Marc Matsil
Director, Natural Resources Group - City of New York Parks and Recreation
New York, New York

It is rare to encounter individuals who combine Marc Matsil’s concern for protection, acquisition, research on, and restoration of our nation’s natural resources, with the ability to produce tangible results. Matsil, an award winner in the local government category, has been director of the Natural Resources Group (NRG) of New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation since 1987.

Matsil has fought tenaciously to protect and restore natural resources by working with communities, businesses, and federal, state, and city agencies to improve the environmental practices of the city and of private commercial interests. Over the past several years, the NRG has embarked on an extensive natural resources protection, acquisition, and restoration program. The group has also designed, in cooperation with other city, state, and federal agencies, the natural resources damage settlements for the Exxon oil disaster of 1990, when more than one-half million gallons spilled into Arthur’s Kill. The $15 million settlement, recovered by the city and states of New York and New Jersey will pay for a restoration, research, and monitoring plan to restore damaged wetlands. It will also fund acquisition of ecologically important wetlands in Staten Island’s Harbor Herons Preserve. Matsil was a leader in the multi-government effort to assess the spill damage to the wetlands. In this effort, he had to overcome the perception that New York City coastal waters were already so polluted that the spill made no difference. The NRG collected data to prove to both the other governments and Exxon that Arthur’s Kill was indeed an area worth protecting.

The NRG has also conducted several natural resources inventories of the city’s natural resources, including more than 8,000 acres of wetlands, woodlands, meadows, and swamp forests. In coordination with The Nature Conservancy and its Natural Heritage Program, NRG has inventoried and registered more than 40 federal and state endangered and threatened flora and fauna — including the largest successful urban peregrine falcon breeding population in the world. Matsil was also instrumental in the acquisition of Dubos Point Wetlands Sanctuary, managed by the Audubon Society.

Matsil has also collaborated with the city’s Environmental Prosecution Unit to embark on several timely lawsuits against polluters, including several landfill dumping cases, oil spills, and the siting of a hazardous waste incinerator in the shadows of a parks wetlands preserve and heron rookery. He has consulted on the Fresh Kills Landfill (the largest in the country) end use planting and wetlands restoration/filtration plan.

Matsil works tirelessly on changing the public’s attitude toward green spaces, natural resources, and the stewardship of our environment. By working with community groups and high schools throughout the city, Matsil established the Adopt-A-Park (now the Plant Partnership) Program. Through hands-on environmental workshops, thousands of New Yorkers have become exposed to the city parks’ natural areas. Volunteers have planted more than 15,000 trees and shrubs in swamp forests, and woodlands. But, more importantly, these volunteers have proved to be valuable advocates and have helped to save the city’s remaining natural areas.

Matsil has been a unique voice for the protection of urban and wilderness landscapes. He has forged coalitions for the enhancement and restoration of communities in order to create a whole ecological community. Moreover, by including students and community members in the process of nurturing and restoring natural systems, Matsil has turned politics into a tool for better understanding of our environment.

— Henry Stern, Citizens United, New York, New York