By Mara Certic
Frank Quevedo is the executive director at the South Fork Museum of Natural History. He spoke to us about the conservation needs of the state and on the East End.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently released a list of the Species of Greatest Conservation Need, which named 186 species of animals, which are in need of immediate conservation action. What were your thoughts on first seeing the report?
This is just a revision of an existing list that already came out. So this list that just came out right before Christmas is the updated, revised list from the DEC letting the public know and environmentalists know that these species are now of greatest concern and we need to implement management plans now, or else in 10 years their populations won’t be sustainable. So this is really concerning to see this list—and there’s a lot of species on this list that we didn’t really know were in danger of decline.
Are there any species in particular that you were surprised to see listed?
The one that stands out, right off the bat, for high priority species of greatest concern is the American black duck. As a birder, I see a lot of American black ducks around, and I wasn’t really concerned about their population because I see them pretty often. What I think this represents is that the American black duck is now hybridizing with the American Mallard. Another thing that jumped out at me is like the wood thrush. Our understory in our woodlands are being depleted because of a high deer population—the deer are really destroying our understory. A lot of these thrushes and warblers that nest on the ground in that understory are not having that habitat anymore. What it really comes down to is that our habitats need to be focused on as a whole, for all of these species. All these species are connected, and we’re connected to the natural world too, so we have to really focus on the ecosystem as a whole, rather than the individual species. That’s just my opinion. The primary reason for this, however, is habitat loss and habitat development. And now we’re in a crisis mode, now we have a 10-year window to do something about it and this should have been implemented many years ago.
In addition to all of the animals put onto the list, 18 species were removed from the list and their populations were deemed secure within the state. Is this due to conservation efforts or natural events?
It’s funny, ecosystems and how animals interact with one another is very complex. The reasoning behind why Coopers hawks are removed from the SGCN list probably has to do with a high abundance of more prey available for these predators. Maybe they’re thriving because there isn’t enough habitat for birds to hide in—Coopers hawks feed on other birds. Believe it or not, even though the Coopers hawk was taken off the list, there’s still an imbalance there. They’re taken off the list because something is thriving in their world, making them more abundant. I don’t have the scientific data to support my opinion here, I don’t know exactly why they were taken off the list, that’s something maybe the DEC can answer.
What are some of the things we can do here on the East End to continue and further conservation efforts?
Education is not the solution, it’s the beginning point. Letting people understand how important biodiversity is in nature, how fragile ecosystems are, how sensitive the natural environment is. In such a short period of time, we’ve seen a decline in wildlife; whether it’s pollution, habitat fragmentation, climate change, whatever the factors are, it all comes down to educating people and making them understand the connection we have with nature, but also how sensitive it is too. So education is, without a doubt, first and foremost.