Author Archives: susanwojtowicz

About susanwojtowicz

Susan is a visitor services specialist at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, a refuge that spans four states and protects over 36,000 acres within the Connecticut River watershed.

Employing Youth to Stop an Invader


Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

Through the Youth Conservation Corp, local high school students are being recruited to help the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge wage the battle against water chestnut, an invasive plant that has been taking over ponds and rivers within the Connecticut River watershed.

Removing WC

Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

Water chestnut is an invasive plant native to Europe and Asia. Introduced in the United States around 1897 by a Massachusetts gardener, it is now widespread in the northeast. The plants are rooted in the soil below the water, with a long stem that extends upward to allow the leaves to float on the water’s surface.


Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

On the underside of the the leaves, the plant produces spiked nutlets, each of which are capable of producing 10-15 new plants.

Seed Pods

An enlarged image of the acorn-sized spiked nutlets produced by water chestnut plants. Credit: Kristine Paulus

Because water chestnut is not native to the area, there are no natural predators to control the population, allowing the plant to multiply rapidly. In fact, just one acre of water chestnut can produce enough seeds to cover 100 acres the following year!

Water Chestnut Mat

Credit: Maddie List, USFWS

Dense mats of water chestnut can have many harmful effects, including blocking sunlight from reaching native underwater vegetation and reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. These effects can harm fish and other aquatic wildlife. In addition, the dense network of stems and leaves can wrap around swimmers and get tangled in boats, skis, and fishing gear, sometimes making recreational activities nearly impossible.


Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

Although this plant does spread rapidly, there are a few methods that have proven very effective in controlling the population levels. One of these methods is physically pulling the plant, along with its seeds, out of the waterways. Because the roots are easy to dislodge, this can be done from a canoe or kayak without difficulty.


A group of YCC crew members, ready for a day of removing water chestnut. Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

This summer, the Conte Refuge hired several Youth Conservation Corp (YCC) crews to help combat water chestnut infestations, among other environmental projects. Floating in canoes, the teenagers joined Refuge staff, partners, and volunteers in pulling water chestnut out of several of the waterways in the Connecticut River watershed. And together, they made quite an impact!


Although it is hard to spot now amongst the native pickerel weed, water chestnut could soon take over the area if it is not removed. Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

This summer alone, the Conte Refuge’s YCC crews have removed over 17,000 pounds of water chestnut from waterways within the Connecticut River watershed. Because each pound of plants is capable of producing about 75 nutlets, that translates to 1,275,000 nutlets removed! About a third of that amount was removed during Spike Camp, an annual week-long campout where all five of the watershed’s YCC crews gather to work, learn, and bond. This year, the group converged at Brickyard Ponds in Westfield, MA, where they worked together to remove 5,600 pounds of water chestnut from the ponds.

Spike Camp

All five YCC crews during Spike Camp. Credit: Arthur McCollum, USFWS

Their amazing accomplishments have freed up many acres of habitat for native plants and wildlife, increasing biodiversity and the health of our waterways. Along the way, they have gained experiences and skills that will benefit them in whatever their futures may hold.


The Fort River crew. Credit: Arthur McCollum, USFWS

For more information about job opportunities with the Youth Conservation Corp in the Connecticut River watershed, please visit the Northwoods Stewardship Center website.


Posing in a pile of water chestnut is all in a day’s work for this crew! Credit: Susan Wojtowicz, USFWS

Bill Ashe: A Lifetime of Conservation


Last Friday, the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge held a dedication ceremony for the Bill Ashe Visitor Facility, a beautiful new building that will host educational programs to connect people with nature. But who exactly is Bill Ashe, you may ask?


Bill and Betty Ashe, joined by their son USFWS Director Dan Ashe (front row), Deputy Director Jim Kurth, and Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

One quick answer is that Bill Ashe is the father of Dan Ashe, the current director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. However, Bill was not always known as Dan’s father; in fact, it was quite the opposite. For a very long time at the USFWS, Dan Ashe was known simply as “Bill’s son”.


Bill Ashe

Bill Ashe began his career with the service as a realty specialist, identifying pieces of land that are particularly important for wildlife and working to purchase them, in effect creating and expanding our nation’s National Wildlife Refuges. During his career, he protected over 840,000 acres throughout the country, including land that is now part of the Ding Darling Refuge in Florida, the Okefenokee Refuge in Georgia, the Sevilleta Refuge in New Mexico, as well as the Oxbow Refuge in Massachusetts.


An alligator resting at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: Stacy Shelton/USFWS

In 1975, Bill became the Deputy Regional Director for the Northeast Region of the USFWS, moving with his family to the town of Harvard, MA, adjacent to the Oxbow Refuge. He quickly became ingrained in his community, serving on the Harvard Planning Board and as as a Selectman. Bill also served as the president of the Nashua River Watershed Association, where he worked with partners to protect thousands of acres of land. When the Fort Devens Army Base was closed in the mid-1990’s, Bill helped ensure the transfer of another 836 acres of land from the Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, further expanding the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge.


Bill’s willingness to take on controversial issues for the benefit of America’s wild places and his knack for mentoring others inspired many who worked beside him. Several of the people lucky enough to know and work with Bill, including his son Dan, shared their experiences at the dedication ceremony. Here are some of the stories:


Members of the USFWS family celebrating Bill Ashe at Friday’s dedication ceremony.

Because of his many contributions to the Oxbow Refuge, just one piece of land protected by Bill Ashe throughout the years, we are honored to name the new visitor center for him. The facility will continue to be a testament to his life’s work conserving this nation’s natural resources for generations to come.


Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: Susan Wojtowicz


Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Conservation

Esther and Elizabeth

In honor of women’s history month, we would like to take a moment to honor two educated, professional, and influential women from the turn of the 20th century; Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read. These two women were life partners who not only made a difference for women’s rights, but also contributed toward environmental conservation along the Connecticut shoreline.



Miss Esther Everett Lape 1-23-24

Esther Lape

Esther Lape (1881-1981) was a highly respected English professor, working at several colleges including Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, the University of Arizona, and Barnard College in New York City. She was well known as a journalist, researcher, and publicist. In 1920, Lape was a founding member of the League of Women Voters, which was established just six months before women were given the right to vote in the United States.


Elizabeth Read

Elizabeth Read (1872-1943) was a well-known lawyer and financial advisor whose list of clients included several influential people of her day, including Eleanor Roosevelt. In addition, she was the director of research for the American Foundation, a public organization that dealt with international public affairs issues. Read wrote several books on international law and was politically active, working for a number of social and political causes throughout her career.


Lape and Read’s home at their country estate Salt Meadow, located along the central Connecticut shoreline.

Lape and Read lived together in Greenwich Village, New York, and often visited their country estate, Salt Meadow, located in Westbrook, Connecticut. They became close friends and advisors to Eleanor Roosevelt, who rented an apartment from them in Greenwich Village and often stayed with them at Salt Meadow.


Read, Lape, Roosevelt, and Malvina Thompson relaxing at Salt Meadow, circa 1940.

Roosevelt claimed that Lape and Read were among her earliest political and feminist mentors and the beliefs she developed through their friendship influenced the social policies that her husband promoted as President.


Lape and Roosevelt, sometime in the 1950’s.

Both Lape and Read knew the importance of environmental conservation and enjoyed their time at Salt Meadow, which encompassed about 150 acres of forest and salt marsh along the Connecticut shoreline. The pair posted signs on their property with the message, “Bird Sanctuary, No Hunting Please.” Read had an interest in forestry and often planted trees on the property.

Elizabeth_Read_surveying_downed_trees_after_1939_hurricane (1)

Read surveying downed trees after the hurricane of 1939.

After Read’s death in 1943, Lape continued to advocate for the protection of her land. When the State of Connecticut expressed interest in re-routing Route 1, and eventually Interstate 95, through the saltmarsh on her property, she asked conservationists and environmental professors with whom she was acquainted to write letters to the State maintaining that the area was an important wildlife sanctuary. In the end, she was successful in preserving her land, conserving important habitat that was becoming increasingly scarce at that time.


A stone table where Lape and Read would sit and overlook the expansive salt marsh on their Salt Meadow estate.

In July 1972, nine years before her death, Lape donated Salt Meadow to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The estate has become the core of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and the house is currently serving as a visitor contact station and refuge headquarters.

The Refuge is preparing to submit a proposal to nominate the Lape-Read Estate to the National Register of Historic Places. In preparation for this request, they are co-sponsoring an internship under the National Park Service’s Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program to conduct further background research into the historic significance of this piece of Connecticut shoreline.