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Dedicated to making environment habitable

Terry Yonker has been studying climate change for the past 40 years.

The environmentalist is a member of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, serves on the Steering Committee of the Western New York Climate Action Coalition and has been an active volunteer with the Boy Scouts for more than a half-century.

Yonker's interest in the environment goes back to his boyhood in the 1950s. The Youngstown resident is president of Marine Services Diversified, an environmental consulting firm that provides innovative solutions to marine-related environmental and energy challenges.

He recalls "many summer evenings fly-fishing for large-mouth bass on the Grand River in western Michigan," where he grew up, before coming to the Niagara Frontier nearly 20 years ago.

>We hear that those summer nights weren't as pleasant as they sound?

We'd have to guide our row boat through the offal of floating hide, fat and hair from a local leather company, and overflows of human waste from the local primary wastewater treatment plant in order to reach our favorite fishing spot.

>Yuck! Did it get any better?

The '60s seemed worse. Botulism was found in Lake Michigan fish. A [person] in the commercial fishing business inadvertently shipped contaminated smoked fish to Kentucky, where five people died. Over 10,000 Common Loons were found dead on the beaches in one year as the result of feeding on contaminated alewives, which were dying in huge numbers, littering the shoreline, sometimes a foot thick. Commercial fishing and tourism suffered a major body blow.

>You're a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where you studied ecology and meteorology, how did those subjects influence you?

I worked with some of the first weather satellites and served as a research assistant in a study of infrared radiation and ozone in the Antarctic. The ozone study served as a baseline for later studies that found evidence of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere.

>You also know quite a bit about the impact of toxic chemicals like PCBs in the Great Lakes, on water birds like gulls and cormorants.

We found that cormorants, birds many fishermen mistakenly hate, were especially susceptible to polychlorinated biphenyls. As the result of PCBs, which passed up the food chain to cormorants, the birds we found in Great Lakes colonies exhibited deformities such as crossed bills, clubbed feet and organs growing outside their bodies.

>Not a pretty picture.

Their eggs were so thin and brittle that nest failure was common. Once PCB levels began to decline, cormorant numbers began to increase, aided by the abundance of alien fish species that had entered the Great Lakes. Cormorants today are doing fishermen a favor. Their diet consists almost totally of Round Gobies, another alien that entered the Great Lakes within the last decade.

>That's some good news.

I continue to lecture on the impact that climate change has on the Great Lakes.

>Tell us a bit about birds and the Niagara River?

The Niagara River corridor is one of the most important birding areas on the planet.

>We understand your wife Lynne Landon shares your interest.

We were the authors of the Peace Bridge study that led to changes in bridge design to better protect local nesting and migrating birds. The arch design for the bridge is one of the few designs we evaluated that met our conservative design criteria.

>You also support wind power?

The development of wind power in the Great Lakes has a huge potential, but it needs to take place in a way that's economically and environmentally sustainable. I'm privileged to work with some of the brightest minds in the region from both Canada and the United States, all working together to resolve issues related to wind-power development.

>How old are you?

I'm somewhere between 65 and 67 years old.

>A late military man, Charles Foreman, was a longtime friend and mentor to you. Can you reveal more about him?

He served as secretary to General Patton's army in World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was the first American to enter Buchenwald to liberate the concentration camp. He and I were sitting watching the news a few years ago when we heard President Amahdinejad of Iran claim that the Holocaust never occurred. Charles leaned over and said very quietly, "I was there. I have pictures." He did have pictures. He died recently in Michigan, and I had the privilege of delivering his eulogy.

Know a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail her at

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