Harmful Algal Blooms: New York State Takes Action in 2018!

There has been a lot of activity in New York State this spring regarding Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)!  In an effort to raise awareness regarding HABS, Governor Cuomo called together four HAB Summit Meetings across the State (February 27 in New Paltz, March 6 at SUNY ESF, March 20 in Ticonderoga, and March 26 in Rochester).  Leading experts from the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) and other state and national experts convened to discuss and address the causes of algal blooms in 12 priority waterbodies across the state.  The meetings were the first step in the development of action plans to address HAB occurrences in each waterbody.  Of the 12 priority waterbodies chosen as part of the Governor’s initiative to combat HABs, five of them are the home of State Park’s beaches, marinas, or campgrounds (Conesus Lake, Honeoye Lake, Chautauqua Lake, Cayuga Lake and Lake Champlain).  The action plans will be used to implement monitoring and treatment projects related to HABS.

What’s the problem with HABs?

You might see a couple of different terms used in association with HABs, but they mean the same thing: cyanobacteria and blue green algae are used interchangeably.  The term “blue-green algae” is a misnomer; it is not truly algae. It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria that is capable of photosynthesis. An algal “bloom” consists of cyanobacteria in great enough numbers of cells to be seen by the naked eye.  Some algal blooms can produce toxins, but not all do.  When an algal bloom produces toxins, it is called a Harmful Algal Bloom.  HABs can thrive when certain conditions are met, including warm weather, stagnant water, and sufficient nutrients in the water body.  The bacteria can form dense mats on the surface of a lake or can be suspended in the water column. The blooms can be brightly colored and look like pea soup, spilled paint, or an oily scum/sheen that coats the lake surface.  The blooms move around the lake in response to wind and currents, tend to accumulate at shorelines, and can move vertically in the water column to find the perfect nutrient and temperature conditions to flourish.  Blooms occur most often in waters high in phosphorous and/or nitrogen, and research is ramping up to determine the exact causes of algal blooms.

Because of the potential for blooms to produce toxins, it is important to keep people and pets out of the water during a bloom.  The toxins can make people and animals sick, and toxin exposure can cause a range of symptoms, including rashes, respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal troubles, and effects on the liver. HABs may also impact drinking water and recreational activities, and can cause unpleasant odors.

It is State Parks Policy to follow the DOH protocol and close bathing beaches when a HAB is present.  To re-open a beach at a State Park, the beach must be free of any signs of a bloom for 24 hours, and a water sample must be submitted for toxin analysis.

The Big Message for the 2018 Beach Season

Know it, Avoid it, Report it.  Learn what a bloom looks like, avoid it, and make sure to report it to the Park Manager if you see a potential bloom at a State Park.  You can also notify the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, or harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov

HAB Photos from State Parks:

HAB

Below are a few links to learn more about HABs!

NYS Department of Health: Harmful Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Environmental Protection Agency: Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in Water

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation: Harmful Algal Blooms

Trails Stewardship in the Finger Lakes

Here in the Finger Lakes, one of the best ways to access the natural beauty of the area is by taking a hike on one of the many trails that can be found within the region’s state parks. The trails (in parks such as Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Fillmore Glen) lead hikers through a variety of environments, including mature forests, meadows, lake shores, and wetlands. Of course, hikers can also enjoy the deep gorges, dramatic cascades, and waterfalls the region is famous for! Over the years, hiking has gained popularity nationwide. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, New York State has a lot to offer people looking to get outside. The Finger Lakes region of the State Park system sees several hundred thousand visitors each year, many of whom come to hike the trails. Foot traffic, weather, and time have left some of the trails in Finger Lakes state parks eroded and in need of repair. This erosion not only makes the hiking experience less enjoyable for trail users, it also leads to negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. To meet this problem head-on, the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew (FLRTC) was developed in the spring of 2017.

Crew
Some of the hard-working members of the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew, photo by State Parks

The main goal of the trail crew is to maintain safe and enjoyable hiking trails for park visitors, while protecting the natural and historic resources of the park. Currently the FLRTC consists of three Parks staff members and a diverse group of local volunteers. The Excelsior Conservation Corps also helps out with specific projects. In 2018, the trails crew will host two interns from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Parks Corps devoted to trail stewardship. This team effort has led to a tremendous amount of progress towards the Finger Lakes Park’s trail improvement goals.

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Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

Trail work, as a rule, takes a large amount of physical effort and creative problem solving. The work done by the FLRTC is no exception. Traditional tools and building techniques are often employed. Many of the trails in need of repair are in areas that are not accessible by vehicles or equipment. As a result, many of the materials used in trail construction have to be carried in by hand; it takes a strong crew to lug in lumber, stone, and gravel. Sometimes materials have to be moved down into or across the area’s gorges. The trail crew uses high-strength zip lines to accomplish this task. This is the safest method and protects the fragile slopes and vegetation.

Zipline
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

All of this hard work pays off in the form of functional, safe and visually pleasing staircases, boardwalks, and bridges that blend with the surroundings.

 As you get out on the trails this year, take a minute to look down from the beautiful scenery. The trail you are on most likely took a lot of hard work to build and maintain – but chances are the park staff and volunteers behind the work loved every minute of it!

 Post by Zachary Ballard, State Parks

Babies Abound! Little Critters in State Parks

Spring is in the air and baby animals abound in our State Parks. Look and listen for some of these young critters in our parks. Remember, it is best to watch them from a distance so you do not scare the young animal or its parent. If you see a young animal that looks like it is abandoned, please leave it be. It is most likely fine on its own or has a parent close by and waiting for you to back away. It is fun to explore and watch, but don’t stay in one spot too long so that the animals can go back to their daily activities.

Box Turtle_E Becker
A class gets a close-up look at a young box turtle at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. The turtle was handled briefly and then released where it was found. If you find turtles crossing the road or trail, you can move them to safety by putting them on the side where they were headed.
baby raccoon FNSP
A pair of young raccoons peek out from behind a tree at Fort Niagara State Park.
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Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is one of the monarch caterpillars preferred plants. You can find milkweed in along unmown trail edges and in meadows in many State Parks
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A red fox vixen keeps a watchful eye over a pair of kits at Letchworth State Park.
Drone hatching_Greg Kofsky
Warm weather brings the honey bees back into action. Here, a drone honey bee (at left) is hatching from the hive at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center.
S. Montefinise
Canada geese and goslings at Jones Beach State Park. Adult geese can be pretty aggressive about protecting their babies, so watch quietly from a distance. The goslings can be a lot of fun to watch as they scurry about.
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Mother mallard and her many ducklings.
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A white-tailed deer fawn hiding in the brush at Letchworth State Park. The mother is close by, watching you and waiting for you to move on. You have to look hard and move quietly to get a chance to see these youngsters in the woods.
Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
BarnSwallow Chicks-Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
chickadee
Black-capped chickadees nest in tree cavities or will use birdboxes as seen here.
ecottentail
You might see Eastern cottontails in your back yard, local park or in the campground or picnic area in many of the state parks.
Eaglet
Bald eaglet are really big baby birds. This one has been banded by wildlife biologists. The blue and silver leg bands help identify the bird when it is seen elsewhere over the course of its adult life.
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Young killdeer on the run at Allegany State Park. They have a really loud call and may be seen in open areas like lawns and parking lots! Killdeer are precocial birds, meaning they leave the nest shortly after they are hatched.
easternphoebe
Eastern phoebe nestlings getting a little too big for their nest. Time to try out those wings.
roughwingedswallow
Northern rough-winged swallow fledgling.
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Young snapping turtle covered in duck weed from its pond. Remember that bigger snapping turtles bite, so keep your distance.
woodfrog
A very tiny wood frog, identifiable by the dark mask on its face. It’s ok to hold them gently for a bit, but let them go so they can grow up in their home in the woods.
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Woodchuck mom and her pups in Allegany State Park. The white one was known as “Marshmallow.”
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A young American woodcock hides in the underbrush, so well camouflaged and thus seldom seen.
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A young dusky salamander found in a wet log at Allegany State Park. It is great to explore and find young animals. Keeping hands off can keep them safe and allow you to observe their behavior in their natural habitat.

Take time this spring to enjoy our State Parks little critters!

Thank you to all staff who contributed to this post.

The Hudson River’s “Tough Turtles”

During the summer months along the Hudson River south of Troy, New York, it’s easy to notice the tides rising and falling, herons wading in the shallow streams, and the giant cargo ships purposefully streaming up and down the river. Difficult to spot, however, are the river’s many turtles. Several varieties call the Hudson home, but the northern (also called common) map turtle is perhaps the most interesting and understudied.

Princess
Northern map turtle “Princess” hanging out while her tracker tag dries before her release. Scientists use these tags to locate the turtles for months after capture.

Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are large river turtles that get their name from the intricate circling pattern on their shells, which resemble the elevation lines on a map. These turtles are relatively secretive. In urban areas they have to work especially hard to find what they need to survive. For one thing, turtles need good basking objects—places where they can come out of the water safely and sun themselves to warm up. Fallen trees or rocks make the best basking habitat, specifically ones that are farther out into the water so they can easily escape from potential predators. Because of the tides, many potentially good basking objects aren’t reachable as they are either too high up the bank or underwater at any given time.

Luna
Scientists quietly observe northern map turtle “Luna” nesting from a safe distance. This nest received protection from predators and likely hatched successfully months later.

Another problem is finding places to lay their eggs. All turtles lay eggs and the northern map turtle is no exception. Most turtles prefer loose, sandy soil with plenty of sunlight for the eggs to develop successfully. Temperature determines the gender of the tiny map turtle babies—eggs toward the cooler, bottom of the nest often become males, while those eggs toward the warmer top (that therefore get more sun and heat) will become females. But in this highly urban area, good places to nest are few and far between. Natural areas, like those found in some of the State Parks along the river, help provide habitat for them. These spots seem perfect for northern map turtles, but they do tend to have a couple of drawbacks: 1) road and foot traffic and 2) predators smelling the eggs and destroying the nests soon after they’ve been laid. In addition, well-meaning people who are simply curious about these turtles (and with good reason!) approach nesting females that may “spook” and stop laying. People should give nesting turtles some space and observe quietly from a distance.

Nest
Probable northern map turtle nest destroyed by a predator. Shells that appear twisted indicate some animal has eaten them, whereas more intact shells mean the nest has likely hatched successfully.

 

Because good turtle habitat is hard to find in an urbanized section of the river, researchers Dr. James Gibbs and Master of Science candidate Julia Vanaman from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry are working to identify what habitats are most important to map turtles. Aquatic plants, basking objects, forest along the river banks, and shoreline development all likely play a role in where these turtles choose to spend their time. Once the researchers understand why a turtle likes an area, they can pass along that information to state and local park managers who can protect habitat and take measures to enhance it (e.g., by creating nesting habitat or increasing the number of available basking objects). With these habitat improvements, hopefully these fascinating turtles will stick around for many years to come.

Note: Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) occur across much of eastern North America from the Mississippi River, north to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and east to small portions of the Susquehanna, Delaware and Hudson river systems. In New York State, the map turtle is considered vulnerable to decline and is recognized as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the state’s wildlife action plan. For more information, please check out the following links:

New York State Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Rare Animal Status List

Common Map Turtle Distribution Map

Turtles of New York State

NatureServe northern map turtle

NatureServe Map

Post and photos by Julia Vanaman, Master of Science candidate, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Featured image attribution: By Dger [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Trees Spring Ahead

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Spring is here and the tree buds are starting to pop. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is among the first to flower, revealing little tassles of red and orange. The leaves will emerge a bit later.

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Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is another early bloomer. Perhaps this tree was named after its silvery flowers.

Beech trees are late comers — the long skinny buds and last year’s leaves are still holding tight. They are easy to spot in the woods before everything greens up.

Beech combined
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud and leaves.

Remember all that snow and how heavy it was? If you find trees arching over a trail or at odd angles in the woods, that may be a sign that it survived a heavy load of snow like these hemlocks. Trees are amazingly resilient and strong.

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Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches bent down by the weight of the snow.

Before long the trees will be greening up and a new season of growth, with the sounds of birds, insects, and wildlife, will return. Take a walk through the woods. Look how small we are compared to the trees!

Bennington
Immersed in the woods on a trail at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site.

Do you feel inspired, in awe, empowered or claustrophobic under a canopy of trees? More than 80% of NY State Parks and Historic Sites are covered in forest, so you can find spots like this in a park near you.

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Tree canopy at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island.

Perhaps you prefer viewing the trees from a distance or sitting under a favorite tree. NYS Historic Sites are great places for this: Crown Point on Lake Champlain (below), Olana on the Hudson, Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, Lorenzo in Cazenovia, or Hyde Hall at Glimmerglass are a few spots to enjoy big trees.

Crown Pt
Crown Point State Historic Site offers scenic vistas and some beautiful trees.

Take a little time this Arbor Day to appreciate our tall tree friends and spring into action with some walks in the woods or a stroll along a tree-lined path.

Post and photos by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program, NYNHP. NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks to survey and map rare species and natural communities in the parks to aid in stewardship of their natural resources.

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

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