Posts Tagged ‘Wetlands’

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adirondack Amphibians: The Wood Frog in Spring

The awakening of the many forms of life that passed the winter in a deeply dormant state begins with the melting of the snow, the retreating of the ice sheet covering our waterways, and the thawing of the soil. Because of fundamental physiological differences among the species and the various preferences that each creature has for a wintering site, some animals are quicker to respond to the onset of favorable spring conditions than others.

In the forested regions of the North Country, the wood frog is among the first to return to an active state and announce with a distinct chorus of voices that spring has come to the Adirondacks.

Unlike other frogs in the Adirondacks, the wood frog does not spend the winter embedded in the muck that covers numerous bodies of water. Rather, this amphibian burrows deep into the leaf litter that covers the forest floor to protect itself from the frigid conditions of this long season. Also, unlike many other cold-blooded vertebrates, the wood frog fails to get below the frost line.

This small, forest dwelling frog with the black mask across its face is among the very few forms of vertebrate life that can experience freezing without perishing. The body of this frog has adapted by producing several substances that allow for a lowering of the freezing point of the water molecules within its body.

Additionally, even if the actions of these compounds fail to prevent ice crystals from forming, the wood frog will not die. With the formation of ice in its body, the wood frog’s heart stops beating, its blood no longer circulates throughout its systems, and oxygen fails to be delivered to its cells. In this type of cryogenic state, the wood frog can remain alive throughout the winter and awaken once its body warms to a temperature that is above freezing.

As soon as the upper layer of soil thaws, releasing the wood frog from its icy tomb, it spends a few days acclimating to an active state before heading to the small, vernal pool of water that serves as its breeding ground. Upon arriving at such a seasonal body of water, the males begin to announce their presence by emitting a clacking noise that is described by some as several ducks that are not quite “on-key”.

Within a span of a few days, such small bodies of water may contain dozens of wood frogs. While these amphibians can be heard anytime of the day, late afternoon is when more voices are added to the chorus, and by evening on those occasions when the temperature is well above the freezing point, every male is contributing to the unique noise that can carry for nearly a hundred yards. Additionally, the intensity of this sound increases during times of warmer weather. Sunny days which can elevate the temperature of these small, seasonal pools can also make the wood frog more active and vocal.

While some amphibians, like the spring peeper, persist in announcing its presence for well over a month, the wood frog seldom remains in its breeding surroundings longer than a week to ten days. Shortly after the last females have had their egg masses fertilized, these temporary occupants abandon the pools and begin their travel to their summer ranges. Wood frogs are reported to migrate up to a half mile to reach a favorable spot on the forest floor in which to spend the summer.

Spring is a season of sound in the Adirondacks. While birds have the most musically complex songs, and the most melodious calls, the voices of several amphibians add to the diversity of this springtime, vocal ritual. It is impossible to state which amphibian produces the most appealing mating call; however, it is certain that the love serenade of the wood frog is the first to grace the air and signal that the spring peepers will soon be calling here in the Adirondacks.

Tom Kalinowski has written several books on Adirondack nature and is a regular contributor on natural history here at the Adirondack Almanack.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wetlands: Vernal Pools And Their Inhabitants

What follows is a guest essay from Stacy McNulty Associate Director and Research Associate at SUNY ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Following last week’s story on the destruction of wetlands by ATVs at the 2011 SNIRT rally, the Almanack asked Stacy to provide some background on vernal pools, small intermittent wetlands that are important sources of Adirondack biodiversity.

On a proverbially dark and stormy night in mid-April I climb the hill, flashlight sweeping the ground for obstacles. The first warm, spring rain has been falling and snow piles lie here and there. Faintly I hear a quacking sound up ahead, signaling my target – but what I seek is not a duck, but a frog. Scores of wood frogs swim and call from the pool, their eyes shining in the beam of my light. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wildlife in Spring: Beavers on the Move

The period of high water in the Adirondacks from frequent spring rains and snow melt typically corresponds with the time when maturing beavers travel. As is the case with all forms of wildlife, when young begin to transition into adults, they experience a strong urge to vacate their parents’ territory and look for a suitable spot some distance away that they can claim as their own.

The natural tendency of maturing young to disperse well away from their parent’s territory allows for the healthy spread of genetic information among a particular species. If offspring were to remain nearby, there would eventually be an increased risk of inbreeding. Individuals produced from parents that come from the same blood line have a greater chance of displaying unwanted traits that would reduce their chances for survival. Because of this, nature promotes in maturing adults the desire to disperse far enough away from their natal home so as to prevent the likelihood of two closely related individuals encountering one another and interacting as breeding partners.

For the beaver, sexual maturity occurs just prior to the age of two, which is shortly before the adult female in the colony gives birth to her yearly litter of kits. It is these beavers that are most likely to venture far and wide during mid April in the Adirondacks.

Traveling well outside their parent’s territory is a real challenge for a young adult beaver in the Park. There is currently a relatively high population of these flat-tailed rodents within the Blue Line and vacant waterways that contain an adequate supply of food are difficult to find.

Upon encountering a stretch of water with an aggressive resident adult that refuses to allow an outside beaver to trespass, a wandering individual is occasionally forced to travel overland in its journey to find a suitable, unoccupied body of water. A beaver in search of a territory will also exit the safety of the water should it encounter an impassible obstacle, such as a dam, a waterfall, or a series of rapids in which the current is just too swift and the turbulence too severe to continue moving through the water.

The unusual tendency of a beaver to venture across land in mid-April may be noted by the occasional dead beaver alongside a stretch of highway that is a fair distance from any body of water. Noting the presence of roadkill may seem to be a gruesome way of assessing the habits of certain forms of wildlife, however, it can sometimes be useful in gaining insight into the lives of certain types of animals.

Along with the two year olds, older adult beavers occasionally abandon their home pond when the supply of edible vegetation along the shore, and a short distance inland, become exhausted. After the ice melts and the beavers can again gain access to the shoreline, they may realize that almost every shrub, sapling and tree that is of nutritional value to them has already been cut.

In such situations, the entire family relocates to another stretch of the same waterway where the vegetation is more favorable to them. However, when a family moves, it rarely travels over land; rather it typically remains on the same general drainage system.

The maturing forests in the Adirondacks have created shorelines that are very picturesque from a human perspective; however, such stands of timber are of very little value to the beaver. This gnawing rodent has a distinct preference for the bark of aspen and white birch which thrive in open, sunny locations. The forests that sprouted a century or more ago following the widespread logging operations that left much of the Adirondacks devoid of trees were ideal for the beaver. This is the main reason why the beaver experienced such a dramatic resurgence at the turn of the last century. As the process of forest succession replaces the pioneer trees with maples, beech and yellow birch, the abundance of trees useful to the beaver steadily dwindles.

The beaver is still able to exist in the Adirondacks, as this creature is capable of surviving on alder choked streams, along the shores of lakes, and on slow moving rivers. As with all forms of wildlife, finding food is always a challenge. So too is the chore of locating a territory that confronts the two year olds. Yet this year’s high water is making travel easier and allowing them to more easily move from one area to another here in the soggy Adirondacks.

John Warren wrote a shorty history of beaver in the Adirondacks for the Adirondack Almanack in 2009.

Anthony Hall wrote s short political history of the beaver in April, 2010.

Dan Crane wrote about beavers from the perspective of a bushwacker in January, 2011.

Photos: Above, a beaver from Lake George Mirror files; below, a fanciful 17th century European print picturing abundant beaver in the New World (courtesy private collection of John Warren).


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SNIRT ATV Rally Comes Under Fire

An ATV rally, SNIRT (Snow/Dirt), is coming under fire from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Council for apparent purposeful destruction of wetlands near Otter Creek and Brantingham Lake in the Southwest part of the Adirondack Park in Lewis County (the Eastern side of the Tug Hill Plateau).

The event drew attention after YouTube videos of the event from 2008 and 2010 surfaced showing ATV users riding through wetlands, past posted signs, and drinking at the event, and after the rally’s organizers sought to move the event onto some state lands. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mud Season: Sloshing Through Wet Trails

April and May are traditionally considered the messiest part of mud season in the Adirondacks. This designation ignores the fact that any month in the Adirondacks without snow cover could be classified as such. Mud season offers significant challenges to any backcountry adventurer regardless of whether they stay on hiking trails or venture off-tail into areas less traveled.

Although April is considered the beginning of mud season, the actual season can shift significantly from year to year depending on the winter’s snow pack, and the average temperature and amount of liquid precipitation during the early spring. Elevation effects the arrival of mud season with it occurring earlier at low elevations and much later on mountaintops. But regardless of when it starts the results are eventually the same: wet and muddy trails, boots and legs.

There are many challenges for the backcountry explorer during this messy time of the year. These challenges require additional planning, preparation and in some cases caution. But there are a few benefits to being in the backcountry this time of the year as well. In addition, there are some important environmental impacts of hiking in mud season that need identification and management so as to ameliorate their negative impacts.

One challenge of hiking during mud season is the weather. The months of April and May often display the most variable weather both from day-to-day and year-to-year. This variability requires being prepared for almost any type of conditions imaginable from deep snow to driving rainfall. This often requires carrying a vast array of equipment for both the winter and summer seasons.

Depending on the situation crampons and/or snowshoes (see a review of perfect lightweight snowshoes here) may be necessary and an effective pair of gaiters is a must (see a review of a great pair of gaiters here). A good sturdy pair of hiking boots, preferably with a waterproof layer, will help keep your feet dry even in the muddiest of conditions especially in combination with gaiters.

I have some first-hand experience with the variability of the weather during spring conditions. Once while backpacking within the Five Ponds Wilderness during early-May I sloshed through a substantial snowfall. I was clearly unprepared for such weather conditions since I brought only my summer equipment for the most part.

Crossing streams in the early spring can be very challenging regardless of whether hiking on or off trails. In early spring, ice jams can cause extensive flooding while later in the spring streams can become swollen with runoff from the melting snow pack and the saturated soils. Look out for floating logs and flooded boardwalks as both can be frequent hazards on trails through wetlands during this time of the year.

There are some negative environmental impacts to hiking during mud season. The chief environmental damage from hiking in mud season is erosion. Although erosion can occur anywhere it is more extensive within the mountainous and heavy trafficked areas within the High Peaks. Soils tend to be more susceptible to erosion in the spring due to the alternating warmer temperatures during the day and colder temperatures in the evening.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation often issues a voluntary trail closure for areas above 3000 feet in the Eastern High Peaks. These closures are issued to protect trails from erosion as well as to protect fragile alpine vegetation during this time of the year. The effectiveness of these closures on trail use in this area is questionable.

When encountering muddy trails one should avoid walking around sloppy portions of a trail to avoid the muck. Typically, avoiding walking through ankle deep (or deeper!) mud just seems like common sense but it is best walk right through the mud to avoid trail creep and damaging nascent vegetation growing along the trail’s border. These fragile early-season shoots can be easily damaged by the aggressive tread of a hiker’s boot.

Because of all the negative issues of navigating through mud season I typically avoid any backcountry hiking in the month of April in the Adirondacks. Usually my own backcountry adventures start around mid-May although this is highly dependent on the prevalent weather conditions during mid to late spring.

Although there are many challenges and some negative environmental factors of hiking during mud season there are a couple of advantages to the adventurous backcountry enthusiast.

One advantage of exploring the backcountry during April is the lack of a certain plentiful Adirondack pest. Typically April is the last totally biting bug free month in the Adirondacks until the following autumn. At some point in late May the bane of the Adirondacks, the black fly will reemerge from the stream and rivers, and attack anything warm-blooded with a pulse. Soon other biting flies will join in on the fun and most will be present until the end of summer.

Another benefit of hiking in the early spring is the lack of foliage. Although many may see this as a disadvantage due to the lack of shade, the absence of the scent of fresh foliage and the comforting rustle of the wind through the leaves there is a real benefit to be enjoyed. Without leaves blocking one’s views some outstanding vistas once obscured now becomes visible. This is especially true on rolling hills where the trees often grow thickest.

Hiking through the backcountry during mud season offers the ambitious explorer some real challenges and a few advantages over some other seasons in the Adirondacks. It is important to be prepared for any and all weather conditions but the season offers some pleasant bug-free hiking with some seldom seen awesome views. But the more fastidious explorer should sit this season out and wait for the warm winds of summer to dry up the trails.

Photos: Muddy trail on Mt. Colden, muddy and wet Adirondack trail, flooded trail near Cranberry Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking Stock of Adirondack Trout

As the snow melts and the ice recedes from local water bodies around the Adirondacks, the thoughts of some turn to trout. There are a variety of trout species found in the Adirondacks: Rainbow, Brown, and Lake Trout and the king of all fish – in my eyes at least – the Brook Trout. While April 1st marks the opening day of trout season across New York State, many bodies of water in the Adirondacks are open to trout fishing all year long. For specific fishing regulations, check out the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website.

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis, is actually a char and our state fish. They are easy to identify, having wormlike markings or vermiculation on their backs and brilliant red spots on their sides that are surrounded by blue halos. The most distinguishing feature is the brilliant white edges on their pectoral, pelvic and anal fins. Brook Trout live in lakes and streams in cold well-oxygenated waters and spawn in the fall. The state record for Brook Trout is 5 pounds 4.5 ounces.

Rainbow Trout Salmo gairdneri, are an introduced species originally coming from the Western side of the continent. They are dark olive, almost blue green in color above, lighter on their sides, with a pale yellow to white belly. Adults will have a pink or red band along their sides. Rainbow Trout occur in large streams and lakes where they have been stocked, and spawn in the spring. The state record for Rainbow Trout is 31 pounds 3 ounces.

Brown Trout Salmo trutta, are an introduced species originally from Europe. They are olive green, shading to tan or white on the belly. They have small irregular spots, which are surrounded by pale halos. Brown Trout are primarily a stream fish but can live in lakes. They tolerate higher water temeratures than Brook Trout and spawn in the fall. The state record for Brown Trout is 33 pounds 2 ounces.

Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush, are a native species of trout. They are silvery gray on their sides and have white on their bellies. Their backs have darker areas with white to creamy spots and vermiculation. Sometimes their fins will have an orange cast to them. Lake Trout are found in deep, cold, well-oxygenated lakes and spawn in the fall. The state record for Lake Trout is 41 pounds 8 ounces.

All species of trout feed on smaller fish species and insects, which is why it is important to conduct a bottom up management approach for fisheries management. Trout are very sensitive to changes in their environment, to maintain a healthy, viable trout population, which is why shoreline and streamside riparian buffers are important.

Photo: Above, Adirondack fisherman shows off a string of trout; Below, Brook Trout courtesy Wikipidia.

Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Berry Pond Tract: Headwaters of West Brook

Purchased in 2008 by the Lake George Land Conservancy, the Berry Pond Tract protects 1,436 acres within the towns of Lake George, Warrensburg, and Lake Luzerne. This tract of land contains ecologically important wetlands, ponds, vernal pools and the headwaters of West Brook. The purchase was made possible in part through a loan from the Open Space Conservancy (OSC) and funding provided by the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation.

The Berry Pond Tract is home to many forms of wildlife. There are several active beaver populations and a small Great Blue Heron rookery. This purchase provides expanded outdoor recreational resources including some amazing views of the lake. It also connects nearly 10,000 acres of protected land and protects the headwaters of West Brook, the single largest source of contaminants to the South Basin of Lake George.

West Brook is one of the largest, most polluted streams in the Lake George Watershed. A substantial section of the downstream portion has impervious surface streamside, which contributes large amounts of stormwater runoff. Studies have indicated high readings of specific conductance (indicator of instream pollution), excessive amounts of Nitrogen and Phosphorus as well as substrate covering algal blooms. West Brook is important habitat for wildlife and spawning fish, however most of the downstream substrate is silt and sand. The streams course has been altered and channalized, thus speeding up the current. There is very limited riparian cover along the downstream portions, most being of non-native species. The lack of cover results in higher water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels.

Protecting the headwaters of a stream is important to the overall health of the stream, however what takes place in the downstream sections can adversely impair the lake. That is why the West Brook Conservation Initiative was formed. This project to restore and protect Lake George is a collaborative campaign between the FUND for Lake George, the Lake George Land Conservancy and the Lake George Association. The main goal is to eliminate the largest source of contaminants to the South Basin. For more information on the West Brook Conservation Initiative and the science behind West Brook, visit the FUND for Lake George website.

Access to the Berry Pond Tract hiking trails is via the Lake George Recreation Center Trail System. For more information on the Berry Pond Tract, check out the Lake George Land Conservancy website at: http://lglc.org or join me in a snowshoe during the Winter Warm Up, at the Lake George Recreation Center on Saturday March 12, 2011 from 10am till 2pm. Bring your family and friends to this free event hosted by the Lake George Land Conservancy. Warm up by the bonfire; enjoy tasty treats donated by local businesses and take part in a guided snowshoe or other activities for all ages.

Come out and join me during the snowshoe and learn more about the Berry Pond Tract and West Brook. I hope to see you there.

Photo: “All” West Brook, Lake George NY. Compliments Blueline Photography, Jeremy Parnapy.

Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Corrina Parnapy: The Importance of Snow

During this winter, it seems to have been snowing almost every week. Snow is piling up making driving hard and causing roofs to collapse. While the snow may be causing problems for people, it is just what the environment needs. Winters with thick snow packs mean a productive, drought free summer.

Snow falls to the ground, insulating the soil and roots of plants. When the snow melts it sinks into the ground between cracks and crevices of the bedrock replenishing the groundwater supply. The snow-melt will seep into the pore spaces between the soil particles or flow over the ground, filtering out into the streams, springs and lakes, thereby recharging the surface water. Snow is the major form of precipitation in the Adirondacks. Mild winters threaten soil productivity, plant growth and freshwater resources. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dave Gibson: Common Road Salt is Toxic

Outside my house, and in the forest back beyond the land is carpeted with crystalline beauty, affording quietude, serenity, thermal shelter for critters, and some nice ski runs. Out on the county road, just two hours after the recent storm the pavement is bare – right on schedule with transportation departments’ standard for road maintenance and safety. To accomplish it, a corrosive pollutant will be laid down in quantity – 900,000 tons of road salt will be used across the state this winter according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) website. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DEC Names New Wildlife Biology, Fisheries Chiefs

It’s been a good year for DEC wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller. In October, weeks after he received a top honor from the National Trappers Association, Batcheller was appointed DEC’s chief wildlife biologist. Batcheller succeeds John Major, who retired earlier this year. Batcheller had been serving as acting wildlife chief since Major’s departure.

Batcheller, an avid deer and turkey hunter, said one of his priorities will be getting more people, particularly young people, outdoors hunting, trapping and bird-watching. “We want to eliminate barriers, and that could be complicated by regulations or an inability to find places to go hunting or (finding) parking areas,” Batcheller said. “We need to try to work to unify our stakeholders so that we’re all pulling together for the same purpose.”

He said he would like to see the age for big-game and small-game hunting lowered to 12. He said he also wants to take advantage of the “citizen scientists” who are outdoors and can help the DEC in this time of limited resources, getting them working together for common goals.

Batcheller has been with the DEC since 1981, starting as a wildlife biologist in Region 9 and working his way up the ladder. He’s led a number of major studies in recent years and been an active participant on several DEC teams responsible for managing furbearers, big game, and game birds.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said Batcheller has helped develop policies to reform DEC’s response to nuisance wildlife problems, including coyote, deer and bear conflicts. And as a regional biologist, he led a study to assess the status and management needs of threatened common terns; monitored contaminants in waterfowl and mink; and mapped and regulated freshwater wetlands, she said.

DEC has also announced the appointment of a new Bureau Chief of Fisheries, Phil Hulbert. Hulbert received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Maine at Orono in 1971 and 1973, respectively. His initial professional employment was as a Research Associate with the Migratory Fish Research Institute in the Maine Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit.

Hulbert started with DEC in 1977, working with the Coldwater Special Studies Unit in the Stamford sub-office. In 1986, he was appointed Coldwater Fisheries Unit Leader at DEC’s Central Office. Since 1996, he has served as Superintendent of Fish Culture, overseeing DEC’s 12 fish hatcheries and the Rome Fish Disease Control Unit (Rome Lab). He has worked on projects including evaluations of stream improvement structures, statewide creel and minimum length limits in trout streams, sea lamprey control, the statewide trout stream stocking system and manual, and the development and use of ultra-low phosphorus fish feed in DEC’s fish hatchery system.

A white paper Hulbert prepared on hatchery infrastructure needs in 2003 was instrumental in efforts to obtain Capital Budget appropriations for projects such as the reconstruction of broodstock ponds at Rome Lab and the construction of a new office/early rearing/visitor center building at Rome Hatchery.


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.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lake George Watershed Coalition’s Water Quality Forum

The Lake George Watershed Coalition will hold it’s 6th Annual Forum on Water Quality & Resource Conservation on Tuesday, October 5th at the Fort William Henry Conference Center. Speakers at the event will include Lake George Mayor Bob Blais, Lake George Waterkeepers Chris Navitsky and Kathy Bozony, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Laurel Gailor and more. A panel discussion will focus on the West Brook watershed project. Registration begins at 8:15, and the cost to attend, including lunch, is $25. Click here for a registration form.

Here’s the full agenda:

Welcome Address – Department of State/Mayor Blais

The State of your Lake: Influence of Land-use on Stream Chemistry within the Lake George Watershed DFWI – Mark Swinton PhD & Charles Boylen PhD

Stream Assessment Report Results Chris Navitsky, P.E., LG Waterkeeper

Observations on the Impact of Fireworks Displays on Water Quality Emily Debolt, LGA

Documented Observations of Increased Algal Blooms in Lake George Kathy Bozony, LG Waterkeeper

Invasives in the Watershed Laurel Gailor, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Watershed Headwaters & Their Importance to Water Quality Rebecca Schneider PhD, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Presentation of Stewardship Awards Mayor Blais

Prudent Measures for Turf Management – Property Management in Critical Watershed Areas Frank Ross PhD, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Project Reviews:

* Town Highway Department Stormwater Improvement Project
* Eurasian Watermilfoil Management Program
* The Floating Classroom
* Lake Steward Program
* Shepard Park – Native Plantings Demonstration Project
* Upland Protection Activities
* Do It Yourself – Water Quality Guide

Panel Discussion: The West Brook Watershed Stormwater Improvement & Conservation Initiative – Update

Roundtable Discussion: Watershed Management – Challenges & Success in our Watershed & Others Across the State.

Photo: Lake George, courtesy the Lake George Watershed Coalition.


Monday, August 30, 2010

APA Announces New Regulatory Chief

The Adirondack Park Agency has announced the promotion of Richard E. Weber to serve as the Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs. Mr. Weber fills the position vacated by the retirement of long serving Deputy Director Mark Sengenberger. Mr. Weber’s appointment is effective immediately.

As Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs, Mr. Weber will supervise a staff of 12 who are responsible for implementing the statutory and regulatory provisions of the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act, and the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act.

Regulatory Program Division responsibilities include pre-application project guidance and assessment, application completeness determinations, applying review standards and preparing permits, variances or denial orders. From January 1st, through August 12, 2010, the Regulatory Program Division received 257 project applications and issued 244 permits. In addition, staff participated in 112 pre-application meetings.

Mr. Weber was originally hired by the Adirondack Park Agency in November, 2002 and served in the Planning Division as Supervisor for Regional Planning. He was promoted to Assistant Director for Planning in April, 2008.

Prior to joining the APA, Mr. Weber directed multi-disciplinary design teams for professional consulting firms. His responsibilities included site plan design, environmental planning, contract administration, visual impact assessment, land use planning, permit application preparation and development of Geographic Information Systems.

Mr. Weber became a registered Landscape Architect in November 1980 and served as a Planning Board member for the Town of Galway, Saratoga County in July 2002. He graduated from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry and received a Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources.

In a statement for the media, Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs Richard Weber said, “The Adirondack Park always represented to me an opportunity to get it right. I see the Park as a place where open space and community intersect to the benefit of people and nature. It is a great responsibility and honor to serve as the Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs. I will strive to do my best to achieve the legislative mandate of the Adirondack Park Agency Act to balance natural resource protection with the sustainability of the Park’s 103 municipalities.”


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Purple Loosestrife and the Adirondacks

I was recently on a road trip to and from the beautiful state of Maine. The trip took me across Lake Champlain, through the agricultural and ski lands of Vermont, zipping down the forest-lined highways of New Hampshire, and then into Maine itself, where I briefly visited the coast before heading upstate to Augusta. As beautiful as each of these states is, there was one thing they all had in common: purple loosestrife.

I know, you are thinking “we’ve got purple loosestrife here in New York, too – even in the Adirondacks,” and you would be correct in this thought. But let me tell you – the Adirondacks have nothing compared to these other states, where this elegant purple flower is thick as thieves in every body of water I passed – be it fresh or salt. I was bowled over by how far its reach had stretched, and how established it had become. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adirondack Serpent: The Northern Watersnake

Monday I was walking along the shores of the Hudson River in search of a particular orchid. The sun was out, the wind was blowing, and lots of flowers were in bloom. A few frogs hopped away from the clumsy thud of my boots, and damselflies darted here and there. There was a sudden rustle in the vegetation and something slithered across my path. I watched as the tail disappeared into the greenery, only to reappear on the other side as the snake slid into the waters of the Hudson: a northern watersnake, Nerodia sipedon.

This is a serpent that, as its name suggests, is equally at home in the water and on land. A rather robust animal, it is described in the literature as being “relatively large and heavy bodied.” In other words, this is no slender slitherer like our common garter snakes, nor is it cute in its tininess, like the red-bellied, brown or green snakes.

Northern watersnakes, to the untrained eye, might make one think immediately of water moccasins, or cottonmouths, both common names for the same venomous snake found in more southerly states. But we live in the Adirondacks where the only aquatic snake we have can be startling, can give a memorable bite, but is completely non-venomous.

Most of the snakes found in the Adirondacks are small to moderate in size, but the northern watersnake can grow upwards of four and a half feet long. Color can vary, but in general these reptiles are brown, or tan, with brown or reddish-brown bands or blotches. The animal I saw had a coloration very much like a milksnake, lighter in shade than I am used to seeing on these animals, although that could have partly been thanks to the water in which it was submerged when I took its photo. The older the animal, the darker its coloration. This is attributed to the tannins of the water in which they reside, which darken their scales over time. Perhaps my snake was fairly young, despite its size.

According to the authors of The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State, many New York specimens have red stripes on their faces. Sadly, I wasn’t close enough to this one’s face to see any such markings.

Found in almost any body of freshwater, northern watersnakes tend to prefer habitats that have some good vegetative cover nearby, like cattails or wet meadows. This explains why it made a run for the water as I blundered along the shoreline looking for my orchid (which I never did find). The Ice Meadows are quite verdant now that high summer is in full swing; between the heat and the rain of recent weeks, the vegetation has become quite lush – perfect for hiding cunning hunters.

Because they are excellent swimmers, it is not surprising to learn that these snakes commonly catch and eat fish and frogs. I remember watching one choke down a rather large sunfish along the banks of the Passaic River down in the Great Swamp in New Jersey. It was an impressive feat, considering the size of the fish, but down it went, leaving a fish-like bulge in the snake’s throat as it slid back into the water to avoid our curious stares.

The rest of this reptile’s diet is filled with birds, small mammals, young turtles, and even insects. In other words, if the snake can catch it and get its mouth around it, anything is fair game; this includes carrion, which occasionally makes it into the diet.

When I was a youngster and just learning about animal classification (back in ’72 it was), we were told that the only animals that gave birth to live young were mammals – it was part of what set us apart from the rest of the critters. Then I learned that there are mammals that lay eggs! And later on, I learned that some snakes have live birth. The world was not as simple as I had been led to believe.

As it turns out, there are quite a few snakes that give birth to live young, and the northern watersnake is among them. While gestating, the female will often bask in the sun, warming up her internal offspring to make them develop faster. When the time comes, she gives birth to 15 to 30 babies. Better her than me!

I hadn’t given it much thought, since northern watersnakes have been a regular part of my outdoor experiences, but it seems that while once commonly found throughout New York State, this hefty reptile has disappeared from part of the St. Lawrence River Valley and from much of the Adirondacks. Southern slopes in the southeastern part of the park (Lakes Champlain and George) seem to be where they hang out these days. Warrensburg fits into this geographical range, so it’s not too surprising that I found this specimen.

Like many a child, I’m not averse to picking up the occasional snake that crosses my path, but I do limit my snake handling to small and more docile species. I’d never attempt to grab a northern watersnake. For one thing, it will put up quite a fight. While striking and biting, it will also release copious amounts of various bodily substances, like feces and musky secretions. All of this stuff smells as bad as it sounds. And even though it is a non-venomous snake, the bite can be nasty. Not only will it hurt when the animal sinks in its teeth, but the wound will bleed like a son-of-a-gun because the animal’s saliva is laced with anticoagulants – all the better to subdue its prey with, eh? In other words, this is a snake better left alone and admired from afar.

So, if you see a northern watersnake on your journeys through or around some of the Park’s wetlands, rest assured that it won’t harm you if left alone. Watch it for a while. Who knows, maybe, like the one I spotted, it will turn its head and watch you back. Interesting animals, snakes are, and well-worth the time to get to know.



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