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Oct 8, 2012 5:42 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Inaugural Long Island Natural History Conference Slated For November

Oct 8, 2012 5:42 PM

Registration is now open for the first Long Island Natural History Conference. The Friday, November 16, program will be held at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, and will comprise a dozen presentations by leading Long Island wildlife biologists and naturalists, and a keynote presentation by Peter Alden, author of the Audubon Society’s regional field guide series.

For those unable to attend Friday’s program, all the presentations will be videotaped and available at the website www.longislandnature.org. This site also has the schedule and abstracts of presentations, speaker bios and registration information.

Saturday’s program includes several field trips related to Friday’s presentations and will be offered at various locations throughout the island. For specific trips and registration details, visit www.longislandnature.org.

The conference is open to the general public and promises to be the largest regional forum for researchers, natural resource managers, students, and naturalists to present and exchange current information on the varied aspects of applied field biology (freshwater, marine, and terrestrial) and natural history of Long Island. It will serve as a premier venue to identify research and management needs, foster friendships and collegial relationships, and encourage a greater regionwide interest in Long Island’s natural history by bringing together people with diverse backgrounds.

My interest in the conference idea evolved out of my research on river otters back in 2008. While designing and implementing the islandwide otter survey, I realized that there was a wealth of excellent information on Long Island’s flora and fauna among the residents here, both professional wildlife biologists and non-professional but very knowledgable naturalists who spend a considerable amount of time in the field. I wondered, “How could that very useful knowledge be more easily accessed and shared?“

During that time, I had begun corresponding with Tim Green, an ecologist at Brookhaven National Lab, and John Turner, then the director of the Division of Environmental Protection for the Town of Brookhaven, about the status of the gray fox on Long Island. Many of us had assumed that the gray fox had been extirpated here, but in 2002 a roadkilled gray fox was found in the Manorville Hills area, and since then several other sightings have turned up, both unfortunate roadkills and reliable sightings of this elusive, cat-like canine.

While we were very excited about the possible recovery of this species, we were also dismayed that the agency responsible for the management and conservation of this and other terrestrial furbearers on Long Island allowed gray foxes to be trapped. That would be the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Along with several other species (striped skunk, mink and the two weasel species found here), there was simply no data to support a trapping or hunting season on Long Island.

Several years went by. Then I learned that a colleague of Tim Green had identified a group of gray foxes near BNL and was preparing to do a radio telemetery study of them—but someone else also found out about the foxes and managed to trap them.

We decided to set up a meeting with the DEC’s Long Island regional director, Peter Scully. That meeting took place in the fall a year ago. Among the concerns we listed were: inappropriate and unprofessional hunting and trapping seasons for species whose status on Long Island was, at best, unknown; and Long Island’s lack of inclusion in the DEC’s New England Cottontail survey, despite the fact that Long Island is located in that particular species historic range. (This cottontail species—not to be confused with the Eastern cottontail—is being considered for federal designation as an endangered species.)

Based on the outcome of that meeting with, I must say, a very sympathetic regional director, I felt that a part of the problem we face here stems from an Albany attitude that Long Island is a disaster that is not worth putting any effort into.

While Long Island could certainly qualify as a poster child for poor planning and natural resource conservation, there are other aspects of this place that are noteworthy.

Long Island is the largest island in the continental United States and a unique biogeographical region located at the northern limits of many southern species of flora and fauna and at the southern limits of many northern species. These features contribute to rich species diversity: Some of the island’s preserved areas contain the highest number of rare species per area in New York State.

Being an island, having the New York City metropolitan area located on its western end closest to the mainland, and the island’s development patterns all pose many challenges for managing and conserving the island’s rich natural resources. Most of us in the wildlife conservation field that reside here on Long Island feel quite strongly that we should not walk away from those challenges.

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