• VCE Announces Recipients of 2020 Community Science Awards

    HARTFORD, VT – The Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) is pleased to announce the recipients of two annual awards that honor volunteer community scientists for their commitment to conserving Vermont’s wildlife.

    JoAnne Russo, moth enthusiast and community scientist extraordinaire. © Gerry Biron

    JoAnne Russo of Saxtons River, VT is the recipient of VCE’s 2020 Julie Nicholson Community Science Award. Now in its 12th year, the award honors the memory of former Woodstock resident, Julie Nicholson, and her many years of tireless work as a volunteer community scientist. VCE presents this lifetime achievement award annually to an individual who exemplifies Julie’s dedication to the important role that community science plays in wildlife conservation.

    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. Beyond her amazing work with moths, JoAnne has an impressive list of community science contributions over the past 30+ years. She has volunteered her time and expertise for the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid survey in southeastern Vermont, for VCE’s Vermont Bumble Bee Atlas, and she helped curate 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.

    Jason Crooks mountain birdwatching. ©Sage Luksevish

    Jason Crooks of Westford, VT is the recipient of VCE’s 2020 Community Scientist of the Year Award. VCE created this annual award to further recognize the accomplishments and dedication of volunteers who contribute to their science and conservation work. The inaugural 2020 award was presented to Jason for his unwavering commitment to carrying out his Mountain Birdwatch routes in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Mountain Birdwatch (MBW) community scientists typically contribute more than 30 continuous hours of their time each June to this long-term project. MBW bird surveys take place on mountaintops throughout northern New England and New York, and start before dawn–so observers customarily hike up to their designated data-collecting areas the evening before and camp overnight. However, in 2020 COVID-19 threw a wrench into the program; in June, many trails (e.g., the Long and Appalachian Trails) and management units (e.g., Mansfield State Forest) were still closed to overnight camping.

    MBW participation fell to its lowest level ever—yet one observer still managed to safely and compliantly survey his three routes: Jason Crooks. VCE biologist and MBW program director Jason Hill stated, “If you didn’t encounter him during your day hike this past June, you’d be forgiven—you’d have needed infrared goggles and a much earlier start to see Jason Crooks hiking up a couple of his routes at 3 a.m. Four hours later, Jason was on his way back down, before most hikers had even hit the trail.” This dedication is far from new for Jason Crooks. He also conducts annual surveys for VCE’s Forest Bird Monitoring Program, and he monitors a falcon nest up on Mt. Mansfield’s Nebraska Notch as part of Audubon Vermont’s Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.

    The Vermont Center for Ecostudies advances the conservation of wildlife across the Americas through research, monitoring, and community engagement. Learn more at vtecostudies.org.