The Julie Nicholson Community Science Award honors Julie Nicholson’s extraordinary passion and commitment to birds and wildlife conservation through her many years of tireless work as a volunteer community scientist. This lifetime achievement award is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies Julie’s dedication to the important role that community science plays in wildlife conservation. We’re proud to present the 2020 award to JoAnne Russo.
Few have contributed more to observing and recording Vermont’s moth species than JoAnne Russo. One of the region’s foremost (and self-trained) moth experts, JoAnne has helped keep the taxonomy of VCE’s Vermont Moth Atlas up to date, never failing to alert us when a new moth for the state is reported and confirmed. And, she served as our subject matter expert for VCE’s and Vermont Public Radio’s “Moth Watching” episode of Outdoor Radio. Beyond her amazing work with moths, JoAnne has an impressive list of community science contributions over the past 30+ years.
As a child growing up in Connecticut, JoAnne was fascinated with nature and liked to watch birds at her family’s feeders, using her grandmother’s opera glasses to identify all the species she could see. She also had a penchant for collecting beetles, but they weren’t allowed in the house–dead or alive! She entered college at the University of New Hampshire as a wildlife management major, but graduated with a fine arts degree. Nature inspired her artwork then, and still does today.
When JoAnne and her husband, Gerry Biron, moved to Rockingham, Vermont in 1993, JoAnne devoted fall, winter, and spring seasons to exploring the area and finding new birds. She notes, “I started entering my lists in eBird in 2006 and continue to this day.” When birding slowed during summer months, JoAnne needed to fill her time with some kind of outdoor distraction–and quickly found herself seduced by moths. “I decided to survey all the moth species that were attracted to the lights at my house. In the end, I counted almost 1,000 different species.” Since joining iNaturalist in 2012, she has recorded an astounding 1,068 moth species in Vermont and helped identify almost 26,000 entries for other iNaturalist moth observers. Joanne noted, “I am so happy that Kent McFarland has put in so much time and effort into getting our Vermont Moth Atlas off the ground.”
JoAnne remarked that after immersing herself in moths, she discovered how vital community scientists are to broaden our knowledge of insect, bird, and wildlife populations across the state. Beyond her pioneering work with moths, JoAnne teamed with Vermont Master Gardener and naturalist Alma Beals in the first year of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid survey in southeastern Vermont; she and her husband Gerry also participated in VCE’s Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas in 2012-2013. In 2019, JoAnne joined Trish Hanson (retired Vermont Forest Health Entomologist) in curating the state’s insect collection, now housed at the Vermont Agriculture & Environmental Laboratory. And last (but not least), JoAnne continues to serve as an official counter at the annual Putney Mountain Hawkwatch count. Data collected there are part of the Raptor Population Index, a database of migrating raptor population trends across North America.
Joanne Russo’s contributions to better understanding the conservation status of Vermont’s wildlife (especially moths) have been extraordinary–and for this, the staff and board of VCE are proud to present JoAnne with the 2020 Julie Nicholson Community Scientist Award.