Tag Archives: wildlife management

A Marsh is Born

By Vincent J. Burke, executive editor

A hawk went aloft, stealing everyone’s attention. It was a familiar scene for the speaker, a wildlife manager whose back was turned to the soaring bird. You could see the slight smile form on his face as he recognized the failed attempts of the rows of seated listeners to conceal their interest. “What’s the bird behind me?” he asked as laughter broke out. It was a solemn day in the middle of one of the most rural parts of upper New York State, and the humor was fresh on the heels of suppressed tears.

Baldassarre_Marsh2We were gathered under the only structure in sight, a large tent staked on some dry ground adjacent to the marshlands of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area. This is where Professor Guy Baldassarre used to arrive with a bus full of ornithology students from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Guy was missing, and this ceremony was part of an ongoing effort to remember him. On this day we would dedicate a marsh restoration project that would be named in his memory. “Guy’s Marsh” is in the early stages of restoration, but within a few short years this abandoned farm field will fill with water and shelter and feed thousands of resident and migrating waterfowl.

baldasserre-box-no-angleWhat struck me most on this day can be put into a word: collaboration. This was Guy’s specialty, his hallmark: collaborating and getting others to do the same. Under the tent, people from California, Florida, and dozens of other places were assembled. The audience was speckled with representatives of Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and too many other groups to mention. Friends of Montezuma stood behind a small table that displayed copies of Guy’s posthumously published masterpiece, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. They were all here because they had raised funds for the marsh restoration, or had helped Guy as he wrote his book, or had somehow worked with him on behalf of birds and wildlife habitat.

When Guy’s wife, Eileen, spoke you could sense a marriage built on collaboration. When speakers told of the way in which large and small donations flowed in to rebuild the marsh, one was struck by the diversity of sources. Guy’s book itself was a collaboration that involved the Wildlife Management Institute, photographers, students, and scores of waterfowl groups and experts. After his death, one of these waterfowl experts had to guide Guy’s book through copyediting. Sue Sheaffer dedicated herself to those thousands of hours of doing what Guy would have insisted upon: double-checking everything.

Everything—the marsh, the book, the students, the friendships, the bonds—all somehow centered on Guy’s infectious enthusiasm for birds. It wasn’t just the enjoyment birds bring to us, or satisfying our curiosity about them; it was Guy’s recognition that birds need champions in this modern world. Out at Guy’s Marsh, looking around at the dedicated heirs of Dr. Baldassarre’s legacy, I got the sense the world was going to be a better place for birds because Guy spent decades teaching us, by example, how to collaborate on their behalf.

Editor’s note: To read Dr. Mike Schummer’s remembrance of Guy Baldassarre—the man, the book, and the marsh, click here.



Executive Editor Vincent J. Burke, PhD, acquires books in science and mathematics for the JHU Press; follow him on Twitter at @VBurke2.



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Filed under Biology, Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, General Science, Life Science, ornithology

Guy Baldassarre: the man, the book, and the marsh

Guest post by Dr. Michael Schummer

Guy Baldassarre (1953–2012) was one of those people who transferred his passion for birds to all who met him. Even though he’s gone, that trait seems to linger, evidenced by the impact his book, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, is about to have on generations of readers. For those not lucky enough to have known Guy, let me recap an amazing career. He was a  Distinguished Teaching Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for 25 years, where he specialized in ornithology and wildlife management. Among his many honors, he was the recipient of the Wetlands Conservation Achievement Award from Ducks Unlimited. He was an eloquent speaker with a fantastic Boston accent that boomed like friendly thunder.

Passionate about waterfowl and wetland conservation, Guy’s capacity to synthesize an immense body of literature into a digestible form made him successful educator and writer. Guy truly poured all this talent into Ducks, Geese, and Swans. This classic work was last produced in 1980 by renowned waterfowl ecologist Frank Bellrose and desperately needed an update. With over thirty years of novel and abundant research to include in this new addition of DGS, Guy produced a work that will leave a legacy of well-informed readers. Part of the beauty of the book lies in the stunning color photos, which Guy was given by waterfowl photographers from across the continent. Add to that Bob Hines’s art and carefully documented range maps, and you have a book that is both a pleasure to read and work of art.

In memory of Guy, a marsh restoration project was undertaken at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in central New York. “Guy’s Marsh” lies in the heart of those wetlands, where Guy often brought students to learn about waterfowl and wetlands ecology, conservation, and management. Indeed, the project includes plans for an outdoor classroom, a place for future educators and outdoor enthusiasts to come see the wonders of waterfowl that Guy wrote about in the new edition of Ducks, Geese, and Swans.  I can think of no better way to memorialize Guy than with a place for birds, where the sun will rise over a duck-filled marsh on an autumn morning while people view the waterfowl that Guy revealed to us in Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America

(Editor’s note: to preview an excerpt of the this set, click here.)

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Dr. Michael (Mike) Schummer is a senior contract scientist with Long Point Waterfowl, an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, and a visiting assistant professor of Zoology at SUNY-Oswego.


Filed under Biology, Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, General Science, Life Science, ornithology

Must Bambi go?

Guest post by George A. Feldhamer

I certainly applaud Daniel Cristol’s effort to alert the public about the effects that large populations of white-tailed deer have on forest understory habitats and associated negative impacts on migratory warblers in his essay “Why Bambi Must Go,” published earlier this month in the New York Times. Most wildlife biologists and managers would agree that there are too many deer throughout much of the eastern United States; the hundreds of thousands of drivers involved each year in deer-vehicle collisions would no doubt agree as well.

However, I suspect many wildlife managers would take issue with Dr. Cristol’s contention that “to this day, wildlife managers slice intact forests into sunny woodlots that maximize the number of deer,” and his implication that forests are managed strictly for the benefit of deer. Most state or federal management today is done on a multiple use basis, which is intended to benefit the greatest variety of resources and users, to the extent that is possible.

Also problematic is Dr. Cristol’s endorsement of fencing off large sections of woodlands to exclude deer. There certainly are numerous designs for “deer-proof” fences, in great part because none of them is completely effective in keeping out deer (not to mention the constant maintenance required).  Additionally, the costs are extremely prohibitive for fencing large enough areas to benefit songbirds.

There are numerous approaches to treating the problem of too many deer and many people are working hard to find the right balance. The most cost-effective way to reduce the number of deer in an area was omitted from Dr. Cristol’s piece. Public hunting always has been, and continues to be, the best and cheapest way to reduce deer numbers. Where hunting by the public is not safe or feasible, culling by sharpshooters is usually the best option.

Making it easier for people to gain access to hunting lands and opening private land to hunters would be much more realistic and effective ways to help reduce the deer population. A smaller population of deer is a necessary prerequisite not only to enhance cover for songbirds but for the healthy forest ecosystems on which the deer depend. Unfortunately, many people have an irrational fear of and distaste for hunting, and the result is overpopulation of deer in many areas.

George A. Feldhamer is a professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University. He has authored or edited several books, including Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, Ecology and Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. His most recent book is Deer: The Animal Answer Guide.

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Filed under Animals, Current Affairs