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Mike Zagata

ZAGATA: Knowledge Workers? Great, But Traditional Industries Needed, Too

Column by Mike Zagata for November 23, 2018

Knowledge Workers? Great, But
Traditional Industries Needed, Too

Mike Zagata

As I began to read an article in last week’s edition, I felt a surge of excitement.
The author, an elected official, had just stated that her constituents elected her twice because they understand that protecting our environment and growing our economy are not mutually exclusive policies.
That is close to a statement in my recent book, “A Journey Toward Environmental Stewardship.”
My excitement, however, soon switched from positive to anger. Aside from the statement that methane leaks erase all the environmental benefit from switching fuel to natural gas (I found it intriguing the author admits there are benefits), the author goes on the say this is a scientific fact – according to what scientifically refereed journal?
Let’s take a harder look at that claim. If methane leaks erased all the environmental benefit from burning natural gas, then the amount leaked would have to equal the amount burned. That would cut the company’s profit in half. Do you really think a company, any company, would knowingly allow that to happen?
For policy matters of this magnitude, we can’t afford to rely upon the opinion of an advocate who opposes natural gas.
As I read further, I began to feel sympathy for the author and even more so for the people whom she had just called “redundant.” According to her and her reference to a Boston consulting group, the future of our economy is tied to “knowledge-based industry.”
According to her, heavy industry and manufacturing were indeed historically vital to our economy, but we no longer need them. Low-skilled jobs are becoming redundant – in other words, if you don’t have a college degree you’re no longer needed. Wow – and she got elected twice.
Let’s take a look at the facts. When Oneonta’s economy was strong, it benefited from the presence of heavy industry and manufacturing. Companies trained their employees so they would become “knowledge based” and able to perform their jobs.
Many of the companies had apprentice programs to train workers to become more skilled and they were able to advance and make a higher wage – they were “knowledge based” without the buzzword. That’s what built Oneonta.
The notion that we have to move entirely away from that model is nuts. We stand to benefit far more from an approach that nurtures what we had while embracing new types of companies – those that don’t actually build anything. (We sent those companies with their middle-class jobs to Mexico and other countries with poorly thought-out trade policies).
Off the top of my head, I was able to create the following list of companies that can be described as heavy industry/manufacturing: Lutz Feed, Focus Ventures, Brewery Ommegang, The Plains LLC, Northern Eagle, Custom Electronics, Corning, Astrocom, Ioxus, Amphenol, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Brooks Bottling, Wightman Lumber, MAMCO, Covidian, Munson Building Supply, Cobleskill Stone, Oneonta Block Co., DOMO, Otsego Auto Crushers, Seward Sand & Gravel, Clark Companies, RJ Millworks, Eastman Associates, Butts Concrete, Unalam, Leatherstocking, P&R Truss, Medical Coaches and Otsego Ready Mix.
The list is not claimed to be complete and I apologize if your company isn’t listed. However, those companies employ about 2,500 people who don’t consider themselves to be redundant, feel very much “needed” and contribute to our economy. They also vote. Hopefully, Otsego Now will be successful in getting other companies looking for “knowledge-based”
employees to come here. We need them all.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.

ZAGATA: Is Upstate Downbeat? Blame Slow Recovery

Column by Mike Zagata for November 2, 2018.

Is Upstate Downbeat?
Blame Slow Recovery

According to a newly released report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, “New York’s Uneven Economic Recovery: A Tale of Two States,” those of us who live in Upstate New York escaped the real estate/housing bubble that led to the economic crash in 2008. Why? Because our economy was so bad that we didn’t experience a bubble like the rest of the country. How’s that for good news?
Since the economic downturn, the Governor has claimed he has grown the state’s economy back to recovery. Have you experienced a recovery? Here’s how he’s been able to make that claim.
According to the governor, “We created 1,000,000 jobs (since 2011). New York State today has more private-sector jobs than it has had in the history of the state. Period. Unemployment went from 8.5 to 4.2 percent, and the recovery was statewide. In the old days you would see New York City doing very well, and Upstate would be struggling. Look how even the recovery is all across the State.”
The data don’t support that claim. In fact, to the contrary, it shows a sharp and growing economic divide between Upstate and downstate. According to the “Report,”, “By any standard, Upstate New York’s economic recovery has been among the weakest of any region in the country”. Only West Virginia, Wyoming and Arkansas, coal and minerals-dependent economies, have fared poorer. According to the Report, New York’s annual rate of real GDP growth has been lower than the rate for ALL states in six of his first seven years in office.
New York City, followed by Long Island and the lower Hudson valley, suburbs for the City, has enjoyed the highest rate of job growth in the state. At the same time, Upstate has gained private-sector jobs at about one-third of the national rate.
Of the State’s 62 counties,
23 of them, all but one
Upstate, have yet to recover to their pre-crash private employment levels. Knowing this, the Governor banned fracking in an attempt to court the “green community” and stopped the pipelines that could have brought much-needed natural gas and jobs to our region.
Did the unemployment rate in Upstate really drop or was it made to look that way – remember the old “shell” game? Based upon information in the Report, total private-sector employment Upstate grew by 6.3 percent since 2010. That is about one-third the U.S. rate of growth (17.8 percent) and even worse than that for downstate (21.2 percent). The Southern Tier counties ranged from having a loss of jobs to zero-5 percent growth. Guess where we fell in the ranking?
According to the Report, the 48 up-state counties saw a drop in employment “by a combined total of 87,500 from August 2010 to August 2018. Yes, the unemployment rate Upstate fell, but only because the labor force in those counties decreased by 210,000 people” – a result of fewer people looking for work because they had either given up, left the state or both.
Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport

ZAGATA: Natural-Gas Issue Is A Ruse; Real Intention Is No Growth

Column by Mike Zagata for October 12, 2018

Natural-Gas Issue Is A Ruse;
Real Intention Is No Growth

Mike Zagata

Apparently something happened to The Professor during her youth to cause her to come
forward during the confirmation process for The Supreme Court Justice, but we’ll never know for sure exactly what happened, nor will we know
who was responsible.
That wasn’t the intended outcome of the public spectacle we’ve been subjected
to. The intended outcome
was to delay the confirmation process until after the mid-term elections.
Thus well-intentioned people like us who were supportive of either The Judge or The Professor were used. We believed we were doing the right thing in seeking the truth, but we were being manipulated to actually support a different agenda – delay.

I bring that up because the raging debate over energy has the potential to repeat that scenario and use our concern for the environment to push a no-growth agenda.
We are concerned about the quality of our environment and thus want our energy sources to be environmentally friendly. However, when I read two quotes, one from a Board member and the other from a local environmental activist, stating that heavy industry has no place in our community and that, instead of trying to attract companies to our area by being able to provide the energy they would need, companies should go elsewhere where that energy already exists, I feel “used.”
Do you understand the
significance of that mentality? It means that if those against development can prevent us from getting gas they can prevent us from having jobs.

Sometimes the stated issues are a cover for a hidden strategy, Mike Zagata writes.

My suspicion was realized. Are those who oppose economic growth in our area using the “environment” as a ruse to get us to support their real agenda without our knowing it?
In one of the many recent articles, mostly by the same people, opposing
natural gas, pipelines, trucking and decompression, and everything in
between, the author states that it’s
OK to burn fuel oil on those days (about 30 per year) when our hospital, college and some industry are curtailed because there isn’t enough gas to go around.
Fuel oil does not burn as cleanly as natural gas so, if your real concern is protecting the environment, how could you possibly state that it’s OK to burn fuel oil for 30 days instead of natural gas?
Your real agenda – no growth for our area – is starting to show through!

Oneonta is a welcoming community, but we’re not open to being told how we can lead our lives, what kind of jobs we can have or that our children have no future here.
We need more – there is already some – heavy industry as that was what historically supported the middle class and it’s the middle class that pays the bulk of the taxes.
About half of our potentially taxable property is off the tax rolls. Thus we’re paying about double what we should be for the services we receive.
Our school enrollment is about half what it was when we had a stronger economy and the jobs that came with it. Other schools in our immediate area are suffering the same drops in enrollment and will face consolidation if that doesn’t stop.
People are leaving New York in droves and it’s not due to the weather. Each time someone leaves, the taxes of those of us who remain must, by definition, go up in order to pay for the same level of services.

The folks opposed to everything, the vocal minority, don’t offer viable alternatives to using natural gas as a bridge to the time when renewable energy sources are economically and physically viable. They sprinkle fairy dust into the air and hope we breathe it.
Industry – that evil entity that we don’t want to come here – is working to develop the ability to store energy captured by solar panels. However, that’s still a ways into the future and, even if it was available today, it would not be able to meet our energy needs after the week of rainy, cloudy weather we just experienced.
In addition to not being predicable, solar energy has its own environmental issues. Do the people who oppose natural gas pipelines prefer to look out their window and view 450 acres of solar panels instead? The answer is a resounding “no”. They can afford to install a solar system out of sight that services their needs and don’t much care if the rest of us suffer from extreme heat or cold because we don’t have enough gas to meet our needs.
As I’ve said before, it’s time for the real majority to get involved, take back control of our lives and get out and vote.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki AdministratION and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

Balance Today’s Energy Needs, Tomorrow’s Energy Wishes

Editorial for September 28, 2018

Balance Today’s Energy Needs,

Tomorrow’s Energy Wishes

It’s a great idea.
In a column at the end of August, Adrian Kuzminski – citing the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, completed in March – wrote,
“Let me suggest … that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.”
He concluded, “Get key people in the room and tackle the problem.”

County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C, Hartwick/Milford, invited Irene Weiser, a member of the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force, to attended the Sept. 18 meeting of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. That task force’s mission is to encourage economic growth while working to reduce gas usage.
NYSEG, which also serves southern Otsego County, had proposed an $18 million gas pipeline into the Town of Lansing, an Ithaca suburb. The task force has been working with NYSEG, trying to find an alternative to the pipeline; it issued an RFP (request for proposals), but received no proposals. It is not revising the RFP and plans to try again.
That may mean, as Irene Weiser reported, that the RFP was poorly drawn. Or it may mean there’s no ready alternative to natural gas right now, at least a full alternative.
One IGA member, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, drew the latter lesson. “I struggle with the short term and the long term of it,” he said. “… We need to figure out some short-term solutions while we’re building for an energy-smart future.”

The Freeman’s Journal – Irene Weiser from the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force is flanked by, from left, Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham, Sustainable Otsego Moderator Adrian Kuzminski and Leslie Orzetti, executive director, Otsego County Conservation Association, at the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Tuesday, Sept. 18.

On these editorial pages over the past two months, a number of knowledgeable writers have submitted well-argued letters and op-eds on the gas vs. renewables debate, spurred by Otsego Now’s CGA application to install a natural-gas decompression station in the former Pony Farm Commerce Park at Route 205 and I-88. Kuzminski is in the no-gas camp, joined by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham. When it appeared to some that the OCCA seemed to be open to hearing more about the decompression station, Executive Director Leslie Orzetti responded emphatically: The Otsego County Conservation Association does not support gas expansion.
On the other side, Kuzminski’s fellow columnist, Mike Zagata, argued fossil fuels are necessary right now. Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky said, without natural gas, the Oneonta area has actually missed going after 500 jobs this year alone. Dick Downey of Otego, who led the Unatego Landowners Association in support of the Constitution Pipeline, likewise falls into this camp.
Dave Rowley of West Oneonta, the sensible retired Edmeston Central superintendent, who served as interim superintendent in Oneonta before Joe Yelich’s hiring, probably caught it best in last week’s op-ed: Everyone wants renewable energy, but it’s simply not sufficiently available. For now, natural gas is necessary.

This is a long way of saying, everybody’s right. In the face of global warming – yes, not everybody “believes” it’s happening; but why reject the preponderant scientific consensus? – clean energy is a necessity.
California is on the forefront, with its Senate Bill 100 aiming at 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. (New York State is aiming for 50 percent by 2030.) Greenhouse-gas emission is a separate category.)
Further, Otsego County’s population (60,000) is 0.02 percent of the nation’s (320 million), one 200th of 1 percent. Even if local energy needs were fully served, it is a negligible piece of a huge national – even international – challenge.
We all want to be part of the solution, but the solution is not going to be reached between Roseboom and Unadilla. It will be developed at the state and national levels, and when there’s an answer, we can support it and embrace it.

Meanwhile, the county’s population is dropping. Some 16.3 percent of our remaining neighbors (slightly more than 9,000) live below the property line ($24,600 for a family of four). That poverty rate is 14 percent higher than the national (14 points).
Plus, there are millions of state dollars – some $15 million so far – targeted for the City of Oneonta’s revitalization.
Now’s not the time to ensure our unmet energy needs – for homes, institutions, businesses and industry – remain unmet for a generation and a half.
Yes, the county Board of Representatives should name an energy task force; Adrian Kuzminski is right. But it should have two goals.
• First, to come up with ways to meet today’s energy needs now; perhaps CNG – compressed natural gas – is part of it (though not XNG trucks on roads that can’t handle them). But so are renewables, like the second solar farm being built in Laurens.
• Second, to fast-track renewables – solar, winds, heats pumps, the whole gamut – to put ourselves on the cutting edge of the future.
For her part, Kennedy is commited to pursue the task-force idea. In an interview, she said it must be made up of “people who want to reduce demand; and people who know the demands.
At base, though, true believers need not apply, only open minds, or the cause is lost.
To end where we began, with Kuzminski: “We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.”
So let’s do the job.

MIKE ZAGATA: New York Not So Great Lately, Either

Column by Mike Zagata, September 28, 2018

New York Not So

Great Lately, Either

Mike Zagata

‘America was never that great.”
That’s an amazing quote from a man who’s had nothing but opportunity his entire life. Yes, he’s made the most of it, but that’s not the point. The point is that, because America was great, he had the opportunity to succeed.
Before moving to the point of this article, I thought it might be useful to look at the media via a historical perspective. Thus, I offer the following quote:
“Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
Any idea who wrote it? No, not President Donald Trump. It was one of the most revered of our early writers – Mark Twain. If you’re following the path of the current nominee to the Supreme Court, it should ring true.

According to that same media, Governor Cuomo is concerned that the recent revisions to the federal tax code will unfairly cost New Yorkers $16 billion in lost deductions. Another way to interpret that concern is that the federal tax code revisions put the spotlight on the “Blue” states – states governed by Democrats – by pointing out that that we are paying too much in taxes. In our case too much is about $16 billion.
According to the governor: “We have high local property taxes and a relatively high income tax.” Is that news to any of us reading this article? About a million folks have figured this out since he became governor and left.
Each time someone leaves New York due to its high taxes, what impact does that have on those of us who remain? By definition, if we expect the same level of government “services,” our taxes must go up.
It’s interesting, the governor chose to lay part of the burden for high taxes off on the local governments by mentioning high property taxes. However, what he neglected to mention is that the county’s obligation for half of the state’s portion of Medicaid drives up local taxes.

Turning Point USA, a conservative campus group, posted this graphic on its website after the governor’s remark.


If I remember correctly the county’s bill for Medicaid was about $11 million. That amount is roughly equal to the money collected from county tax payers. We are being forced to run county government on sales tax revenue and state aid. Our local property taxes go to pay for Medicaid. New York is the only one of the 50 states that does this.
If the government continues to give out money as “candy,” our taxes must go up even more. Some would argue that money leads to local economic growth – I would argue that we need to be certain that it does. Getting a $10 million grant and then using much of it to pay the consultants who oversee it is not a suitable return on investment.
When we read, “Oneonta just received a $250,000 grant and it didn’t cost us anything”, do we take a moment to stop and think about that?
Where does government get its money – from us in the form of taxes, fees and licenses.
This particular project may not have been funded with money from taxes collected from Oneonta residents, but a grant to some other New York community very likely was funded by tax dollars from Oneonta residents – the money all goes into the same “pool.”

However, what’s even more troubling is that a governor, who took an oath to uphold the law, has come up with a scheme to circumvent the law (an attempt to get out of that spotlight). His scheme would have enabled taxpayers to contribute to tax-deductible charitable funds set up by the various local governments which would then provide tax credits to the donors equal to 95 percent of the donations value.
As one might expect, the IRS said “no”. Beyond the scam aspect, think about the impact this could have had on the state’s charitable organizations by diverting funds that might have gone to them to local government as disguised taxes instead.
Even more troubling is the mindset that says, “If I don’t like it, I’m not going to abide by it.” Today, it’s all about “me” and how I can scam the system to improve my lot at the expense of others.

That has to change if we’re going to make America “GREAT” again. To me, what made America great was having pride in our country and being willing to work hard to make it, and thus our lives and the lives of others, better.

Mike Zagata, a former DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and an environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

ZAGATA: Rising To The Fly On Natural Gas

Column by Mike Zagata, August 31, 2018

Rising To The Fly

On Natural Gas

Mike Zagata

One of the main reasons that local brook trout don’t get very big is that they tend to rise to and take the first dry fly that is drifted over them.
During my professional career, I have avoided “rising to the fly,” but my fellow columnist, Adrian Kuzminski, in his Aug. 23-24, 2018 article, floated one that was just too tempting. He was commenting on my article the week before, where I stated, “To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate? Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.”
He twisted that to read, “Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2”.
So it’s time, once again, to look at the science.

Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel. It produces CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water) when it is burned. That is exactly what animals, including us, do during the process of respiration. We take in food, digest it, and, in the presence of O2 (oxygen), burn it in our cells to produce energy needed to sustain us and CO2 and H2O are the waste products. Our blood carries the dissolved CO2 to our lungs and we exhale it and also inhale new Oxygen. Some of the dissolved water also gets exhaled and some gets filtered out by our kidneys and leaves our body as urine.
That means that each of us are polluters – we emit the same gases that are produced when we burn natural gas. We also pollute when we create mulch piles or manure piles or eat beans, as they give off methane as a byproduct of decomposition.

Many homes in our area heat with propane – a heavier version of methane that also yields CO2 and H2O when burned – and it is transported to our homes by truck.
We drive to our meetings in cars fueled by gasoline, a fossil fuel, to plan on how to best protest against the next attempt to bring energy into our area – and these protests are not limited to just fossil fuels. We have protested against renewable energy sources as well, including wind turbines and biomass.
It is likely that, once we realize just how visually unattractive solar farms are and how much they adversely impact farmland, forests and wildlife habitat, we will protest against them as well.
It will be easy to do, because solar energy doesn’t totally replace the need for energy derived from fossil fuels – the sun doesn’t shine at night, so when the temperatures drop below zero during periods of darkness, the “grid” that supplies our energy relies on energy from fossil fuels like coal.
And what about those hazardous wastes in the solar panels that must be disposed at the end of their useful life?

Why is it that it’s still OK to pull up to the gas tanks and fill our cars with gasoline, a non-renewable fossil fuel, that, when burned, yields some nasty air pollutants like NOX (Nitrous Oxides) and SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide) but it’s not OK to burn natural gas – and gasoline is delivered by trucks?
Even if you’re the most rabid anti-gas person, that can’t make sense to you.
Why is it still OK to heat our homes with fuel oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel that emits far more air pollutants than methane or natural gas, when burned? And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Why is it still OK to use propane to heat our homes or fuel our barbecue grills? It’s a non-renewable fossil fuel and, because it’s heavier than air and thus stays close to the ground when leaked, may lead to a potentially explosive situation. And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Shucks, why not just vote like the County Board and ban all trucks transporting any kind of energy. It doesn’t take long to figure that one out now does it?

The other issue that those against natural
gas like to wave like a red flag in front of a bull is that of fugitive emissions – the natural gas that allegedly leaks from pipes, wells, etc.
If you were a company that produced (drilled for) or transported (pipeline) natural gas, would you knowingly allow it to leak? The company that produces the gas and the company that transports that gas make their money by selling the gas to customers. Does it make sense to you that they would knowingly allow gas to escape and thus not be available to be sold?
If you were a shareholder in a company that did that, would you be happy about it? If the paper allowed me more space, the story about the “studies” that claimed gas was leaking would be fascinating to debunk.

All of us are tempted, like the young brook trout, to rise to the fly and devour it. In the future, before rising, please take the time to reflect on what is being said and ask yourself, in light of what you know about the topic, does it really make good sense?

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.

ZAGATA: What Can Be Done About Deer Overpopulation?

Column by Mike Zagata, August 3, 2018

What Can Be Done About

Deer Overpopulation?

Mike Zagata

Most of us enjoy watching and/or hunting deer. They seem harmless enough – that is, until one runs in front of your shiny new car. However, the 650,000 or so forest landowners in the state may have a different perspective.
Each year they pay taxes on forest property with an expectation to recreate there and possibly even harvest some timber to help pay the taxes.
When they visit their woodland and look closely at the understory beneath the forest canopy, they expect to find the seedlings – the next generation, called “regeneration” – of the mature trees that produce mast (acorns, nuts fruits) for wildlife and either sawlogs for lumber or pulp for paper.
What they expect to find isn’t what they
actually find.
Deer are decimating the forest understory. Because we have made it socially unacceptable to cut trees for a long time, about all that is left in the forest is mature trees – the brush and other young forest species that deer browsed are gone.

What is left are the species that can grow in the shade of the adult trees and, unfortunately, deer have a preference for the species like oaks that produce mast and sawlogs for lumber and maple and ash that also produce wood products.
Thus, deer over-browse those species and leave less desirable, invasive species.
In other words, deer, like beaver, can alter their own habitat. On average, a deer eats about 8½ pounds of vegetation per day – that’s a lot of twigs being eaten by an estimated statewide population of one million deer.
This isn’t a hypothesis. It is a real, scientifically validated phenomenon. In fact, scientists are concerned that this over-browsing will have a “legacy effect” – there may not be a next generation of the forest as we know it today.
Those of you who live in Oneonta have seen the consequences – deer in the middle of Chestnut Street or Ravine Parkway on their way to eat your shrubs.
The problem is real. The question is what to do about it? Because we have removed the large predators, with the possible exception of the coyote and black bear, that once controlled the number of deer, we rely on hunting to keep their numbers in check.
The number of hunters continues to decrease and the hunting access to private property and local towns and villages is also declining.
Thus hunting, as we practice and regulate it now, may no longer be an effective management tool.
Do we need to re-examine how to more effectively harvest deer? That may be easier said than done. There are animal rights groups that oppose hunting altogether. There are sportsmen’s groups that are pro-hunting and may view any tinkering with the status quo as a threat.

Jim Kevlin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA & The Freeman’s Journal – You may have noticed, deer are bolder and everywhere this summer. These crossed Glen Avenue in Cooperstown in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Then there are conservation groups that have an interest in maintaining healthy forests that produce abundant wildlife of all species. The DEC’s Lands & Forests Division is tasked with doing what it takes to protect forest regeneration. Another Division, Fish & Wildlife, may favor keeping the deer population at a “huntable” level.
Like most natural-resource-related issues, this one is complex and efforts to address it are likely to spark controversy. Pennsylvania attempted to address the issue of over-browsing about a decade ago without success as the various interest groups couldn’t agree on a workable solution.
If we care about the next generation of New York’s forests, we can’t afford to let that happen. We must listen to what the science tells us and learn to work together for the common, long-term health of both the forest and the deer.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administrator and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

ZAGATA: Face-To-Face Is Better. But If You Communicate Electronically…

Column by Mike Zagata for July 20, 2018

Face-To-Face Is Better.

But If You Communicate Electronically…

Mike Zagata

When thinking about the joys and pitfalls of communicating electronically, I’m reminded of these words from a John Denver song: “She sang to me in silence with her eyes”. How beautiful is that!
Those of us who began communicating before the advent of e-mail and texting with our cell phones understand what’s behind those words. The “millennials” may, through no fault of their own, lack an appreciation for what’s behind John’s words.
I really didn’t think about how easy it is to miscommunicate with e-mail and texts until a close friend sent me a guided missile via a text message. I had inadvertently done something to offend him and he was letting me know it.
Once the incoming missile hand landed, my immediate reaction was to launch one back in his direction. Texting works well when the waters are calm and you’re communication about things where you agree. It does not, however, work very well for resolving differences.
The truth is that trying to resolve differences via texting is a recipe for failure and usually makes matters worse. The same is true for e-mail. Success is much more likely if you meet in person or, at a minimum, have a phone conversation to resolve differences.
What John Denver was saying in those lovely words is that, by being able to see her, he was able to read her expressions, her body language and maybe even the inflections in her voice had she spoken.
Texting and e-mail are sterile in that regard. All we get to “see” are the words and, as we all know, they are subject to interpretation. If things have been going well recently with the author of those words, we are more apt to look at them in a positive light.
If there is tension between the author and the reader, those same words can instill anger. The party on the other end has no way of knowing which way they have been interpreted until he or she receives either a warm response or a guided missile.
While on the topic of cell phones, let’s look at how they have affected the norm for what is courteous and what is rude. If I’m sitting with someone and having a conversation, is it polite to answer my cell phone?
If you say it is, then is it more polite to answer it and tell the person I’ll call them back or engage in a conversation with the caller? What about if it’s a call you’ve been expecting? You may know that, but the person sitting next to you may not. That could lead to one of those incoming missiles
landing in your e-mail or
text box.
The means by which we communicate are rapidly changing and the social mores associated with those means are having difficulty keeping pace. A good rule of thumb might be to consider how you would react and act accordingly.
If you do inadvertently offend someone, all you can do is hope they will take the time when it happens to let you know in person. If not, it is likely to fester and then show up later as an incoming missile as a text or e-mail.
As baby-boomer struggling with these changes, I would like to apologize if I have inadvertently offended you.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

ZAGATA: Is There No Way To Stop Child Separations?

Column by Mike Zagata, July 6, 2018

Is There No Way To

Stop Child Separations?

Mike Zagata

Most of us are the descendants of immigrants who legally entered the country via
Ellis Island.
As Americans, we should be proud that people want to come to our country. However, there are laws that control the rate of entry and processes to follow in adhering to those laws.
Today we’re besieged with a media blitz focused on the separation of children from adults caught entering illegally while they are subjected to our legal system.
Instead of jumping to the child separation issue, maybe we should stop and ask what it is that caused the separation, i.e. what are the adults
being processed for?
It turns out they have broken the law by illegally entering the country. Thus, it seems logical that any debate about immigration should begin there.
There are already at least two laws on the books that address these illegal border crossings, but they have, by several past presidents, largely been ignored.
Those presidents all took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land so they bear some of the responsibility for our current dilemma.
Congress passed the current laws and therefore they have the Constitutional authority to either amend them or pass new ones to address illegal immigration. Where is the media when it comes to asking Congress why it has been unwilling to fix the problem?
Now let’s address the topic of children being separated from their accompanying adults. Why did I say “adults” and not “parents”?
The answer is really quite simple – we have no easy way of determining if the adults are the actual parents of the children they are with.
We say that should be easy, and then are confronted with the fact that 50,000 people illegally cross the border each month. It takes months to do a background check on a U.S. citizen who was born here. We don’t have “months” to determine if the accompanying adults are the actual parents and if they have a criminal record.
However, we do have a legal process for deciding how to handle these illegal immigrants, but that process takes time. What do we do with the children in the meantime?
Do we put them in with other adults for whom we have no background information? Would doing so increase the likelihood of real child abuse?
Do we build, at taxpayer expense, holding facilities for the “families” – remember, there are 50,000 new ones each month. That would require a massive infrastructure to build and staffing it would be very expensive.
Do we simply put those caught illegally crossing the border on a bus and send them back – where is “back”?
Why not just release them at the border until their hearing date? That’s what’s been done in the past and about 80 percent don’t show up at the appointed court date. One could say they are the smart ones and soon after they blend into the overall population and the issue just goes away – or does it?

Because of our heritage and compassion, we all want those who wish to immigrate to our country to have the opportunity to do it legally. No one wants to see children entering a new country separated, even for a short time, from adults who may be their parents.
To address that concern, a broken immigration system needs to be fixed – not a tinkering, but a comprehensive overhaul.
If you, like me, want that done, please let your congressman and senator know that you understand it is them, not the President, who makes the laws and thus they have the power and responsibility to get it done.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

ZAGATA: Doctor-Patient Discussions Private? Little By Little, Confidentiality Goes

Column by Mike Zagata, June 8, 2018

Doctor-Patient Discussions

Private? Little By Little,

Confidentiality Goes

Mike Zagata

Are there circumstances where it’s OK to violate your privacy? It might be OK if you make an informed decision to allow that to happen – but what if you don’t?
Have you heard of HIPPA – the Health insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996? If you have, you probably have a sense of comfort that it protects conversations your doctor has about your care or treatment with nurses and others.
Does it really do that, and are there times when it’s OK for your doctor, now known as your primary-care physician, to divulge information learned about you during a visit to law enforcement officials?
Does the doctor face an obligation to do so? It’s not your doctor’s fault if they do as they didn’t volunteer to assist your government.

Why these questions? If you’ve had a recent doctor’s appointment, the following questions might sound familiar: “Do you feel secure at home?” and, “Are you depressed?”
What is likely to happen if you answer “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second?
If you’re a firearms owner, you’re likely to receive a visit from the state police and see your firearms depart with them. You may also receive a visit from the folks at Social Services in an effort to determine if you’re the victim of spousal abuse.
The goal is to reduce the likelihood of domestic or other forms of violence, e.g. school shootings. That’s a laudable goal. However, does it, at the same time, violate your right to privacy and lead to the breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship? Is it the best way to achieve the goal?
As with most issues like this, there will likely be opinions on both sides of the issue. That’s one of the many benefits of living in America. The fact that we are losing our privacy right at an alarming rate is just that – fact.
The debate has already been held – by someone somewhere – and the decision made to allow that to happen.
Do you want your driving habits to be recorded each time make a trip to the grocery store or church? Do you want your location recorded each time you dial a number or utter a voice command on your cell phone? Do you wonder why you receive certain e-mails from marketers who seem to know your buying habits?

Yes, our cars and mobile phones offer convenience – but at what cost? To those of us who are older, this cost represents change and thus we are likely to be aware that it is happening. But what about the next generation?
This is life as they know it and therefore not perceived by them as a threat. You can be certain there will be more change – change they may then perceive as a threat because it’s different from that to which they are now accustomed.
It will happen incrementally over time and, at some later date, those of us still alive will awaken to the fact our lives are no longer recognizable and ask: “What happened?”

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive in Fortune 500 companies, resides in West Davenport.

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