PINE BARRENS REGION

LI Pine Barrens’ Richard Amper

His life’s work hits a milestone in 2020

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Richard Amper and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society were the charging force behind the 1993 Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, which protects the growing acreage of the Pine Barrens forever. This summer, the society reached the milestone of 100,000 acres of preserved land within the Pine Barrens. A goal since the society’s inception, Amper, executive director, said it has been a gratifying campaign that has taken the better part of 30 years.

“More people are going to parks because they are protected. Open space is so important to people on Long Island,” Amper said, adding that the accomplishment is a major victory for not only society and himself, but for all Long Island residents. “It is very gratifying, and the public is deserving of an enormous amount of credit. There is an increase in the public’s participation in these lands and water resources being protected. This is a good campaign that the public is squarely behind.”

Over the course of 27 years, volunteers and donors have supplied the society with approximately $2 billion in order to preserve land.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment on the part of the people of Suffolk County,” Amper said.

The total 100,000 acres includes acreage in the core preservation area as well as the compatible growth area, where limited, environmentally compatible development is allowed. The society reports that the core preservation area is currently 56,000 acres, and the compatible growth area has recently eclipsed 50,000 acres itself, totaling to approximately 106,000 acres of preserved land.

Originally from Long Island, Amper went to journalism school and began his career in print, radio and television. In the late 1980s, he said that the idea of an environmental program caught more than just his eye.

“I began focusing on an ambitious program to preserve lands in the Pine Barrens forever. That concluded last year,” Amper said.

Amper explained how he became involved in saving Lake Panamoka in Ridge from adverse development.

“A neighbor of mine at Lake Panamoka came knocking on my door to tell me there was a proposal to build a housing project on the shore of Lake Panamoka,” he said. “It has never been developed on the northeast side, and it would contaminate the lake.

“She said, ‘You gotta help stop this. It will destroy the lake.’ There is a sufficient amount of nitrogen to destroy the functionality of the lake.”

Amper reminisced on those demonstrating against the housing complex by tying red ribbons to trees out of protest. Lake Panamoka, a 20-acre parcel, was the first property purchased under the county's drinking water protection program.

“The plan undermined a natural treasure,” Amper said. “That is why I put my time to this.”

Afterwards, he discovered the Pine Barrens. He said he found out that over 200 subdivisions were slated to be constructed within the Pine Barrens, and the goal became to preserve 1,000 acres.

“[Land is selected] based upon its value in terms of clean value and open-space preservation,” Amper said. “The Pine Barrens once covered 250,000 acres. In 1988, there were 120,000 acres left. We bought 109,000 from scores of residents who happened to own land in that area.”

“The plan undermined a natural treasure,” Amper said. “That is why I put my time to this.”

Amper explained that the milestone reached earlier this year is a success for Long Island residents, more than anyone else.

“The public has prevailed,” Amper said. “It is a source of great privilege and pleasure: the importance of clean water and the absence of it in large areas of the Pine Barrens. Underground drinking water is protected like it never has before because of the effort to protect the Pine Barrens. The public was uniformly supportive, [and] the people of Long Island are the winners.”

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