FINS Superintendent Chris Soller Set to Retire at End of March

By FIN

K. Christopher Soller (in ranger uniform towards left) addressing audience at a Deer Management Plan EIS scoping meeting held at Fire Island School during the summer of 2014. (Photo by Shoshanna McCollum)

By Shoshanna McCollum

Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) officially announced the retirement of Park Superintendent K. Christopher Soller, effective March 31, 2018. He departs after holding the title for nearly a decade – longer than any prior FINS Superintendent preceding him, and a career spanning 41 years with the National Parks Service (NPS).

Soller made history the very first day he stepped into the role upon his appointment in 2008. While Fire Island is famous for its prominent LBGTQ communities, Soller would be the first openly gay individual to take the helm as FINS Superintendent. He would also be the first FINS Superintendent who was also a Fire Island inholder, as he and his longtime partner Jack Curry were Fire Island Pines homeowners at the time.

He came in on the heels of the very charismatic Superintendent Michael Reynolds, whose skyrocketing career with NPS eventually elevated him to the role of National Park Service Acting Director in January of 2017. In contrast, it took time for Fire Island residents to warm up to Soller, who often came across as shy and reclusive, but his accomplishments spoke for themselves.

The long overdue FINS General Management Plan languished for over a decade before it was finally completed on Soller’s watch. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he would deliver a comprehensive breach management plan to address the geographic changes that affected the Otis Pike Wilderness Area, while simultaneously working on coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Fire Island to Moriches Inlet Reformulation Study (FIMI), among other storm recovery efforts on the barrier island.

“He has taken on what others would not and I am glad Chris has been here through these challenging times,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone when he presented Soller with an honorable certificate of citation at an Fire Island Association meeting on July 25, 2015.

However, many believe Soller also leaves behind a legacy of divisiveness among Fire Island’s constituency.

Nude sunbathing was abruptly discontinued at Lighthouse Beach in 2013 – a blow to clothing optional beach goers, as it was one of the more popular locations where the lifestyle was tolerated in the Tri-State area. Smaller traditionally clothing optional spots on Fire Island were then systematically shutdown over the summers that followed.

Then there is the controversial White Tailed Deer Management Plan championed by Soller, advocating the culling of Fire Island’s docile free roaming deer population, which was adopted as policy on New Year’s Eve of 2015. The press release announcing Soller’s retirement issued by FINS headquarters in Patchogue on March 22, 2018 lauds the Deer Management Plan as one of his triumphs, but there are presently two lawsuits pending against it by three not for profits in which NPS, FINS, and Soller was personally named among the defendants. The suits include:

  • Friends of Animals: The Darien, CT based advocacy group states that “The National Park Service failed to consider a non-lethal alternative that focuses on curtailing human activity to address concerns with deer on Fire Island,” according to papers filed on Oct. 28, 2016 at U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
  • Animal Welfare Institute & Wildlife Preserves, Inc.: The Washington D. C. organization and the Newark, NJ based foundation filed their joint legal action on November 29, 2017. Wildlife Preserves, Inc. is the parent organization that helped establish the Sunken Forest in 1955. The land parcels associated with the primeval maritime forest were then transferred to NPS two years after the establishment of FINS in 1964 came with protective covenants. Their lawsuit, also filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court, claims that the Deer Management Plan violates those founding deeds – deeds which many consider the very heart of Fire Island National Seashore itself.

“I think that it is important to hold Chris accountable for some of his decisions,” wrote a representative of Fire Island Wildlife Foundation, Inc. in an emailed statement to our publication. The Saltaire, NY based organization released a report over the winter that claims 1442 registered comments were in opposition to the proposed deer culling, while only 107 comments supported it during the Open Comment Period of 2014 when the White Tailed Deer Environmental Impact Statement was still in its preliminary stages.

If the lawsuits do not prevail, funding has already been allocated so that FINS may retain sharpshooters to cull the deer herd at William Floyd Estate at Mastic Beach in 2019; with either sharpshooting, a public hunt, or some combination of both to be utilized on Fire Island proper in 2020 – 2021.

FINS Assistant Superintendent, Kelly Fellner will step in as acting superintendent until a permanent replacement is announced.

 

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  1. Stoller’s 2013 actions defying civil rights to the clothing optional community that had them for decades was nothing short of fascism. We,as a community,gave and supported NPS for years. From fundraisers to board walk building volunteerism. I was a beach ambassador for 3 yrs at lighthouse beach. I worked with the rangers to promote proper beach ediqueete. It ended up a one way relationship as I promoted the ediquette but never had NPS backs enforcing this ediqueete. We had to self police without police support. Yes there was a lot of apathy among beachgoers assuming their civil rights were a given and not needing to be fought for continuously. The assumed and unproven actions of a few were used to deny the masses these civil rights. I personally moved here from New England where in Rhode Island we lost a federal beach, moonstone beach in similar fashion in 1993. It’s a nightmare relived again in2013. In short we lost out civil rights as naturalists at the hands of NPS. Stoller could have made the difference but chose not to. He chose to sign the death warrant for our beach. Shame on him. Maybe the next super will reconsider our civil rights.

  2. NPS Superintendent Chris Stoller exceeded his authority when he shut down the beach to nude use.

    Naturism is not a “lifestyle” it is a form of beach recreation. As a recreation, it stands equally with beach recreation for people who wish to wear garments at the beach.

    To shut down the nude beach section without calling for a public hearing on the matter, violates the NPS Rule Book which Mr. Stoller was hired to operate by and has sworn an oath he would execute.

    Further when Mr. Stoller was originally hired by the federal government he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect those Rights for the citizens he served. He did not do that.

    By using a broad brush to close the beach to nude use, he was part of a in-house conspiracy at Fire Island to violate naturist’s 4th Amendment to the US Constitution Rights by having his Chief Ranger accuse the naturists of sexual acts as the reason for their stopping nude usage. That they were responding to complaints.

    The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution requires that any person accused of a crime has the right to confront the accuser or there must be a written complaint signed by the accuser. This did not happen, here.

    Further, there is no federal law that bans mere nudity in a National Park or Seashore. Maritime law prevails, also, below the high water mark. There is no ban on nudity under Maritime law.

    Mr. Stoller’s behavior and that of other government employees who create their own rules and laws and who act against the interests of people who they were hired to serve is what has led to the rebellion of the citizenship against our government and the results of this anti-government reaction has given us the ‘Man on the White Horse” that George Washington warned us about.
    Richard mason
    Florida Naturist Association
    Haulover Beach

  3. great article hopefully a humane solution will happen for the deer and nudists will one day return to the shores of fire island & trump does no damage to our precious island with visions of off shore drilling in his highly un environmental policies .

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