Tag Archives: biologist

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.

Beach Day for Beetles!

The largest-ever reintroduction of an endangered tiger beetle happened quietly in the morning of October 19th, 2017, on a foggy beach in the Connecticut river. These beetles are the rare Puritan Tiger Beetle, Cicindela puritana , or “PTB” as tiger beetle experts call it. This species is listed as federally threatened and state endangered due to a century of human use that has changed the Connecticut River’s flow. This change has reduced desired habitat, and left only one viable population of PTBs in New England. This reintroduction of more than 700 laboratory-reared PTB larvae is only part of a multi-year, team-project to establish sustainable populations of PTB in the Connecticut River.

Endangered Puritan Tiger Beetle male.

This project, which is supported by the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program and based at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in partnership with Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, unites a seasoned team of over 30 Federal & State wildlife officials, professional Biologists, Academic partners, students, and generous volunteers. Together, this group is pioneering methods to acquire land, captive-rear larvae, manage habitat, and use field-techniques to ensure the survival of PTB throughout one of the largest rivers in the Northeast.

Volunteers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the University of Massachusetts prepare a plot before larva reintroduction.

To restore a healthy river ecosystem that includes these tiny apex predators, lab-reared PTB reintroductions are key to establishing new populations. To do this, the PTB team uses aerial “butterfly” nets to carefully collect adult beetles from the single source-population. The adult beetles mate and lay eggs in the lab, which hatch into larvae that grow progressively larger through 3 growth phases, called instars. In the wild, it takes about 2 years for PTB larvae to reach their third instar, but in the lab, this time can be reduced to just a few months.

Rodger Gwiazdowski moistens the top layer of soil with river water at 1 of 7 reintroduction plots.

The reintroduction sites were carefully selected by the PTB team. Finding good habitat requires expertise to determine sediment size, beach slope, and the abundance and diversity of prey that PTBs prefer. To be reintroduced, PTB larvae are transported to the site, each in their own small sand-filled vial, and released into plotted-areas on the beach where they immediately dig vertical tunnels in the sand to develop through their instar stages. 

Volunteers release PTB larva into the sand.

Over the next 2 years, the PTB team will revisit the reintroduction sites to count the number of PTB burrows and adult beetles, which will indicate the success and survival rate of the lab-reared PTBs.

Stay tuned for 2018 updates on the PTBs!

Award Winning Work with Volunteers

Wildlife Biology and engaging the community haven’t always gone hand in hand in the past, but this is changing.

Linda Ziemba, lead biologist at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, is linking the two by promoting stewardship. She is saving critters while also building up the scientific interest of the community, therefore, bridging the gap between people and their outdoor environments. For 11 years now, Linda has been working with volunteers, partners, and students to improve the quality of natural ecosystems and educate about the importance of a healthy environment.

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Students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges learn about the impacts of invasive plants on native ecosystems, while pulling bags of Japanese stiltgrass. Students worked hand in hand with volunteers, Montezuma NWR biologist Linda Ziemba, and other refuge staff. What a team! Credit: Ray Hunt

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would not be able to do all the great conservation work without volunteers. According to the article Budget and Staffing Trends in the Northeast Region,  for every hour that a volunteer provides to a refuge, it is valued at $22.50 to the refuge system. Volunteers at the Montezuma NWR have had the opportunity to become more involved in citizen science and  a part of the many programs Montezuma NWR has to offer. Volunteers are helping out at Montezuma NWR more than ever before, partly thanks to Linda’s welcoming presence, which has helped to open up insightful discussions between the biologist and curious participants.

Linda was a key player in the formation of MARSH (Montezuma Alliance for the Restoration of Species and Habitats) – a program, from April to October, entirely devoted to volunteers helping the wildlife habitat of Montezuma’s wetlands. With a list of different involvement opportunities (photographer, social media strategist,  winter raptor surveyor), there is certainly a role for everyone to get in on. No experience necessary!

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Biologist and event goer, Ethan Marsh, band together to release a male mallard at a duck banding event. Credit: David Marsh

Through this program, which got its start in 2009,  Linda discusses with folks why it’s important that this work is being done.  Recently, college students and recent graduates with tech-savvy skills and folks with a strong background in plant ID were paired together to build off one another’s skill sets using an app for mapping invasive species. People in MARSH are able to share their own individual focuses of expertise during the work plans, and also gain knowledge from different backgrounds, scientific or not. Friends groups have chimed in on this collaborative effort and usually provide lunch for volunteers after. Linda emphasizes it really is a group effort, but it is also her strong ability to bring people together that serves as a forefront.

Montezuma NWR ,with the help of Linda organizing a number of people, have together banded 50% of New York State’s (NYS) black ducks, so many that over winter there is high return of the ones already banded. Before hunting season, 25% of NYS’s Mallard ducks, the refuge’s target species, are banded regularly.  On behalf of the people’s diligent work on the refuge, the state of New York is able to meet their quota. Wow!!

montezuma volunteers and Linda Ziemba

In January of 2017, there was a fun Friday activity for volunteers. This eager group went on a observation walk to locate the nation’s familiar and emblematic bird: the  Bald Eagle. A whopping 44 eagles and 5 nests were spotted by the participants!

Linda has continued to foster a relationship with local colleges SUNY ESF college at Syracuse, Finger Lakes Community College, Chiropractic College, as well as Suny Brockport, where students make the trek from an hour away. She has helped to get students majoring in science-related majors involved in hands on field work.  This is a great way for students to gain relevant experience, and helps to guide them into work that they may want to get into in the future, but if not, as Linda says it’s a platform to the idea of “giving back to the community and protecting the land.”

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Freshman college students learn the ropes about habitat restoration and collaborate together to help Montezuma NWR volunteer, Gretchen Schauss, and biologist, Linda Ziemba, collect native plant seeds.  Photo Credit: L. Colunga

Linda finds her job especially rewarding when she is able to change the mind of a former critic. Through negotiation and interpersonal dialogue, Linda and her team help to make others aware of the significance of their work to wildlife.  It  can take personal connections and the building blocks of a partnership for someone to feel as passionate about an issue too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is here for the wildlife, but they are also here for the people. Because of her outstanding efforts in the field and with volunteers, the Service has announced Linda Ziemba as the 2016 “Biologist of the Year.”

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In Linda’s spare time, she enjoys hiking the Finger Lakes Trail of New York with her family. Photo Credit: Phil Bonn

Congrats Linda, and a pat on the back to all the hard working volunteers, partners, and biologists out there protecting the wildlife. Cheers to teaching future generations the importance of a sustainable relationship between people and the Earth!