New Conservancy Grants Fund Otter Research, Naturalist Work, Student Program and Native Trees

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River Otter USFWS Chris Paul

The FI Conservancy Board voted March 9 to fund work under four new grants. The first grant will fund planting of native trees in the FI Cemeteries. Another grant will support Justine Kibbe in her work as our island naturalist for another six months. The board also approved a second proposal by Justine and the FI Community Center to work with two FI high school students on stewardship and monitoring of our island’s natural environment. The fourth grant funded a survey of river otters on Fishers Island, which included FI School 9th graders and members of the Island community.

Read more about the grants:

Native Trees – Fishers Island Cemetery Committee – The Cemetery Committee asked for support of their hurricane recovery effort, which involves clean-up, removal, and replacement of damaged and dying trees on the three island cemeteries. The board approved funding for replacement trees, which will be native trees chosen from a list generated in consultation with Penny Sharp and Edward Richardson, President of the Connecticut Botanical Society.

Justine Kibbe, Island Naturalist – Justine has successfully completed her first six months of for the Conservancy. Justine monitored a wide range of sites, collecting data, documenting and reporting on her findings with notes and photographs. She has also authored Field Notes on the Conservancy’s website, in an effort to engage our membership with the state of the island’s natural communities. The board approved Justine’s work for another six month cycle, beginning April 2013.

Island Sentinels – Justine Kibbe – The Conservancy board voted to approve a pilot environmental stewardship program for Island high school students, being developed by Justine Kibbe with support from Island Community Center Director, Elizabeth Reid. Justine will start the program with two students, chosen in collaboration with the FI School. Justine will train the students, the “Island Sentinels”, in late June. During the months of July and August, Justine will work with the students each week to conduct an environmental survey of the island by monitoring key sites. She will then work with the students to help them present their data and findings to the community. The hope is that the data will also provide the basis for further student work during the school year, and, if successful, that the program may expand to the full year.

Mike Bottini/Group for the East End – Shortly following board approval of their proposal, Mike Bottini and a team of three other wildlife biologists visited Fishers and conducted a successful survey, determining the presence of established river otter territories on Fishers Island. They surveyed 40-50 sites on the island by foot and kayak and found otter sign at 20, including an otter den (pictured below)! The research team presented to the Senior Lunch and gained critical information from island residents Steve Malinowski, Lou Horn and Ken Edwards, Bob Evans and Pierce Rafferty. They were accompanied and assisted by FI school 9th graders in some of their survey work. Mike Bottini will return to the Island in July to provide educational programming to FI residents regarding the research and the broader implications for wildlife on Fishers Island.

The team was fascinated by Fishers’ natural environment, including our coyote population. The researchers were thrilled to make their first osprey sighting in 2013, and to see a great-horned owl feeding its chicks on an osprey nest at the east end. To quote team lead, Mike Bottini: “Fishers Island is an amazing place, both the landscape and the folks living there. Although geologically so similar to eastern Long Island, in some ways it is very different. You have some of the largest swamp azaleas I have ever seen, and stands of yellow birch in some of your forests – a species that we don’t have on eastern Long Island. We have some fairly deep and dramatic kettleholes here, but I have never seen anything as striking as the clay pit kettleholes near Isabella Beach…”


Photo by USFWS Chris Paul.