Category Archives: Park Personnel

A View from the Treetops: life as a forest health specialist

My name is Abigail Pierson and I am a Forest Health Specialist for NYS Parks. The scope of my work covers almost all the state parks in the western half of New York state, making each week always something new and exciting.

My week begins with the usual desk work of contacting park managers and anything else to ensure a smooth work week. However, by 10 a.m. my coworker and I are hopping in the work van and traveling to a state park. Once we’ve arrived, my partner and I begin setting up our tents and going over our schedule for the week. When the work day comes to end, it’s time for arguably the most intricate task of the day, dinner.

Abby and her current NYS Parks staffer and climbing partner, James Boyd.

Our meals are cooked on a two-burner camp stove, so chaos usually ensues when we are both starving and trying to prepare full course meals. Trying to make a full meal on one burner each serves as a microcosm of the balance of respect, teamwork, trust, and cooperation needed for the success of our team.  We spend every morning, afternoon, and night together for five days of the week. This job requires a lot of trust. We are climbing tall trees for research purposes, so our safety depends on each other. It is amazing to have a job/life experience like this where your co-worker becomes such an integral part of your life.

It’s always interesting climbing out of our dew-covered tents each morning; seeing everything in nature slowly coming to life all around us. Our days move by very fast. I eat a quick breakfast, after which I grab my climbing gear and data collection tools and begin the hike into a hemlock stand.

We are monitoring for hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) an invasive insect species native to Japan that can kill entire hemlock stands in 4 to 10 years. Our hikes to these hemlock stands can range from a half mile to three miles, and this is where the real fun begins. We put on our helmets and safety glasses and begin sending our rope up and over one of the branches in the middle canopy of the tree. Once we have our single rope set up and secured on the tree, one of us straps on our climbing harness and begins the ascent, which can be a hundred feet or more up into the air.

Abby gears up with NYS Parks staffer Jake Sidey during a 2016 climb.
Abby having fun a phone app with NYS Parks staffer and 2017/18 climbing partner Ben Jablonski.

A beautiful thing about our climbing setup is we cause no damage to the tree. Our goal is to save these majestic giants, not injure them. Once I reach the top section of the rope, I attach myself directly to the tree using a flip line. A flip line is a short adjustable section of rope that goes around the trunk of the tree and attaches to both sides of my harness.

It’s a good thing I’m a tree hugger because I must hug the tree as I use flip lines to ascend to the top canopy of the tree. It is a very intense experience being on flip lines because it is up to myself and this tree to keep me safe. In many ways, we are trusting the trees with our lives just as much as the trees are trusting us with theirs.

Climbing to the very top canopy of a tree that usually towers over the rest of the forest canopy is an indescribable experience. It feels as if, for a moment, you are larger than the forest itself. After all that hard work of getting to the top canopy I always take a moment to take in the beauty of nature that is surrounding me.

The View from the Top.

Once I’ve taken in the view it is right back to work. I take a small sample of a branch from the top canopy and put it into a labeled Baggie. As I descend back down the tree, I take samples from the middle and lower canopies. These samples allow us to identify if the tree is healthy or its level of infestation by HWA, a tiny aphid-like insect that gradually kills hemlocks by feeding on the juices in their needles.

The information that we gather helps show how widespread HWA is in the state and which hemlocks might still have the potential to be saved.

Here, and below, A close up of the telltale fluffy white insect egg masses that indicate HWA infestation.

If left unchecked, HWA could wipe out the majority of eastern hemlocks in New York, a species that is the third most common tree in the state. Hence the importance of slowing or even stopping its spread as quickly as possible. Widespread hemlock mortality would have a lasting impact on ecosystems, streams, flora and fauna, and even the look of the landscape.

Hemlock mortality in parks especially is a scary thing for me to imagine as patrons would no longer be able to enjoy the parks the same way that they can now. Some of our most well-known parks, including Letchworth, Allegany, Watkins Glen, and others like Stonybrook and Thacher, feature hemlocks along most major trails and vista points. Campgrounds and picnic areas of many parks enjoy cooling shade courtesy of hemlocks. If those hemlock stands were to die back the park would look barren, be unsafe due to erosion and dead limbs, and the internal ecosystems would be negatively impacted as well.

On the left, hemlock trees killed by HWA. On the right, a healthy, uninfested hemlock.

Click here for a map showing how HWA has spread in New York State.

What can you do to help? According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, if you believe you have found HWA:

  • Take pictures of the infestation signs (include something for scale such as a coin or ruler).
  • Note the location (intersecting roads, landmarks or GPS coordinates).
  • Fill out the hemlock woolly adelgid survey form.
  • Email report and photos to DEC Forest Health foresthealth@dec.ny.gov or call the Forest Health Information Line at 1-866-640-0652.
  • Contact your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) by visiting http://www.nyis.info/.
  • Report the infestation at iMapInvasives.
  • Slow the spread of HWA in our forests by cleaning equipment or gear after it has been near an infestation, and by leaving infested material where it was found.

Overall, tree climbing is a phenomenal experience that allows us to experience the sheer beauty of the hemlock tree and surrounding forest, while also allowing us make the in-depth assessment needed to ensure that the natural beauty is preserved.

Helping to save the amazing environment we live in, educating the public on invasive species, and being up close and personal with nature every day is an amazing gift. This job allows me to fulfill all my strongest passions simultaneously and I could not be luckier to have this opportunity.

Born to climb: A young Abby is geared up for tree climbing up by her father, Dr. Timothy G. Pierson, during Penn State Agricultural Progress Days. Abby later got her bachelor’s degree in environmental science/biology from Penn State, where her father worked as a forester.

Post by Abigail Pierson, Forest Health Specialist

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.

Moreau
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!

SmartPhone
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

Monitoring for Southern Pine Beetle

Earlier this year, the Invasive Species Management Team kicked off the spring with the installation of several southern pine beetle (SPB) traps at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and a few other locations. Southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis, is a 2-4mm long bark beetle, reddish brown to black in color, that hails from the southeastern United States and attacks pine trees. The female will locate a host tree, most commonly one with a compromised defense system as noted by the presence of alpha-pinene, a chemical released by stressed trees. The females then release the pheromone frontalin to attract males for mating, as well as other males and females. Males also secrete a pheromone, endo-brevicomin, summoning more beetles to congregate. The beetles enter the trees through cracks in the bark. In an effort to eject the beetle, pine trees will produce resin to push them out. The resulting little, lumpy sap nuggets are called pitch tubes and are a good indicator of SPB infestation. Once in the tree, SPB starts constructing curved tubes, or galleries, in the cambium to lay their eggs in. It is in the cambium that we find the xylem and phloem tissue, which transports water and nutrients through the tree and therefore helping the tree growth. Larvae move to the inner bark immediately after hatching, and then to the outer bark to feed as they mature. When they become adults, they chew round exit holes in a “shotgun” pattern, large enough only to fit a pencil tip. The exit holes are another sign of infestation to be on the lookout for. The chewing of galleries disrupts the flow of water and nutrients, resulting in the needles fading and ultimately tree death in as little as 2-4 months. The Long Island Central Pine Barrens have been particularly damaged by SPB. This may be due in part to the lack of fire as a management technique to thin stands, reducing competition and therefore resulting in healthier trees. Additionally, smoke from fires overpowers the beetle’s pheromonal communication, thus impeding their spread.

Because of how widespread SPB distribution has become, eradication of the species is simply not possible. The main method employed to suppress invasions is the cutting and removal of infested trees. A more proactive method includes monitoring pines for the early infestations of SPB to enable a rapid response to the arrival of SPB; bringing us back to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The Sam’s Point area of Minnewaska is home to the only dwarf pine ridges ecosystem in the world, making it a globally unique and rare site. Therefore, monitoring for the arrival of SPB is imperative for the preservation of this rare pitch pine barrens as well as more common pitch pine communities of Minnewaska.

Nick and trap

Entomologist Tom Schmeelk with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) came to Minnewaska to hoist the traps and explain how they work. The traps used are Lindgren funnel traps, with a chain of funnels that mimics a tree stem. Several lures, or packets of pheromoneswere placed inside the trap which is then hung in a hardwood tree several feet off the ground and from the trunk. The lures utilized are frontalin, the sex pheromone secreted by females, and endo-brevicomin, the aggregation pheromone secreted by males. In addition, alpha-pinene was attached, a host volatile produced by stressed trees. The beetles are lured to the trap and funneled into a collection cup, the contents of which are sent to DEC to be checked for the presence of SPB.

For those concerned that the traps will attract beetles into the park that otherwise would’ve remained absent, rest assured that these are short-range traps that would only lure beetles within a few mile radius- meaning they only attract beetles already in the area. Being unaware of their presence in the park would be the much bigger risk to the park’s pine dominated ecosystems and all the species that depend on these, including the rare dwarf pines. Last year all the traps remained empty, let’s hope for the same this year!

Post by Sarantia Mitsinikos, Invasive Species Project Steward with SCA/Americorps/State Parks

Featured image: southern pine beetle, Steven Valley, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Invasive Species Spotlight – Elongate Hemlock Scale

Name: Elongate Hemlock Scale (Fiorinia externa Ferris)

Origin: Native to China and Japan and was first observed in New York City in 1905. It is believed that it was unintentionally introduced from Japan.

NYS Presence: Elongate hemlock scale (EHS) is present throughout the state, with the highest density within a 185 mile radius of New York City.

Identification: EHS is an armored insect most commonly found on the underside of hemlock needles. They show up as small (1.5-2 mm) and flat brown or white patches that hide the female and male insects, respectively. Underneath the brown scale, you may find the tiny yellow eggs.

Kristopher Abell, University of Massachusetts, Bugwood.org
Female EHS, look for small eggs, accessed from Kristopher Abell, University of Massachusetts, Bugwood.org

Life Cycle: “Crawlers” hatch from eggs under the female scale and emerge in the spring and summer. At this point they are mobile and can crawl to a new needle or be transported by wind or birds. Once they find a suitable site for feeding, they burrow under the waxy cuticle of the needle for protection, and insert their feeding tube into the mesophyll cells of the needle, just under the epidermis or surface layer of cells on the needs. The females will never leave this site as they go through their three stages of development. The males, however, will emerge from their five stages of development as winged adults. They will fly to a mature female, mate, and die without ever feeding. EHS overwinters either as fertilized females or eggs (typically 16-20 are laid). (Jill Sidebottom, Elongate Hemlock Scale, ncsu.edu).

Damage Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources -ugwood.org
EHS damage, photo accessed from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry , Bugwood.org

As EHS feeds on the hemlock needs they remove the plant’s nutrients, the needles take on a yellow color as they dry out and drop, leading to branch dieback and ultimately death in as little as ten years.

Control: One option of control is to remove highly infested trees. EHS can also be controlled chemically. The two most consistent chemical controls for EHS are Safari (a neonicotinoid) and Talus (an insect growth regulator). Safari is also used to control hemlock wooly adelgid, another invasive pest from Japan that often appears alongside EHS as white wooly ovisacs on the underside of hemlock needles. EHS can also be treated with biological agents, such as the parasitic wasp Encarsia citrina, and predatory beetles like the twice-stabbed ladybird beetle, Chilocorus stigma and Microweisea misella (Mark S. McClure, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station). These biological controls have provided inconsistent results and are also susceptible to pesticides, so pesticide should be applied with that in mind. To report sightings of EHS in New York State Parks, visit  iMap Invasives or for other questions regarding invasives, email the Invasive Species Management Team at invasives@parks.ny.gov

The Invasive Species Management Team consists of Strike Teams and Forest Health Specialists. Strike Teams travel statewide for various invasive plant removal projects. Forest Health Specialists travel statewide as well, monitoring trees for the presence of forest pests like EHS and HWA among others.

Post by Sarantia Mitsinikos, Invasive Species Project Steward

Featured image photo by Irene Brenner

The Allegany Zoo… Who knew?

Millions of people visit Allegany State Park every year, but how many have ever visited the zoo?

Tucked up on the hill, behind the Red House Administration Building among the maples, Scotch pine, and cherry trees, sits the stone foundation of what was once a highly-visited tourist attraction.

CenterPanel10_ZooBMS01
Path to the zoo, photo courtesy of Allegany State Park Historical Society.

Like so many other places on the East Coast, this area (in what is now Allegany State Park) was logged from the 1860s to the 1920s.  Hemlocks, white pines, and hardwoods were harvested to supply large cities with building materials. While humans built houses, many local animals lost their homes and habitat.

CenterPanel01_ZooPostcard01
Postcard of the zoo, note the Red House Administration Building on the left, photo courtesy of Allegany State Park Historical Society.

The Outdoor Museum and Zoo was built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was intended to exhibit the local animals, birds,  plants, fungi, and rocks of this area. The Zoo’s rectangular foundation (25×40 feet) and 3 ½ foot high walls were built from local sandstone quarried off the hill behind the museum.  Chestnut and cherry posts supported a shake shingle roof. Shelves and brackets around the sides of the museum building supported animal cages, insect trays, unique plants, and rock and mineral exhibits. Cement pools with dry platforms housed aquatic creatures such as frogs, turtles, muskrat, and fish. Since this was a seasonal museum, the CCC oversaw collecting specimens for the Zoo. Upon its opening in 1933, the exhibit hosted a raccoon, skunk, woodchuck, rabbit, chipmunk, porcupine, five types of turtles, and several different species of frogs, toads, and salamanders. Five kinds of snakes had their own special snake pit separate from the rest of the museum. Irving Knobloch, a National Park Service naturalist oversaw the museum and its animals during the CCC days, after which the Allegany State Park (ASP) rangers and naturalists operated the zoo.

Two of the first residents of the Zoo were “Smoke” and “Soot.” The bear cubs were rescued by forest rangers during a fire caused by sparks from the smoke stacks of the trains carrying lumber out of the area. The rangers decided to take the bears home, but as they grew, the small cubs became too much for the rangers to handle; so, they built them a small bear den surrounded by wire. They eventually escaped and roamed the area for handouts.

Another famous creature of the zoo was Cleopatra, a golden eagle, owned by Egbert Pfieffer, a world-renowned bird specialist and ASP naturalist. Cleo was a trained eagle who would sit on Mr. Pfieffer’s arm as he walked around the area. Pfieffer also supplied the museum with a red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, owls, and other birds of prey.Cleo

The Zoo was open from May until early October, when all the animals were released back into the wild. It was closed in 1944 due to World War II and was never reopened. The building was torn down in the 1960s, but the foundations remain.

IMG_4243
Zoo foundation, photo by State Parks.

The cages and displays are long gone; but the Environmental Education Department still tells the story of the zoo. You can find amazing small wildlife like millipedes, salamanders, toads and frogs in or near the pools once inhabited by turtles and fish. One of the frogs, Louise, a green frog, was named by a kindergarten class who first discovered her two years ago.

IMG_4240
Louise the Frog, photo by State Parks

Come visit the zoo, sit quietly on the moss covered stone walls, and imagine the sounds of excited children as they rush from one exhibit to another, looking at and learning about the wonderful wild things of long-ago Allegany.

To learn more about the Zoo and the history of the CCC and Allegany State Park, visit the Allegany State Park Historical Society.