-Written by Ashlea Raemer
This summer I am working with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program in Saranac Lake, New York through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School to promote wildlife-friendly farming practices in the Adirondack Park. The Wildlife Conservation Society is an international non-profit originally founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society. Today they are perhaps most known for the Bronx Zoo, but their mission to protect wildlife and wild places is implemented in priority regions across the globe. In the Adirondacks, WCS uses applied science and community-based conservation to link wildlife, wilderness, and human well-being through an interdisciplinary approach.
The WCS Adirondack Program was started in 1994 in recognition of the region’s particular ecological significance. The Adirondack Park contains the southern reaches of boreal habitat, some of the largest intact temperate forests in the world, headwaters for five major watersheds, nationally-significant water resources, and Northern Forest biodiversity. WCS works within the Adirondack Park’s unique conservation model that creates a patchwork of public and private lands. Historically, there has been conflict between conservation and economic development within the park. WCS Adirondack Program has worked to overcome this conflict and promote conservation by embedding themselves within the community through partnerships with local municipalities, state agencies, economic development groups, NGOs, land and wildlife managers, and recreational interest groups. WCS has built a reputation for being a source of objective information and applied science to guide management decisions in the park. Some of their current focus areas include community-based conservation, climate change, and wildlife connectivity in the Adirondacks.
This summer I am working with a team of interns on WCS’ wildlife-friendly farming initiative which is part of their focus on promoting wildlife conservation and connectivity on private lands within the Adirondack Park. One of our first projects was to define wildlife-friendly farming and characterize it with a set of specific practices. We have divided these practices into strategies that create or retain habitat for wildlife species, and strategies for managing farm-wildlife conflict in a non-lethal manner. My specific project is to turn this list of practices into an evaluative framework for determining whether and to what extent a farm can be considered “wildlife-friendly.” I will then choose a set of farms that are doing particularly well at being wildlife-friendly to be our model farms for this initiative. My goal is to develop a document that communicates model farm practices in a way that can be used by other farmers as a guide for implementation. The wildlife-friendly farming project is an extension of a previous initiative focusing on promoting wildlife-connectivity in community planning and residential development. Each of these initiatives works to incorporate wildlife conservation into private land use within the Adirondack Park which is important for the connectivity that benefits all species and is particularly necessary for wildlife that are wide-ranging in their daily or yearly movements.
My work with WCS Adirondack Program marks my third summer with the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. I was initially drawn to the Upstate Institute because I was nearing the end of my second year at Colgate, still feeling disconnected from the surrounding community, and wanted to do something for the summer that would have a meaningful impact. I also looked forward to understanding how academic research could be leveraged to address a community’s needs and goals. I have returned to the program (twice!) because I find community-based research to be a particularly fulfilling model that allows me to gain a deeper understanding of place, and see the tangible impacts of my work. In previous summers I have worked with Madison County Agriculture Economic Development on agritourism, and with the iServe Mohawk Valley program at Mohawk Valley Community College on food insecurity among students and among the greater Rome area. My project this summer allows me to build upon lessons learned from previous projects while exploring the unique community character of the Adirondacks. I graduated from Colgate in May with a degree in Environmental Studies and Biology, and the combination of conservation science and food systems understanding required to complete my project with WCS provides an exciting opportunity to work at the intersection of these two fields.