Field School Fellows conduct virtual research to benefit Adirondacks-based agencies

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This summer, Abby Sotomayor ‘20, Will Krohn ‘23 and Kelsey Bennett ‘22 worked on various environmental projects based in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York as a part of the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. Kelsey and Abby both worked with AdkAction, a small non-profit organization based in Saranac Lake focusing on the road salt and pollinator project respectively. Will spent his summer focusing on bird conservation by working for two different non-profits: The New York State Breeding Bird Atlas and The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation. Their experiences were fairly different as they all focused on different environmental issues but they did notice overlap in how they tackled their projects and the impacts from their projects. Below, they describe their experiences.

Kelsey Bennett, '22, working with AdkAction

This summer, I spent eight weeks working with AdkAction as a fellow for the road salt reduction campaign. At the beginning of my fellowship in May, I knew little about the issue of road salt overuse, but over the course of a couple months I was able to research and learn about the problem and also develop materials and strategies to bring awareness to the issue. The goal was to provide compelling evidence to change current behaviors and mindsets around Adirondack road salt use. I worked on two main projects this summer, beginning with an economic analysis of the issue of road salt use and followed by a series of interviews with concerned Adirondack residents about personal impacts from road salt overuse. As an environmental economic major at Colgate, I was able to develop a blog post and infographic to give a better understanding of the costs of road salt not immediately thought about. With the help of my environmental economic professor and advisor, Isla Globus-Harris, and a local Adirondack researcher, Ezra Schwartzberg, I was able to come to the conclusion that road salt is costing around $25,000 per lane mile in damages to infrastructure, vehicles and ecosystem services. The economic costs paired with the scientific research (compiled previously in the Road Map to Reduce Road Salt) presents a compelling argument to reduce road salt. Even still, we feel it is important to hear the voices of concerned local Adirondack residents.

For the second half of my fellowship I developed a plan to reach out and interview individuals impacted by road salt use in the Adirondacks. To make sure I was conducting high quality interviews I went through Colgate’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) and had the  interview process reviewed and accepted to make sure I was following good procedures. This process also helped me make consent forms to allow AdkAction to use the stories compiled from the interviews on the upcoming “Hold the Salt” Campaign Website. I took about a week to interview individuals and I ended with four Salt Stories and a strong plan for continuing the interviews in the future.

Abby Sotomayor, '20, working with AdkAction

I joined the ADK Action pollinator project which has been an ongoing initiative for about ten years. The pollinator project is multifaceted in terms of its strategies for outreach as well as its projects. The projects include a native plant sale, seed packet distribution, installing pollinator gardens, and pollinator education among other start up projects such as the roadside  pollinator project. My main involvement included creating engaging and accessible content for the local public on native pollinators and strategies for creating pollinator habitat in homeowners yards or local business. One of the goals of the Pollinator Project is to get as many homeowners and landowners as possible aware of and engaging in the project. Caring for pollinators is an extremely important and easy thing for individuals to participate in. Home care in terms of pollinator health involves mostly reducing the amount of maintenance a landowner does to their property. Mowing less often, leaving plant tissues and leaves, and using little to no pesticides and herbicides are all strategies that will transform a homeowners yard into a pollinator space. Other slightly more involved strategies include planting native plant species or dispersing native wildflower seeds to attract native pollinators. The actual action involved in creating more pollinator spaces is not difficult or complex. However, people cannot create pollinator spaces if they don’t know about pollinators or know what to do. I created content to address these issues. Firstly, I worked on a pollinator stewardship calendar and accompanying seasonal blog posts which outlined the strategies a homeowner can take during each season to accommodate pollinators. The calendar gave brief points about what to be doing generally during the season to help pollinators and the blog post gave more detail about specific strategies or interesting pollinators and added a storyline to the calendar. I also created some pollinator host plant guides which are very graphic to provide a quick and easy overview for pollinator gardeners about which plants to establish in their pollinator garden for particular species of native pollinators. The content I created was meant to be accessible, visual, and hopefully, convincing homeowners to consider pollinator friendly landscaping. 

Another initiative that I began to work on was the roadside pollinator project which involved raising awareness about the potential for pollinator habitat along roadsides in the ADKs. Turning the three meters or so of grassy area along roadsides into flourishing pollinator habitat is not only simple, cost efficient, and labor efficient, but is also a huge amount of pollinator habitat in total. I created maps and informational brochures to send to local citizens to encourage them to speak up in their local municipalities. Roadside maintenance is an easy transition for municipalities to make, but local encouragement and education is hugely important to making these changes. Similar to Kelsey’s project with ADK Action that focused on road salt, the pollinator project on roadside maintenance used infographics and economic analysis to convey important numbers and also supplemental information on what actions individuals and the community can take.

Will Krohn, '23, working with Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation and the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas

I worked on two projects this summer, but both were concerned with bird conservation. The first was the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas III, the third installment of a citizen science project which documents the breeding birds in New York for 5 years. This Atlas just started in the beginning of 2020 so my job was to help with outreach and recruitment of birders living in the state. “Atlasing” is much different than normal bird watching, atlasing involves closely watching and following one bird and recording its behaviors. All data is submitted using the eBird app, a powerful birding tool used all over the world. Worldwide, eBird’s data has been used in hundreds of scientific studies. The sheer amount of data collected by the New York Atlas and other eBird projects makes it extremely useful to monitor the conservation status of endangered species, as well as how all species are adapting to climate change and other anthropogenic activity. I’ve also been interviewing Atlasers to document their stories and the atlasing experience, which I then write about. All of my articles are available on the Atlas’ website: My other project is at the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, where I’m working on the pilot of their new Adirondack Loon-Friendly Lake Certification Program. The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation monitors the status of the Common Loon, an important indicator species. They study breeding success, effects of mercury biomagnification, and human disturbance on loons. This project is a community-based environmental stewardship program with the goal of educating the community and therefore better protecting loons. The Adirondacks is a huge park that can only be protected if the whole community is on board with us and working together. Since this project is new, I’ve been making surveys for participants to measure their success. I didn’t know that much about loons before this summer, so I’ve been doing lots of research on the Common Loon, on everything from nesting behavior to effects of acid rain. With this research I’ve been writing articles for the center to post on their social media pages, which have a huge following, to teach Adirondack residents about the issues loons face. 

All of our projects were broadly focused on environmental conservation. The Adirondack ecology has seen huge anthropogenic changes which we are working to mitigate. Loons have suffered from acid rain, mercury biomagnification, and increased human activity in their habitat. This issue calls for scientific action to be taken to assess the threats to loons, but it also needs community leaders and educators to help change the human behaviors which endanger loons. Citizen scientists need to be recruited to address issues at this scale, which is also exactly what the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas has done. They have used data collected from hundreds of birders from around the state to discover changes in reproductive success, migration, and range of birds as the landscapes continue to change. 

The issues which AdkAction addresses are not dissimilar, with the loss of pollinators and road salt pollution posing threats to the Adirondack ecosystem. Kelsey and Abby had to come up with solutions to these problems, and they also had to interact with the community directly to see how they are affected by these problems. Initially, we all did not have much background in our areas of study. We discussed how this was quite frightening at the beginning of the summer. However, we all quickly were able to become experts in our respective topics from our own research and with the guidance of our supervisors. We all gathered information and verified data in a short time frame to turn around and produce a product that would be accessible and helpful to the communities we were serving. We also all noted the importance of collaboration and communication. The environmental issues which we are all concerned with take large, group efforts to address, and they require a multidisciplinary way of thinking which Colgate has given us.