Tag Archives: Central Region

FORCES : College Students Support Stewardship in New York State Parks

As the summer months wind down, the FORCES Program staff of the Central and Finger Lakes Regions are busy both reflecting on the last few months and making plans for the next academic year.

FORCES stands for “Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship”, and the FORCES Program specifically focuses on building long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships between local state parks and colleges. Currently this includes one-day volunteer events, FORCES clubs at six colleges, dozens of stewards between the two regions, partnerships with faculty members and college administration, projects in over twenty parks and historic sites, and involvement with fourteen colleges and universities within the Finger Lakes and Central Regions.

This summer has been an exciting one, with the “FORCES family” including 37 stewards and seasonal employees! The FORCES interns and seasonal employees started together in June with the first annual “Trainapalooza,” which was held this year at Robert H. Treman State Park in the Finger Lakes Region. The stewards gathered for a two day training on invasive species identification and removals, iMap Invasives training, an overview of the geologic and human histories of the area, interesting features of some of the parks, and strategies for outreach and interpretation. The group also camped overnight at the park, and got to know each other while playing Frisbee, solving riddles, and enjoying s’mores.

After they were trained, the stewards separated again to begin projects throughout the two regions. Many projects focused on invasive species removal; stewards worked to remove water chestnut, pale swallowwort, slender false brome, and many other species of invasive plants. Other projects included the creation of a video about the FORCES program, historical research, assistance with the ongoing surveys for the Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail at Chittenango Falls State Park, water quality monitoring at Selkirk Shores State Park, and trail blazing at Two Rivers State Park… the list goes on and on!

The upcoming academic year will bring more excitement as FORCES welcomes new and returning stewards and club members. The semester started with the New York State Fair, where FORCES annually engages the public in building bluebird boxes- they assembled 1,250 boxes just this year! To date, FORCES at the State Fair has hosted over 180 students and involved 8 colleges. Plans are also in motion for the first annual FORCES Membership Gathering, which will take place in October and combine trainings with celebrations for club members, stewards, seasonal staff, and ambassadors- all members of the “FORCES family”.

In the spring, FORCES will hold its second annual Leadership Summit, which assembles club officers and FORCES “Ambassadors” from all FORCES schools to plan and strategize for the growth of the FORCES Program. The event was a huge success last April, with the FORCES staff being (again) blown away and inspired by the passion and dedication of the students.

Keep an eye out for FORCES stewards as you visit the parks, and chat with them about the projects they are working on. They’re accomplishing big things!

For more information visit our new web page.

Post by Becky Sibner, FORCES Program Specialist for the Finger Lakes Region.

 

Hail the Snails!

Need to slow down your fast-paced life?

The Chit in its natural habitat, by C. Gilbertson
The chits are well camouflaged for living in the leaf litter, by C. Gilbertson

Try watching a snail! No seriously, it’s quite calming. They glide along and seemingly know exactly where they are going. They are curious, and if you listen really carefully, you may hear them munching away when they eat!

Cody Gilbertson, a Master’s student of conservation biology at SUNY-ESF, has been working with and watching snails since 2010. On top of that, the species she works with is a small land snail that is also one of the most endangered species of New York. This little snail is quite famous because it is only found at one location in the entire world!

Not a bad field site! By P. Harper
Not a bad field site! By P. Harper

The Chittenango Ovate amber snail resides at Chittenango Falls State Park. At the base of a waterfall 167 feet in height, this unique species goes about its business amongst rocky ledges and lush vegetation. This summer, teams of volunteers signed up to help Gilbertson assess the size of the snail population and contribute data for her research.

In these snail surveys, volunteers survey small plots of snail habitat for a set amount of time, capturing small snails in tupperware containers as they go. After the collection, all the captured snails are sorted an identified, so we can figure out which are Chittenango Ovate Amber Snails (affectionately called “Chits”) and which are other snail species. After the count, the Chits are released back where they were found and the other snails are removed.

The team scrambles over rocks! By P. Harper
The team scrambles over rocks! By P. Harper

The data from these surveys is part of Gilbertson’s greater study on the life cycle of this rare snail and figuring out what is necessary for their survival. What do they eat? What conditions do they need to survive? How the heck do they live through upstate New York winters? She is looking for new methods to increase this snail’s overall numbers with a goal to help stabilize their population and create a template for other conservation efforts for land snail species.

Captive COAS_Cody Gilbertson_SUNYESF
This baby snail was born in captivity, and may provide clues to how we can protect the endangered chits. By C. Gilbertson

Another important aspect of the project is captive breeding. So far, Gilbertson has successfully bred a biologically similar snail species and yielded roughly 3000 hatchlings. She is also looking at how many other snail species live in isolated populations within New York State to find out if isolated populations are common or rare in this family of snails.

Not many people slow down to examine the small beings on earth. Some animals may almost be invisible, but they all play a big part in ecosystems and the small size of the animal does not make them less important. So next time you’re feeling rushed in life, take a moment to watch a snail, you’d be amazed at the calm steady creature before you!

Featured image is of Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park, by Paris Harper.

Post by Cody Gilbertson and Paris Harper

Protecting Mud Lake

Riddell_Skunk_cabbage_ParisHarper
Skunk cabbages grow in the damp peat at the shady, forested edge of the bog.

NYS Parks often has to perform a balancing act between meeting the needs of the wildlife and environments, and providing the opportunities for recreation that sometimes negatively impact ecosystems, but also allow people to experience nature and buoy the public interest in maintaining and protecting our parks.

Mud Lake, at Robert V. Riddell (RVR) State Park in Delaware County, is a good example of such a place. The NY Natural Heritage program (NYNHP) completed a vegetation map based on field surveys at Robert V. Riddell State Park, and has documented one rare insect species and a high quality dwarf shrub bog, both at Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a very scenic feature in the park, but as park use increases, this fragile ecosystem faces greater risks. For this reason, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) is looking to provide better visitor access to Mud Lake while protecting the fragile bog and pond habitat.

Given that RVR has only recently been designated a state park, there has been relatively little development beyond trail surveys and invasive species removal. Because the park is so close to Hartwick College, one of the most important uses of the park is for education and research, which only adds to the importance of protecting a rare and high-quality ecosystem like Mud Lake. Hartwick College has been a long time partner of State Parks and continues to utilize Robert V. Riddell State Park for educational opportunities.

Mud Lake is located on the parcel of land recently acquired from Hartwick College. It’s a small, spring-fed pond surrounded by forest and circled by a narrow band of spruce and tamarack trees, transitioning to low shrubs, and finally to a floating mat of sphagnum peat at the edge of the open water. This type of ecosystem is called a dwarf shrub bog, and it is a particularly fragile environment. Wild cranberries only grow in dwarf shrub bogs, as do carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews. These plants can be found growing out of the peat moss.

Pitcher plants grow out of peat moss, which is lower in nutrients than regular soil. Pitcher plants capture and digest insects to make up for this!
Pitcher plants grow out of peat moss, which is lower in nutrients than regular soil. Pitcher plants capture and digest insects to make up for this!

The peat is strong enough to walk on, but the water flowing through the thick vegetative mat gives you the feeling of standing on a waterbed – I was afraid of falling through!

The peat will hold up up, but not without getting your shoes wet!
The peat will hold you up, but not without getting your shoes wet!

Visitor access to Mud Lake is challenging. Currently, there is no defined pathway that can take you from the edge of the forest out to the open pond and bog area. This means any park visitors that want to get a closer look are making their own paths through the edge of the bog, and putting fragile plants at risk of being crushed.

To protect Mud Lake and also to enhance visitor experiences, OPRHP is in the process of designing a boardwalk from the upland edge of the bog to the water’s edge, including a gathering space where groups of students and other visitors can be brought to view the bog. However, building a solid structure on a bog presents unique challenges. Last winter, core samples taken from the peat went as far as 27 feet deep and still did not hit hard earth. At the tree line, solid ground was 20 feet below the surface of the soft, damp peat layer. OPRHP is still working on resolving all the construction challenges in this project, but we are hard at work to protect Mud Lake.

Surveyors at work on Mud Lake
Surveyors at work on Mud Lake

featured image is of Mud Lake in early May. Post and photos by Paris Harper 

BioBlitz results!

On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the park as we could find. This was a collaborative effort between NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP), State Parks, and Parks & Trails New York. Participants included biologists with various specialties and affiliations including NYS DEC, NatureServe, Syracuse University, SUNY-ESF, Mohonk Preserve, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Student Conservation Association. At least 9 different organizations were represented.

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a rare plant documented at Minnewaska. Photo by Alyssa Reid
Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a rare plant documented at Minnewaska. Photo by Alyssa Reid

The main survey period was between 9am and 5pm on May 3rd, but some intrepid volunteers stayed through the night to look for nocturnal animals, while others arose on May 4th between 5am and 11am to identify spring migratory birds. In both parks, small teams sought out rare species and high biodiversity areas. The weather was overcast and cool on May 3rd, which made some of the surveys particularly difficult.

At Minnewaska State Park, we were able to document approximately 262 plants, animals, and fungi, as well as 7 of the NYNHP significant natural communities. The summary of our findings includes at least 100 plants and 150 animal species: 89 birds, 6 fish, 16 herps (amphibians and reptiles), 16 mammals, and 23 invertebrates. The species included cool mammals like the American mink (Neovison vison), shy amphibians like the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus), delicate insects like the spring azure (Celastrina ladon), and steadfast trees like the American chestnut (Castanea dentata).

Painted turtle, by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP
Painted turtle, by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP

At Clark Reservation, we documented over 372 different species of plants, animals, and fungi and updated records for the 4 high-quality natural communities known in the park. The tally includes 193 species of plants (including lichens) and 96 species of animals, including 6 mammals, 7 herps, 46 birds, 4 fish, and 116 invertebrates. Of the many invertebrates identified, some of the largest groups were beetles (18), millipedes (10), caddisflies (10), and snails (6). The list of species included some entertaining names, such as bugle sprite (a snail), poverty grass, tortured tortella moss and seductive entodon moss. The Bioblitz proved to be an invaluable opportunity to get experts out in the park cataloging groups of species, like mosses and snails, which are often overlooked in typical biological inventories.

Due to the timing of the Bioblitz to coincide with I Love My Parks Day on May 3rd, our bird surveys included both passing migrants and potential park residents. Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous), a species of special concern, were sighted in several locations at Minnewaska, and based on last year’s NYNHP surveys, they are known to nest in the park. At Clark, the highlights were osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), both of which are species of special concern in New York.

The invertebrate team working hard at Clark Reservation. Photo by Julie Lundgren
The invertebrate team working hard at Clark Reservation. Photo by Julie Lundgren

The bioblitz was an extension of the long-standing partnership between NYNHP and State Parks to document rare species and natural communities in New York State Parks. Scientists found a wealth of biodiversity and enjoyed collaborating across organizations and areas of expertise in a beautiful natural setting. We hope to continue these valuable efforts to bring experts together to share knowledge, contribute to our understanding of the biota in New York State Parks, and to encourage further opportunities for park staff and the public to learn more about the special features in parks.

featured image is a spring azure butterfly by Mike Adamovic, post by Paris Harper, Erin White and Julie Lundgren

Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz

1 Park

70 professional scientific volunteers

365 acres

Countless plants and animals

Well, maybe not countless… In fact, on May 3rd and 4th nearly 70 volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Clark Reservation State Park with one goal in mind: spend 24 hours searching for all the plants, animals, fungi, lichen, and even bacteria found in the park. This type of inventory is usually called a BioBlitz. The BioBlitz at Clark Reservation also had another purpose. There was a special focus on rare and endangered species as well as classification of communities. Also on May 3rd was a concurrent BioBlitz at Minnewaska State Park, which also focused on rare and undocumented species.

One endangered species, the American hearts-tongue fern, is actually well documented at Clark. In fact, nearly 90% of the state’s population of this fern is found in two state parks: Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls. But since we already knew it was here, this plant was not the focus of our BioBlitz. We wanted to find undocumented species, and soon we hope to know if any were found! Volunteers have until the end of May to submit their data.

Biodiversity, the variety of living things found in one place, is often used as a measure of ecosystem health. Knowing what is in our park will help us make informed land management decisions and help us conserve our natural resources. That’s why the BioBlitz was so important.

It was also a lot of fun! All the scientists had a great time looking for the things they love, and we found a lot! A main focus for our BioBlitz was Glacier Lake, a rare meromictic lake formed at the end of the last ice age nearly 11,000 years ago. Today it is home to many species; such as eastern newts, painted and snapping turtles, fish (bullheads, walleye, pumpkin seeds to name a few), and birds (like osprey, wood ducks, and flycatchers).

Early Sunday morning I joined the birding team to look for our feathered friends. I wasn’t too excited about getting up at 5 in the morning on a Sunday, but it turned out to be worth it! I barely even noticed the cold rain! We saw a lot of great birds. Many of them like the cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and juncos you can see anytime, but some of them you are not so easy to spot. Early spring is one of the best times to look for warblers. Many species are only here for a few days as they pass through on their migration north. Others are here year-round, but when the leaves come out in the forests they are hard to spot. The highlight for the morning was the black-throated green warbler that came in close to check us out, and then followed us along the trail for a while singing for us! We also saw a black and white warbler, a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers and a yellow warbler.

All in all the BioBlitz was a huge success! Stay tuned for the results of the 2 Bioblitzes in July here on the NYS Parks Blog.

featured image is the Botany team at the Clark Bioblitz, by Steve Young; post by Katie Mulverhill