Category Archives: Science and research

Nonconventional Conservation at the Long Island Field Office

When the fish biologist held out the net for me to scoop up a freshly-caught trout, I tried to act as nonchalant as the other scientists. For them, it seemed, using an electronic backpack to shock and net dozens of fish was just another day in the office. But for me in my second week as a new Outreach Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it felt like I had just stepped into a sci-fi movie.

I’m a writer, not a scientist. I majored in English and haven’t taken a biology class since high school. But even though I don’t share my colleagues’ scientific expertise, I joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because I do share their commitment to conservation and their love for the outdoors. While humans and their pursuits have not always been the greatest friends of fish and wildlife, I’m excited to find the place of the humanities in the world of environmental conservation. I’m grateful for the opportunity to combine my writing background with my environmental interests as I share the stories of the conservationists and creatures at our Long Island Field Office.

If I seem like an unconventional representative of field biology, the office I’m representing might appear an equally unlikely candidate for environmental conservation. The Long Island Field Office in Shirley, New York is a unique and sometimes overlooked site for biological research.

Few might think of the New York City metropolitan area as a hotspot for wildlife. And the LIFO certainly operates within a smaller space than some of the more prominent areas in New York state or the Northeast region. Yet with only two full-time biologists, the Long Island Field Office is a special and important wildlife locale for the state and the region.

Those who frequent or dream of frequenting New York City’s cultural centers and renowned restaurants might be surprised to know that two of New York’s precious threatened species—the piping plover shorebird and the seabeach amaranth plant—have crucial habitats on Long Island beaches. In fact, the entire Atlantic New York population of the precarious plover is concentrated on Long Island. LIFO biologists work tirelessly to protect these uniquely North American shorebirds, and one glance at these tiny creatures can tell you why.

Birds and bushes aren’t the only creatures that make the Long Island Field Office special. Because of the 8.5 million New Yorkers that fall within LIFO’s area of responsibility, the biologists there have an unrivaled amount of public interaction. The LIFO also collaborates with some high-profile parties on major projects, like the Army Corps of Engineers and their regular beachfront stabilization efforts. The biologists, the Brooklynites, and the birds all interact in a very careful balancing act at the Long Island Field Office.

During my time here as the Outreach Coordinator for the Long Island Field Office, I hope that more people—both conventional conservationists and seeming outsiders like me—become interested and involved in the important projects and precious creatures at our Long Island Field Office.

In the quest to study bats on Long Island

Last year, biologists at Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex in New York conducted a survey to determine which bat species call Long Island home. 

As the summer sun set and people wound down from a long day of work, a team of biologists from the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Biodiversity Research Institute were only just beginning their workday. They walked quietly down refuge roads and trails carrying ropes, poles, and reams of mesh as fine as a hair net. The only light came from their bright headlamps. The biologists were on an important 10-day mission: catching bats.

The health of every bat species is important, but biologists were specifically interested in confirming the presence of the federally threatened northern long-eared bat. “We wanted to locate potential maternity colonies and roost sites on the refuges so we can protect them and appropriately manage the habitats they use,” said Camille Sims, the wildlife technician.

To survey bats, refuge staff and BRI scientists used a technique known as mist netting. Camille Sims, the wildlife technician, describes the mist net as as undetectable, fine netting that acts like an invisible volley ball net, gently capturing bats while they search for food. The nets are monitored continuously from dusk until midnight.

Kaibab Bat Survey

Here you can see what a mist net looks like. Photo by: Dyan Bone, Credit: U.S. Forest Service

“We checked the nets every 10 minutes for bats that may have been captured,” Sims said. “As bats fly down roads and trails where the nets are set up, they hit the net and drop into a small pocket. When we find a bat, we lower the net and gently untangle the bat to retrieve it from the net.”

The biologists weighed the bats, measured their forearms and ears, determined their gender, age, species and reproductive status.  Each bat was also fitted with an identification band and wings were examined for signs of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has devastated bat populations across North America.

Upon completions, bats were safely released back into the night sky.

Ann Froschauer USFWS_little brown bat

This little brown bat may look uncomfortable but using a net is a safe and effective way for biologists to catch passing bats. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

During the 10-day mist netting surveys at two refuges within the Complex — Wertheim and Elizabeth A. Morton — the team of scientists caught 5 eastern red bats and 26 big brown bats at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and one eastern red bat and one northern long-eared bat at Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge. The northern long-eared bat also received a radio transmitter to track its location.

The biological team found no evidence of white-nose syndrome during the summer surveys, but they remained alert for signs of the disease. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome mostly affects bats during the winter, but scarring on the wings and remnant traces of the fungus can be detected in the summer. The team at the Complex doesn’t know where their bats hibernate, but northern long-eared bats have been found overwintering on Long Island in crawl spaces under buildings.

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened, primarily due to the threat of white-nose syndrome. In the Northeast region alone, the species has declined by up to 99 percent from pre-white-nose syndrome levels at many hibernation sites.

“As someone who cares about wildlife, I am concerned about it [white-nose syndrome] and I wouldn’t want the disease to spread to the bat populations here on Long Island, so I think it’s great news that we haven’t found signs of the disease here,” said Sims.

After many long nights, the summer surveys were completed and the team could catch up on some much needed sleep – knowing that no evidence of white-nose syndrome was found in the bats they documented on Long Island.

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The surveys mentioned in the blog were conducted from June to July 2017 at Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refugess. The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex uses information gathered during the surveys to determine which bat species call the refuge home and identify habitat-use during migration and breeding seasons. This information is important for species protection and best habitat management practices.

To learn more:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region Endangered Species profile on Northern long-eared bat: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nleb/index.html

White-nose syndrome: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org

Connecting students with their watershed, one trout at a time

Have you ever held a juvenile brook trout in your hand?

Up until last week my answer to that would have been no.

This week was the huge culmination of work going on in K-12 classrooms across the country.

Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students in grades K-12 get the chance to raise trout from eggs to fry (a juvenile fish).

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5th graders assessing habitat quality prior to release – USFWS

These students are responsible for caring for the fish, monitoring tank water quality, and learning about stream habitats.

This truly unique program fosters a conservation ethic and provides a firsthand look and appreciation for water resources and all those who depend on them.

Most programs end the school year by releasing their trout in a state-approved stream near their school or within a nearby watershed.

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Selected area for release, Virgil Creek in Dryden, NY – USFWS

During the year, each teacher tailors the program to fit his or her curricular needs and therefore, each program is unique. This in turn provides younger generations with new skills and knowledge to help ensure healthy waterways and robust trout populations in the future.

The eastern brook trout is often regarded as an aquatic symbol of fresh, clean water. Water quality issues and loss of habitat have contributed to decline of this species over time.

Partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are actively pursuing projects to identify barriers to fish passage, open up more waterways to improve aquatic connectivity in the state, and implement restoration and habitat improvement projects to support sustainable brook trout populations.

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Biologist Justin Ecret evaluating a white sucker fish after an E-fishing demo – USFWS

Being the State fish of New York, brook trout have a long history of being a part of the complex waterways of the State.

Trout in the Classroom offers the opportunity for students to get their feet wet, literally, in the world of wildlife and environmental conservation.

The actions taken to promote diverse fisheries and help conserve a species that needs our help are just a few of the larger rewards students gain from participating in a course like this.

The goals for this project stem from a place of stewardship.

Classroom aquariums provide a direct platform for hands-on learning that can enhance and engage students in not only environmental science and mathematics, but social sciences, fine arts, and physical education.

I spoke with a few students and this is what they had to say about the project,

“Watching the fish get bigger was fun. We would come in to class, check on them, make sure they looked healthy, and kept their water clean. It’s exciting to release them, but I will miss them.”

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The students releasing the brook trout they raised! USFWS

Trout in the Classroom fosters sensitivity about the importance of our shared water resources by engaging students directly. The more we can bring that level of excitement to students the more they can grow to be lifelong proponents of environmental stewardship and conservation.