Institute offers property ecology lessons

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal’s Virginia Working Landscapes program educates area residents about the ecosystems on their property.

Program Director Tom Akre said grasslands are the most common landscape feature appearing on private property in the area and the subject of much of program’s efforts.

“The group came together and focused on trying to understand how to best manage grasslands in the area for the benefit of wildlife diversity and environmental health,” Akre said. “They focused on grasslands because that is the landform that is primarily owned in this region – some sort of pasture or hayfield.”

Interested landowners and what the group calls citizen scientists are invited to apply to learn from SCBI researchers and students.

“We engage private landowners and most of those private landowners are not citizen scientists so we have a corps of people who are landowners who want to know more about their property and people who are volunteer citizen scientists who volunteer their time to better understand conservation,” he said. “The value of being a citizen scientist in general, (is that) people are improving their scientific literacy. They are definitely benefiting science and their understanding of conservation and the natural world.”

This is the sixth year the program has been in place and it already boasts an impressive scientific track record. Akre said that translating work from this initiative into usable scientific information is paramount.

“We’re very interested in turning our work into results that people can use to better manage their properties,” he said. “We had some interesting discoveries along the way. We discovered the rusty patch bumblbee in northern Fauquier County and the reason that was important then was that it had not been seen in the region since 2006. As of a month ago, it was the first bumblebee to be lifted from the endangered species list.”

Akre said that 80 individuals take part in the program in a typical year. Interested landowners or curious citizens can find out more about the program and apply at https://tinyurl.com/z4lapub.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com