For this installment of the SSAR leadership profiles, Student Participation Committee member Allison Bogisich interviewed Dr. Nicole Angeli, a current co-chair of the Conservation Committee.
The SSAR explicitly includes conservation as part of our mission. The Conservation Committee plays a key role in bringing conservation issues that affect reptiles and amphibians to the attention of state and federal government agencies, non-government organizations, and herpetologists worldwide.
The Conservation Committee’s primary responsibility involves responding to requests for technical guidance on conservation efforts. These requests come from individuals within the society and the general public who require advice or support related to a conservation issue. The committee draws on the breadth of knowledge and experience of its members to respond with proper guidance or support as to how a conservation project could best be accomplished. Additionally, the committee may write letters of support endorsed by the society and its president for conservation organizations and groups that are looking to garner more clout.
The Conservation Committee is currently in transition, as committee members have been spearheading efforts to form a joint conservation committee among SSAR, the Herpetologists’ League (HL), and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH). Dr. Angeli is pushing to create the joint conservation committee between societies with the hope of thereby making herpetological conservation recommendations more powerful, as they would be coming from one authoritative entity (rather than several). The idea of joining forces had been casually discussed for the past 10 years within SSAR at annual meetings, but no real actions had been taken until recently. The committee is drafting a report of progress made since the 2018 meeting to be presented for consideration at the 2019 annual meeting.
Activities throughout the year, including at the annual meeting
The SSAR Conservation Committee has worked on several big initiatives over the years. For example, after the international emergence of a fungal pathogen affecting salamanders and newts (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or Bsal), Dr. Joe Mendelson and Dr. Karen Lips, in coordination with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), got the SSAR Conservation Committee involved. Committee members provided a review of the most current epidemiological research and shared their research including new and emerging work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) International Affairs Program. They also participated in what is now the Bsal Task Force. Consequently, the USFWS created a new rule under the Lacey Act (which bans trafficking of illegal wildlife) to help limit the moving of salamanders both into and around the US. The committee has posted a fact sheet on the SSAR website to help members navigate the new laws. As of now, this potentially lethal pathogen has not been detected in North America, largely thanks to the quick response on the part of conservation organizations and lawmakers. However, the risk remains high, as any future outbreak could severely impact 67 native species of salamanders.
Each member of the conservation committee brings different areas of expertise to the group, representing a wide spectrum of knowledge on conservation threats to amphibians and reptiles. For example, Ed Kabay, who serves as co-chair along with Nicole Angeli, is an environmental regulatory specialist at Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) LLC. RES specializes in ecological restoration and water resource solutions. Kabay supports clients in maintaining the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act compliance. He provides technical expertise on projects that may affect populations of federally or state listed reptiles and amphibians. Working on the applied side of conservation gives Kabay insight into the effect of the policies and actions advocated by SSAR. Kabay also has prior experience as a zookeeper, field technician, and science teacher. Some examples of research conducted by current members include investigating the impacts of fungal pathogens like chytrid, environmental pollutants, invasive species, captive breeding programs, and habitat loss. Several committee members also serve on specialist groups for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), while other members are wildlife biologists employed by either the Department of Natural Resources or the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Chairing the committee primarily involves email work, including responding to guidance requests, communicating with other committee members, and more recently with other societies’ conservation committees to form the potential joint committee. It also involves reading numerous documents associated with technical guidance requests and cost estimates. As April approaches, preparation for the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH) ramps up within the committee, resulting in many phone calls and round-robins of emails to get the annual review and agenda for the meeting in order. The Conservation Committee meets at JMIH to decide on any new issues or initiatives for the upcoming year. The committee chairs also attend the Board of Directors’ Meeting to discuss their annual report. At that time, they also give approved drafts of conservation initiatives to the SSAR president for approval.
Interactions with other SSAR committees and leaders
The committee works directly with the SSAR president since technical support responses or letters of support need to be signed and approved. Dr. Angeli has also been working closely with leaders of conservation committees from other herpetological societies to determine the logistics of a joint conservation committee.
Path to joining the Conservation Committee
Current co-chairs Nicole Angeli and Ed Kabay both took on the role shortly after JMIH 2018 at the invitation of the previous chairs, Betsie Rothermel and Joe Mendelson. The committee especially wanted conservation biologists with technical skills related to herpetology, qualities that Angeli possessed. Both Angeli and Kabay had extensive experience volunteering within SSAR. Prior to serving on the Conservation Committee, Angeli had served on the SSAR website oversight committee and had been an SSAR member since 2009. Separate from her activities on the Conservation Committee, Angeli has also done SSAR website blogging for the #HerpetologyHighlights series and is an administrator for the Facebook page. She also had highly relevant experience serving on the Caribbean Steering Committee for PARC and as co-chair, organized the 2017 and 2019 conference in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Additionally, she is the Acting Director and Chief of Wildlife for the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Division of Fish and Wildlife. She says the work experience she’s accrued in that position has been invaluable for responding to technical guidance questions. Kabay was an active member of the NC Herpetological society.
SSAR members tend to get tapped for the conservation committee (and committees in general) if they do one or more of the following activities: (1) publish conservation-related research, (2) mentor many students, and (3) become actively involved in the society as a whole. Angeli noted, “The more that you are involved, the more likely it is that you will be asked to serve. Because the committee is volunteer-run, the best way to be selected for leadership in the future is to start volunteering today!” She recommends deciding what aspects of SSAR interests you the most, and then reaching out to the relevant leader to ask how you might be able to volunteer (e.g. website support, creating or designing materials, attending meetings, etc.) and to apply for any scholarships which help you to both showcase your work and receive feedback at annual meetings. Angeli encourages members and non-members alike not to hesitate to contact committee leaders, as reaching out to SSAR committees is a primary way of determining interest in respective programs and gauging to what capacity a committee is supporting society members and the general public.
While the majority of the Conservation Committee’s positions go to those with PhDs or extensive fieldwork backgrounds, it doesn’t mean students can’t get involved. The committee is always interested in having one to two graduate student members working directly on the committee. Right now, they’d like a volunteer to help with the online advertisement of the types of support and guidance that the committee can provide to champion conservation causes.
Future of the committee
In addition to establishing the joint conservation committee and securing promotion for the committee, Dr. Angeli hopes to help see the creation of a new award within the next couple years in order to honor the conservation efforts of SSAR members. The committee is also potentially interested in developing a program to establish SSAR-sponsored certification or accreditation for herpetologists who would serve as education consultants to the public. Such a program would expand the reach of the committee to provide expert advice and factual knowledge about problems confronting amphibian and reptile populations.
If you are interested in volunteering on the committee in any capacity or if you would like to request assistance from the committee please contact Nicole Angeli (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ed Kabay (email@example.com) directly.