Tag Archives: New York

Summer at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

This post is part of of short summer series featuring blog posts from our Hispanic Access Foundation interns. Today, we are hearing from Ariel Martinez, who spent the summer at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Read more posts in the series here

Ariel, after banding a purple martin.

For Latino Conservation Week back in July, I partnered with three different Boys and Girls Club locations, as well as two community centers. Because the refuge is positioned in between Buffalo and Rochester, I wanted to make sure we were reaching both cities. For my very first event, I worked with kids from the STEM program in the Rochester Boys and Girls Club. We went to the nearby Genesee Valley Park and did a nature photography program. The kids enjoyed it and got to pick their favorite nature photo to be framed.

The second event was at the Belle Center in Buffalo. It was a large event, and staff from the refuge helped support me. It was a blast, and the kids had a lot of fun doing things like making plaster casts of animal tracks, learning about food webs and looking at insects. The other three events were pelts and skulls lessons. I went to the Massachusetts Ave. Boys and Girls Club, the Beecher Boys and Girls Club, and the West Side Community Center in Buffalo. I taught kids about the local mammals using furs and replica skulls. There was also a voluntary wildlife ID quiz I laid out that many kids decided to try on their own. It was an amazing experience to see what things kids knew, or what they imagined about the things they saw.

My personal favorites how many people guess that the deer skull is a dinosaur and that the beaver pelt is a bear! I’ve also gotten the chance to work with monitoring and banding birds. Some of the birds I’ve gotten to work with are purple martins, Eastern bluebirds, and tree swallows. It has been really busy, but really fun and I enjoyed my time at Iroquois!

 

 

Looking for Love in the Right Places

Today we hear from Elizabeth Rogers, with the National Park Service at Fire Island National Seashore in New York State. Elizabeth spent some time this spring and summer working as a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sharing the stories and science of resilient coastal communities and systems. On her days off, she can be found exploring the outdoors or dabbling in the kitchen.

Millions of people come to beaches along the Atlantic Coast every summer to swim, stroll, and sunbathe. Piping plovers, federally protected beach-nesting birds, return to sandy stretches from Newfoundland to North Carolina each year to look for love.

When it comes to finding the right place to nest and raise their young, piping plovers are picky. Nests are often found along the upper beach in sparsely vegetated areas of sand, pebbles, or shells above the high tide line.

Piping plovers nest along the upper beach in sparsely vegetated areas of sand, pebbles, or shells above the high tide line. Credit: Dave Frederick/Creative Commons

Ideal nesting habitat has long been identified and protected with string fencing at federal, state, and local parks across the Northeast. Until recently, however, there was little information to help land managers understand the importance of local nesting habitat within the broader range of this species.

Two studies funded through Hurricane Sandy relief aid are helping to change that.

Since Hurricane Sandy struck, researchers from Virginia Tech have banded and monitored piping plovers near a channel, or breach, that opened during the storm within Fire Island National Seashore’s wilderness area in New York. The study shows that natural, unmodified channels like this breach are a big deal for breeding plovers. Annual surveys have shown that the breach shoreline and nearby overwashes and flood shoal islands are attracting new piping plover pairs.

Due to the dynamic nature of sandy coastal environments, there is an abundance of flat, open habitat with little vegetation. An ample supply of potential nest sites and edible insects make the shoreline near the natural inlet a draw for an increasing number of piping plovers.

Over the course of the five-year Virginia Tech study, more than half of the adult birds have returned to the site year after year. One adult flew over 30 miles from its nesting site to feed near the breach and was observed the following year nesting at the wilderness breach. This year, two adult plovers banded as chicks from different nests have returned and paired up —  a true summer love story.

An inventory compiled for the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NALCC) by coastal geologist Tracy Rice identified piping plover habitat on a regional scale during three distinct time periods: before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and after the storm in 2013 and 2015. The Fish and Wildlife Service is a supporting partner in the NALCC.

The inventory shows how sands — and potential nesting habitat like natural tidal inlets — have shifted over time across the Atlantic Coast. With a broader view of breeding grounds, the location of prime piping plover habitat and the impacts of habitat modification come into clearer focus.

Little Egg Inlet on Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey is one of just two unmodified tidal inlets in a 350-mile stretch of coastline within the breeding range of the piping plover. Credit: Google Earth

Rice’s inventory found the wilderness breach at Fire Island and Little Egg Inlet, an opening into Great Bay in the wilderness portion of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, are the only natural, unmodified channels in a 350-mile stretch of coast from Montauk, New York, to Chincoteague, Virginia. Beaches near natural inlets, shaped and reshaped by the tides, can provide an abundant supply of nesting habitat and food resources for shorebirds. Identifying these natural assets on a regional scale provides land managers an important perspective.

Taken together, these studies deepen our understanding of how landscape change within a species’ range can influence breeding success. This new information will guide how shorebird nest sites are protected in the future. Good news for piping plovers looking for love along the Atlantic Coast.

Driven by instincts and a pickup truck: An Atlantic salmon’s journey towards recovery

This is the introduction to a five-part series that follows an Atlantic salmon on its journey upstream to spawn in a tributary of Lake Champlain driven by its instincts (and a pickup truck). Learn why this species disappeared from the lake in the 19th century, and how it is making a comeback today thanks to collaboration by partners in the basin.

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Ready to run: After swimming into the Boquet River from Lake Champlain, this salmon and a few others were transported above a set of cascades to spawning habitat upstream in a pickup truck. Credit: Zach Eisenhauer/FWS

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to wade into a river to release a live salmon from your hands, you get it. I don’t need to explain why so much time, research, engineering, and ingenuity has gone into the recovery of this species in the Lake Champlain Basin. Because as that fish tensed against your firm grip eager to continue its journey upstream, you could feel its will to live.

If you haven’t, believe me: these fish were born to run. For thousands of years, the survival instinct — aided by a phenomenal homing ability — has led Atlantic salmon back to the rivers and streams where they were born to spawn and, hopefully, to pass their genes onto future generations.

Just like its ancestors, the salmon I held in my hands in the Boquet River in late October was determined to make its way upstream to reproduce. But beyond the shared reproductive urge, that salmon differs from salmon of yore in a few important ways.

For one: it didn’t come back to the river where it was born, because it was born in a hatchery.

For another: it didn’t swim upstream. It rode in a pickup truck.

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Carpool: A tank in the bed of a truck provides a safe way to transport live salmon upstream. Credit: Ashlee Prevost/Concordia University

Most importantly: it wouldn’t have been in the Boquet River at all if not for the dedication of local, state, and federal partners working together to get it there.

My salmon is not lazy. The collective will of Lake Champlain salmon to live hasn’t changed over the centuries. But the conditions necessary for them to do so have.

“A lot of things need to be right for salmon to have a full life cycle,” explained Bill Ardren, Senior Fish Scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

And in the 1800s, a lot of things started to go wrong: overfishing, agricultural runoff, development, and the deal breaker for a migratory fish species, the construction of dams along rivers. If salmon can’t reach the shallow, gravelly stream beds, with steadily flowing cold water that provide the right conditions for them to spawn, they simply can’t spawn.

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Wading for action: Senior Fish Scientist at the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office Bill Ardren stands by ready to assist colleagues fishing for salmon below a set of cascades in the Boquet River. Credit: Nancy Milliken

Cut off from breeding grounds, salmon were effectively cut off from their reproductive destinies, and by the end of the 1800s, the native Atlantic salmon population was gone from Lake Champlain.

But not forgotten.

In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to begin a coordinated effort to restore Lake Champlain’s Atlantic salmon population.

People have rallied around this fish for good reason. Salmon are what biologists call a keystone species — what happens if you remove the keystone from an arch? CRASH! Same goes for a species like salmon; they hold aquatic ecosystems together by eating, being eaten, and contributing vital nutrients.

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Move over Champy: After more than a century’s absence, Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in Lake Champlain. Credit: Steve Smith/FWS

That means actions taken to bring Atlantic salmon back to Lake Champlain benefit a range of other species that depend upon this system, including humans. Restoring riparian and headwater areas to protect spawning habitat results in cleaner water for people; controlling sea lamprey makes it possible for salmon and other species that have been parasitized by this fish, like lake trout and lake sturgeon, to survive into adulthood; and removing aquatic barriers to increase fish passage means a lower risk of flooding for communities.

There’s also the bottom line: For communities on Lake Champlain and its tributaries, the return of salmon could mean the return of a lucrative fishery. Bring salmon back to the rivers, the anglers will follow, and communities will flourish.

The salmon that entered the river from my hands is a product of the restoration effort (born in the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in North Chittenden, Vermont), a participant in the restoration effort (transported above cascades in the Boquet River via pickup truck), and a key to answering questions that can help ensure the program’s long-term success through genetic testing.

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In it together: Partners from local communities, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and universities are working together to restore Lake Champlain’s salmon population. Credit: Nancy Milliken

In this series, we will meet the partners behind the restoration work, and learn how each has contributed a critical piece to a complex restoration puzzle which when complete, will be much greater than the sum of its parts.

“One of the neat things about salmon is they are a great indicator species,” said Ardren. “So if we can get natural populations reestablished, we really will have restored these ecosystems to a level of high quality habitat overall. And we are getting really close.”

How close? The salmon I released into the Boquet River last October may be able to fulfill its destiny after all.

Part 1: Joining forces in the upstream battle for salmon

Part 2: A new hope surfaces for salmon restoration

Part 3: Hatching a plan to save salmon

Part 4: Taking cues from nature to advance salmon restoration

Part 5: A fish points to the future in Lake Champlain