Category Archives: Stewardship

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

SCA Service Project at Sam’s Point Preserve

It was a beautiful Monday morning as my fellow Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members and I made the trek to the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Members were coming from as far north as Moreau Lake State Park (near the Adirondacks) and as far south as Jones Beach State Park on Long Island.  I had come to Sam’s Point before to volunteer with bird surveys, so I was thrilled to return to this spot for our service project.  We had gathered at what would be our home base for the next three days – us in a circle, cars in the background, and a spectacular view of Sam’s Point itself.  We had gathered here for the 9/11 Patriots’ Day of Remembrance and held a moment of silence to reflect on that day 16 years ago, as well as the service we would be providing for the parks.

Before we could get started, some orientation was in order, as there was a lot of information to cover.  Sam’s Point has a rare population of ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens, supporting wildlife such as birds, fishers (small mammals related to weasels), and porcupines.  In April 2016, a wildfire broke out in the area, and efforts are underway to study the resilience of this ecosystem.  We were able to see more of the area by hiking up to the scenic overlook as well as to the super cool ice caves!

Invasive plant removal crew_EN
Some of the invasive species removal crew

There were multiple projects being done in our three days of service.  Two crews worked on erosion control devices on the Verkeerderkill Falls Footpath. One crew worked on making water bars, trail structures that take the water off the trail. Another crew worked on building bog bridges, low wooden bridge structures that raise the trail out of the water or other sensitive area. The third crew was constructing invasive plant boot brush stations at various entrances around the park preserve.  I was part of the invasive species crew for the service project.  Our main focus was removing spotted knapweed, a purple flower that grew on the edge of the Loop Road. We had been out in the sun working hard on knapweed removal, and towards the end of the day, decided to move in the shade to work on stilt grass.

Invasives crew on the trail_EN
On the trail in Sam’s Point Area.

 

While pulling knapweed for many hours at a time, SCA members were able to have some fun.  We had started to play the game Murder on the Trail, which is where the “killer” would stick out their tongue at a person, and five minutes, later the “victim” had to die dramatically. Aaron (one of the program managers) came to check in on us and did not know we were playing this game –   he wasn’t sure what was happening when someone dropped to the ground.  Other fun things included exploring Lake Maratanza and finding baby snakes!  From the beginning of the trail at the bottom of the ridge, all the way to the top, past Sam’s Point towards Lake Maratanza, we pulled almost half a mile of knapweed. That’s a lot of knapweed!

The other teams worked hard and played hard too! The bog bridging crew installed over 170 feet of new bog bridges and the water bar crew improved almost a quarter mile of trail on one of the park preserve’s most popular trails. The boot brush crew installed three new boot brush stations to educate the public about invasive species and help stop the spread of invasive plant seeds.’

Three project photos

After three days of hard work and camping out at Sam’s Point, it was time for all of us to return to our homes in the Hudson valley.  We had done great work for the park and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to the SCA, SCA members, State Parks, and the staff of Sam’s Point. Until next time!

Post by Emily Enoch, SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Member

Help Protect Our Parks – It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week!

July 9th -15th, 2017 marks the fourth annual New York Invasive Species Awareness Week! Each year, New York designates one week to highlight the environmental impacts of invasive species and what we can do to help. This year’s theme, “Invasive Species Reality Check: Where We Are & Where We Need to Go,” focuses on past successes and goals for the future. Invasive species affect all of us, and we could use your help to detect and prevent the further spread of invasive species in New York.

What are invasives? Invasive species are plants, animals (don’t forget about insects!), or other organisms that are accidentally or intentionally introduced from a different region or country (meaning they are non-native), and that cause harm to the environment and the economy. In general, invasive species tend to be adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions. They grow and spread quickly, and because they are non-native, they do not have natural controls like predators or diseases that would normally reduce their numbers. Therefore, invasives are able to displace native plant and animal species and the organisms that depend on those native species.

Keep in mind that not all non-native species become invasive – it is the species that are very successful and have the potential to negatively impact large areas that become a problem. In New York, several especially problematic invasives include: giant hogweed, a huge plant that can cause severe burns and blisters on skin; water chestnut, an aquatic plant that forms dense, impenetrable mats on the water’s surface; and the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has already killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.

One high priority invasive species that we could use your help detecting is called oak wilt, a fungal disease that affects oak trees. It can kill trees in the red oak group (oaks with pointed leaf tips) in as little as 2-6 weeks! Trees in the white oak group (oaks with rounded leaf tips) are less susceptible to the disease, but can still be killed in a matter of years. This July and August, look for oak leaves that are turning brown, starting at the outer edge and progressing into the middle of the leaf. The leaves may fall off of the tree in the spring and summer, often when parts of the leaf are still green. The oak tree’s branches may begin to die off from the top of the tree downward. If you see any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you contact DEC Forest Health via email at foresthealth@dec.ny.gov or call 1-866-640-0652. Read more from the Department of Environmental Conservation about this destructive invasive. Last year, there were only 15 cases of oak wilt reported in New York. Your eyes on the ground could assist in the rapid identification of any new cases and help prevent the spread of this disease.

Take Action!

If you are ready to take action and learn more about invasive species, you’re in luck! This week there will be interpretive hikes and paddling events, presentations, webinars, invasive species removal projects, and more, all across New York State. Check out the Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) calendar or see if your local State Park or nature center is hosting an event. Last year, New York State hosted over 120 ISAW events and had more than 2,000 participants. So whether you just learned about invasive species from reading this blog post or you’re already able to spot the difference between the highly invasive aquatic Hydrilla plant and the common native look-alike Elodea canadensis (learn more about that here!), we need your help. Learn, act, tell your friends. Public awareness and action plays an essential role in halting the spread of invasive species and preventing new introductions.

 

Here are five easy tips that can make a big difference:

  1. Clean, drain, and dry your watercraft and gear thoroughly to stop the spread of aquatic organisms.
  2. Use local firewood – buy it or gather it where you will be burning it so you don’t transport forest pests.
  3. Plant only non-invasive plants in your garden, or even better, plant native plants. You can use the New York Flora Atlas to check which plants are native to New York.
  4. Clean your boots or your bike tires at the trailhead after hitting the trail – seeds of invasive plants can get stuck on your boots, clothes, or tires. You don’t want invasives in your yard or your other favorite hiking spots.
  5. Get involved – volunteer to help protect your local natural areas, join your local PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) to stay informed, or become a citizen scientist by using iMapInvasives to report infestations of invasive species right from your smartphone.

New York Invasive Species Awareness Week is coordinated by The New York State Invasive Species Council (ISC), Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) and Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMS) in partnership with numerous other agencies, organizations, and groups.

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association & State Park

Did Someone Say “Free Boat Wash?”

Yes its true, boaters can expect to be offered free boat washes from stations at select boat launches throughout the state, especially in places like the Adirondacks. The purpose of these stations are to provide free boat washes while also helping to prevent the spread of certain invasive species.

Everyone takes the time to give their cars a good wash periodically, but have you ever thought about how often you should be cleaning your boat? Boats can be carriers of invasive plants and animals. Most of the time, you can see these plants hanging off your propeller, bunks, and trailer and you can simply pick them off. However, some invasive species, like the young of zebra mussels and Asian Clams (called veligers) are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Yet just adding a few of these into a lake or other waterbody is enough to start an invasion.

When we wash our boats, also known as decontaminating, it reduces the chances of transporting harmful invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, or Asian clams, to additional waterbodies.

How do boat wash stations work?

Boat washing begins with a general boat and trailer inspection.  A trained professional, typically a boat or watercraft steward, first checks over your boat to see if it needs to be cleaned. If a boat is noticeably dirty and has visible plant matter on it, or if the boat was previously in a different waterbody, there is a good chance the boat steward will offer to decontaminate your boat for free. After a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, the boat steward will ask you to lower your propeller, just low enough to check if there is any water in the engine. If water comes out, the engine will need to be flushed of that foreign water with 120o F water from the boat wash station.

IMG_0154
State Parks staff working with Lake George Park Commission stewards to determine if this boat needs to be decontaminated, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

At pristine waterbodies like Lake George, boat stewards are more concerned with boats going into the lake that were previously elsewhere. In other lakes where many invasive species are already present, boat stewards may focus their decontamination efforts on boats exiting the water, to prevent furthering the spread of those species.

IMG_0160
Lake George Parks Commission Stewards using specialty “muffs” to run the engine while also flushing it clean of any water that could be carrying invasives, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Afterwards, if the boat steward determines that you also should have a full decontamination, they will begin cleaning your boat.  The water in the boat wash station is heated up to 140oF with pressure as high as 1,400 PSI. This temperature and pressure has been shown to kill most animals and plants trying to hitchhike on your boat. For specific areas where electronics and engine components are exposed, lower pressure is used to prevent damage to the boats. Boat trailers with felt bunks will be soaked in 140 o F using a low pressure attachment to kill any invasive species that may be hitchhiking on this material.

Boat washing 2
Jake Barney, a State Parks Boat Steward, demonstrates using a Boat Washing Station.. The handle in the boat steward’s left hand is used to control the amount of pressure coming out of the hose, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

During the washing, it is important to wash the outside of the boat and trailer, including the propeller, hull, trailer hitch, and underneath the trailer. It is also important to flush the engine and drain the bilge to ensure the boat is properly decontaminated. Boat wash stations can recycle contaminated water and heat it again, ensuring that its runoff will not contaminate the waterbody.  Boat stewards take special care to be sure that no damage happens to the boats during cleaning.

IMG_6625
What your average portable boat washing station looks like. The yellow tanks on each side hold water used for decontamination. The machine has a gas engine but uses a diesel burner to heat the water to 140o F, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Boat wash stations are an effective way to clean your boat of all invasives, including those that may be too small to see. Using the boat washing station is the most efficient and effective way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, while also providing a free cleaning of your boat and trailer!

Thanks for helping keep New York’s pristine lakes and rivers clean, so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come!

11889668_10207450184282780_8820069053952744565_n
Kayaking at Fair Haven Beach State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Additional information:

Click here for more information on boat decontamination procedures:

Decontaminating your boat with a boat wash station is always suggested, but be aware that some lakes, such as Lake George, require you to get a decontamination before launching.

Heading to the Adirondacks or Lake George? Find a boat wash station here.

This summer, State Parks will be opening two boat wash stations, one at Allan H. Treman State Marine Park and the other at Saratoga Lake State Boat Ramp.

Post By: Jordan Bodway and Kristin King, Lead Boat Stewards, State Parks