While it’s true that all VCE biologists go above and beyond the call of duty to conserve wildlife, the spotlight recently shined on one of our biologists in particular. We are proud to announce that Eric Hanson, VCE’s loon biologist since 1998 and the guiding force behind recovery of Vermont’s formerly endangered common loon, was presented the 2019 Green Mountain Power (GMP) Zetterstrom Environmental Award on April 23rd. The award ceremony took place at Lake Iroquois in Williston, one of Vermont’s most recently established loon nesting waterbodies.
One of the state’s top environmental awards, The GMP-Zetterstrom Award honors Meeri Zetterstrom, a Milton, Vermont resident who inspired recovery efforts that led to the removal of the osprey from Vermont’s endangered species list. “Eric’s remarkable dedication, leadership and engagement of Vermonters is inspiring in the same way as Meeri Zetterstrom,” said GMP Vice President Steve Costello. “When a Vermonter hears the haunting and distinct call of a loon, we have Eric to thank for his restoration work and leadership.”
Eric has led the Vermont Loon Conservation Project, including the annual state-wide LoonWatch event, for 21 years. During this time, he has worked to educate people about loons and their nesting needs, protected nest sites, assisted injured and sick loons, and ultimately built a sustainable breeding population of nearly 100 pairs. Eric will be the first to tell you that the project’s success wouldn’t be possible without help from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, hydroelectric dam operators like Green Mountain Power, anglers, lake associations, game wardens, the Nature Conservancy, Vermont Institute of Natural Science, individual property owners, wildlife veterinarians, and hundreds of volunteers.
In fact, Eric spends every bit as much time coordinating volunteers and communicating with the public as he does observing or managing loons. “Without question, a major reason for the successful comeback of loons in Vermont is that boaters and lakeshore owners have been made aware of what loons need, and they’re eager to help,” Hanson said. “I have over 1,400 people on my contact list, including individual volunteers, lake associations, state parks, game wardens, and other groups. These people share their love of loons with thousands more than I could possibly reach myself.”
Even though Eric’s volunteer “army” is comprised of hundreds of people, he knows them all and involves each in the real work of conservation—such as monitoring lakes and individual loons, lending a hand on adventurous loon rescues, or the less adventurous (but equally important) task of building and deploying nesting rafts across the state. Many volunteers enjoy recapping stories of helping with daring night-time or iced-in loon rescues; others are fiercely protective of “their” loons and keep Eric apprised of issues and situations as they arise.
The GMP-Zetterstrom Environmental Award is a fitting acknowledgment of Eric’s leadership and deep commitment to conserving Vermont’s loons. The award is given annually to one person, business, group or nonprofit that has made a significant contribution to Vermont’s environment. And it’s accompanied by a $2,500 donation to the winner’s environmental cause. Past Zetterstrom Award recipients include Sally Laughlin, a pioneering conservationist whose work was instrumental in early efforts to restore loons and other endangered birds (and who sits on VCE’s Advisory Council); Michael Smith, founder of Rutland’s Pine Hill Park; Margaret Fowle, who led Vermont’s peregrine falcon restoration program; the Lake Champlain Committee, which works to protect and improve Lake Champlain; Kelly Stettner, founder of the Black River Action Team; Roy Pilcher, founder of the Rutland County Chapter of Audubon (and a VCE Julie Nicholson Citizen Science Award winner); Lake Champlain International, which works to protect Lake Champlain and its communities; Marty Illick of the Lewis Creek Association; and Steve Parren, a state wildlife biologist.
It is no understatement that Eric has accomplished more for conservation of Vermont’s environment, focusing on the common loon, than any of us will ever truly realize. The results speak for themselves: Vermont’s loons are back and thriving. Congratulations, Eric!