Community Conservation Cohort Gets to Work!

After completing fall training, the 20 participants in the inaugural 2020 Community Conservation Cohort rolled up their sleeves and got to work on projects to protect and manage wildlife and habitats and other natural resources. Each community group had two TAFW advisors helping to guide their projects over the course of the winter. At the final cohort session in April 2021, the community cohort groups reported on their project progress – what a great variety of efforts! Here’s what they did:

 

“The program made us think about where there was conservation action needed in our community
and provided us with direction and momentum.”
- 2020 Community Conservation Cohort Participant

A defunct 58-acre golf course in Amherst, known as Buck Meadow, is getting new attention as valuable wildlife habitat. The Amherst Conservation Commission acquired this property in collaboration with their recreation department. In reviewing the NH Wildlife Action Plan maps, the cohort group noted a variety of habitats (wetlands, grassland, and vernal pools), and also that the golf course had some of the highest ranked habitat in the state and region. They were interested in using the property to achieve the following goals: (1) Protect and preserve important open space, (2) monitor and promote wildlife habitats, (3) help meet the expanding recreational needs of the town, and (4) engage the public in conservation activities with Buck Meadow as a demonstration area. The group developed a monitoring and outreach plan that will involve three years of inventorying and monitoring the property – often through events involving community members – to learn more about the wildlife and habitats. They also started an iNaturalist Project for Buck Meadow to collect valuable data about the species present from the people who visit the property. A spring bird walk is planned on the site in May 2021, with other events (such as vernal pool trainings and tree/shrub ID) planned for the future. The Amherst Conservation Commission put a perimeter trail around the site that has become popular among town residents and has potential for becoming an ADA accessible trail.

Wildlife, Cameras, Action! Short videos are captivating and a great way to engage with the public. The Atkinson Conservation Commission cohort members had long considered making a series of videos to celebrate the great open spaces in town. While Atkinson is heavily developed, the town has many sizeable conservation areas. The cohort program inspired them to develop the first video in their series, “Wild Atkinson”, focused on Atkinson’s diverse wildlife and habitats. Their goal was to raise public awareness of these important habitats in town and to encourage community support for future conservation projects. To put the video together, they needed photos and video clips of wildlife and habitats in town – a request via a couple of local Face Book pages generated not only a number of photos, but much public interest in the video project as well. They developed a “storyboard” to outline the video and developed and honed a narrated script with several rounds of team editing. The group is using LightWorks software to create the video and is engaging with a local high school improvisation group to narrate the video.

Trails on town-owned lands in Candia provide a gateway to engage with the public, especially with more people recreating outdoors during the pandemic. The Candia Conservation Commission cohort group wanted to increase public awareness of their town-owned conservation lands. They began their efforts by first taking inventory of their town-owned lands, identifying which ones have parking, trails, and other infrastructure. Through that process they identified their Deerfield Road Town Forest to serve as a model for improved signage and maps to make it easier for people to find and use the property. They began the process of adding the trails from the Town Forest to Trail Finder, have begun updating the information kiosk on the property, and hope to conduct a spring cleanup of the trail as well as host educational events in the future. Their long-term goal is to build public awareness of the need to protect additional lands in town in the future, especially considering impacts of development on natural lands and wildlife habitats.

In their quest to create more community interest and support around their work, the Claremont Conservation Commission cohort created a spring-summer 2021 series of educational events and action opportunities for local residents, focused on wildlife, habitats and climate change. They worked to identify local experts to present these programs. Their kickoff presentation on April 1, 2021, with experts from Franklin Pierce Institute for Climate Action, focused on the impacts of climate change on wildlife. The Commission then partnered with the Harris Center to hold a Vernal Pools 101 virtual training. Future programs planned for May, June, and October include: Effects of Climate Change on NH’s Birds; Pollinators and Climate Change; and River Restoration and Resilience. In conjunction with these educational webinars, the group will hold a virtual training on the e-Bird and Merlin bird apps (May) and a pollinator garden planting session (June). Partners include: NH Audubon, NH Fish and Game Department, Trout Unlimited, and Soak Up the Rain. The Claremont cohort group took the initiative to apply for a small grant from the New England Grassroots Foundation and was awarded funding to help offset speaker costs associated with these programs.

“We gained experience in orchestrating a series of programs.
Our expertise of how to operate as Conservation Commmission members has greatly increased.”  
- 2020 Community Conservation Cohort Participant

An interest in determining what wildlife are moving and where inspired the Durham Conservation Commission cohort to develop a program to collect data on wildlife corridors in town and engage local residents in their efforts. Their goals were to identify wildlife corridors in residential zones of Durham to promote connectivity through backyards and neighborhoods, to raise awareness of the value of wildlife corridors and the need to protect greenways, and to explore potential strategies for future protection of wildlife corridors. To involve the public, they organized a spring 2021 Wildlife Watch (like a mini bioblitz!), inviting residents to document what wildlife is moving through their backyards. The group developed a watch tally sheet and habitat questionnaire, available for residents to download from the Town of Durham website or pick up at the town hall and library. They also hope to curate a display of book selections at the library that educates residents and will help to promote the Wildlife Watch. The group is also exploring a future project idea to loan game cameras to community members to help document wildlife species moving through. They connected with the town of Exeter to learn about Exeter’s game cameras program for wildlife corridors.

 

“We want to get people excited about their own backyard habitats to get them interested in the bigger picture”  
- 2020 Community Conservation Cohort Participant

A river runs through it… the Pemigewasset River and its floodplain, which flows through several towns, is a significant natural resource feature in the town of Thornton. The goal of the Thornton Conservation Commission was to create a local community that is well-educated about the benefits of the river and riparian ecosystems, such that the town boards and shoreland owners support and enact protections for the river and riparian zone. They started by conducting research into riparian buffers, water quality, economic impacts of the river, erosion control, wildlife and habitats, and watershed management. They completed an assessment of landowners in the Pemi Corridor to determine permanent and seasonal residents and patterns of land ownership. Connecting with the Pemigewasset River Local Advisory Committee and the Pemi-Baker Land Trust were key steps as Thornton looks ahead to future activities and collaborations. The cohort group prepared and delivered a presentation to the Thornton town boards to get their buy-in for this project and are planning public outreach events with landowners along the Pemi in July and August.

“None of us were experts on river corridors so we all had a lot to learn.
It was fun to consider what is unique about our community and work to enhance the Pemi River Corridor.”
- 2020 Community Conservation Cohort Participant

 An added bonus of the cohort program was that the group projects strengthened their collaborative work, helped their conservation commissions become more cohesive in working together, and assisted them with building leadership and learning each other’s strengths. The program also resulted in some groups building a new public education and outreach focus that they plan to continue moving forward. Most importantly, they all reported that they had FUN working together!

“I don’t think we would have taken this next step without the cohort program.”
- 2020 Community Conservation Cohort Participant

The Taking Action for Wildlife Team will continue to host the Community Conservation Cohort program for additional communities in fall of each year.

Stay tuned for information on the 2021 Cohort program!

 

By Amanda Stone, Natural Resources and Land Conservation Specialist, UNH Cooperative Extension
2021 Spring Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter