By Larry Feldman
From Issue 55: Fall 2022
In 2022, thousands of dead fish were found floating on the banks of the Oder River, which runs through Germany and Poland, and experts warn it will take years for the river to recover. To avoid this type of disaster in Gardiner, environmental watchdogs, such as the volunteers working at StreamWatch, a program of the Mohonk Preserve, are monitoring our local waterways. The StreamWatch program is an outgrowth of the successful Climate Tracker and Phenology programs built on the work of Daniel Smiley (1907-1989), who was an environmentalist before there was a name for that. The Daniel Smiley Research Center (located on Mohonk Mountain House property) contains meticulous research files related to his observations of weather, nature, animals, and plants.
Did you know that regular people who care about the environment can help protect the water in and around Gardiner as well? They certainly can. My wife, Jill, and I are from Yonkers but moved to Gardiner some years ago and have been active volunteers at Mohonk Preserve since 2015. We, among others, donate our time to help monitor the status of selected marshes, streams, and estuaries throughout the Preserve’s 8,000 acres.
Volunteers are trained to measure several things on a monthly basis with the goal of catching environmental threats before it’s too late. Each two-person team is assigned to its own specific site. Jill and I monitor Humpo Marsh, a pullover spot on Route 299 between Butterville Road and Jenkins-Lueken Orchard. Working in teams for safety’s sake, we often wade into thigh-deep water on slippery marsh bottom to sniff for odors like petroleum, sewage, detergent, chemicals, or sulfur, and observe and evaluate the appearance of the water: We ask ourselves, “Is it clear, foamy, brown, green, milky, scummy, or clean? How much canopy cover is there?” There are currently fourteen sampling sites throughout the Preserve, five of which are in Gardiner. The water at the sites is also measured for temperature, width, depth, and velocity of the stream. If invasive species are observed, it then gets reported for follow-up. All of the recorded data is entered into a database that provides scientists with the information they need to prepare conservation plans.
Julia Solomon, Director of Conservation Programs at the Mohonk Preserve, and Penny Adler-Colvin, Community Science Coordinator, were interviewed about the value of SteamWatch’s volunteer program and were asked:
What have the data collected shown thus far?
Julia: “The data we gather through the StreamWatch program tell us a lot about the health of our streams and inform the Preserve’s land management plans. Overall, the streams on the Preserve are very healthy, as you would expect for streams in protected, forested watersheds.”
How are the findings useful beyond the Preserve’s borders?
Penny: “While our data is useful in informing Mohonk Preserve’s land management decisions, we recently made our StreamWatch dataset accessible on GBIF – the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. GBIF helps us to make our scientific data on biodiversity available on the internet. There have been seven citations of our data in scientific journal articles and some of the publications have used the Preserve’s invasive species data collected through the StreamWatch program (e.g., Scanning the horizon for invasive plant threats using a data-driven approach–NeoBiota 74: 129-154)
Where do you hope the program will be by 2025?
Penny: “We have a dedicated group of volunteers for this program, covering all fourteen of our sampling locations. We hope to continue operating at full capacity in the future, possibly adding more locations if deemed necessary. At Mohonk Preserve, we’ve been working to make our valuable datasets more accessible to researchers. We would love to see this information continue to be used in making crucial land management decisions.”
The old adage “Think globally, act locally” never seemed more pertinent than it does right now. The StreamWatch program is an excellent way for Gardiner residents who love the Shawangunk Mountains region to help protect it actively. For more information, contact Andy Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.