Suozzi proposes to rename refuge for Wolff

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Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) speaks before the House in Washington. (Photo courtesy of CSPAN)

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) announced last week that he had introduced a bill in Congress to rename the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge after his predecessor.

Lester Wolff, who represented New York’s 3rd Congressional District from 1965 until 1973, pushed to create the refuge in 1968. Now Suozzi wants it to bear Wolff’s name.

“In recognition of former Congressman Lester Wolff’s monumental contributions to the preservation and protection of our environment, especially on Long Island’s beautiful north shore, I am proposing the renaming of the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge to the Congressman Lester Wolff National Wildlife Refuge,” Suozzi said in a statement.

At age 99, Wolff is the oldest living former congressman. He was first elected to Congress in 1965 and was redistricted to the 6th District in 1973. The Democrat served in that position for another eight years before retiring from Congress in 1981 following his defeat in the 1980 election. When former Alabama Congressman James Douglas Martin died last October, Wolff became the oldest former congressman.

In 1967, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and urban planner Robert Moses wanted to build an 8.5-mile bridge through the refuge to connect Long Island with Westchester. Wolff worked to fight the project and have the land put aside instead for a bird sanctuary and public use.

Wolff appeared alongside Suozzi at the announcement on Sunday, June 10, at the Mill River Rod and Gun Club in Bayville. He said that it would be a great honor to have this refuge named after him and that he was inspired to become a conservationist by former President Theodore Roosevelt.

“The fact is, I was a conservationist for a long time,” Wolff said, according to Newsday. “I was just following the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, one of our greatest presidents.”

The refuge, which covers 3,209 acres, includes subtidal habitats, a salt marsh and a freshwater pond. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge is an important stopping spot for migratory waterfowl like the long-tailed duck.

It is located adjacent to the Sagamore Hill Historic Site, Roosevelt’s former home.

Wolff noted that another project, similar to the proposed bridge, could threaten wildlife in Oyster Bay. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a tunnel between Nassau County and Westchester that would relieve traffic on the Long Island Expressway. The proposal has been met with opposition from many North Shore residents, including Wolff, who told Newsday that the project would harm the environment.

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