Tag Archives: volunteers

A Heaven Scent Nose Knows Hometown Heroes

Dianne Thees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania Field Office, her husband Mike, along with their dogs Luke and Belle, were honored by their town of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, with the Hometown Hero award for their incredible volunteer service in canine search and rescue.

Initially inspired by her brother, Dianne began volunteering in canine search and rescue as a way to give back to others. Realizing her passion, canine search and rescue quickly became a lifestyle for Dianne, and in 2007, Dianne and Mike founded Heaven Scent Search and Rescue.

Dianne and Mike, along with their two beloved bloodhounds, have been an active part of search and rescue efforts in their community and in surrounding counties. Partnering with state and local police, they have helped locate missing children and adults, lost hunters and hikers, and suspects in a variety of criminal investigations.

Dianne and Belle running a trail.

In addition to active search and rescue, the Thees team provides educational programs to police and fire departments, school programs, Boy Scout troops, church groups, and other civic organizations. They also provide opportunities for volunteers to act as “runners”, or the persons of interest, during training.

Dianne and Mike only use bloodhounds in their search and rescue efforts, since bloodhounds are bred specifically for finding humans. Mike says, “bloodhounds are scent discriminatory and are unique in what they do. No two people smell the same, not even identical twins or triplets and we’ve worked with both. Your scent is like a thumb print to them,” each one is different.

Dianne and Mike’s heroic work does not go unrecognized. “To have the community nominate and select you, and recognize the thousands of volunteer hours you’ve put in training and traveling, is extremely humbling,” says Dianne. She spends most of her vacation time on search calls.

Lora Lattanzi, project leader and supervisor for the Pennsylvania Field Office, feels incredibly fortunate and proud to have Dianne as part of her team and their community. “With over 33 years as a federal employee, and 18 years spent training and working with bloodhounds for search and rescue, Dianne truly epitomizes hard work, dedication, and selfless service to others.”

Thank you Dianne, Mike, Luke, and Belle for all that you do!




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.


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!


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.”

SeedCollectingHWSstudents1_SenecaMeadows_LColunga_0816 (2).JPG

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.”


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!



oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

Building Castles to Fight Sea-Level Rise

No, we’re not talking about putting up walls and towers and turrets.

We’re talking about building homes for baby oysters. (Awww.) Out of LEGO-like cement blocks.

Sounds like everything is awesome, doesn’t it?

Well, not quite.

oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

A completed array of oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR. Credit: TNC.

In the mid-Atlantic region, water levels are rising at rates three to four times the global average for sea-level rise. Places like Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the entire Virginia coast are smack in the middle of this zone.

One innovative and natural method for combating the impacts of sea-level rise is to build oyster reefs to help buffer waves and create a better marine habitat.

Volunteers and project partners have been doing just that at Chincoteague NWR. Over multiple days in April and May, volunteers donned their waders and rolled up their sleeves to assemble thousands of cement blocks into oyster castles at two sites. These castles form the foundation of the oyster reefs.

building oyster reefs at Chincoteague NWR

Helping hands assemble castles to create oyster reefs at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Chelsi Burns/USFWS.

“The oyster reefs will provide natural benefits such as filtering water and nutrients and promoting sediment uptake, so they’re vital to our marine areas,” says Kevin Holcomb, USFWS wildlife biologist at Chincoteague NWR.

“But there is also growing scientific evidence that coastal habitats such as oyster reefs, tidal salt marshes and sea grass meadows can offer cost-effective risk reduction in the face of rising sea levels and future impacts.”

Watch a video of the project and see a photo slideshow (from Delmarva Now).

How does it work?

First, crushed oyster shells are laid down as a “bed” under the castle blocks. Oysters will settle on these beds and the spat (baby oysters) will cling to the castles, growing up the vertical columns. The castles weigh around 30 pounds each with windows for water to flow through. The whole system creates a functional habitat for oysters and other marine life, including fish like striped bass. And it provides a natural buffer to oncoming waves, reducing their impact on the shoreline.

assembling oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

Jenny Young hands of a castle block to Jenny Miller. Credit: Danny White/TNC.

When finished, there will be an estimated 1,400 feet of living shoreline oyster reefs at Tom’s Cove and 2,050 feet in Assateague Bay – two sites that were battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (See photos of the damage.)

Using natural methods of coastal protection like oyster reefs, living shorelines and tidal marshes is a high priority for the USFWS. With $167 million in funding from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, USFWS is working on over 70 projects to restore areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and build in resiliency to help protect coastlines against future storms and the impacts of sea-level rise.

Our awesome partners in this work include The Nature Conservancy, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the National Park Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Read a press release about the work.

Oyster spat

Oyster spat. Credit: CSIRO Marine Research