Tag Archives: volunteer

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!

 

 

Making a difference in the salamander movement

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What might look like a fallen twig in the road is actually a migrating spotted salamander.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

As we slide into our rain gear, the spotted salamanders are already sliding down the hill, making their way toward the wetland across the road.  Driving here was like living in a game of Frogger, only we were the car.  Switching roles now, we park the car and begin escorting as many of these slippery critters across the road as possible.  What had looked like fallen twigs from the car are actually slow-moving salamanders getting crushed by oncoming traffic.  I am joining New York Field Office biologist, Noelle Rayman-Metcalf, on a volunteer mission to document and help migrating woodland amphibians.

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Spotted salamander that emerged from the forest floor on a rainy night.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

Salamanders represent one of the largest sources of biomass of all vertebrates in the forest landscape.  They also can help us by eating pest insects, like mosquitoes that breed in the same vernal pools as them.  Just beneath the forest floor are countless hibernating frogs and salamanders, awaiting the first heavy rain after a spring thaw.

Typically, late March and early April are when they resurface from their winter homes, but with unseasonably warm weather this year, some woodland amphibians came out early.  By early March, spring peepers and spotted salamanders are emerging from the earth, half-awake and on auto pilot to make it to the wetland and breed.  This migration has been happening for tens of thousands of years in the forests of New York State, except one thing is different now: we have placed roads in the middle of their route.

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A spotted salamander waits at the roadside, as if pondering whether or not to cross.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

It’s a double-edged sword because roads have made it much easier to see and document this impressive migration, but now there is a spike in fatality.  Driven by instinct, these amphibians all travel in one direction, while cars are streaming from both.  Some are lucky enough to escape the 4 wheels overhead, but for a vast majority, luck fails.

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Spotted salamander makes his way toward the headlights of a car, attempting to cross over to the wetland on the other side.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

That’s where we come in, acting as a free lift service for migrating frogs and salamanders.  One salamander pops his head up over the roadside, another is already making a slow dash in the middle of the road, and then a peeper springs into the action!  We quickly grab those in sight and safely transport them to the other side of the road.  I can’t help but think about how many slip past the two of us before we can rescue them.  I can only imagine what passing cars are thinking as they see our bright orange vests on the side of the road at 10:00 pm in the wind and rain.

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A spotted salamander pops its head over the edge of the road after coming down the hill from the woods.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

There is a small crew of volunteers in Central New York who maintain this late night tradition when the warm spring rains fall.  This is part of a larger effort for the NYSDEC’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project, which so far has helped more than 8,500 amphibians cross New York roads safely.  Others are helping make a difference across the Northeast as well.  In Massachusetts, salamander tunnels have been installed to allow safe crossing.  Some areas have even begun to periodically close roads to allow the hundreds, if not thousands of amphibians to make it to their breeding pools without the risk.

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Lending a helping hand to make sure this salamander safely crosses the road.  Photo: Justin Dalaba, USFWS.

With spring still a few weeks away and sporadic temperature changes ahead, there could be more nights like this. If you know of a breeding location or want to lend a helping hand in this effort for the Northeast, you can find a local volunteer opportunity near you. When you’re driving near a wetland, be sure to use extra caution on rainy nights, and be aware there may be volunteers and amphibians out and about.

More on Latino Conservation Week — reflections from The Wildlife Society field course by Laura Lagunez

In celebration of Latino Conservation Week (July 11th – 19th), we’re acknowledging the Latino community’s strong support for protecting natural resources.

Today we’re acknowledging the efforts of our experienced and knowledgeable staff, who annually mentor a lucky group of participants at the Northeast Section of The Wildlife Society field course. Every spring, a group of undergraduate and graduate students arrive the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kehoe Conservation Center for an intensive, 2-week immersion in wildlife field skills.  The course has traditionally been taught by volunteer wildlife professionals in both the private and public sectors, who provide guidance and instruction in common wildlife field methodology and natural history of the Northeastern forest communities.

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The Wildlife Society Northeast Section Field Course — Class of 2015 with co-instructors John McDonald and Bill Healy

Students start with map and compass skills and expand on to common tree and shrub identification, early morning bird surveys, mammal trapping, habitat sampling, reptile and amphibian sampling, and hunter education training.

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Class of 2015 participating in a wildlife telemetry exercise.

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Volunteer instructor and wildlife professional, Mitch Hartley, demonstrates songbird banding on a blue jay. Students also practice sampling common bird by sight and sound in early morning bird surveys.

Averaging more than 10 hours a day in practical instruction, students also get a wide range of perspective on careers in the wildlife field from volunteer instructors. Career discussions often shed light on how unpredictable career paths can be in the wildlife field. After two weeks of intensive training and mentorship, this is what field course participant Laura Lagunez had to say about her experience:

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Laura holds a Red Spotted Newt in eft stage. Newts metamorphose through three distinct developmental life stages: aquatic larva, terrestrial juvenile (called an eft), and adult.

“…My work and internship experiences have solely focused on opportunities associated with veterinary medicine.  The TWS East Section field course has opened my eyes to consider other options related to the wildlife conservation profession. I was extremely interested in the tree and plant species  identification and would have loved it even more if that part of the course extended to ethnobotany and medicinal plant knowledge. As a Mexican and Navajo woman, I have a deep passion for looking at social and environmental issues concerning Indigenous people across the globe. There is a dire need of building a greater acceptance and confidence between Western researchers and the social science methods used in traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). My hope is that I will be able to bridge this gap by applying what I have learned from this course such as habitat mapping, radio telemetry, and GPS techniques to empower indigenous communities to participate in their own community based resource management and conservation programs.”

All posted pictures were procured from 2015 participants of the Northeast Section of The Wildlife Society field course — namely published by Bennett Gould.