There’s no better way to learn about nature than to get out in it and explore. But winter conditions are not always conducive to outdoor activity. That makes this the optimal time of year to soak up some interesting information in a lecture held someplace warm and dry. Accordingly, the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership (SRBP) offers a series of free public lectures on topics pertinent to the Shawangunk Ridge every year during February and March. This year’s series, titled “Making the Conservation Connection,” will take place on Thursday evenings in Lecture Center 102 on the SUNY-New Paltz campus.
The unifying theme of the 2012 talks is the environmental importance of creating large-scale protected and connected landscapes. Biologists know that when a species is threatened by degradation of habitat, it’s often not enough just to save a little island of refuge where poaching and deforestation are prohibited. Critters don’t read boundary signs or green lines on topographical maps, and they typically have to move from place to place in different seasons to find food or raise their young. Protected areas therefore need to be connected by migration corridors that reflect the species’ own needs and habits, and not just the convenience of neighboring humans.
In the Gunks, efforts are continually underway to secure buffers and corridors that will enhance the ability of already existing preserves and parkland to foster biodiversity. This Thursday, February 9, you can hear more about some of these initiatives from John Thompson, director of conservation science at the Mohonk Preserve. His lecture, “Landscape-Scale Conservation: Connecting the Ridge with the Foothills,” will explain how the Preserve and the Open Space Institute are working with other partners to protect grassland and wetlands habitat on the eastern flank of the Shawangunk Ridge to increase connectivity and preserve this iconic rural landscape. Thompson will highlight the historic environmental and cultural value of the site with images from the Daniel Smiley Research Center photo collection and discuss the enduring ecological value of these lands.
The following Thursday, February 16, features a visit from John Davis, co-founder of the Wildlands Network. In 2011, Davis hiked, canoed, cycled and skied over 5,000 miles of the Eastern Wildway of the US and Canada to demonstrate the need and potential for conservation connectivity for the benefit of wildlife, vegetation, protected areas and people. In “Creating America’s Eastern Wildway,” he will discuss the potential for connecting America’s Eastern wildlands and cultural landscapes and maintaining viable ecosystems in the face of fragmentation and climate disruption.
The lecture topic for February 23 is “Living on the Wind: The Miracle of Bird Migration. Noted author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul will explore the latest scientific discoveries regarding the mechanics of migration, and also discuss the simple, effective ways in which we can preserve migratory birds, from what we plant in our gardens to what we pour into our morning mug of coffee. And on March 1, Dr. Peter Groffman, senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, will delve into the mysteries of “The Surprisingly Significant Earthworm.” Learn about how this humble creature is actually altering the Northern forest from the ground up.
Co-sponsored by the SUNY-New Paltz Biology Department, the biodiversity lectures are open to the public free of charge; no advance registration is necessary. Cancellations due to winter weather (if we should actually have any between now and March) will be posted to the Mohonk Preserve website and announced on many area radio stations. The Lecture Center is located between the Library and the Humanities Building on the west side of the campus. For directions and a campus map, see www.newpaltz.edu/map. No parking permit is required if you park after 6:30 p.m.
The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership consists of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Nature Conservancy, the Mohonk Preserve, the Open Space Institute, the New York Natural Heritage Program, the New York State Museum, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Cragsmoor Association, Friends of the Shawangunks, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference. For more information, visit www.mohonkpreserve.org/index.php?events or contact Gretchen Reed at the Mohonk Preserve at (845) 255-0919 or Cara Lee at the Nature Conservancy, at (845) 255-9051.