Ecological Stewardship Team Update

June 30, 2020
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Ecological Stewardship Team Update
Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator Brent Boscarino teaching an online training video about identifying invasive plants. Photo by Wynn Boscarino.


With the increased use of outdoor recreational spaces and natural areas, stewardship of our public lands and wild places has become more important than ever.

Despite recent hurdles to in-person field activities, the Trail Conference’s Ecological Stewardship team has made a remarkable push to share the value of caring for native habitat, as well as educate the public about ways to have a positive impact on the environment.  

Earth Day 50th Anniversary 

In April, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by launching a successful social media challenge, sharing personal messages about what Earth Day means to us or how it inspires us in our work. We additionally encouraged our volunteers to explore the diversity of life inhabiting their yards or properties by using the citizen science mobile apps, Seek and iNaturalist. As part of these efforts, we created a five-part video tutorial on how to use these apps. We also ran multiple citizen science-themed webinars and facilitated participation in the 2020 City Nature/BackYard iNaturalist Challenge. Many of our volunteers took the extra step to choose a pesky invasive found in their own yards and remove it during a backyard Weed Wrangle Challenge we organized in May. 

Online Learning 

To further illuminate the impacts that invasive species have on our native habitats and trail systems, the Stewardship staff also created a series of videos highlighting specific common, emerging, and/or aquatic invasive species in our region. Each species spotlight video featured information on the species' introduction history, ecology, and impacts, in addition to highlighting reasons for its invasion success and key ID features. For the species included in our Invasives Strike Force Survey program, we also created short field identification videos, including how to tell the species apart from other look-alikes.  

In total, we ran six full training webinars for our Invasives Strike Force Survey program, which had close to 400 participants; created 27 species spotlight videos; and completed 12 standalone field identification videos through the end of May. You can find all these helpful resources, including recorded versions of these webinars, in our Online Learning LibrarySign up for upcoming webinars, including Invasive Species for Trail Maintainers. 

Prohibited Invasives Awareness 

We were also able to harness the power of remote working situations with an at-home volunteer project. Nine dedicated volunteers spent an incredible 58 hours researching online nurseries that were selling any of the 69 invasive plant species prohibited in New York State without displaying a message that those plants may not be shipped to New York. The good news is that no nurseries were selling 34 of the prohibited species, but we still have a long way to go to keep invasive plants out of the nursery trade. The information about nurseries found selling prohibited plants without the requisite message will be given to New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets. They will then send these nurseries letters asking them to correct their webpages. Thank you, volunteers, for helping to keep invasive species out of New York! 

Conservation Corps Crews 

Although this season in the field looks different than the last, our Conservation Corps Crew leadership is meeting these challenges head-on with unparalleled flexibility and creativity. Our Terrestrial Invasives Species Project Manager, Ryan Goolic, has been busy reprioritizing, rescheduling, and coordinating with project partners to prepare for the 2020 field season starting in June. This summer, he will lead the Terrestrial Invasives Strike Force Crew, a team of four AmeriCorps members, to manage emerging invasive plants throughout the Lower Hudson Valley. Invasives like sapphireberry, giant hogweed, and Linden viburnum won’t stand a chance against the efforts of our ISF team!  

In partnership with Teatown, the Aquatic Invasives Strike Force Crew is coming back even stronger this season and ramping up efforts to protect New York’s waters through the Watercraft Inspection Steward program, aquatic invasive species monitoring, and water chestnut management. In addition to invasive plant surveys of over 35 lakes throughout the Hudson Valley, the team will also be sampling for zooplankton and mollusks, as well as assessing multiple water quality parameters. Water quality is an important consideration regarding habitat suitability for invasive species. Using the data the crew collects, we hope to create a model that assesses risk of new invasions. This will be critical as the climate continues to change, impacting a variety of other environmental factors. This expansion of crew tasks will increase their contribution to stewardship and ecosystem resilience.  

Conservation Dogs 

Similarly, the Conservation Dogs Program aims to repeat the success of last year’s field season by sniffing out the invasive plants, Scotch broom and slender false brome. Thanks to support from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, conservation dogs Dia and Fagen will be adding two more species to their repertoire: kudzu and sticky sage. You can follow the Conservation Dogs’ progress @DiaSavesTheForest on Instagram. You can also check out the Conservation Dogs program’s feature in the North American Invasive Species Management Association’s April newsletter

Lastly, the Stewardship team would like to recognize the phenomenal efforts of our volunteers in keeping our natural areas and trail systems intact and free of invasive species. They have helped make all this possible. We are all looking forward to a successful and productive field season!