How COVID-19 Sparked New Research at Highstead

Above the rafters of the lecture and display hall in the Highstead timber-frame barn, there is a loft that, among other things, houses a high-powered microscope. With COVID-19 restrictions keeping local butterfly enthusiast Victor DeMasi from his research site at the Yale Peabody Museum, that microscope has sparked a multi-year effort to identify the multitude of members of the order Lepidoptera that call the Highstead landscape home and has expanded to include a recent focus on members of the Apoidea family— bees and wasps.

 “I connected with Highstead, and they offered a microscope and a nice, isolated area, so I kind of opened up a little bee lab there.” And for the last two and a half years, Victor’s time at Highstead has been dedicated to studying pollinating bees and participating in the United States Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab to expand his knowledge of Apoidea. “In hindsight, it was just a wonderful thing to happen to me from the pandemic.”

Two and a half years later, the microscope has been joined by cases of various and intricately preserved insects that line every surface available.

In Search of Pollinators

Another recent collaboration between Victor and Highstead includes a survey of the pollinators local to Redding. “I was previously focused on butterflies up until about four years ago, but then I became interested in pollinating insects.”

Native plants and pollinators flourish in Roanna Metowski and Victor DeMasi’s meadow. Photo credit: Victor DeMasi.

Biologist Sammy Riccio, budding entomologist Lukas, and Highstead executive director Geordie Elkins teamed up with Victor to catalog pollinator insects and document the plants on which they are found. As an ongoing effort, the survey is maintained throughout the summer season. “Very few insects have been collected in western Connecticut. Connecticut insect collections mostly represent the center part of the state—near Yale and UConn and where students are located. So, we’re looking at an area that hasn’t really been scrutinized.”

The resulting census includes around 3,000 specimens and will serve as baseline data for future research and conservation efforts. “We made large collections and included special notations about where we found the insects and what flowers they were on. There are a lot of records of Apoidea, but the old records are not connected with specific plants. We’re now trying to record who is pollinating what, and what happens to that flower if its pollinator is not around.”

The census includes two sites— the Highstead barn meadow and Victor’s Redding home where he and spouse Roanna Metowski have cultivated and maintained a two-acre meadow to support butterflies and other pollinators.

Victor explains part of the process for monitoring specialized pollinators in his meadow. “Say you have black cohosh flowering. During its flowering period, black cohosh flowers over about a four-week period. I’ll make a sweep collection every one to two weeks to get the different pollinators that are coming to only black cohosh. And specifically, try to sort out if there are some specialized pollinators that just come to black cohosh and nothing else. So, there are a lot of specimens, and I have a lot of sorting out to do.”

Feeding the Appalachian Blue

Appalachian Blue butterfly. Photo credit: Carol Lemmon.

Victor and Roanna’s meadow is a multifaceted local source for local and native plants, including black cohosh. “We rescued these plants from a future building site (with permission) and transplanted them to our property,” Victor explains. ”There’s a very rare butterfly in the state of Connecticut, the Appalachian Blue, and it feeds exclusively on black cohosh. So, we’re trying to cultivate more black cohosh on our property.”

While not chasing pollinators, Victor fosters creativity and inspiration through his entomology, native plant maintenance, and active mural painting projects with local youth. “I led a recent mural where we painted pollinator insects. The kids learned about the pollinators and at the same time, they painted them on a wall. It’s amazing at the end of the week how much the kids know about pollinators, and they own their artwork. I’m not allowed to touch their mural—so it’s a lot of fun.”

With its base in Redding, Connecticut, Highstead is a place where curiosity about the ecological world around us inspires collaboration with a lively and dedicated cadre of people like Victor, John Mcleran, and scores of other professionals and amateurs whose curiosity drives knowledge and understanding.

Victor led a mural painting session at this year’s summer camp at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists.
How COVID-19 Sparked New Research at Highstead
Mural painting detail.
Photo credits: Victor DeMasi.

Category: Stories

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Taking a Closer Look at Forest Management

Highstead Senior Ecologist Ed Faison joined three other passionate scientists to discuss how different types of forest management can be used to protect forests for climate and biodiversity. The webinar, entitled Exploring Conservation and Proforestation Options for New Jersey Forests, was hosted by the New Jersey Forest Task Force.

In addition to Ed, webinar speakers included Bill Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University; Tony D’Amato, Professor and Director of the Forestry Program at the University of Vermont and William Keeton, Professor of Forest Ecology and Forestry Director at the University of Vermont joined the webinar.

The program explored the benefits of forests in mitigating climate change, with an emphasis on the value of leaving some forest as strategic climate and biodiversity reserves where forests are left to mature without intervention.

Ed and Bill Moomaw, who were co-authors with Susan Masino on the paper, Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good, focused on the benefits of passive forest management – sometimes called Proforestation, while Tony and Bill focused on the important role of more active management strategies, with all agreeing that maintaining New Jersey’s forest cover was essential.

The New Jersey Forest Stewardship Task force was announced in February 2022 with the purpose of studying and identifying ways in which the State can best manage its forests in order to fight climate change, prevent forest fires, improve ecosystems, and protect soil and water quality, among other things.

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Chasing the Fascinating Dragonfly with John McLeran

Redding and Highstead have been fortunate that John McLeran grew up on a New York State dairy farm, right next door to an elementary school environmental education teacher. “I was absolutely fascinated because he opened up doors to me by teaching me how to identify birds by sight and by their songs. By the time I was twelve, I could name pretty much any bird by its song. He put me in that direction, and I’ve steered there ever since.”

Serendipity also brought John to Highstead some 25 years ago, where he has been participating in a range of projects, including forest monitoring and conducting a survey of Highstead’s abundant dragonfly population. Asked why he ended up at Highstead, he explains, “Basically, as a great explorer once said, because it’s there…If it wasn’t Highstead, I would search out any environmental organization just to see what’s there and what’s going on.”

“I think some people are just wired to want to be outdoors and have a natural fascination. I am enamored by just about everything I see and hear and smell that’s outside my front door.”

John McLeran

A Lifetime of Community Science

A man with grey hair, a blue shirt, and round eyeglasses outdoors.
John McLeran

Without a formal environmental background except high school biology and a college major in English and American Literature, John seems an unlikely candidate to spend a lifetime exploring the environment and its many inhabitants. “I went to a very environmentally-oriented college, a little college called Middlebury up in Vermont,” he says. “I think some people are just wired to want to be outdoors and have a natural fascination. I am enamored by just about everything I see and hear and smell that’s outside my front door. And I always want to know, ‘why is it here?’ ‘How is it interacting with everything else in my yard?’ So, I don’t have to go far to find motivation.”

Summers Seeking Dragonflies

With summer’s peak unfolding around Highstead, you’ll see dragonflies everywhere. You just have to look for them. In the insect world, butterflies may be one of the most familiar and common insects, but dragonflies are a close contender. “And there is a lot to know. There has been a great deal of research, especially on dragonfly flight patterns.”

As a biodiversity hotspot, the northeastern United States is buzzing with dragonfly species, with over 180 in New England alone. This season marks John’s eleventh summer seeking dragonflies as part of an ongoing population study in partnership with Highstead’s senior ecologist, Ed Faison. John describes his fieldwork process, “I visit Highstead four times a summer, usually for about 2 to 2.5 hours in the barn meadow, down to the pond, around the pond, and then back on the boardwalk going into the woods.”

A dragonfly with a green abdomen and green and black striped tail, four transparent wings, and black eyes perches on a rock surface.
Photos by John McLeran (Left to Right): Female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis)
A dragonfly with black wings and an emerald body stands on a rock surface.
Male Ebony Jewelwing damsefly (Calopteryx maculata)
A dragonfly with a blue tail and black abdomen hovers against a plant. Its four wings are spread and show black ends along the abdomen and white to transparent out ends.
Male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa)

Species diversity, reappearances or disappearances, date, time, weather, and location are all tracked in a spreadsheet for documentation while following Highstead’s protocols. “I don’t catch the dragonflies. In most cases, I can identify down to the species; some I can’t. I’d have to have it in hand and look at it in a magnifying glass or a microscope.”

As a means toward identification, John also observes dragonfly behaviors including flight patterns, wing position, and perching position. “Some are perchers and only fly up to catch prey, while some hang from a branch, or perch on the highest standing dead plant.”

So far, John has witnessed 29 different dragonfly species, “And there are probably another half dozen that I’ve seen but haven’t been able to identify.”

The dragonfly inventory contributes to Highstead’s ongoing research about the ecological health of systems across the landscape. As bioindicators, dragonflies and other members of the Odonata order (dragonflies, damselflies, etc.) can tell us about freshwater ecosystem integrity and changes in the ecosystem over time. Some commonly observed species include eastern pondhawk, clubtail, swamp spreadwing, and blue dasher. “And others are elusive—the common whitetail is on virtually every pond around here. For years I wasn’t seeing it at Highstead, and then all of a sudden, I think three years ago, it started to appear, and now it has become common to this pond.”

As insectivores, Highstead’s dragonflies live off a diet mostly consisting of mosquitos and midges, but will also eat butterflies, moths, bees, and other dragonflies. “When people say, ‘Talk to me more about your work with pollinators,’ and then, ‘Well, how about dragonflies?’ It’s always a little bit embarrassing because dragonflies are probably the fiercest pollinator eaters around. To my knowledge, I’ve never read that they’re involved in the pollination process.”

A calico dragonfly perches on the tip of a blade of grass. The dragonfly has large red eyes, a tan and black striped ody, and transparent wings with tan-ringed black dots.
A male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa). Photo Credit: John McLeran.

The Thrill of the Unexpected

John’s approach to science and collaboration at Highstead speaks to the organization’s guiding mission, “inspiring curiosity and building knowledge about plants and wooded landscapes.” When asked if he has learned anything new or unexpected, he quickly answers, “Well, I think just about everything. If I learned something I didn’t know before, that’s always exciting for me. I never know who’s going to appear that I’ve never seen before, or who I can’t find that was here a year or two ago. It’s exciting to know there are still species out there that I’ve not seen. So that’s always fun.”

Underlying all of John’s work is a passion to encourage people to spend time outdoors. And it’s more than the potential for finding dragonflies and making discoveries out your door. “I think in this day and age, if you grow up looking at a screen, and you’re indoors 95% of the time, I can see how it would be difficult to find a kinship with what’s outside your front door.” After a career in leading environmental education centers, John continues. “My great hope is, reach as many as you can as often as you can, and then maybe that’s the best you can do.”

When he’s not chasing dragonflies, John serves as the Open Space Manager for the town of Redding and the Redding Land Trust. Highstead’s neighbor and partner, New Pond Farm Education Center, also hosts John’s dragonfly photography, and some of his specimen collections are housed at the University of Connecticut Storrs and the American Museum of Natural History.

Category: Stories

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NOAA Releases Funding Opportunities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

With nearly $3 billion over the next 5 years, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is taking historic action on habitat restoration, coastal resilience, and weather forecasting infrastructure by releasing several funding opportunities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. NOAA hopes to address key climate risks such as floods, fire, drought and extreme heat and strengthen climate resilience in marine and coastal landscapes. NOAA’s Community-based Restoration Program has funded several past projects in the New England region, and this influx of funding offers new potential for projects centered on Habitat Restoration, Coastal Resilience, and Fish Passage. 

As part of its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, NOAA released two opportunities for Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience, with one program aimed at assisting underserved communities. The programs total $491 million in funding over the next five years.  The Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants will fund projects to restore fisheries and protected resources, as well as strengthen resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems. There is up to $85 million available for this program in 2022, and applications are due September 16. The Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities will support underserved communities in habitat restoration and capacity building to ensure these communities can more fully participate in future transformational habitat projects. This program is funded at $10 million in 2022 and applications are due September 30

NOAA also released two opportunities for Fish Passage, funded at $400 million over the next five years. Fish passage projects entail the removal of dams and other in-stream barriers to restore marine, estuarine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystem habitat. The goal of these projects is to reopen migratory pathways, restore access to healthy habitat for fish, and increase resilience to climate change by removing or improving outdated infrastructure. One example of a successful fish passage project in New England is the reopening of the Penobscot River. NOAA worked with several partners, including the Penobscot Indian Nation, to remove dams and replace them with nature-like fishways. The project opened 30 miles of spawning habitat for sea-run fish including the Atlantic salmon, alewife, and American eel. With a significant influx of funding, two grant programs for fish passage  are expected to assist in the revival of similar habitats. The Restoring Fish Passage through Barrier Removal grant program will fund locally-led removal of dams and other in-stream barriers. Projects developed with inclusive practices and a diverse range of community groups will be prioritized. This fish passage program is funded at $65 million in 2022 and applications are due August 15. The second program, Restoring Priority Tribal Fish Passage through Barrier Removal, will support Tribes, Tribal commissions, and Tribal consortia in implementing priority fish passage projects and building Tribal organizational capacity to participate in current and future fish passage projects. This program receives $12 million in 2022 and the application deadline is August 29.

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America the Beautiful Grant Programs at a Glance

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced the 2022 Request for Proposals for the America the Beautiful Challenge, a public-private grant program for locally-led and voluntary efforts that invest in ecosystem restoration projects across the nation. 

The $1 Billion initiative is backed by an initial $440 million in federal funds over the next five years mainly through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year. For the first year, approximately $85 million in grant funding is available. But how do states, Tribes, Territories, and other organizations access this funding to initiate their respective conservation projects?

The Department of Interior’s Implementation Grants and Planning, Collaboration, and Engagement Grants offer plenty of opportunity for New England. Together, they make up a majority of the funding and have no geographic restrictions on projects. The Private Forests, Rangeland, and Farmland Grants funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service could be a good fit for New England projects that serve to protect certain turtle species that are listed under the Working Lands for Wildlife Framework. The Department of Defense and US Forest Service Grants to Buffer and Benefit Public Lands are less applicable for the New England region unless projects are in close proximity to Sentinel Landscapes or US Forest Service lands. Read below for more information about each grant category to determine which might be the best fit for your proposal. 

Implementation Grants

Key details: This is the largest grant category and it offers the highest individual award size. Grants for land acquisition or easement projects can be accepted as long as the effort is part of a larger restoration or conservation goal. States, Tribes, and Territories are the only entities eligible to receive this grant; however, partnerships with NGOs and localities through subawards are encouraged. 

Project focus: Implementation projects that address program priorities (e.g. benefiting  at-risk fish, wildlife and plant species, expanding habitat connectivity, and expanding public and community access to nature) on public, Tribal, and/or private lands. See the reference guide to review all 10 program priorities. 

  • Department: US Department of Interior
  • Eligible applicants: States, U.S. Territories, and Tribal-affiliated organizations and governments 
  • Geographic focus: National
  • Non-federal cost share (Match): for states: 10% of costs, at least 2.5% must be cash, and for Tribes and Territories: Waived
  • Award size: $1 million-$5 million
  • Project length: Up to four years
  • Other important information: Landscape-scale restoration project requests above $5 million may be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Planning, Collaboration, and Engagement Grants

Key details: Projects receiving this grant must be focused on preserving large-scale landscapes, watersheds, and/or seascapes and must include multiple partners. Similar to the Implementation grants, only  States, Tribes, and Territories can apply to grants in this category and partnerships with NGOs and localities through subawards are encouraged. 

Project Focus: Projects that strengthen local capacity through community-based efforts, partnership building, planning, and project design to implement on-the-ground local projects in the future. 

  • Department: US Department of Interior
  • Eligible applicants: States, U.S. Territories, Tribal governments, and Tribal-affiliated organizations
  • Geographic focus: National
  • Non-federal cost share (match): For States: 10% of costs, at least 2.5% must be cash, and for Tribes and Territories: Waived
  • Award size: $200,000 to $1,000,000
  • Project Size: Up to 1 year

Private Forests, Rangeland, and Farmland Grants

Bog Turtle. Photo Credit: Peeples, Gary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Key details: While municipalities and non-profits are eligible to receive these grants, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is focusing on private lands that serve the goals of the Working Lands for Wildlife Frameworks. You can explore maps of Working Lands for Wildlife here. New England species such as the Bog Turtle and Northeast turtle are covered within the framework. 

Project focus: Projects that support outreach and engagement with private landowners to advance voluntary conservation efforts on working lands that align with the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Framework

  • Department: US Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Eligibility: Non-profits, local and municipal governments, and educational institutions
  • Geographic focus: Private lands with a focus on implementing Working Lands for Wildlife Frameworks
  • Non-federal cost share (match): 50% of costs, Waived for Tribes
  • Award size: $200,000 – $500,000
  • Project length: 2-3 years 

Grants to Buffer and Benefit Public Lands

Key details: These grants from the Department of Defense and US Forest Service apply to nonprofits and municipalities, however, they are restricted to areas in close proximity to Sentinel landscapes and US Forest Service lands. 

Project focus: Projects that result in direct conservation actions that benefit National Forests and Sentinel Landscapes. US Forest Service funds will support invasive species detection, prevention, and treatments benefiting USFS lands, as well as collaboratively-developed fish passage and water quality projects on Federal and Tribal lands. 

  • Department: Department of Defense, US Forest Service
  • Eligible applicants: Non-profits, local and municipal governments, and educational institutions
  • Geographic focus: Sentinel landscapes and areas that advance military mission; US Forest Service lands or areas benefiting US Forest Service lands, other Tribal and Federal lands
  • Non-federal cost share (match): Department of Defense funds: None; US Forest Service funds: 20% of costs, Waived for Tribes
  • Award size: $200,000-$1.5 million
  • Project length: 2-4 years

The deadline for the first round of applications is July 21st, 2022. Eligible entities interested in applying for grants are encouraged to review the Reference Guide and Webinar from NFWF for more information about the requests for proposals or grant categories. This is expected to be a five-year program, with Request for Proposals being released each Spring. NFWF encourages partnerships across organizations and landscapes, so now is the time to identify potential projects and build partnerships. 

Beau Martinez is Highstead’s Yale Conservation Scholar for the summer of 2022. The Conservation Finance series will continue under the leadership and authorship of Highstead’s Tara Whalen, Manager of Conservation Finance Programs and Jackie Rigley, Conservation Associate.

Category: News


Urban Pollinator Workshops Offered in New Haven

CPEN, Highstead, and the Xerces Society have announced details of an upcoming series of Thursday evening programs about urban pollinator gardening. The workshops will show visitors how to plan, plant, and maintain their own pollinator garden and will take place at UrbanScapes Native Plant Nursery, 133 Hazel St., New Haven from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Interested organizations can share this flyer with their supporters.

Event Details

JULY 21 – How to assess a yard for pollinator habitat

Thinking about starting a pollinator garden in your yard? Learn from Xerces Society experts how to evaluate your yard’s potential. (July 28 rain date)

AUG 18 – Planting a 4×4 pollinator garden

Now that you’ve found the spot, you don’t need much space to make a perfect pollinator garden. Learn how to fit a pollinator paradise in just 16 square feet.

SEPT 22 – Fall Clean up and seed collecting

With autumn right around the corner, learn how to prepare your garden for a long winter and learn how to gather seeds from your favorite pollinator plants.

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Highstead Welcomes New Board Chair

At its annual meeting on June 24, Highstead elected a new Board Chair, Dorothy Adams. The board also approved the promotion of longtime Operations Director Geordie Elkins to Executive Director.

The outgoing Board President, David Foster, will focus his efforts on the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities vision, continuing to advance landscape conservation across New England. Foster will remain on the Highstead board.

Adams has a broad range of experience in leading and advising social purpose organizations across the non-profit sector, including as Board Chair at Capital for Change, Inc. and as a partner at Social Venture Partners Connecticut.

Early in his career, Elkins worked at Highstead as a Horticulturist between 1996 and 2001, where he helped plant many of the plants that make up today’s landscape. In 2012 he returned to Highstead to oversee operations, and in the fall of 2019, he joined the Highstead Board.

Category: News

People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn

Highstead would not be what it is today without the steadfast leadership and diverse experiences of its team members. Meet the people of Highstead: experts, conservation leaders, scientists, and staff that embody Highstead’s mission to build a healthier, more livable world for all in our staff interview series.

Tewosret Vaughn, Communications Specialist

What is your role?

Tewosret: My role is Communications Specialist at Highstead. I collaborate with staff and partners to create and implement communications supporting the Highstead mission and advancing the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands, and Communities vision.

What drew you to Highstead?

Tewosret: My north star for my work is that it contributes to a language and culture that supports a healthy relationship with our environment and ourselves. I saw my values in Highstead’s mission and work, and I knew I would learn more than I could imagine by joining the team.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

Tewosret: My favorite parts of my job are that every day I learn something new, or a new strand of discovery unravels for me to explore. Those instances often lead me to opportunities to learn more and collaborate with my talented colleagues.

A person with long hair crouches beneath a camera hood and faces the direction of a tranquil pond surrounded by fall foliage.
Tewosret underneath a large format camera hood.

Where does your motivation come from?

Tewosret: A mix of influences seeds my motivation. I’ve lived half of my life with a deep feeling that the modern consumptive way of living is incompatible with healthy, thriving life on Earth. Even so, I draw motivation from nature’s persistence and adaptability, and the ongoing stories of resilience from my communities, family, and ancestors.

What is the professional accomplishment you are most proud of?

Tewosret: I am proud of pursuing a nontraditional background in creative arts, sustainable farming, and being a first-generation college graduate. I attribute those opportunities to my family and mentors, who saw value in my work and personal visions. Their support is a big part of why I have enjoyed working on meaningful projects with inspiring, kind, knowledgeable, and generous people over the years.

People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn. A felted green, grey, and brown hammock hangs in a studio.
Felted wool hammock using natural dyes from regional native and nonnative plants by Tewosret Vaughn
People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn. A canvas screen print of pink, white, and black landscape formations and human figures bending forward.
Textile screen print of collaged photographs at Lake Michigan by Tewosret Vaughn

Who are your conservation heroes throughout history and today? Why?

Tewosret: Rachel Carson’s story left a significant impression on me when I was a high school AP Environmental Science student. Her advocacy against chemical pesticide use catalyzed my appreciation for all the planet does to support life and inspired me to pursue an environmentally aligned path.

Today, my dad is one of my first and biggest conservation heroes. He worked as a salmon fisheries coordinator and technician in Washington State. Throughout my youth, he would often tell me stories about his experiences collaborating with his communities to achieve healthier and safer passage for salmon.

And the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, Alutiiq, and local people organizing against the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region in Alaska. They are protecting their way of life intertwined with the land and water. Pebble Mine threatens the habitat of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon population and food sources for around 190 species of migratory birds.

Do you recommend any books, podcasts, or other resources that have had an impact on your life or work?

Tewosret: I return to A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit throughout different seasons of my life. While autobiographical, the book’s essays explore memory, loss, and place. Also by Rebecca Solnit is Wanderlust and explores a history of walking as a social, pleasure, and political act. I’m also a big fan of Orion Magazine and its anthologies and contributors. Currently, I’m reading and learning from Leah Thomas’ Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet.

What advice would you give to the next generation of conservationists?

Tewosret: I would suggest the next generation of conservationists check out the helpful advice from my colleague’s interviews, but I will share my two cents. My brief time in the environmental and conservation movements has taught me it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the urgency to address climate change. I’ve found that taking opportunities to rest, reevaluate, and celebrate successes is a necessary part of conservation work. We are involved in a movement with serious consequences; for many, it is a labor born out of love. Hold on to that love, or whatever it is that moves you, and remember to ground your work there.

Category: Stories


Yale Conservation Scholar Prepares for Future in Conservation

Beau Martinez is a Yale Conservation Scholar and student at the University of Notre Dame studying Political Science and Sustainability. He joins Highstead for a nine-week internship to learn more about conservation and environmental policy by assisting the Highstead Conservation Finance Program in expanding its article series covering emerging federal conservation funding, developing an invasive plant identification guide for Metalmark butterfly habitat restoration purposes, and designing a community conservation workshop for the Hudson to Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership.

A man stands with his arm crossed and smiles in front of a wooden wall. Beau Martinez, 2022 Yale Conservation Scholar, University of Notre Dame
Beau Martinez, 2022 Yale Conservation Scholar, University of Notre Dame

The Yale Conservation Scholars Early Leadership Initiative is a summer internship program for undergraduates who are traditionally underrepresented in the conservation field and who are interested in conservation-related careers. Program participants develop their networks and work directly with environmental professionals during and after their internships.

What do you hope to gain from your time at Highstead? How does your Highstead internship fit into your career plans?

Beau: I hope to be introduced to multiple subject areas I am not yet familiar with, so I can fully prepare for a future in conservation work. These new areas of interest in invasive plants, conservation finance, and regional planning will all contribute to my goal of working in the field of conservation and environmental policy analysis after college.

What was your favorite course in undergrad?

Beau: My favorite undergrad course so far was a course called Climate Change and Armed Conflict. We analyzed the increased regional and international competition over the reduced quality and quantity of natural resources as a result of climate change. I especially enjoyed learning about the international naval disputes between northern countries in the melting Arctic Ocean.

What advice would you give to students looking to pursue a career in conservation?

Beau: The world of conservation is multifaceted and complex, and it is essential to consider your skills and interests to determine which industry suits you best. That may mean exploring areas of academia and industry sectors you have little experience with, as well as networking with conservation groups and organizations, to find what interests you most.

What advice have you received that has stuck with you?

Beau: “No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”

What drew you to Highstead?

Beau: Conservation and environmental management are new areas of interest for me, and I was not sure which avenues I wanted to work in. When I was researching all the internship sites available for Yale Conservation Scholars, I noticed that Highstead offered a motley of programs ranging from plant identification to conservation finance and policy analysis, which I believed would help me narrow down my interests.

Any surprises so far?

Beau: There are many aspects of a new job I have come to expect, but there are others I hardly ever even consider. When I first came to Highstead, I appreciated how incredibly proud everyone was with their own work and willing to share their personalized connection with Highstead’s property and mission with me.

How does the Highstead internship compare to your past work experience?

Beau: At Highstead, the level of trust from my supervisors has granted me extensive freedom to utilize my own creativity and problem-solving skills to complete projects, an aspect I have yet to experience at any other job. Also, the overwhelming beauty of the workspace is incomparable to the previous dimly-lit office buildings I worked at.

Who are your conservation heroes throughout history and today and why?

Beau: I have grown an appreciation for author and conservationist John Muir for his role in the establishment of establishing the National Parks Service alongside President Theodore Roosevelt, and for his founding of the Sierra Club, an organization I have followed for years. I have also learned a lot about our role in protecting our world and its resources through the authors, such as the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, and Henry David Thoreau.

Category: News, Stories


Emerald Ash Borer Influences Forest Change And More

Five years ago, almost 10% of Highstead’s mesic forest canopy was comprised of ash trees. Today, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), a beetle native to Asia, has eliminated almost every one of these trees.

How did they do that? Emerald ash borers (EAB) lay eggs in ash trees’ braided bark, and once larvae hatch, they feed on the inner bark. This obstructs the ash tree’s ability to transport vital water and nutrients throughout its system. Most ash trees will die 3-5 years after infestation.

Canopy gaps from dead ash trees.
Corresponding thick layer forest floor.

The loss of the ash trees reduces total forest growth and living biomass in the forest. It also changes the structure of the forest, which in turn is changing the habitat for animals. Standing dead trees become an important food source for species like woodpeckers that also eat EAB larvae. However, where the ash canopy has died, invasive vegetation like multi-flora rose and hardwood saplings flourish due to increased sunlight reaching across the forest floor, providing cover for the vulnerable New England cottontail and other shrub-specialist wildlife species.

Emerald Ash Borer adult exit holes
Exit holes in bark where EAB adults emerge after feeding inside as larvae.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), you can help in the effort to stop the spread of emerald ash borer by:

  • Knowing what an ash tree looks like and monitoring the ash trees you see on a regular basis;
  • Swiftly reporting any ash trees that are declining and may pose a danger to people or structures; and
  • Being careful when moving any firewood or young trees.

Category: Stories

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