All posts by New York State Parks

Efforts to Control Invasive Species in Parks Gain a Four-Footed Team Member

One sniff at a time, an energetic Labrador retriever named Dia is changing the way we combat invasive species in New York State Parks.

Along with her handler Joshua Beese, this invasives-fighting team from the nonprofit New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is on the hunt for Scotch broom, a threat to the native ecosystems in Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Dia uses her powerful sense of smell to help find small and sparsely distributed invasive species that might be missed by human searchers. Since November 2018, her incredible nose has been specially trained to sniff out the invasive plant Scotch broom.

Joshua Beese with Dia. Photo by nynjtc.org

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius)is one of the most destructive invasives on the Pacific Coast, where it has had costly implications for agricultural industries. When it began showing up in New York’s parks, land managers became concerned. Scotch broom forms dense clusters that can displace native plant species and reduce biodiversity that is essential for a healthy ecosystem.

The Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (LHPRISM), which works to minimize the harm caused by invasives, ranks Scotch broom as a tier 2 priority invasive species. That means it is present in such low numbers in the Lower Hudson Valley that with proper action it could be completely eradicated from the area before the population becomes established.

Scotch broom plant in flower on May 2015 at Harriman State Park. Photo by Shelby Timm, nynjtc.org.

The New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team and the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force (ISF) Crew of AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and interns have collaborated over the past several years in a bid to eradicate Scotch broom in the region. The ISF Crew has been finding and removing Scotch broom in state parks since 2014, when 37 separate populations were recorded at Bear Mountain and Harriman.

A Scotch broom infestation at Harriman State Park in 2014. Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org
After the Scotch broom removal . Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org

While a few locations no longer have any plants, other locations are harder to manage. It becomes challenging to find the few remaining individuals among all the other vegetation, which means this destructive plant could still propagate. That’s where Dia comes in!

“Dia first comes into the field with her nose up, smelling what’s in the air, working to detect the Scotch broom scent,” explains handler Beese. “She’s using what are called scent cones; she works her way into a cone and uses that cone to help her narrow down the source.”

Once in a cone, she will search until she gets to the source and put her nose to the ground to sniff out smaller plants that may be tiny and low to the ground. She alerts Beese that she’s found the species by standing or sitting. “The most important thing is that she’s committed to an area where she’s detected the plant until I come and reward her,” Beese says. “Then we can mark it and remove it.”

Dia’s reward: Her ball on a rope with a game of tug and fetch. See Dia in action by following her on Instagram @diasavestheforest.

Dia on the hunt for invasives. Photo by Arden Blumenthal, nynjtc.org

Utilizing their exceptional sense of smell, dogs have been commonly used for search and rescue, as well as weapons and narcotics detection. These tracking and detection skills are now being used to protect our wild spaces. In 2010, the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management published a study that concluded trained dogs could smell and detect twice the number of invasive plants that humans could observe with their eyes.

Although other groups have used dogs for short projects to detect of invasive species, the Trail Conference’s Conservation Dog Program is the first permanent program of its kind in the Northeast.

This is Dia’s first season in the field; she has already been on more than 20 surveying trips. In several instances, the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force Crew had been to a site and completely removed every plant they were able to find—and then Dia found a few more.

Trail Conference Conservation Corps members removing Scotch broom plants in 2016. The flags indicate where plants have been removed. Photo by Matt Simonelli, nynjtc.org

Dia came to the Trail Conference from a farm in Wisconsin that breeds dogs for hunting competitions. She was selected for the program by Beese, an experienced search and rescue dog handler, who is assisted by volunteer Arden Blumenthal. He has trained Dia with the mentorship of Aimee Hurt from Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana, an organization that has been working with dogs on conservation projects for more than 20 years.

In a metropolitan region highly prone to invasive infestations, early detection when populations are small is a key component of successful invasive species management. Not only does Dia make search-and-destroy efforts more thorough within infestations, she is also able to find stray plants outside the known boundaries where people had focused their searches. Dia helps make sure the area is really cleared to reduce the potential for reinfestation or further spread. With better search efficiency, it should be possible to declare New York State parks Scotch broom-free in the near future. 

Crew from New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team removing a Scotch broom plant. Phot by Linda Rohleder, nynjtc.org

Up next for Dia is slender false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), an invasive grass that can outcompete existing vegetation, including threatened and endangered species, and harm wildlife populations by altering food sources. Slender false brome has recently been found in Letchworth State Park, and this location will serve as a training ground for Dia.

***UPDATE: Dia and her team recently went to Letchworth State Park, where they did find the invasive slender false brome in areas where surveyors had missed it.

Conservation dogs can learn to detect up to three new species each year, meaning Dia’s incredible talents will continue to develop. “In three or four years,” Beese says, “we’ll be pushing forward the science on what can be done with invasive species detection using dogs.”

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Conservation Dog team, from left, Arden Blumenthal, Dia, and Joshua Beese. Photo by Heather Darley, nynjtc.org

Post by Linda Rohleder, Director of Land Stewardship, New York – New Jersey Trail Conference and Coordinator, Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM)

After Yorktown: The Path to Newburgh And VICTORY

Many visitors to The Hasbrouck House overlooking the Hudson River are surprised to learn that George Washington spent 16 and a half months headquartered and living in this fieldstone farmhouse in Newburgh, New York after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28-October 19, 1781).

To many the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, was the end of the Revolutionary War. Although this decisive American/Franco victory did ultimately bring about the end of the war, it was not the end. In hindsight, the Siege of Yorktown created the path to Newburgh and victory! After all, the peace treaty was not signed until September 3, 1783—almost two years after the Yorktown victory. General Washington knew he and the military could not remain idle and expect to win.

1931 Postage Stamp
U.S. postage stamp commemorates 150th anniversary of Yorktown victory.

After Yorktown, the British regained the strategic upper hand on land and sea. Naval superiority had been compromised by the French with de Grasse’s victory in the Battle of the Capes in September 1781, but the British would reassert themselves with the defeat of de Grasse’s fleet in April 1782.

On land, three major American cities remained in the possession of the British after the siege. New York City had been taken in 1776 in a series of terrible losses. Savannah, Georgia had been captured in late 1778. Charleston, South Carolina, the gem of the South, had been lost on May 12, 1780.

In early 1782, the conflict awaited George Washington’s next move. His first inclination had been to liberate Charleston. After a conference with French Commander-in-Chief Rochambeau, Washington changed his mind. In a letter to Congress five days after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Washington outlined his reasons to Congress and informed them of his next move:

“…having no means of water conveyance, the transportation by land, of the army, with all their baggage, artillery, ordnance, stores and other apparatus necessary for the siege of Charleston, would be impracticable and attended with such immense trouble, expense and delay, exclusive of the necessity of naval co-operation [with the French] to be sufficient to deter me from the undertaking, especially as the enemy, after regaining Naval superiority on this coast, could reinforce or withdraw the garrison at pleasure…Our Operations against the enemy in this state being concluded it becomes my duty to inform Congress…[that] I shall myself, with the troops of the States to the Northward of Pennsylvania, return to my former position on the North River.”

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Reenactor portrays George Washington during event at Hasbrouck House.

The to which Washington refers is the Hudson River, and his “former position” was the Newburgh area—the best place for Washington to go for both his army and the defense of our country. The New York City contingent of British troops was the largest in North America. Newburgh was in a sense out of reach of the British Navy because of the Great Chain at West Point, but the “North River” still held strategic importance as the British had tried earlier in the war to divide the states by conquering the North River.

Parts of the Great Chain

Loyalties and money played a role, too in Washington’s decision. The area around Newburgh was almost 100% patriotic. At earlier points in the war, Washington had headquartered where local loyalties were not so plain. In those areas, supplies were harder to come by and Congress could provide little to no financial support, so friendly country was a necessity. Around Newburgh, patriot supply lines and depots, communication lines, contractors, etc. had already been established earlier in the war.

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Reenactors pose with Revolutionary War cannon.

Looking back on Yorktown, one can be forgiven for thinking the war was over, but that is only in hindsight. Had Washington thought that, we might be swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth today. After Yorktown, Washington worked hard to keep the army well positioned, battle ready, and under control. Newburgh gave him a relatively safe place from which to watch the British, strategically defend the country, and present a unified front at a time when internal turmoil threatened to undo all the hard work already done in defeating the British.

Come to Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh to find out the rest of the story. For more information contact Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh NY at 845-562-1195 or find us on Facebook.

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Schoolchildren learn about Washington at Hasbrouck House.

Post by Lynette Scherer, State Parks Recreation Aide at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site

Parks Water Quality Unit: Keeping Watch on our Beaches and Waterbodies

It’s finally June, which means the Water Quality Unit at New York State Parks is out in full swing for the 2019 summer season.  Each year, staff from the Water Quality Unit coordinate water quality monitoring programs for many of the waterbodies within Park boundaries.  A substantial portion of State Parks attendance is associated with recreational water use, so it is important to ensure the beaches are operated in a manner that is both safe for patrons and that protects this valuable resource for future use. The Beach program oversees weekly bacteriological sampling at 96 sampling stations within 60 parks, provides water quality training to Park staff, works on collaborative studies with other agencies, and ensures compliance with the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) protocol.  Keep reading for an overview of each of these responsibilities!

Beach Locations

New York State Park Beaches are located across the entire state – from end to end and top to bottom; on small inland lakes, the Finger Lakes, the Great Lakes, the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers, and on the Ocean.  This link will take you to the State Parks webpage where you can search for a beach near you or one you want to visit.

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Beachgoers relax at Moreau Lake State Park

Weekly Sampling

Each guarded beach is sampled a minimum of once a week for E. coli (freshwater) or Enterococci (marine) bacteriological indicators during the swim season.  The EPA defined regulatory limit for exceedances are greater than 235 E. coli colonies per 100 ml, and greater than 104 Enterococci colonies per 100 ml.  If a sample comes back over the regulatory limit, the beach is sampled again, until a satisfactory result is reported by the certified laboratory.  State Parks defines two categories of beaches: Category 1 (must resample and may remain open), and Category 2 (must resample and close immediately).  Click here to learn more about beach categories and closure criteria.  The data collected for the beach water quality program is carefully entered into large databases that are used for report generation, data evaluation, and reporting to regulatory agencies that in turn provide funding for beach sampling.

Beach Water Quality Training and Education

The Water Quality Unit provides regional trainings to park staff on how to properly collect a water sample, when to close or re-open a beach, and how to identify specific algae. The unit also conducts sanitary surveys to identify potential pollution sources and assists staff with site-specific questions and needs.  In addition, the unit develops and/or distributes educational materials on potential waterborne illnesses and other water-related topics.

Water Quality Collaborations

The Water Quality Unit routinely collaborates with other agencies and organizations such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and colleges and universities on subjects such as E. coli predictive modeling and HAB occurrences.  State Parks collects and shares data with these agencies to help further current research.  Check out this link Cornell at Work in NYS Parks to see Professor Ruth Richardson from Cornell University at work in Buttermilk Falls State Park testing out a new technology!

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Staffer checks water quality data on smartphone.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Research on the occurrence of HABs is still in full bloom both in the United States and worldwide.  In past years, State Parks has seen HABs on our beloved lakes and beaches, sometimes for the first time ever noted.  While this can be a startling discovery on a beautiful morning, be secure in knowing that State Parks has in place a firm reporting and response protocol for blooms observed both at beaches and non-beaches.  State Parks follows guidance from the NYSDOH and NYSDEC in closing and re-opening beaches suffering from a HAB, and in posting signage and warning the public of an existing HAB on a State Park waterbody.

To learn what harmful algal blooms look like, click here for a link to last year’s blog on HABs and a summary of the concentrated effort being made in New York State to address HAB occurrences.

Post by Amy LaBarge, Ocean and Great Lakes Beach Water Quality Coordinator

Pausing to Ponder Pollinators

It is Pollinator Week, the week we celebrate pollinators small and tiny.  Our native pollinators, including bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles, and flower moths, play an important role in supporting the diversity of plant life in New York. Since 2016, State Parks staff has been working hard to help protect our native pollinators by cultivating native plant gardens and meadows.

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Pollinator gardens are a great way to attract a variety of pollinators and provide a place for people to see and learn about plants and pollinators up close. Unlike natural areas, these areas often contain a familiar garden plants like daffodils, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, Stella Dora lilies, garden iris, cosmos, and many other non-native plants that provide color and variety and attract pollinators. However, by adding in plants that are native to New York State, you boost the value to the insects. Native pollinators evolved with the native flora, so they do better on these plants.  Some examples of native flora that are good for gardens are violets, blue flag iris, wood lily, butterfly weed (not to be confused with the non-native butterfly bush see below), asters, goldenrods, native sunflowers, Joe-Pye weed, azalea, and many others. Using a variety plants helps to support both the insect “generalists” who use many kinds of flowers, as well as the “specialists” that go to only one or a few types of flowers. Pollinator gardens in State Parks offer a good way for you to learn about some plants that occur in the park or region too.

Pollinator meadows are larger areas from a quarter acre to many acres, typically where old fields containing a mix of native and pasture grasses are supplemented with native plant species that attract pollinators. This is the type of area that works well for planting milkweed, goldenrods, native grasses (like little bluestem, panic grass, big bluestem), and other species that don’t need a lot of care and that tend to spread. To maintain the meadow habitat, these sites are best managed by occasional mowing to keep woody plants from moving in. Targeted weeding is also needed to keep any non-native invasives from getting a foothold. But managing a meadow close to a woodland is a plus as a number of pollinators make their home their and visit the meadows for food.

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The grassland at Ganondagan State Historic Site is a great place to find our native pollinators.

There are many lists of plants recommended for pollinator gardens or meadows but be wary as some contain plants that are not native to New York state. They also sometimes include non-native invasives which you really don’t want!

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Fritillary butterfly enjoys some milkweed at Caleb Smith State Park.

And beware that some common names can be confusing. For example, butterfly bush vs butterfly weed are not remotely related! Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is a purple flowered shrub that is popular but not native and can be invasive. Best to avoid that one.  In contrast, butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is an orange flowered milkweed native to NY and a great choice for attracting pollinators to your garden or meadow. To determine if a plant species is native to NY go to NY Flora Atlas.

NY State Parks staff have created more areas that make it easy for you to learn about native flora and fauna. The following places offer excellent spots for you to see native pollinators and learn about the plants they depend on. Take time this week to ponder pollinators at one of State Parks’ pollinator gardens or meadows.

Some of the parks will also have special pollinator programs during both Pollinator Week and over the summer, where you can search for and identify native pollinators.

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Pollinator program at Allegany State Park.

Learn more about our native pollinators and other insects:

Hohm, Heather, Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, Pollination Press LLC; 2014.

NY Natural Heritage Program and the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey

Wilson, Joseph S, The Bees In Your Backyard, Princeton University Press, 2015.

Xerces Pollinator Conservation

More information on insects and flowers:

Websites

BugGuide

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Books

McKenny, Margaret and Roger Tory Peterson, A Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America

Newcomb, Lawrence, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

Tallamy, Douglas and Rick Darke, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded

Grab Your Phone – Take a Picture

This Saturday is National Nature Photography Day.  So, grab your phone, head out to your favorite state park and take some pictures.

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Along Morgan Island shoreline in Kring Point State Park.

Here are a few tips to help you take great photos with your phone:

  1. Get to know the different photo settings your phone offers.
    1. Burst Mode is great for capturing fast moving images like birds or insects in flight or chipmunks scurrying along the trail.
    2. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, helps to improve landscape photos that have contrasting levels of light between the sky and land. HDR evens out the light and shadows between the bright and dark areas.
    3. Practice changing the focus by tapping the screen in the spot where you want the camera to focus.
    4. Practice changing the exposure (image brightness) in case you want to take pictures of something that is in a dark spot or a bright spot.
  2. Before you start taking pictures, clean the lens. With all the use our phones get, the lens can get dirty with finger prints and more. Use a soft lens cloth or 100% cotton cloth dipped in distilled water to clean your lens.
  3. When you are out taking photos:
      • Be sure you have plenty of memory or storage available for your photos.
      • The Rule of Thirds guideline will help with composing the photo. The Rule of Thirds is based on dividing the image into nine equal parts and placing points of interest along the lines.  In the example below, the image on the right takes advantage of the Rule of Thirds by placing the rock spire on the left vertical line and the distant horizon centered on the lower horizontal line, making the image feel balanced. The image on the left centers the rock spire, not the whole scene, and the image feels unbalanced.   Research has shown that our eyes naturally go to the intersections of the lines rather than the middle of the photo.  Use the grid setting on your camera to help with the composition.

    Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
    Rule of Thirds guideline, image by Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
  • Take multiple pictures of the same image,trying some from a different angle or perspective, such as looking up to take pictures of trees or kneeling to take photos through the meadow.

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Crouching down gives you a better angle for photos like this one of a tree hollow in Allegany State Park.

  • Keep your camera steady as you take your photos, especially for photos of fast-moving things. Place your phone on a rock or a wall to take your pictures or bring a tripod with a smartphone mount.

Tripod - accessed from Thingverse
Cellphone tripod, accessed from Thingverse.com

  • If your phone has macro mode, use it to take photos of flowers or bees in flowers. Just be really careful that you keep your camera steady as you take photos in macro mode, any tiny movement can ruin your shot. If you do move, you can try to take the photo again.

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Magnolia bud at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park. Used macro mode to capture the image.

If you take some photos this weekend, tag us #nystateparks, @nystateparks

References

8 Tricks to Take Better Photos With Your Phone

12 Mobile Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know