Between the months of April to September, monarch butterflies will travel up north from Mexico to New York as part of their annual migration and breeding season. During this time, multiple generations of monarch butterflies will breed and disperse across the Northeast region. With so many generations occurring in a short time period, it is vital that there are enough breeding areas, or waystations, for the monarchs to rely on for food and shelter. Over the past decade, the Eastern Monarch butterfly population has been on the decline due to logging of trees in overwintering areas, climate change, the possibility of disease and parasites, and the destruction of milkweed, which is the food source for the caterpillars. It is imperative that we prevent any further decline of their population for this massive migration results in pollination of many flowers throughout the monarch butterflies journey.
One of the ways we can support the monarch is to prevent the loss of milkweed and other native flora throughout the migration path. The destruction of milkweed has been caused in part from the over use of herbicides and more extensive and frequent mowing along roadsides. By leaving more edges, meadows and fields unmown milkweed will often come back. Milkweed is important to every part of the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle because the plant provides the butterfly with a breeding ground to lay eggs on, a food source for the caterpillars after the eggs hatch, and the flowers provide nectar for the adults to feed on after their metamorphosis. Milkweed also helps protect monarch butterflies from predators due to the caterpillars ingesting toxins that the plant produces. After the caterpillars metamorphosis into butterflies, the toxins collected in their bodies makes them poisonous to eat. The nectar from the flowers on the milkweed, as well as other plant species, provides the adults with the energy to travel back down to Mexico and throughout the winter.
State Parks is working throughout the state on efforts to reduce mowing, support native milkweeds and other native flora, and to prevent loss of habitat to invasive species like swallowwort. A number of parks have established butterfly gardens or meadows to allow for up-close observation. In Western New York, State Parks has teamed up with Budd Termin from Niagara County Community College to create Monarch Watch gardens in the state parks as refuge for the butterflies during the migration season. Wilson-Tuscarora State Park has a monarch watch garden and plans for a garden are under way for Beaver Island State Park. Already established butterfly gardens at other state parks will eventually get certify under Monarch Watch as monarch waystations. The mission of these gardens is to provide the milkweed and other native plants for the monarchs, as well as other pollinators, in order to reestablish their population size. If anyone is curious on how the project is going, they can follow @Mission_Monarch on Twitter, or if anyone is interested in learning more about monarch conservation efforts and what they can do to contribute, they can visit Monarch Watch.
Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license. The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.
During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.
Being a hunter – what does it take?
Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.
Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.
Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.
Whitetail Buck Rubbing Tree. Photo by Frank Hildebrand
A hunter examines a deer rub, photo by Keleigh Reynolds
Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.
Old deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
New deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.
A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.
Brook trout (Salvenlinus fontinalis) also known as “speckled trout,” “specks,” and “brookies,” aren’t actually trout. They are really a type of char, more closely related to the Arctic char than to true trout. However, the brook trout, true trout, char, and salmon are all in the family Salmonidae, making them all closely related. The gorgeous brook trout is New York’s state fish and is greatly prized amongst naturalists and anglers. The native brook trout can be recognized and differentiated from other types of trout by its unique colors. Brook trout have a dark green and yellow “wormlike” pattern on their backs, which fades into green sides with yellow spots and red spots surrounded by blue halos. Their stomachs range in color from white to bright orange, depending on food sources and the time of year. One of the most easily recognizable parts of the brook trout are its fins, which are a deep red with a black stripe and a white stripe underneath along the edge of each fin. In the fall, one can see why New York chose the brook trout as its state fish when spawning occurs and the fish’s colors intensify.
Brook trout live in streams with cold, clean water. They require high amounts of oxygen in the water, dissolved oxygen in order to breathe, as do many of the aquatic insects that the trout feed upon. Trout eat a variety of foods, including mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, scuds, smaller fish, and snails. Larger brook trout will also eat terrestrial insects such as ants or grasshoppers and have even been known to eat mice that accidentally fall into streams! Because brook trout need very clean water to survive and are highly sensitive to pollution, their presence is a good indicator of a healthy stream.
Several conservation efforts by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and organizations like Trout Unlimited have focused on protection of the native brook trout in New York. The brook trout is native to the eastern part of the United States from Maine to Georgia, including New York. Populations of brook trout can be found in, Allegany State Park, Bowman Lake State Park, Connetquot River State Park Preserve, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Chittenango Falls State Park, Harriman State Park, and many other state parks with small tributaries. Restoration work to increase brook trout habitat has been done in Allegany State Park, which boasts many wild trout streams that are readily enjoyed by anglers.
Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and introduction of non-native species, the brook trout has less suitable places to live than it did 200 years ago. Brook trout cannot tolerate water temperatures that are too high; as the water temperature increases, the dissolved oxygen decreases. The cutting of trees along stream banks and the loss of trees due to invasive insect species can contribute to temperatures rising and can affect native brook trout populations. Trees provide needed shade over streams and keep water temperatures low, even on hot summer days. When these trees are removed or die, sunlight is able to reach streams and causes water temperatures to rise. One important tree along some stream banks is the hemlock. Hemlock trees provide more shade than hardwood trees and do an excellent job of keeping streams cool. Unfortunately, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an insect that invades and kills hemlocks, is affecting hemlocks all over the east. HWA is causing thousands of these trees to die. As hemlocks die, hardwood trees will take their places. While this will still provide shade to the streams, the temperatures will still rise because hardwoods provide less shade than hemlocks.
Pollution also affects brook trout by decreasing oxygen levels and poisoning the fish. A form of pollution called “agricultural runoff,” which includes manure and fertilizers, can cause an increase of aquatic plants to grow in streams. These plants eventually die and consume dissolved oxygen when they decompose. If there are too many decomposing plants in a stream, dissolved oxygen levels can be greatly decreased and affect brook trout severely. Pollution also decreases pH in water, making it more acidic, which allows more metals to be dissolved into the water. These metals can interfere with the brook trout’s body functions and cause developing eggs and fry to die.
Another major cause of habitat loss for the native brook trout is the past introduction of the brown trout (Salmo trutta) as a sport fish, which is native to Europe. Brown trout were brought to the United States due to their popularity with anglers. This is because they are aggressive fighters and can grow quite large. Brown trout can withstand higher water temperatures than the brook trout and are less sensitive to changing conditions. Because the brown trout is more aggressive, it can find food and shelter more easily than the brook trout. Brown trout will sometimes prey on the brook trout’s young. Streams in which brown trout have been introduced almost always have a noted decrease in native brook trout populations.
The introduction of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) has also contributed to decreased brook trout populations, but to a lesser extent. Both the introduction of brown and rainbow trout create competition for resources that the brook trout did not have to contend with before.
Fortunately, New York no longer stocks browns or rainbows in waters where populations of native brook trout are found in order to preserve the species. Many of these populations prevail in high mountain elevations in the Adirondack Park, as the brook trout is particularly talented at jumping up waterfalls. In fact, a brook trout can jump up to four times its body length if the pool they jump from is deep enough! This unique ability has allowed native populations to thrive in areas with many small waterfalls and pools. Today, dam removal and the installation of fish ladders also help to conserve brook trout habitat. Fish ladders provide a series of pools on an incline that allow fish to jump up over barriers. These installations allow waters to remain passable, even in dammed waters. Populations of brook trout exist in several places throughout New York, and the determined angler or observer can find many of these beautiful fish. Hopefully, with continued efforts of conservationists across New York state the brook trout population will continue to thrive and one day, increase.
Post by Mikey Bard, avid fly fisher and SCA/Americorps Member serving as Assistant Environmental Educator at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.
It is a typical morning at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC) in Fahnestock State Park. The sunshine beams through the forest, a chorus of song birds are greeting the day, and 60 elementary school students are making their way to breakfast to fuel up for an active day of learning in the outdoors. Meanwhile, a familiar truck and crew rolls in to begin their workday visiting several small animal traps set in specific locations in hopes that at least one will contain a rabbit, particularly a New England Cottontail.
The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) is collaborating with State Parks, and the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct important research about the population decline of native New England Cottontail. Over the past decade, studies have indicated that their numbers have decreased about 50%. The two major factors contributing to the population decrease are loss of suitable habitat, and the expanding range of the Eastern Cottontail. The only native rabbit species east of the Hudson River is the New England Cottontail; however the range of the Eastern Cottontail has been expanding and now overlaps this territory which causes competition for resources. Predation is also playing a role in the decreasing population; part of this research project is keeping an eye on who’s eating New England Cottontails by using trail cameras. These cameras placed in baited locations and use a motion sensor to take pictures when an animal walks by. Different predators are “captured” in a photo as they come to investigate the bait, which shows the species that a present in the rabbit survey area.
Camera trapped red fox
Camera trapped bobcat
Camera trapped eastern coyote
Back at the TOEC, the students are gathering to meet with their instructors for their morning lesson, the phone suddenly rings. “We have a rabbit” says the voice on the other end. Flexibility is part of the job description of an outdoor educator, and no one passes up an opportunity to enjoy a teachable moment, especially when it involves a live animal. All plans are dropped for the moment and after a short walk the students quietly approach the researchers who are preparing to identify, collect data, and radio tag the small mammal.
Many of students who visit the TOEC are from the New York City area and rarely get to experience being this close to a truly wild animal, and they have a lot of questions such as: “Why is it in a pillowcase?”, “How long are its feet?”, “Is that a baby?” and “What’s That!?”. Their sense of wonder is contagious and the SUNY ESF researchers return the enthusiasm by answering the barrage of questions being hurled at them, while also safely collecting data on their captive rabbit. Measurements are taken, and the data is recorded onto forms and will go into a large database to allow for comparison across the entire northeast. The final step is to attach a small antenna to the rabbit’s back so that the researchers will be able to locate the individual rabbit again through radio telemetry. Now comes the exciting part! The rabbit is released, and in a flash it darts away, immediately out-of-sight, camouflaged amongst the underbrush.
Upon reflection, many students will say seeing the rabbit was their favorite part of the week, and they walk away with the feeling of being included in something important. Nothing teaches better than experience; giving students the chance to interact with a living, breathing part of the ecosystem around them. It sure makes for a pretty great day.
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.
The first annual FORCES Trainapalooza. Photo by FORCES Visual Media Steward Michael Gill (Cazenovia College).
FORCES stewards Morgan Nivison (Le Moyne College) and Haixu Zhao (SUNY ESF) remove garlic mustard at Green Lakes State Park. Photo by FORCES Visual Media Steward Michael Gill (Cazenovia College).
FORCES stewards Maggie Terry (SUNY ESF) and Jake Barney (Ithaca College) pull water chestnut at Fair Haven Beach State Park. Photo by Becky Sibner.
FORCES staff and stewards prepare for a Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail survey.
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!