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Spring into Action! 5 Ways to Get Outside and Volunteer for Wildlife this Spring

It can be hard to break the habits of winter. Some of us spend the season cozy inside by the fireplace, eating plenty of soups and stews, and catching up with our dear friend Netflix. Others of us strap on our show shoes, put on our skis, or follow the subtle footprints of wildlife in the snow, all in a stubborn effort to not let winter get us down. Whichever completely valid side of the winter weather aisle you fall on, there’s no doubt that spring brings about a change in how we spend our time. The (almost) daily dose of sunshine, chirping birds, and tiny flowers fighting their way above the remnant snow all act as definitive signs and signals telling us one thing, and one thing only – Get Outside!

Many of us will spend the next few months doing everything we can to compensate for the cabin fever we experience during the colder months of the year. So, while you’re walking through the woods in your town, taking a much needed paddle down the river, or checking a hike off of your list – why not volunteer for wildlife? This spring, there are plenty of excuses to get outside and volunteer for wildlife in New Hampshire. Some of these volunteer opportunities might involve learning new skills and exploring new places, and others are a fun way to help wildlife from your own back yard. Get ready to spring into action, and check out 5 ways to volunteer for wildlife this spring:

  1. Share Your Wildlife Sightings. Here in New Hampshire, many potentially useful observations of wildlife are made by landowners, recreationists, birders, hunters and fishermen, foresters, and other generally ‘outdoorsy’ folks. Through NH Wildlife Sightings, citizen scientists (that’s you!) can report their wildlife observations. NH Fish & Game biologists review the data, and use it to help assess the status of wildlife and work on conservation strategies. Not all species found in NH can be reported through this website but many can, like northern leopard frogs, bald eagles, bobcats, and wood turtles. Spring is a great time to explore the rich and varied wildlife of your local area - whether it’s a town forest or your own back yard - and share your wildlife sightings with NH Fish & Game! To learn more about NH Wildlife Sightings, sign up for an account, and start reporting, visit http://nhwildlifesightings.unh.edu

    NH Wildlife Sightings lets citizen scientists report sightings of wildlife species, like this Blanding's turtle, from around New Hampshire. (Photo by Loren Valliere)

  2. Map vernal pools. Nothing says spring like vernal pools! Vernal pools are small, temporary woodland ponds that serve as critical breeding habitat for amphibians and as important feeding grounds and shelter for many reptiles, birds, and mammals. Because they are small, seasonal, and often fall outside the realm of regulatory protections for permanent wetlands, vernal pools are especially vulnerable to development and other human impacts. You can help protect these critical habitats in New Hampshire by helping identify where they are! The Harris Center for Conservation Education is holding trainings this spring for their Vernal Pool Project, in partnership with several organizations in the Monadnock region. Volunteers will learn the basics of vernal pool ecology in indoor training sessions and then venture outside for hands-on instruction in vernal pool identification and documentation. Interested volunteers must attend one indoor and one outdoor training session (in either Peterborough or Keene) to participate. Volunteers will add to the already impressive wildlife habitat dataset, with 160 vernal pools already documented in the Monadnock Region! Check out the event postings at www.newengland.stewardshipnetwork.org for training details and registration information.

    Vernal pools are provide important breeding habitat for a variety of amphibians, and shelter for many other species.

  3. Pull Garlic Mustard. Spring is a great time for bird watching, learning new wildflowers, exploring new trails, and pulling garlic mustard. Never heard of garlic mustard? It’s an invasive herbaceous plant that was introduced to the U.S. from Europe in the late 1800s for culinary and medicinal purposes. Garlic mustard is an aggressive invader and is difficult to control once established. It’s also allelopathic, meaning it emits chemicals that prevent the growth of other (native) plants. If left unchecked it quickly expands into and dominates a woodland understory. And as garlic mustard crowds out native plants, it degrades wildlifehabitat. It is a major threat to the survival of native plants and wildlife because garlic mustard does not provide food for insects or small mammals yet displaces native plants whose leaves, pollen, nectar, fruits, seeds and roots do. But there’s good news – garlic mustard is really easy to pull! Through the annual Garlic Mustard Challenge, many organizations around New Hampshire are trying to tackle this invasive species by holding volunteer garlic mustard pulls in the spring – it’s easy, a great way to get outside, and makes a big difference. Anyone can participate! Pull in your own backyard, in a beloved nearby conservation area, with friends, with volunteers, with a school group. Keep track of how much or how many bags of garlic mustard you've pulled and report your bags on The Stewardship Network’s Garlic Mustard Challenge website. Some pulling events are already posted on The Stewardship Network: New England's website, and more will be posted as the pulling season progresses (late April through early June). To sign up for a garlic mustard pull near you or to post your own event, visit newengland.stewardshipnetwork.org.

    Pulling garlic mustard helps prevent the plant from invading areas of valuable wildlife habitat (Photo by Ellen Snyder)

  4. Plant Shrubs to Help Rabbits. Do you want to help conserve one of NH’s endangered species? Interested in promoting native plants? Need a reason to get outside for a morning or afternoon? Volunteers are needed to help plant native shrubs on properties in the Seacoast region to restore habitat for the New England cottontail rabbit! New England cottontails are a state-endangered species, and are currently being considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. The New England cottontail relies on dense shrubland habitat (“thickets”) to survive, so planting shrubs is an important part of the work being done to help the species. NH Fish & Game and NH Audubon are looking to plant a combined 25,000 shrubs in Dover and Newmarket this spring, which is a task that can only be accomplished with the help of volunteers. Many hands make light work, so large groups are welcome to sign up. Volunteers can expect to get their hands dirty. This is a great way to spend the day outside and do something good for wildlife in need! For more information and to register, visit newengland.stewardshipnetwork.org.
    Volunteers are needed to help plant shrubs to restore habitat for the state-endangered New England Cottontail. (Photo by Emma Carcagno)

  5. Check out The Stewardship Network: New England.There’s no shortage of ways to volunteer on behalf of the environment and wildlife here in New Hampshire. The Stewardship Network: New England is working to make it easier to volunteer, and posts volunteer opportunities and trainings from over 80 different organizations in New Hampshire (and surrounding areas). You can Join the Network to get a weekly e-bulletin with new stewardship and citizen science volunteer opportunities, announcements, and stories. For more information, visit newengland.stewardshipnetwork.org.

    However you choose to do it, use spring as a time to get outside and take action for wildlife!

By Haley Andreozzi, UNH Cooperative Extension
Taking Action for Wildlife Spring 2015 Newsletter

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