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Nature Watch: Wildlife preservation is focus of local environmental forum

The second 2-the-Outdoors Environmental Forum will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the University at Buffalo Center for Tomorrow. These meetings are organized by photojournalist Terry Belke with the support of the WGRZ administration. If this session proves as popular as the first, those planning to attend should arrive early to find a seat.

The three scheduled speakers are Wendy Hall from the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge Center; Tanya Lowe, director of Wildlife Education at Hawk Creek Wildlife Center; and Michael Noonan, chairman of the Department of Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation at Canisius College. The focus of this meeting will be on wildlife preservation.

Hall and her husband, Steve, were informal animal rehabilitators in Hastings-on-Hudson while carrying on their careers – Wendy as a geriatric nurse, Steve in telecommunications – until they decided to spend full time in the Adirondacks in 2000. Wendy gained formal wildlife licensing and they have now extended their center activities to include public awareness and education. Lake Placid High School senior Michael Buckley will assist her.

Lowe has been at Hawk Creek since 2004, where she is in charge of the animal training department. She has presented free-flying bird shows at the Bronx Zoo, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park and New York State Fair. Formerly employed at the Buffalo and Cleveland zoos, she is an active member of the Feline Conservation Federation and the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators.

Noonan is without question a central figure for environment-related education. His contributions to the Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation alone signal his national importance. I have known him in informal settings to which he always contributes, but one of his Canisius students once told me, “He is the best teacher I have ever known.”

I learned a great deal at the first environmental forum held in early March. Its timely subject was invasive species.

Andrea Locke, Western New York coordinator for PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) led off the speakers. She described the work of her organization, one of eight regional state offices funded by the Department of Environmental Conservation. As its name indicates, PRISM addresses prioritized problems with invasive species through collaboration with public and private agencies and individual volunteers.

And she certainly has problems to face. Just among the terrestrial plant species that seem to be taking over our environment are phragmites (beach grass), purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, non-native honeysuckles, multiflora rose, buckhorn, wild parsnip, giant hogweed and two newcomers, black and pale swallowwort.

In her first year on the job, Locke and her team of volunteers have already mapped over 4,000 sites where invasives are found. Certainly of equal importance, they are also identifying a number of pristine sites where invasive species have not yet occurred. These will be monitored in order to protect them in their natural form.

The second speaker was Ken Parker, horticultural and native plant project manager for the Seneca Nation and the Seneca Diabetes Foundation. Parker pointed out that the last designation is important because Native Americans, who have no early history of diabetes, now are 50 percent afflicted, the highest rate of any ethnic group, with 6 percent the rate in the general U.S. population. This is, he says, largely a function of changed diet.

One of his major initiatives relates to planting indigenous species, which he pointed out relates to the Native American tradition of close association with the environment. Parker argues that an environment with a healthy diversity of native plants serves as one barrier to the invasion of aliens.

Cornell professor and forest entomologist Mark Whitmore gave an entertaining talk about a dismal subject, the alien insects that are having a devastating impact on our woodlands: the hemlock woody adelgid and the emerald ash borer. They have no natural enemies here and no documented resistance. This past winter will only slow their depredations in our region. As if those aren’t enough to deal with, he told us about a tiny beetle spreading a canker disease that is killing black walnut trees and the spotted lantern fly, a beautiful insect, which was first detected just last September in Pennsylvania where it is attacking grape crops.