Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Potsdam Student Digs Neanderthal Burial Pits

SUNY Potsdam senior archaeological studies major and Rochester native Jonathan Reeves is spending his fall weekends digging burial pits with stone tools like those used by Neanderthals in the College’s Lehman Park.

Reeves, who is also a member of the SUNY Potsdam men’s soccer team, hopes to demonstrate evidence of ritual in Neanderthal burials by trying to dig graves in the same method and style himself on campus.

Neanderthals are extinct members of the Homo genus classified either as a separate species or as a subspecies of humans, Homo sapiens. By finding out more about the effort and thought put into the method used to dispose of the dead, Reeves hopes to find out more about the mindset of Neanderthals.

“I wanted to look at how long it would actually take to bury one of these individuals. Is it that exhaustive? Can it be done by one person, or do you need multiple people? I wanted to put a number behind this effort,” he said. “The second thing I wanted to do was see how that number fit in with the rest of the stuff that we know about the Neanderthal lifestyle.”

Reeves ordered special flint tools made just like those used during the Neanderthal period. Called scrapers, the rock implements had a variety of simple uses-one of which was freeing soil while digging a grave. The student uses several sizes of scrapers to dig, and then uses his hands to remove the dirt from his hole.

He has dug two burial pits so far, based on the dimensions of sites where Neanderthal remains have been found in the past. One was a smaller rounded grave like one that archaeologists found the remains of a Neanderthal child in. That burial pit took Reeves three hours to dig. He solicited the help of three other students to dig a large deep rectangular pit like one that a Neanderthal adult was found in as well.

Reeves records his heart rate throughout the digging, and that of his volunteers, so he can mark how much time and effort it took.

“My arm gets really tired, and I get a bruise on my hand from holding the scraper. The first time, I got a half an hour in and realized I’d barely gotten anywhere,” Reeves said. “My thought is that for the Neanderthals, they’d really have to want to do this, even if they really just wanted to bury the body to cover it up and keep predators away. It takes a huge part out of the day for a hunter-gatherer, and there would be easier ways to dispose of a body.”

Since Neanderthals had a semi-nomadic lifestyle, leaving their various campsites to hunt during the day and returning only to sleep and eat, Reeves found it interesting that they would choose to bury a body in that location. He also wonders, since other Neanderthal bodies have been found that were not buried, if there was a symbolic choice involved for those that were.

“I can’t say that they believed in an afterlife, but it seems there definitely was a social component, that the group members felt that this was an important loss. The burials say something about the connection that individual had to the group,” Reeves said.

Reeves is an anthropology major and is earning his minor in geology. He hopes to attend graduate school to further his studies in archaeology.

SUNY Potsdam has been training students in archaeology for more than 40 years. The College’s interdisciplinary program includes coursework in archaeological methods, history, art and geology.

For more information about SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Anthropology, visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/Anthro/index.cfm.

Photo: Jonathan Reeves poses with his Neanderthal-style Stone Age flint tools near one of the covered-over burial pits he recently dug in SUNY Potsdam’s Lehman Park. Courtesy SUNY Potsdam.


Monday, October 18, 2010

When Raptors Attack: Some North Country Stories

Unusual stories often catch my eye while researching topics of interest. A recent example drew me in—the long-ago story of a California baby left lying in the grass while, nearby, the mother performed gardening or other chores. An eagle swooped in and snatched up the baby, leading to a battle royale between the family and the eagle. There were several stories of that type, and it didn’t always end well for the baby.

I involuntarily maintain a healthy skepticism, but have to be careful about letting it completely take over. A little digging turned up a few interesting North Country tales of a similar bent. Some contain embellishments common to the writing style of the day, and others strain credulity, but several of them are likely based on real confrontations.

After all, odd things do happen. While sitting in my high school classroom many decades ago, right in the middle of Champlain village, I saw a hawk (a red-tail was my guess) plummet to the earth at great velocity, disappearing into the brush. My assumption was that the bird died on impact, but perhaps a minute or so later, it once more became airborne, a cat dangling from its talons as it flew in clear view past the large windows. If there hadn’t been other witnesses, I’m not sure anyone would have believed me.

Four of my own Adirondack experiences with large birds stand out in memory. While bushwhacking atop one of the inner ridges of Silver Lake Mountain (near Hawkeye), I was once dive-bombed by ravens for a half hour as I lay in the brush, amazed at how loud and relentless they were, and how close they came to me.

While canoeing in the middle of Franklin Falls Pond, I was similarly harassed by two bald eagles that repeatedly swooped overhead. A little scary, yes, but absolutely thrilling. Another time, an angry nesting goose disapproved of a canoe innocently passing by 100 feet away.

The fourth incident took place on a calm section of the Saranac River. It’s hard to believe that an eagle could be somewhat distracted, but that’s the only explanation I have for what occurred. Where the waterway was about thirty feet wide, the eagle flew several feet above the stream, coming directly towards the canoe. I expected it to turn away, but it seemed to be looking from side to side, unaware that I was directly in its path.

Within no more than twenty feet, it suddenly became aware of my presence and pulled up sharply, the “whooshing” sound from its wings loud in my ears. It was a large bird, but from such close range, it naturally appeared enormous. The entire incident lasted only about 20 or 30 seconds, but it will stay with me forever.

Taking all of that into consideration, I reviewed some interesting regional confrontations between humans and birds (veracity unverified).

In 1888, at Brier Hill (St. Lawrence County), a bald eagle was said to have attacked seven-year-old George Richards (he was actually ten). George used a stick to defend himself until older brother Berton, 20, drove the eagle off. Bert later baited a steel trap with newborn calves that had died. He succeeded in capturing the bird, which was held by the Richards family for display.

In 1893, a Bellmont (Franklin County) farmhand working for Frank Winkley was on horseback, rounding up the cows, when he was attacked by two eagles. He was knocked to the ground, where the birds continued the assault. The farm dog came to his aid, and he eventually managed to club one of the birds and capture it. According to the report, the golden eagle’s wingspan was seven feet. It was kept in Winkley’s barn as a curiosity.

Predatory raids on farm fowl were once common. A dramatic case was reported in Chaumont (northwest of Watertown) in 1903 on the farm of Charles Graham. A hen hawk (any hawk that preys on poultry) grabbed a large Plymouth Rock hen, but about 20 feet above the ground, the hen broke free and landed at Graham’s feet. The hawk followed, knocking the farmer down, gashing his face and neck and pecking at his eyes. Graham stood to defend himself, but the bird continued the attack. Finally, the farmer grabbed a shovel, and the hawk departed.

Also in 1903, John Sullivan of Jay (Essex County) was set upon by an eagle, finally driving it off after suffering lacerations to his face. In 1904 came a report from the Bowditch cottage on Upper Chateaugay Lake (Clinton County), where caretaker Frank Nicholson battled two eagles that attempted to make off with some chickens. One of the birds managed to sink its talons into Nicholson’s leg, but he eventually succeeded in “dispatching them.”

In 1905, near McKenzie Pond just east of Saranac Lake, Frank Perks and George Walton were walking in the woods when Perks struck a tree trunk with an axe he was carrying. Suddenly, “an immense eagle flew down from the tree and attacked Perks savagely.” With the help of Walton, Perks suffered no more than a torn hat before the eagle was driven off.

In 1909, a Pitcairn (St. Lawrence County, near Harrisville) farmer, Josiah Almtree, offered a dramatic tale of battling a powerful eagle that had lately been harassing his sheep. The victim this time was Almtree’s daughter, who was carried off but then dropped “unhurt on the roof of a little building near the barn.” Almtree managed a shot at the bird, which escaped. Of course, “unhurt” wasn’t possible, but I’ll beg the Fox News defense here … “We report, you decide.”

Most such stories are quite old, but a more recent one (though still over 50 years past) occurred in Ausable Forks in 1957. Young Jimmie Camire, while playing with friends, was attacked by a hawk. The bird grabbed his shoulder, but he broke free. Under renewed attack, Jimmie’s shouts brought his brother, Butch, and Jeff Hewston, to the rescue. They had been cutting small trees nearby, and used an axe to kill the hawk, which they said had a wingspan of 43 inches.

Not all regional fowl attacks came from above. In 1908, Gouverneur’s Louis Boulet, Sr., owned a particularly raucous Rhode Island Red, a breed that can be incredibly aggressive. (They’ve been known to kill snakes, cats, foxes, and small dogs.) The big rooster’s frequent attacks made it clear the farmer was not welcome in his own hen house. Egged on by frequent muggings and occasional blood loss, Boulet decided this chicken’s goose was cooked.

Healthy skepticism can be valuable, but before deciding how feasible some of those old stories might be, check out some “eagle attack” videos on YouTube. Be forewarned: several are graphic. Some are simply amazing, demonstrating the willingness of large birds to mix it up with creatures of all sizes, even striking a black bear in a tree.

Photo Top: An attack by a “domesticated” eagle.

Photo Middle: The Bald Eagle’s formidable beak.

Photo Bottom: Eagle talons.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

18th Annual Conference on the Adirondacks

The Adirondack Research Consortium is seeking abstracts for panel or poster presentations at the 18th Annual Conference on the Adirondacks to be held May 18th and 19th, 2011 in Lake Placid. Research presentations can involve any topic of relevance to the Adirondack region including the natural sciences, economic and community issues, social sciences, arts and the humanities.

For more information and a 2011 Abstract Submission Form go to the Consortium’s webpage or call Dan Fitts on the Paul Smith’s College Campus at 518-327-6276. The Consortium will review all submissions to determine acceptance for presentation at the conference and scheduling. The Consortium expects that presenters will register for the conference.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Northeast Natural History Conference Announced

The 11th Northeast Natural History Conference (NENHC) will be held on April 6-9, 2011 in Albany. The meeting will also include the historic first meeting of the new Association of Northeastern Biologists (ANB).

As in the past this conference, held at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, promises to be the largest regional forum for researchers, natural resource managers, students, and naturalists to present current information on the varied aspects of applied field biology (freshwater, marine, and terrestrial) and natural history for the Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada.

It is hoped to serve as a premier venue to identify research and management needs, foster friendships and collegial relationships, and encourage a greater region-wide interest in natural history by bringing people with diverse backgrounds together.

Information about registration, submitting proposals for abstracts, organized sessions, workshops, field trips, and special events can be found online. Student volunteer opportunities are also available and offer free registration.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adirondack Waters: Knowing Your Local Watershed

Over the years, it has been interesting to watch the progression of environmental education and outdoor awareness. In the 1970s, pollution was the big push, and many a program was developed and promoted (remember Woodsy Owl?) to turn the tide against land, air and water pollution.

The 1980s were a bit of a down time, but by the 1990s, we had turned our attention to more global issues. Saving the rainforest, saving whales, saving cheetahs became all the rage. Kids could tell you all about jaguars, elephants and orcas, but had no idea what was in their own back yards. Sadly, this continues today.

A couple years ago I started to develop a program designed to increase students’ awareness of their local surroundings. After all, we live in the Adirondacks, one of the last “wild” areas left in the Northeast. People from around the world come here to enjoy our mountains, lakes and forests. And yet, the children who live here often know very little about these mountains. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Climate Change: What We Owe The Pine Martin

I saw my first Adirondack pine marten (Martes Americana) the other day in Newcomb. I was on a marked state trail through Wild Forest, and came to a sizable stream fresh from the recent rains. A log seemed conveniently placed for me, but I hesitated. Knowing I would have wet feet, how badly did I wish to go on? Then I looked up. The marten was staring back at me from the opposite bank.

Give way! Hadn’t I seen the marten crossing sign, he seemed to be saying? The marten loped downstream, and took the next log across, paused and vanished. The animal was larger than I had imagined, redder, too, like my face flushed with excitement. The photo above is not of this animal. It is one of the many fine photos in the public domain provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

When I got home I remembered reading in Jerry Jenkins’ Climate Change in the Adirondacks (2010, Wildlife Conservation Society) that Adirondack martens are isolated by a hundred miles and more from cousins in New England and Canada; and that they can outcompete the larger fisher only by having an advantage in deeper snow. When the number of days with snowpack decline, as they are doing, the fisher may gain a competitive . There is already a 15-30% decline in the number of days with snowpack since I was in grade school c. 1970.

Do we have obligations to ensure Adirondack martens survive, because of their intrinsic worth, and so that our successors experience the same excitement I felt? Many might agree on the moral obligations. Fewer might agree on whether we have legal obligations. Fewer still might agree that those obligations, moral and legal, apply to our leaving the legacy of a planet at least as healthy as the one we now live on.

The hard realities and impacts of the warming oceans and shrinking ice which are already turning so many societies, human and more than human, to survival mode all over the world does challenge a boundary between moral and legal justice concerning future generations. This is because the global science is uniformly advising us that today’s pace of warming is the result of emissions in the 1950s and 60s and 70s.

Given the lag between greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of atmospheric change, we make climate decisions today that are likely to make life support systems much less functional for people – and martens – 100 years hence. This is a debt we are piling up far more ominous for society than fiscal imbalance.

Many philosophers have thought about current debts to future generations, and more than one has lived in the Adirondacks. One who did, and who regularly acted on his thinking, was the Reverend Woody Cole, Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1984-1992, and a resident of Jay. Woody died recently. He spoke to an Adirondack audience in St. Huberts (Ausable Club) in 1991 about his view that we have an intrinsic duty to protect life forms built into our evolutionary past. Here is an excerpt of what he said:

“In nature, each organism has its own uniqueness in the way it finds to procreate, to endure, and to associate with its habitat. Each organism has evolved its complex way of capturing the energy of the sun and of maintaining its species population, building up its genome or genetic code so that it can adapt, keep going; and keep struggling in a universe that is supposed to be running down.

These millions of organisms evolved from symbiotically derived relationships with other species within ecological systems both over space and time. Contemplating this billion year old record is awesome; biota helped to produce the thin layer on this planet known as the living biosphere. …it is unique in this universe, and of value intrinsically, in and of itself, beyond mere utility for human satisfaction….

Thus it is that the conservation of ecosystems can be seen as an ultimate good, a moral obligation for observers who have been nurtured and sustained by the diverse biomes that up Earth’s biosphere. As creatures capable of appreciating inherent values, we now have a moral imperative as human organisms to protect the rich biotic ecosystems that perpetuate the life systems of the planet.

As suggested by the anthropological – cosmological principle, we have a duty to insure that complex life will be available for eventual transmission into the universe itself. But first we must conserve our own planet’s diverse ecosystems.”

Photo: Pine Marten, Erwin and Peggy Bauer, USFWS.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Flights of Fancy: Featuring Feathers

Consider the bird, in all its glorious forms: from the minute hummingbird to the land-bound ostrich; from the brilliantly-colored parrot, to the monochromatic crow; from the predatory raptor to the fruit-eating waxwing. For 135 million years they have walked and flown about the planet. A pretty good-sized portion of the human population has taken to birds like a fish to water, and it is easy to see why – their colors and ability to fly have captured our imaginations.

When you page through almost any field guide to birds, you find that it is arranged in a particular order: from the most ancient species (loons, waterfowl) to the most modern/advanced (the finches). The ancestors of loons and geese paddled around the same waters as many of the last dinosaurs. When the reign of the dinosaurs came to its firey end, many of the birds of that time perished as well, but not the loons and geese, ducks and other shorebirds. These animals lived on and are still with us today. Perhaps this is one reason why we find the call of the loon so haunting. One can almost imagine it calling out through the mists of a tropical world where giant reptiles still roamed.

Feathers seem to be the big thing that sets birds apart from the rest of life on this planet, not flight. After all, birds are not the only things that fly; so do insects. At one point in time, there were reptiles that also flew. Today, some lizards and snakes still take to the air, but they no longer can fly, they merely glide. Still, it is more than you or I can do without the aid of mechanical devices, so we will grant them this point.

It is currently believed that feathers initially evolved not for flight, but as a means of keeping warm. To this day, there are few natural fibers that insulate quite as well as feathers. Birds have six basic types of feathers: flight feathers, contour feathers, filoplumes, semiplumes, bristle feathers, and down. Of course, there is also a substance known as powder down, but it isn’t really a feather, so for now we will ignore it.

Flight feathers are, as you might have guessed, the long, sturdy feathers that make up the working part of the wing. They are asymmetrical: the leading edge, or anterior vane, is narrower than the trailing edge, or posterior vane. Between the two vanes runs the rachis, or shaft, of the feather. These are the real workhorses of the feathers, and they are incredibly stiff because they take quite a beating (no pun intended). When Thomas Jefferson sought a feather for a quill with which to write the Declaration of Independence, it is a flight feather that he used.

Contour feathers are the ones that give the bird’s body its basic shape. Most of the feathers that you see when you are looking at a bird are contour feathers. Like flight feathers (which technically are also contour feathers), they have a pretty rigid shaft, but unlike flight feathers, they are symmetrical. The tip of each contour feather is neat and tidy, but the bottom half is fluffy. This part is closest to the body, where it works to keep the bird warm. Contour feathers are attached to the bird in a way similar to shingles on a roof – each overlapping its predecessor, creating a interlocking, aerodynamic form.

Semiplumes are my favorites. These are the feathers that are made up of long, fluffy strands. Unlike the feathers mentioned above, semiplumes are wild, they don’t lie all neat and tidy. If you were to take a flight or contour feather and rough it up a bit, you would find that you could straighten it easily enough by running y our fingers up the barbs (the individual strands that make up each vane). They “zip” together with little trouble, thanks to the hooks that line their edges. Semiplumes don’t have these hooks, so their “strands” stick out all over the place. Their purpose? Insulation. You’ll find the semiplumes located just beneath the contour feathers.

As you can see, layering is what it is all about. Birds knew this long before we humans picked up on it. Layering, as we all know today, is the best way to keep warm when the weather turns cold, and down is the way to go. Down feathers are naught but tufts of fluff. They trap the most amount of air, creating the best insulating layer. These are the feathers that lie closest to the body, trapping the body’s heat where it can do the most good. Similar to the semiplume, down is wild and untamed in its appearance. Unlike the other feathers, it has no (or nearly no) shaft – it is, as I said, naught but fluff.

Probably of the coolest of the feathers, however, are the fliloplumes. These feathers look like a wand with a bit of fluff stuck to the tip. Filoplumes are located just below, and sometimes sticking out from, the contour feathers. It is believed that they fulfill the same function as whiskers do on a cat: they detect movement and vibrations. It is possible that these feathers help the bird know when it is time to groom – the bird can feel when things are out of place. Another thought is that they might help the bird gauge its speed when in flight.

Bristle feathers are just the opposite of filoplumes in appearance: a bit of fluff near the base and a stiff, tapered shaft at the tip. You will only find bristle feathers on the heads and necks of birds. On some birds they protect they eyes (eyelashes?), and on others they form an insect-catching mesh around the mouth. They are quite prominent around the mouths of whippoorwills, nighthawks and flycatchers.

When it comes to birds, feathers are but the tip of the iceberg of what makes them fascinating. I recently added a new book to my collection of field guides (pretty soon I’ll have to hire a Sherpa just to carry my field guides into the field with me). It is a guide to the feathers of many North American birds. I don’t know about you, but I often find feathers when I go out for a walk in the woods, or even a paddle on the water. Some feathers are pretty easy to identify, but others can sure be a puzzle. With the help of this book I hope to be able to add one more proverbial feather to my naturalist’s cap.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Adirondack Foliage at Peak, Events Planned

The Adirondack Region offers a longer foliage season than anywhere in the East, and more land to explore than the whole state of Vermont. This year’s Adirondack fall foliage is expected to be brilliant and lasting with an array of Adirondack events on tap. For an updated foliage report see the state tourism site’s Foliage Report.

VisitAdirondacks.com is the official tourism website of the Adirondack Region. Visitors can resource a diverse line-up of Adirondack fall festivals taking place throughout the region showcasing the colorful wilderness landscape. They include:

Adirondack Harvest Festival Oct. 9 in Blue Mountain Lake offers a step back in time with wagon rides, cider pressing, music, pumpkin painting and so much more at the Adirondack Museum’s extensive grounds.

Harvest Festival Oct. 9 in Long Lake is a craft show with jewelry, soaps and scents, candles, quilts, table runners, furniture items, syrup, balsam products, and items knitted, crocheted, woven and sewn.

Flaming Leaves Festival Oct. 9-10 in Lake Placid is a popular fall event with live music, beer, bbq and a ski-jumping competition. Craft vendors are on site for kids, or take an elevator to the top of the 120-meter ski jump for a panoramic view of Lake Placid’s fall foliage.

 


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ellen Rathbone: An Adirondack Mob Scene

It was another grey and nearly drippy day as I headed out the door this morning with the dog in tow (some mornings he isn’t any more eager to go out than I). It had rained overnight, so everything was damp, but at the moment the air was still and relatively dry.

Up ahead I watched a largish raptor swoop up and land on a street light. I pondered the species for a moment, taking note of size and coloration as best I could with the animal backlit against the morning sky. It was about then that I noticed that the background chatter of morning birds was getting progressively louder.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

Crows. Lots of crows. Crows upon crows. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let’s Eat: John Burnham Adk Mountain Creams

John Bird Burnham (1869-1939) visited the Adirondacks for the first time as a guest of the Rev. George DuBois family. It was during one of these visits to the family’s camp in St. Huberts that he fell in love with the Reverend’s daughter Henrietta. They were married by her father in the family chapel in 1891. That year, John Burnham joined the staff of Field and Stream, writing articles about game protection.

Burnham is best remembered as an ardent conservationist. In 1898, he purchased a home in Willsboro, New York, which he operated as the Highlands Game Preserve. He served as a member of the three-man commission that codified the state’s fish and games laws, and as the first President of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, Burnham was instrumental in the effort to ban hunting deer with dogs in the Adirondack Park. His friends and colleagues included Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. He is less well known for his career as an Essex, N. Y. candy maker. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Adirondack Conservation Easements: Trends and Expectations

Definition: “A conservation easement typically consists of permanently enforceable rights held by a land trust or government agency by which the landowner promises to use property only in ways permitted by the easement. The landowner retains ownership and may convey it like any other property, subject to the easement’s restrictions. Conservation easements have been made possible by enabling legislation in virtually every state” (from Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform by Jeff Pidot, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2005).

Society has many expectations for large tracts of forest under conservation easement. The list often includes some form of public recreation on private ownership, sustainably harvested timber and pulp, biological diversity including diverse watchable and huntable wildlife, recreational leases, drivable roads, protected streams, ponds and wetlands, shared taxes, timely enforcement of the rules.

If that list is not long enough, some believe that these protected private lands can be managed to help slow or mitigate a changing climate that is likely to continue to warm for centuries, even if Homo sapiens cut emissions dramatically in order to maintain current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which we are not.

During a winter 2009 workshop about Adirondack conservation easements, it was reported that there were 737,000 acres under some form of state conservation easement in all of New York State, with 98% occurring in the Adirondack region. An additional 100,000 acres were being negotiated. According to Regional Forester Tom Martin, in DEC Region 5 (two-thirds of the Adirondack Park) there were 365,000 acres under conservation easement with 113 different landowners in 2009. 340,000 of those acres were certified by third-party certification systems such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

During the workshop, Jerry Jenkins of the Wildlife Conservation Society offered his opinion that easements in the Northern Forest have achieved a basic goal to conserve biodiversity. Jenkins’ report Conservation Easements and Biodiversity in the Northern Forest Region (2008 by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Open Space Institute) provides important background and recommendations. As Jenkins stated at the workshop, conservation easements negotiated in the future should also address the issue of carbon emissions, which have global consequences.

If conservation easements are to address climate issues, landowners must be provided with the information and spectrum of management options. Forestry management plans which utilize low grade trees as biomass feedstock are on the “front lines.” To satisfy the Chicago Climate Exchange, forests need to be FSC certified.

Certification provides the standards and incentives to capture this low carbon energy source and the practice of low carbon forestry. Would easement lands qualify for carbon offset markets? Jenkins noted that the dollar value to landowners may not come solely or even primarily from carbon offsets, but from the avoidance cost of replacing fossil fuels as primary heat source in the northeast. As Jerry Jenkins put it, “how much money can we save the local school board by putting in a wood chip boiler in place of the old oil burner? How can those savings be translated into financial benefits for the landowner?”

In September, 2010, the Adirondack Park Agency sponsored a field visit with the Adirondack Park’s largest private landowner and manager of lands under conservation easement, Lyme Timber. Lyme’s land manager Sean Ross led the APA to lands they have harvested north of Tupper Lake. Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley and I went along. These foresters manage blocks as large as 15,000 acres. Lyme owns 250,000-acres in the Adirondack Park.

In general, Lyme views the conservation easement positively, as well as the rigorous certification requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Ross made the case that the Adirondack Park’s protected status, including laws and publicly-owned Forest Preserve, were strong incentives to engage in easements and certification. Lyme’s field operations must be audited each year by the FSC or one of its third party certifiers. As Sean told us, FSC certification is an expected cost of doing business these days.

Why is Lyme in this forest land business? Trees are adding diameter and value yearly. This steady return on investment jumps when a large cherry or maple grows into a larger diameter class. Lyme’s markets are wherever they can find them – the Ticonderoga mill, nearby biomass plants, Canada and the world.

If he had the power to do so, what would he change about the conservation easement? Sean Ross said that he might take small parts of a given parcel out of the easement, and put other areas in it. Other than this, he saw no need for change. In answer to other questions, Sean Ross noted that fragmentation of land ownerships across the Northern Forest is making it challenging to manage lands for forestry. Asked if Ross could estimate Lyme’s minimum viable tract size, Ross stated it was around 10,000 acres.

Were there any collaborative efforts to conduct ecosystem-based, wild land planning for wildlife and ecosystem integrity on these lands, such as wildlife corridors? In response, Ross noted that Lyme was able to get a grant through DEC to hire a wildlife biologist that is exploring these issues for their Adirondack lands. He noted collaboration with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon New York.

Lyme also participated in the 2009 workshop. During that meeting, its representative noted the time pressures to complete contracts, and to assess what’s important to conserve in a conservation easement. On the other hand, biologists at the workshop felt that on large forested tracts several field seasons were required to survey and document rare or unique ecological communities.

The 2009 workshop concluded by identifying the following needs and tasks:
• Studies to indicate whether easements in the Adirondacks are truly meeting stated ecological, economic and social objectives.
• Studies of how easement lands respond to climate change.
• Methods for compensating landowners for achieving easement objectives
• Funding for baseline documentation and monitoring programs for both land and aquatic resources.
• Completing a conservation easement registry program, already required by law.

Photo: Sean Ross of Lyme Timber addresses questions during APA-sponsored field visit in September. Photo by Dan Plumley, Adirondack Wild.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

DEC Asks Hunters to Help Monitor Small Game Species

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is encouraging hunters to participate in two surveys for popular game species during this fall’s hunting seasons. The DEC’s Citizen Science Programs provide wildlife managers with important data, particularly as the state’s forests mature, and we lose the early successional habitats many species depend upon. Tracking grouse and cottontail populations will helps wildlife professionals understand how New York’s changing landscape affects these and other species.

New England Cottontail Survey:

The New England cottontail is the only native cottontail rabbit east of the Hudson River in New York. However, its range has been greatly reduced due to habitat loss and competition with the more abundant Eastern cottontail.

New England cottontails look nearly identical to Eastern cottontails and are only reliably identified by genetic testing of tissue, by fecal samples, or by examining morphological skull characteristics.

DEC is requesting that rabbit hunters in Wildlife Management Units in Rensselaer, Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties contact the department to learn how they can submit the heads of rabbits they harvest (a map of the survey area can be seen at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/67017.html). The skulls will be used for identification to assist the department in determining the distribution of the New England Cottontail.

Hunters interested in participating or looking for more information, can contact DEC by calling (518) 402-8870 or by e-mailing fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “NE Cottontail” in the subject line). Participating hunters will receive instructions and a postage-paid envelope they can use to submit heads from harvested rabbits. Results of these efforts will be available after the close of the hunting season.

Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log:

The ruffed grouse is one of New York’s most popular native game birds. Annually, around 75,000 grouse hunters harvest 150,000 grouse. The ruffed grouse is a forest species that is widely distributed across New York State. While some grouse are found in more mature forests, the greatest population densities are in younger forests. These preferred habitats are declining as most of New York State’s forests grow older, resulting in a decline in grouse numbers since the 1960s.

This survey asks hunters to record their daily grouse hunting activities on a “Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log.” The hunting log requests information such as the number of hours hunted, number of grouse flushed, and the number of birds killed. Starting this fall, hunters are also asked to record the number of woodcock they flush while afield. Grouse and woodcock share many of the same habitats, so the information will help monitor populations of both of these great game birds as habitats change both locally and on a landscape scale.

Hunters interested in participating can download a Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log from the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9351.html to record their observations. Detailed instructions can be found with the form. Survey forms can also be obtained by calling (518) 402-8886 or by e-mailing fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Grouse Log” in the subject line).

All outdoor enthusiasts should consider purchasing a Habitat/Access Stamp, an optional stamp that helps support the DEC’s efforts to conserve habitat and increase public access for fish and wildlife-related recreation. The new 2010-2011 stamp features a drawing of a pair of Common Loons. Buying a $5 stamp is a way to help conserve New York’s fabulous wildlife heritage. More information about purchasing a Habitat Stamp is available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/329.html.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Adirondack Small Mammals: Mice

Another day, another blog. What to write about? I could muse about the preponderance of liquid precipitation we recently acquired (I am bowled over by how high the Hudson has risen). I could expound on my latest theory about birds having a sense of taste (based on the fact that they zeroed in on the few apples on my heirloom trees while ignoring the thousands of little green apples that laden the many feral apples trees in the neighborhood). But I think I will share with you an amusing experience I had at the library this morning.

I’d just walked in the back door and had set my laptop, my bag of files (transcripts, job notes, resumes, etc.), and such on the table. Grabbing the movies I was returning, I headed toward the front desk, only to be distracted by a movement on the floor. A small grey ball of fur, with a long tail, large ears, big black bead-like eyes, and large back feet scooted across the rug from underneath the book cart. It stopped, started, stopped, started, changed direction, zipped about. » Continue Reading.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Lake George, Lake Tahoe Scientists Address Common Threats

Lake George and Lake Tahoe have more in common with one another than expensive second homes and classic wooden boats.

“Both are known for gorgeous scenery, excellent water quality and high biodiversity. Both are very important economically as well as ecologically,” said Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, the director of RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adirondack Geology: Some Fascinating Rocks

I was going to write about skunk cabbage today, but I find myself sitting in a local rock shop where the proprietors offered to let me use of their Wi-Fi. Surrounded by all these geological wonders of the world, I feel compelled to tip my hat to some of our local geologic treasures.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, geology isn’t my strong suite, but I sure do love rocks. I suspect most of us do. Who hasn’t, at least as a kid, stuffed his or her pockets with rocks found along beaches, roadsides, or in gardens? Some of us never outgrow this obsession. And even though geologic terms run through my mind like sand through an hourglass, I am drawn to the varied forms and colors that most of us only encounter in rock or New Age shops.

When it comes to local (Adirondack) rocks of note, the one that springs first to mind is garnet. Garnet is found in pretty good quantity in the North River area, where Barton Mines is the primary business capitalizing on this semiprecious gemstone. I have been to programs where Barton representatives gave presentations, and it is simply amazing what garnet is used for. Most of us probably think of garnet as a lovely wine-red stone that is featured in jewelry and is January’s birthstone. But at Barton, much of the garnet that is mined is used for things like sandpaper, or to make a blasting compound that is used to etch glass. Who’d have thought it?

A mineral that we find in pretty good quantity around the Park is mica. Usually we only find little bits of broken flakes, but I have found small sheets sitting on top of the ground. In North Creek, at the Ski Bowl Park, some folks put in a lovely garden, complete with some terrific boulders. On these boulders are fanned protrusions of mica, thin sheets, stacked one on top of another, and then fanned out and emerging from the hardened grasp of the rock – it is amazing to behold.

Labradorite is a feldspar mineral found in large crystal masses of anorthosite. For those who don’t know, anorthosite is one of the major rock types in the Adirondacks, or at least in the High Peaks. It is a very old rock, not common on earth and found on the moon. One of the neat things about labradorite is the way it can shimmer with colors, an effect called labradoresence, or the schiller effect. Lesley, one of the shop owners here, showed me some labradorite rocks she picked up from the Opalescent up near Calamity Brook in the southern High Peaks. She polished them up and there, when the light catches it just right, it looks like blue and green northern lights skittering across the glossy surface. Of course, I had to purchase one for my collection.

Another interesting rock here in the shop is moonstone, which is a type of feldspar. Apparently rockhounds used to be able to mine it up in Saranac Lake. It isn’t a rock with commercial value, except in the rock-collector’s world. Lesley showed me a large chunk she got from up in Saranac Lake, as well as some jewelry made from small polished bits of moonstone. Like the labradorite, it has a bit of the schiller effect – a blue, green or even pinkish dash of color when the light hits it just right.

For those interested in Adirondack geology beyond the academic level, rock shops are the place to go. The folks who run these places love rocks and geology and are always willing to share their passion with others. I wrote before about the shop at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, but other rock shops dot the park, like Lesley’s Minerals Unlimited in Long Lake. While much of her merchandise is from other parts of the world, she has a nice collection of local rocks and minerals that make a stop here well worth the drive.

Photo credit: Labradorite, courtesy Wikipedia.