Tag Archives: community

A community helps its river heal

Today guest blogger Anna Marshall, of Save the Sound, shares the story of a community who came to the aid of its river and reaped big benefits. 

Standing on the banks of a restored West River, it is hard to imagine that a little over a year ago this spot held stagnant water just upstream of a deteriorating dam. Today, the 14-acre Pond Lily Nature Preserve is animated by people enjoying the trails, fish, birds, and other wildlife at this oasis of forest, river, and wetland in urban New Haven. Many are the same neighbors who helped bring about this remarkable transformation.

Over the past year, Save the Sound removed four derelict dams, including Pond Lily, as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the health of Connecticut’s rivers and help local communities. In addition to reducing the risk of flooding, healthy, free-flowing river systems provide clean water and recreation opportunities. The Pond Lily Dam project was supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy resilience projects.

While reconnecting the river to its floodplain, the project brought local residents together to care for their river. Community efforts led by Save the Sound to remove invasive vegetation and plant native perennials have shown success less than a year after dam removal, with abundant native plant cover across the property, which is managed by the New Haven Land Trust.

“Save the Sound has helped coordinate hundreds of volunteers on multiple occasions to replant areas exposed by the receding water with native species,” says Justin Elicker, president of the New Haven Land Trust.

To bolster plant diversity and density even more, Save the Sound is working with participants in the G.R.O.W.E.R.S. program, a New Haven-based horticultural life skills program for adults with developmental and physical disabilities. Participants are growing native perennials from seeds collected by the New England Wildflower Society at Pond Lily Nature Preserve and other preserves across Connecticut.

Plants and people are not the only populations benefiting from a free-flowing West River. Removing the dam restored 2.6 miles of river habitat for migratory fish populations. Species such as alewives and river herring can now swim between Long Island Sound and freshwater habitat in the West River to spawn.

Steve Gephard, senior fisheries biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, reported recently that fish monitoring efforts this spring “have documented several alewives in the West River upstream of the former Pond Lily Dam. This demonstrates that the restored channel is ‘fish passable.’”

Free-flowing West River. Credit: Save the Sound

Each time we return to the preserve, we gain a greater understanding of how the river and its floodplains are responding to restoration. Over the next several years, Save the Sound will monitor the restoration success of native fish and vegetation, as well as natural adjustments of the river channel. We’ll use the information to make decisions about future plantings and caring for this incredible riverside habitat.

After years of habitat fragmentation caused by the dam, the river still needs help from the community to heal. We’ll keep an eye on the West River as its story unfolds and continue to engage area residents as stewards of the Pond Lily Nature Preserve. A community in sync with its river is a beautiful thing.

Click here to watch a short video about the Pond Lily dam removal. To learn more about Save the Sound’s monitoring efforts at Pond Lily or to volunteer as a river steward, email restoration@savethesound.org

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!

 

 

“I’m a HAF intern but I learned a whole lot”

Our Urban Program stems from the important need to understand what factors may facilitate or inhibit people in urban settings from connecting with wildlife and nature. Our interns this summer through Hispanic Access Foundation have been instrumental in helping us connect with Latino communities across the region from Eastern Massachusetts to Baltimore. They’ve been to city parks, neighborhoods, community gardens and meetings, schools and summer camps helping urban residents find, appreciate and care for nature in their cities, neighborhoods and beyond.

Thanks & congratulations to our 2016 cohort of interns for all their hard work and dedication. You’ll be a tough act to follow!

We recently gathered the interns, their supervisors, and leadership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hispanic Access Foundation for a final close-out to the summer.

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We were hosted by Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and their great team of staff and volunteers

Each intern gave a brief presentation on their summer experiences and provided feedback for all parties who mentored and supervised them.

 

Michael Bonilla provided weekly environmental education programs on wildlife found in vernal pools,  or as he calls them, “wicked big puddles” at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. He seamlessly connected with members of the Providence Latino community and provided a warm welcome to folks new or unaware of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

Amber Betances took a trolley and two buses —  a 90 minute commute to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge each morning. She connected with Philadelphia residents at community meetings and has shed some light on barriers to visiting the refuge, such as transportation. Her experience this summer will undoubtedly contribute to her budding career as a landscape architect.

 

Sabrina held her first bird, gave her first trolley tour, caught her first fish and kissed a lot of unsuspecting animals at Paxutent Research Refuge. More seriously though, she may have experienced the most professional and personal growth in the whole group and took all of those “firsts” completely in stride.

I had the opportunity to lead my own program called Flutter by, Butterfly for children ages five to seven. I focused on the basics of the butterfly — what/how they eat, their life cycle, and we also went on a short butterfly walk. Overall, running programs at the visitor center has been a great experience and I would definitely do it again!

 

Ariel provided some much appreciated environmental education for youth in Springfield at Forest Park. She joined ReGreen Springfield with a Skulls & Pelts program that allowed kids to explore native wildlife like bears and bobcats (and imaginary bob-bears and beaver-cats and whatever else they came up with).

If I had to choose one thing that empowered me the most during my internship, it would be the outreach and education work I did. I was able to connect with kids, younger and older, and get them excited, involved and talking about nature. I wanted the kids to see someone like me doing this kind of work and realize that it’s possible.

 

Wilson shared his love for birds with the general public and led a bunker tour in Spanish for a Latino family at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. As a key member of the Visitor Services team, he welcomed new and recurring visitors to the Refuge and contributed to maintenance and field work whenever possible.

 

Ivette connected with a broad base of New Haven residents at the Yale Peabody Museum, and made guest appearances with Boy Scout and summer camp groups. She also put together a great event for Latino Conservation Week on behalf of Stewart B. McKinney NWR.

 

As a final project, the interns were tasked with the responsibility of assessing a potential “kayak trail” for visitors to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. They also accompanied Refuge staff for an afternoon kestrel release and some bog turtle tracking.

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The interns participated in a kestrel release at Great Swamp NWR

Thanks & congrats again to our interns for a job well done. We can’t wait to see what you do next!