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.