts of flares and other solar energy. From the mid-2010s and through the pandemic years, the sun wasn’t too eventful as it was at the bottom of the 11-year sunspot cycle -- and that past cycle was a dud to begin with. Solar Cycle 25 is well underway and it has been surprising astronomers with its liveliness in 2022 and 2023.  

The northern lights will become more common for our latitude in 2024 and again in 2025 when the cycle peaks. We aren’t as lucky as northern Canada when it comes to these amazing celestial sights – they see them in abundance and in extraordinary detail -- but that doesn’t mean the sun won’t surprise us on occasion. If I had to guess, Allegany County residents will get to see them well on six occasions in 2024.   


If you want to know when you have a chance, a great tool is the aurora oval (updated every few minutes) on the left side toolbar of the website If the green or red hue takes over or comes close to the US-Canada border on that map, it’s time to get outside and look. You don’t ever want to miss the northern lights. They are incredible.


The best meteor showers


The Persieds meteor shower never ceases to amaze, throwing some really bright meteors out there. 2016 was an outburst year, and I saw nearly 100 shooting stars over an hour and a half period on the peak night. While 2024’s shower won’t reach such numbers, the Perseids is always a good show. Even during lean years, you can see 30 to 60 per hour, some of them being impressive fireballs, the sight of which will be seared in your memory forever.


In 2024, Perseids will peak on the night of August 11th heading into the morning hours of the 12th (and there is very fine viewing 2 days on either side of the peak). Your best bet is after midnight. Look towards the constellation Perseus to see them in their full beauty. Viewing will be excellent in 2024 as there will be hardly any moonlight to obscure the fireworks as the first quarter moon sets around midnight.  

December’s Geminids shower, which is a consistent and totally underrated meteor shower (probably because your average person doesn’t like sitting outside in cold weather), won’t be the best to watch in 2024 because of the full moon that night. This event will peak overnight December 13th into December 14th. Despite the moon, don’t overlook this event as skywatchers love this show for its sometimes colorful meteors.  


New moons


If you are serious about stargazing, you will as I do mark on your calendar every date on which there is a new moon. Basically “no moon,” the new moon ensures there is no moonlight robbing your skywatching experience, meaning you have full visibility of the stars, the Milky Way, meteors and more. You typically have perfect dark sky viewing for four days on either side of the new moon.


New moons will occur on: January 11, February 9, March 10, April 8, May 8, June 6, July 5, August 4, September 2, October 2, November 1, and December 1.


Solar eclipse


This is THE sky event of the year and maybe THE sky event of your entire life.


On Monday, April 8th Western New York will be in the direct path of a total solar eclipse. It’s believed that millions of people from all over the world will come to WNY to experience it, which speaks to how awesome this will be. A total blackout! It will put to shame the partial solar eclipse that we saw here in 2017. I can’t wait to see it and experience the stillness as the natural world as birds and mammals adjust to the unexpected loss of sunlight.


The northern half of Allegany County will be in the path of totality while the southern half will be so close many won’t notice the difference. Even so, I would strongly suggest that if you live in the town of Independence or even Wellsville that you spend the afternoon in Cuba or at Hanging Bog to experience the absolute darkest of the daytime sky. The event will begin just after 2:00 PM and slowly progress with the full eclipse happening around 3:20 PM. The event will slowly come to a close, reaching full sun around 4:40 PM.


Words of advice for the solar eclipse:


·         Get some special glasses for watching the eclipse unfold – and do it now! Remember the shortage during 2017’s event?

·         If your kids are scheduled to have school that day, keep them home or get them at the half day. Don’t let them miss it – it won’t be fun to watch it from a school bus (many schools in New York have already booked a day off for it, so glance at your district’s calendar)

·         Book one of your vacation/personal days now with your employer. Some employers (like mine) have scheduled a special paid holiday for that day

·         Hit the breakers for your outdoor lights at home or at your workplace that day – any one of them with photo eyes will activate during the event. Don’t ruin that moment! 

·         To see what the event might look like and why location matters, check out and zoom in. Once you find the location of your home or potential viewing site, left click which brings up a bubble that has a link within it that says “open’s eclipse simulator for this location”. At that link you will be able to watch the simulator to see how the eclipse plays out every minute at that location

·         Many municipalities, government agencies, chambers of commerce, and businesses will be holding special events and parties that day. Keep an eye on their social media and websites. Allegany County’s webpage for the eclipse is:  


Enjoy skywatching in 2024! I hope your nights (and your day on April 8th) are filled with meteors, northern lights, and total awe.

From the 08 December 2023 Wellsville Sun