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PGC’s Reintroduction of the American Marten

This week’s blog is a guest article written by Riley B., a Gobblers alumni. Riley loves animals and hopes to pursue a college degree in something that works with animals and the environment.

Pennsylvania has a long tradition of restoring wildlife and its habitat back to what it was before. During the colonization of America, many wildlife species died off due to overharvesting, the destruction of forests, and creation of farmlands. At this turn of the century, many native species were no longer found in the state.

Tom Keller, furbearer biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, recently spoke to a group of Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology students about the recent restoration project being done in Pennsylvania. Keller has been tasked by the PGC to lead the program that he has titled, “Returning the Wild to the Wilderness, Loss, Legacy, and New Opportunity.“ According to Keller, by the 1900s, native species such as the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, elk, mountain lions, wolves, and a handful of others disappeared from the Pennsylvania forests. In 1895, the Pennsylvania legislature formed the Pennsylvania Game Commission to help turn around severe impacts that cause wildlife populations to decline, and to help bring back the native species we had lost.

Over the last century, species such as the wild turkey and white-tailed deer have successfully been reintroduced. They have thrived in their recovery with the help of the PGC. Bald eagles, otters, beavers, peregrines, and fishers are also among the other successful species brought back to Pennsylvania. By next year, bobwhite quail are expected to begin their comeback story, and hopefully make another recovery in the history of Pennsylvania.

Keller’s project, which has started recently with the information collecting and planning process, will discover if Pennsylvania provides the right and safe habitat for the American marten. But, is it really a good idea to bring another predator to Pennsylvania’s forests? Keller admitted he was skeptical at first about the project. Like most Pennsylvanians, he knew little about the marten other than it was an omnivore, a meat and plant eater, and that it was hunted for its valuable fur in the 1800s. Upon hearing about the process of introducing the fisher, a much larger cousin of the American marten, he changed his mind about this smaller critter. It could pose an excellent addition to the Pennsylvania ecosystem.

American marten are a federally designated Management Indicator Species. This means that the health and robustness of marten populations directly informs us about the health of the ecosystem and forests they live in. They also keep prey population numbers in check, which is important so the amount of rodents or other small mammals doesn’t get out of control and eat too much of the foliage. Everything has to be perfectly balanced and healthy. Without one species to determine the numbers, the entire forest will be unbalanced. Keller said the first group looked at what led to the marten’s demise. They concluded that it was a cause of deforestation and overharvesting. They then looked at its diet to see if the marten could fit into the forests. Mice, voles, weasels, and other small mammals were plentiful in the forests and perfect for American marten habitat, as well as foliage with berries.

Tom Keller, furbearer biologist for the PA Game Commission, recently presented information about the commission’s upcoming species reintroduction project involving the American Marten. A large group of students attended the event hosted by the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology Program.

Because of its smaller size – the marten weighs approximately two pounds and is the same size as a fox squirrel – it will not become a major competitor for food with the fishers, coyotes, and bobcats in its environment and the largest predator that could impact its population would be birds of prey. He said that after determining the appropriate habitat and whether it would have an adverse impact on the other animals in that habitat, it was time to check the public opinion among hunters and non-hunters. He said both groups have a 90-92% support rate for the reintroduction of the marten.

Keller is on his way to developing the 10-year plan for additional feasibility studies and the process that will potentially bring the American marten back to Pennsylvania. He believes that experts from all over the marten’s current range will be asked to take part in the process. He has already personally collaborated with experts from the northern United States and Canada. He said the initial plan would be to relocate 50-60 martens from Canada to specific locations in the northern forests of Pennsylvania to begin the reintroduction process.

When questioned about costs and how this project would be funded, Keller said it was hard to say what the program will cost the state, but he’s already discussed the cost of each marten that will be relocated from Canada and he believes Pennsylvania will pay just $60 per marten. He said the additional transportation costs and the costs of the studies should also be easily funded by game commission funds and state funds set aside for wildlife restoration through the natural gas drilling impact fees. He said the cost to restore the American marten will be much less than some of the other restoration projects that Pennsylvania has completed because they are not proposing any habitat restoration to accommodate these animals. He said relocation sites will be selected from land already owned either by the state or federal government, meaning state game lands, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources land and the Allegheny National Forest. Keller said forest health is one of the main reasons the game commission would like to reintroduce these animals. He said they believe the timing is right for such a reintroduction and the strong public support has made this project a priority.

To learn more about this project, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission online at www.pgc.pa.gov or email the project at PAmarten@pa.gov.

The photo used in this blog was provided by Penn State DuBois.

Transition to Spring

This week’s blog was written by Grace H., a Bucktails alumni. Grace is interested in studying mathematics and international diplomacy. Attending the Wildlife Leadership Academy was an experience that allowed her to develop an understanding of ecology from an environmental lens.

The winter months are another frequent excuse to ignore nature. With the melted snow on the dead grass and the midnight-like fluorescence in the air at 5 PM, feeling slightly lower than normal in the winter is natural. The glumness of winter can make us want to do nothing less than spend any more time outside than necessary.

Summer sunset

However with the clocks changing and the daffodils preparing to bloom, it is no longer the season to make excuses to isolate from nature. It is time to become one with the earth. It is difficult to be in nature and feel negative about it. The hardest part of embracing the outdoors is the motivation of leaving our elements of comfort and committing to making time for nature to be a part of our lives. An easy way to force yourself to go outside is to do the tasks you were planning on working on in your room or study in a unique outdoor setting. Changing your environment will allow you to associate the tasks you need to get done with the peace of nature. Permitting yourself to embrace a change in scenery could even unlock new levels of productivity. As beautiful paths replace treadmills and the shaded lee of trees replace desks the best is yet to come.

The photo used in this blog belongs to the author.

Yellow Manes and White Tufts: The Common Dandelion

This week’s blog was written by Liam B., a Gobblers and Bass alumni. Liam is a junior in high school who has attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy as both a student and an assistant team leader over the past two summers. He has participated in WLA mainly due to to his interest in wildlife overall, and notably ornithology. He plans to attend college and afterwards pursue a career with the game commission.

Around this time of year, many flowers can be seen blooming all across Pennsylvania. From the small, yet abundant, violets, to flowering dogwood trees, the flowers have ignored the old adage and come during the April showers. One of the most ubiquitous plants in PA, this introduced flower species has been known for many years as both a weed and a cultivated edible. Its hardiness and ease of propagation have facilitated both of these views of it.

First however, a bit more information about the common dandelion (or Taraxacum officinale as it’s known in the scientific community). Originally from Europe, it was introduced as a food crop, but then spread unchecked across the country. As a perennial, it grows back from its notoriously deep taproot season after season, living for around 5-10 years. As such, one dandelion can quickly develop into a small cluster, and eventually grow into a large field of nothing but the yellow-maned flowers. They spread via both seeds and rhizomes, giving it multiple methods of ending up just about everywhere.

A picture of a dandelion both in bloom and fruiting

In order to prevent damage from herbivores, they secrete a form of latex which tastes horrible. This interesting property of dandelions leads to humanity’s variety of uses for this hardy wildflower. The latex it produces can be used as a form of glue. Almost every part of the plant is edible in some form. The leaves can be eaten raw as a salad (younger leaves) or cooked (older leaves). They are nutritious, containing vitamin A, C, K, beta carotene, calcium, potassium, and iron. This comes with the cost of their bitter taste. The flowers have been used as a flavor additive for drinks and jam. The large tap root, which holds most of the nutrients of the plant, can be dried, ground and used as a coffee substitute. Aside from these uses, its flowers can also be used to make yellow dye.

These interesting traits give the dandelion various uses by humanity, and this humble weed can be repurposed in several ways. If they become a bother in your lawn, consider one of the various ways they can be used in the kitchen.

Recipe for Dandelion Omelet from The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine by Peter Gail:
Makes 2 servings
3 strips of bacon
4 eggs
4 sliced mushrooms
1 cup of fresh dandelion greens, chopped fine
½ cup of grated white cheese
1. Fry bacon crisp in an omelet pan or similar instrument.
2. Remove from the pan and crumble into a small bowl, separating the fat.
3. Sautee mushrooms in the remaining bacon fat.
4. After sautéing for around 1 minute, add dandelion greens and sauté until wilted.
5. Remove mushrooms and greens to the same bowl containing the bacon and set aside.
6. Scramble eggs lightly, while adding cheese and dandelion filling.
7. Cook until desired firmness is reached.

The photo used in this blog was sourced from the internet. It can be found here.

A City Girl’s Experience at Wildlife Leadership Academy

This week’s blog was written by Paloma M., a Brookies alumni. Paloma is a reporter who specializes in environmental and climate studies. She loves informing those around her about the latest news about our planet, with an emphasis on politics and media. She attended Wildlife Leadership Academy to get out into the world and learn more about the environment she was reporting on.

Environmental Conservation. From the need to protect areas like our national parks to keep species from going extinct, to the growing concern of climate change and how it will and is affecting endangered species, conservation is a large and open topic with plenty of things to look into. It’s a prominent topic in the media and politics these days. As a girl who grew up in Washington, DC, the political heart of our country, habitat conservation was something I had never considered. I only had previously known only a city that, even though it was one of the greenest cities in the country, had little to nothing about river and forest ecosystems, let alone how they were being endangered.

My conservation journey started when I saw my school offering AP Environmental Science. I asked myself, “What’s that?” Followed with, “The planet’s in trouble?” Ultimately concluding with, “This is interesting.” I signed up and loved the class, but the COVID-19 pandemic had taken away the one thing I wanted most of all: to see it with my own eyes. I was tired of reading about how forests were in trouble and how invasive species were taking over. The only forest I’d known my whole life was Rock Creek Park, which was nowhere near the magnitude the textbooks talked about and didn’t have many of the issues that the same books discussed beyond pollution. However, given my location and the circumstances of the pandemic, I lost all hope of that wish.

Then, “Eureka!” hit me. What if I did a program over the summer that supplemented what I had missed? After some searching, my mom found something. Wildlife Leadership Academy? Never heard of it, and it was pretty far, about a 4-hour drive for me, but it had everything I wanted. Experiencing first-hand all the concepts I’d learned up close and personal? Yes, please, and thank you! I would get the experience I had been longing for all year. So, I signed up. After a pretty simple application process, I was in.

In the weeks before camp, I was nervous. I’d never even done a sleep-away camp before. I recall being hesitant to accept my spot in the program. What if something went wrong? But after discussing it with my mother and a bit of back and forth from the camp through email reassuring me, I accepted. I arrived late on the first day thanks to the long drive, which didn’t help my anxiety at all. I remember walking into the room and finding my seat, realizing I was the last one who had arrived. Everyone kept on asking what county they were from and I recall being confused. I didn’t even know Pennsylvania had counties until this moment, and when I looked over at a state map marked with where everyone was from, I wasn’t even on it. I was in the lower right corner in the margins labeled “DC”. My group was in shock when they heard where I was from. However, I met my roommates, found some new friends, and pretty soon I felt right at home.

We then split into groups and went outside. I couldn’t help but look around in awe. Believe it or not, I’d never seen so many trees in such a disorganized heap! I was so used to the planned and planted trees of the city. But seeing all the forests around me like that for the first time was amazing. When we finished off our first day with nature journaling, one of my new friends came to me and asked me what I was staring at. I chuckled and replied, “This may seem crazy, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many trees before!” She couldn’t believe me when I said that, and several others came to laugh along with us. The camp continued as a mixture of lectures and outdoor activities. The lectures were a breeze because I always had learned about the environment from inside a classroom, separate from the outdoors, but that made the outdoor activities a challenge. I felt so lost the first time we went into the nearby lake looking for macro-invertebrates and fish. Through the help of our wonderful teachers and my friends, I got through it and had a ton of fun. I learned a ton about finding macros under rocks and dirt. We even caught a few tadpoles!

Getting to see all the animals and do all the tests I had only read about in books was the experience of a lifetime for me, and looking back on it now, I wondered how I could’ve ever questioned my decision to accept my invitation. I may have had no skills outside of a classroom, but the camp was still fun and educational. Never at any point did I think I couldn’t do something. I made friends that I’m still in touch with today and brought all of that knowledge from camp back to DC to share with all of my city friends! Outreach with the camp is teaching me that you don’t have to live next to a forest reserve or be great at hiking to be involved in conservation. I love writing, and the outreach opportunities that Wildlife has offered me so far have allowed me to do just that! I write monthly for the NextGen Blog in collaboration with my friend, I actively use the skills I learned at camp to make trifolds and lecture slides to educate others, and I’m working on starting a new podcast regarding conservation! In the end, Wildlife Leadership Academy is something that I would recommend to anyone interested in protecting local ecosystems. It was an experience to behold.

The photos used in this blog belong to the Wildlife Leadership Academy.

What a Star

This week’s blog was written by Sam P., an Ursids alumni. Sam attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy because he dreams of becoming a game warden. Sam loves to be outdoors and love all things in it. He is an Eagle Scout as well, with which he really enjoys camping, biking, hiking, and absolutely loves kayaking. In school Sam is active in Envirothon, the golf team, rifle team, and tennis team. He is also involved in marching band and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Through WLA, Sam has learned countless new leadership skills to get the public interested in the outdoors and he looks forward to doing so as long as he is able.

“Star light, star bright, The first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” The famous nursery rhyme really comes into play this time of the year. With the days becoming longer and the temperatures getting warmer, it’s a nice time to enjoy the night sky. I always enjoy stargazing in the spring/early summer. The mesmerizing sight of thousands of little lights in the sky. Now especially, is a perfect time to see Venus and Jupiter up in the sky. I am always sent into a state of awe when looking at the night sky. Gazing upon the horizon seeing constellations and vibrant planets. A hike in the moonlight is always an enjoyable task. It’s a time to look up and remember all that is around you. You are the best planet of them all, you are in the most unique environments, and you are part of something a lot bigger than yourself.

What all constellations can you pick out?
Crimson Night

Upon stargazing I often look and hear for bats and owls and other nocturnal critters, from a safe distance that is, to see what this whole other world has in store. Once the stars come out and we go to sleep, there is still a whole wild world right outside. So, if you find some time, or just do it from inside, take a look up and think about that beautiful world all around. Both day and night, you are on the most amazing planet ever. And the wish I wish tonight: thank you all, and have a good night.