Applying science to natural resource management in the Catskills

Catskill stream
Maintaining healthy streams – and clean drinking water – in the Catskills requires collaboration among scientists and research managers. Credit: Cary Institute.
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Targeting research efforts to ensure Catskill conservation is guided by science

(Millbrook, NY) Cary Institute is spearheading the Catskill Science Collaborative (CSC), an effort to connect scientific research with natural resource management in the Catskill region and educate residents about local science that could affect their lives and livelihoods.

Gary Lovett, a forest ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, has been studying Catskill forests and streams for decades and is leading the project. Lovett says, “In the Catskills, the economy is driven by natural resources. Its key industries – tourism, forestry, and agriculture – require well-managed ecosystems. And the health of Catskill forests and streams determines drinking water quality for nine million people in New York City. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Catskills and its resources requires careful management that is guided by science.”

Engaging undergraduate students in applied research is another CSC goal. Researchers recently met to welcome four student researchers – the 2019 cohort of the newly-established Catskill Science Collaborative Fellowship program – to the Collaborative. This summer, each student will work with two mentors – an academic advisor and a resource manager – to advance targeted Catskill conservation efforts.

Lovett says, “The CSC Fellowship program is a great opportunity for undergraduate students to get hands-on research experience while providing information that is needed to preserve and protect the Catskills.”

James Gibbs, Professor of Vertebrate Conservation Biology at SUNY ESF, will be advising student Alexander Jones on a project looking at timber rattlesnake conservation in popular recreation areas. Gibbs says, “This summer, students are undertaking projects to answer specific research questions identified by conservation agencies working in the Catskills. This program is an excellent model of how resource manager needs can direct research.”

James Gibbs, Professor of Vertebrate Conservation Biology at SUNY ESF, and Catskill Science Collaborative Fellow Alexander Jones, survey rattlesnake populations in the Catskills. Credit: Jamie Deppen.

Gibbs adds, “These experiences can be transformative to the students, providing them with critical professional growth opportunities while linking them to local resource managers and stakeholders.”

Alexander Jones, a junior in the Environmental Science and Forest Biology department at SUNY ESF, is majoring in Conservation Biology. Jones says, “I am very excited to be a part of the Catskill Science Collaborative student fellowship program. It allows me to gain invaluable undergraduate research experience while aiding in the conservation of one of the Northeast’s most iconic animals.”

CSC collaborators include universities, government researchers, natural resource management agencies, and other institutions that have an interest in science-based management in the Catskills.

Lovett explains, “Many CSC partners have been working together, loosely, since 2010. Funding from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund has allowed us to formalize our collaboration – an instrumental step in maximizing research impact.”

Cary’s Jamie Deppen, Coordinator of the CSC, is collecting and organizing data and research results from Catskill research programs. Information will be shared on the CSC website to ensure that managers, researchers, and the interested public can access this information easily and free of charge. Public outreach is a top CSC priority; plans include scientist lectures, guided hikes, and science cafes throughout the Catskill region.

Catskill Science Collaborative Coordinator, Jamie Deppen and Cary Institute forest ecologist and Senior Scientist Gary Lovett. Credit: Pam Freeman.

The CSC is also helping to plan the biennial Catskill Environmental Research and Monitoring conference, which brings scientists, resource managers, students, and Catskill residents together to share data and identify opportunities for further collaboration.   

Bill Rudge, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 3 Natural Resources Supervisor, says, “The CSC was created with a grant from DEC, funded through the State’s Environmental Protection Fund, to promote research and facilitate communication among researchers and managers working in the region. By bringing together a variety of perspectives and partners working in the Catskills, we can share resources, hone questions, and strategize solutions more efficiently.”

Congratulations to the 2019 Catskill Research Fellowship recipients:

Matthew Borovy – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Mentors:Dr. Diane Kuehn (SUNY ESF)and Pine Roehrs (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 3)
Project:Visitors’ perceptions of risk at trailheads in the Catskill Park
Goal: This study aims to better understand the factors that encourage visitors to use trailhead registries, to determine whether perceived risk and level of trail experience influence trail users’ decision to register before heading out.
 
Ben Fairbairn – Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Mentors: Dr. Kristen Brubaker (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)and Karen Rauter (Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District)
Project: Working with stakeholders to protect hemlocks for water quality and recreation
Goal: Eastern hemlocks are threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive forest pest. Fairbairn will work with Catskill landowners to strategize woolly adelgid eradication on two affected properties, and understand roadblocks for using treatment methods such as pesticides or bio-controls to protect trees.
 
Julie Helthaler – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Mentors: Dr. Victoria Bennett (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and Mark Vian (New York City Department of Environmental Protection)
Project: Determining the variance of Manning’s n as a function of measured discharge and relative roughness in a natural stream channel on the West Branch of the Neversink River
Goal: An important factor in stream restoration is designing channels that mimic the natural structure of the streambed. This project aims to understand how the texture of the channel bed affects, and is affected by, flow depths – to guide restoration strategies.
 
Alexander Jones – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry  
Mentors:Dr. James P. Gibbs (SUNY ESF)and Lisa Masi (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 3)
Project: Patterns of timber rattlesnake occurrence in relation to outdoor recreationalists in the Catskills of New York State
Goal: Timber rattlesnakes are threatened in the Catskills. Their habitat often coincides with popular public recreation areas. This study will investigate current and potential interactions between rattlesnakes and people in the Catskills, to help guide rattlesnake conservation.
 
A representative for Senator Jen Metzger presented the Fellowship winners with certificates congratulating them on their acceptance into the program. Left to right: Jamie Deppen, Julie Helthaler, Alexander Jones, Benjamin Fairbairn, Gary Lovett, and Matthew Borovy. CSC Fellowship winners were welcomed to the program at a recent reception at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Office in Kingston. Credit: Lorraine Janus.
 

Findings from these projects and information on student presentations will be made available on the Catskill Science Collaborative website by the end of the year.

These fellowships are funded by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, and by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, through its Rondout Neversink Stream Program in cooperation with the Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Principal collaborators:

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • New York City Department of Environmental Protection  
  • Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County
  • United States Geological Survey
  • Catskill Institute for the Environment
  • New York State Museum
  • New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
  • State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  • Syracuse University
  • Bard Center for Environmental Policy
  • The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development
  • Marist College

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Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is an independent nonprofit center for environmental research. Since 1983, our scientists have been investigating the complex interactions that govern the natural world and the impacts of climate change on these systems. Our findings lead to more effective management and policy actions and increased environmental literacy. Staff are global experts in the ecology of: cities, disease, forests, and freshwater.

The Catskill Science Collaborative is a group of individuals and institutions dedicated to facilitating collaboration and outreach by those doing environmental research in Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Funded by NY State through Environmental Protection Funds and coordinated by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the CSC carries forward the goals of the Catskill Environmental Research and Monitoring (CERM) group, an informal collaboration initiated in 2010. The CSC includes Cary Institute, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster Country, the US Geological Survey, the NY State Museum, and many other research partners.

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