In the two-and-a-half years since the first Long Island Natural History Conference was held in the fall of 2012, interest in the natural world appears to have taken deep root among Long Islanders, and the conference organizers are expecting record attendance at their third annual conference this weekend.
This year’s conference will take place Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21 at Brookhaven National Laboratory, with a third day of field trips and classes scheduled for Sunday, March 22.
Naturalists will present topics ranging from the influence of white-tailed deer on forest vegetation to coyotes, comb jellies, lichens, nitrogen loading in the bays and issues caused by human encroachment on the natural environment.
In total, 16 naturalists will give presentations and 30 local sponsoring organizations will be manning booths with information for attendees. A full list of programs is online here.
The conference is organized by a group called the Long Island Nature Organization, founded in 2012 by East End naturalist Mike Bottini, writer and publisher James Monaco and teacher John Turner, who hope to build a web-based clearinghouse of information on Long Island’s natural environment.
“People don’t know what they don’t see, and the more you look, the more you see,” said Mr. Monaco this week. “There are people waking up —we’re ahead of registration for last year’s conference, and we still have a few days left.”
This weekend’s sessions are an attempt to wake people up to the world all around them.
“We have comb jellies all over the place and most people have no idea what they are,” said Mr. Monaco. “The biggest story is the coyote in Bridgehampton. Coyotes are exciting because they are a top predator and they can help rebalance novel ecosystems [ecosystems created by humans].
The deer population is another important issue.
“We couldn’t care less about your fancy garden or even traffic hazards, the problem with deer is they’ve destroyed the understory,” he said. “So many, many other animals have suffered at the expense of deer. You need to restore the predators or take responsibility for it yourself.”
Mr. Monaco added that South Fork naturalist Larry Penny has been studying the decline in populations of ground-nesdting birds like bobwhites and whippoorwills.
“The deer destroy their habitat,” he said.
There wll also be a presentation about bald eagles returning to Long Island and one by Eric Salzman, who will discuss breeding birds on Long Island.
“He’s a very famous birder. Whatever he has to say is worth listening to,” said Mr. Monaco.
LINO is also planning an ambitious series of publications. The first one will be Clarence Hickey’s memoir of the 1970s, “On the East End: The Last, Best Times of a Long Island Fishing Community,” which will debut at the conference. The book provides a portrait of the vibrant fishing industry that existed on Long Island until 35 years ago.
Mr. Monaco said this week that LINO also plans to become involved in the science of phenology — the study of natural rhythms.
“It’s a study of when the ospreys return, how many river otters are sighted, when things happen and where things happen,” he said. “It all involves citizen science, which has exploded with the growth of the internet. It’s like what Cornell does with birds — they have tens of thousands of birders out there providing information about migrations, eruptions and all kinds of stuff. Scientists could never have collected that kind of data before.”
The conference, which had previously been in the fall, was moved to the spring and now includes one weekday of sessions, in an effort to engage more teachers, some of whom have the day off from classes.
“In the past, more than 50 percent of the people who attended were professionals in environmental fields,” said Mr. Monaco. “There’s been a real groundswell of interest in the outdoors and natural history. We were really gratified to see what happened with first two conferences. Attendance at the second was double the first, with very little publicity.”
You can register for the conference online here.