Bridging the Gap: Ecological Data Impact on Legal Issues, Regulation, and Enforcement

Sharing the Knowledge:
The Use of Ecological Information in Rhode Island
Januray 19, 1996
Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

  • Dennis Esposito, Plenary Speaker and Moderator Attorney at Law, Adler, Pollock & Sheehan, 2300 Hospital Trust Tower, Providence, RI 02903
  • Dean Albro, Panelist, Chief, RIDEM Division of Freshwater Wetlands, 291 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
  • Frank Golet, Panelist, Professor, Dept. of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881
  • Daniel Schatz, Panelist, Attorney at Law, Decof & Grimm, Trial Attorneys, One Smith Hill, Providence, RI 02903

I. Role of the Ecologist vs. Role of the Policy Maker/Regulator
A) Collection of information
1) Facts that can be supported through scientific data difficult to attack
2) Opinions easier to attack
3) Know the difference
4) What does the end user want? Need?
B) Delivery of Facts and Opinions
1) How far should the Scientist go?
2) Policy Maker vs. Reporter
3) Communication and Delivery Techniques and Skills

II. The Role of the Data (Facts and Opinions): Limitations to Use of Facts and Opinions
A) Political
B) political
C) Legal
D) Financial
E) Economic

III. The Science of the Balancing Act
A) Sell the facts–Prevention of Harm vs. Protection of natural resources
1) Anniucelli vs. South Kingstown
2) Lucas vs. South Carolina
B) Federal Attempts to Define Wetlands–National Academy of Sciences
C) Rhode Island Attempts to regulate Wetland issues–Governor’s Commission
D) Environmental Scientific vs. Durfee–the court’s view

Advocacy, Education, Media and Information Services

Lee C. Schisler, Jr., Plenary Speaker and Moderator
Executive Director, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, 12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI 02917
Peter Carson, Panelist
Former Director, Clean Water Action, 30 Bull Street, Newport, RI 02840
David Dickerman, Panelist
Hydrologist, U. S. Geological Survey, 275 Promenade Street, Suite 150, Providence, RI 02908
Linda Green, Panelist
Program Coordinator, R. I. Watershed Watch, 210B Woodward, URI, Kingston, RI 02881
Roger Greene, Panelist
Assistant to the Director, R. I. Department of Environmental Management,
9 Hayes Street, Providence, RI 02908
Mark Kern, Panelist
Environmental Scientist, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1,
JFK Federal Building, Boston, MA 02203
Peter Lord, Panelist
Environmental Writer, Providence Journal Bulletin, 75 Fountain Street, Providence, RI 02902
Eugenia Marks, Panelist
Director for Issues & Publications, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, 12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI 02917
Paul Sams, Panelist
General Manager, R. I. Water Resources Board, 265 Melrose Street, Providence, RI 02908

Media and Information Services

This area can be one of the most effective ways to get ecological information out and have it work for you. In many cases, however, media is one of the most under utilized or poorly utilized tools for getting ecological information out to the public. A couple of successful license plate and tax check-off programs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be highlighted on how they successfully used ecological information which translated into significant money for further research and management of non-game species. Examples of ineffective use of media in disseminating ecological information will also be explored.


Education has traditionally been broken down into formal (school based) and non-formal (nature center, outdoor education centers, natural history interpretation) areas, but a common need for both disciplines is how to make the technical ecological information user-friendly for the age and ability levels being addressed. Utilization of ecological data in curriculum development will be investigated and the Society’s “Bay Animals Like it Clean and Salty” curriculum, which is currently in the final stages of development, will be highlighted.

Use of ecological data is generally the backbone of environmental advocacy work. How effectively or ineffectively it is used can make or break the ultimate outcome of an issue. An effective advocacy campaign usually utilizes many aspects of ecological information dissemination that will have been discussed in the education and media areas earlier. An issue that used ecological data in all three areas was the Big River Reservoir controversy. This will be briefly addressed in the talk and looked at in depth in the afternoon sessions.

Research, Conservation, and Management

Virginia A. Carpenter, Plenary Speaker and Moderator
Director of Science & Stewardship, The Nature Conservancy, 45 S. Angell Street, Providence, RI 02906
P. A. Buckley, Panelist
Senior Scientist, National Biological Service Cooperative Park Studies Unit, Box 8, Graduate School of Oceanography, URI Bay Campus, Narragansett, RI 02882
Joseph Dowhan, Panelist
Project Leader, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Ecosystems Program,
P. O. Box 307, Charlestown, RI 02813
Chris Raithel, Panelist
Senior Wildlife Biologist, RIDEM Division of Fish and Wildlife, Great Swamp Field Office,
P. O. Box 218, West Kingston, RI 02982

Block Island has long been a focus of attention from researchers, conservationists, and more recently, land managers. As an offshore island refuge for plant and animal species that are retreating from increasingly impacted mainland habitats, it harbors a collection of rare and/or endangered species. The discovery of populations of rarities such as the bushy rockrose, piping plover, grasshopper sparrow, American burying beetle, and regal fritillary by biologists including Irene Stuckey, Richard Bowen, Dale Schweitzer, Rick Enser, and Chris Raithel, has laid a foundation for increased conservation work on the island.

However, despite conservation efforts by a group of organizations, from the RIDEM and the Nature Conservancy, to the Audubon Society and local land trusts, several species have disappeared from Block Island. These include the piping plover, northeastern beach tiger beetle, and regal fritillary butterfly. Simply being aware of a species existence does not provide adequate information to inform land managers of how to take care of the habitats these plants and/or animals require to survive. Although it is likely that improper management caused the loss of the two beach species, the cause of the loss of the regal fritillary butterfly is less certain. It is essential that natural history and ecological information be generated in order to appropriately manage for the species in question.

Many areas of interest from a rare species standpoint have already been protected on Block Island. Much of the southwest section is now being managed for rare and declining grassland species. Agencies such as the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Nature Conservancy, and the Department of Environmental Management are attempting to set back the course of succession from field to maritime shrubland in order to preserve the last remnants of these plants, animals, and natural communities. Research is currently underway to identify the most effective means of reducing the invasion of shrubs such as bayberry and shad into the island’s grasslands. A study of migratory songbirds has generated interesting information on the energy requirements of migrating birds and the importance of food resources on islands such as Block Island. Natural community classification continues to reveal unusual and interesting plant associations. The results of these ongoing research projects should influence how various agencies manage properties on Block Island to insure the long term survival of species of concern.

Planning, Development, and Resource Use

Peter V. August , Moderator
Professor, Department of Natural Resources Science, URI, Kingston, RI 02881
Barry Devine, Panelist
Builder/developer, 30 Liberty Road, Slocum, RI 02877
Steven Henry, Panelist
Associate, Garofalo and Associates, 110 Westminster, Providence, RI 02903
Jonathan Stevens , Panelist
Director, Planning Department, City of Warwick, 3725 Post Rd., City Hall Annex, Warwick, RI 02886

The purpose of this panel is to identify key ecological datasets used by the development and planning community and assess their quality, availability, and utility. There are a number of categories of environmental data relevant to planning and development. Spatial data occur on maps or in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They exist as points (e.g., wells), lines (e.g., streams), areas (e.g., wetlands), or grid cells (also known as pixels; e.g., digital imagery, breeding bird survey quadrats). Spatial data consist of location information (where it is) and attribute information (what it is). Tabular data contain text or numbers that are not geographically referenced. For example, the Soil Survey of Rhode Island contains invaluable descriptive information for each of the 112 soils types for the state. These data include suitability for farming, development constraints, drainage properties, corrosivity, etc. The quality of spatial and tabular data must be assessed with reference to age, positional accuracy, resolution, attribute accuracy, and availability.

Each of the three panelists will describe what environmental data they deem “mission critical” for their work. They will review why these data are essential and provide a frank assessment of the utility of existing data to meet their planning and development needs. The ultimate goal of the session is to identify where the informational gaps are in Rhode Island’s environmental database.

Abstracts to Poster Session

Using GPS/GIS Technology to Locate Eelgrass in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

Susan C. Adamowicz, Lynn Carlson, Helen Cottrell
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
291 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
Christopher Powell
RIDEM Division of Fish and Wildlife, Great Swamp Field Office
P. O. Box 218, West Kingston, RI 02892

Eelgrass beds are a vital underwater habitat in Narragansett Bay and other estuaries. They provide shelter and nourishment for many species including juvenile finfish, shellfish and waterfowl. Eelgrass beds are also indicators of bay health because they require low nutrient levels and high water clarity for survival. The Department of Environmental Management’s Narragansett Bay Project, along with the University of Rhode Island and Save The Bay, is undertaking several efforts to protect and restore this important marine resource. Locating existing beds is an obvious first step in assessing the species’ overall health in Narragansett Bay. Unfortunately, there are no maps of existing beds and historic records are patchy or based primarily on anecdotal information. While it is desirable to obtain special aerial photography that shows eelgrass locations around the entire bay, this is a very expensive process and funding was then not available. Additionally, there was an immediate need for maps of certain relatively small areas. During the summer of 1995 DEM undertook a demonstration project to map eelgrass beds around Rose and Goat Islands in Newport, Rhode Island. With the advent of Global Positioning System technology, we thought it might be possible to efficiently create highly accurate maps of eelgrass beds. This poster presents the successes and drawbacks of methods used in the demonstration project.

A GIS-based Evaluation System for Freshwater Wetland Habitats

Frank Golet, Peter August, Jeffrey Barrette, and Carol Baker
Department of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

The objectives of this study are to (1) create a GIS-based method for assessing the relative capability of individual wetlands to support a diversity and abundance of wildlife, and (2) to apply the method to the wetlands of the Pawcatuck River watershed in southwestern Rhode Island. The wetland database used in our analysis includes all nontidal freshwater wetlands and deepwater habitats 0.1 ha and larger; ten habitat classes are represented. Our habitat evaluation method assesses both the internal characteristics of a wetland unit (i.e., content attributes) and its context, or setting, in the landscape (i.e., context attributes). Content attributes include wetland size, wetland class diversity, wetland class rarity, and wetland class edge complexity. Context attributes include hydrologic setting (the degree of association with lakes or major rivers), surrounding upland habitat, wetland juxtaposition (proximity to other wetlands and deepwater habitats), and contribution to local wetland diversity and abundance. This evaluation method and data for the Pawcatuck River watershed will be incorporated into an ArcView-based visualization and query system for use by regulatory officials in the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The ultimate goal of this research is to characterize all freshwater wetlands in Rhode Island according to these criteria.

Non-Energy Resources, Rhode Island Coastal Waters

Nasir Hamidzada, Nancy Neff, and J. Allan Cain
Department of Geology, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

Operating through the Office of State Geologist, researchers at the University of Rhode Island have recently completed an assessment of the occurrence, extent, and accessibility of non-energy mineral resources in Rhode Island coastal waters. Data were collected over a period of ten years in areas of least user conflict in Block Island and Rhode Island Sounds and, to a limited degree, in Narragansett Bay. Seismic reflection profiles, side scan sonographs, vibra-cores, and surficial sediment samples were obtained. Seismic stratigraphic and surficial textural interpretations were made from the seismic and sonar data. Lithologic, mineralogic, and textural analyses were performed on core and sediment samples.Results indicate that the sand and gravel comprising the Pleistocene glacial till, moraine, and outwash deposits of the Rhode Island offshore area are potential sources of construction aggregate. Selected areas, most accessible for exploitation, have been mapped. Volumetric estimates range from 20 million cubic meters to over 2 billion cubic meters. In addition to the economic significance of these aggregate deposits, these data can be utilized by coastal zone managers to address issues related to beach nourishment, dredge disposal, fisheries, and multiple use conflicts.

Toxic and Harmful Phytoplankton in Narragansett Bay and Vicinity

Paul E. Hargraves
Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882
Lucie Maranda
Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

Aquaculture, or marine farming, is a technology which has yet to reach its economic potential in Rhode Island. In other areas of the United States and the world, marine farming produces significant amounts of food, income, and employment opportunity. One of the main problems of marine farming is the potential for catastrophic losses of product due to red tides, or harmful algal blooms (HAB’s). Narragansett Bay and adjacent areas harbor a rich biodiversity of phytoplankton species numbering at least in the hundreds. Some of these species, in a variety of taxonomic groups, are definitely or potentially toxic. Our inventory, certainly an underestimate, lists nine species known to produce toxins which affect humans or marine life, ten species which potentially produce toxin, and five species which are inimical to marine life by other means. Although harmful algal blooms are historically rare in Narragansett Bay, and human toxicity has yet to be proven, there is a potential for such events which will increase as marine farming develops locally.

Hantavirus in Rhode Island: An Evaluation of Small Mammal Populations

Thomas P. Husband
Department of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881
Matthew C. Nicholson, Thomas N. Mather, and Peter A. Dunlevy
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

We trapped small mammals in Rhode Island as part of a state-wide survey of Hantavirus prevalence. An initial survey was conducted at 36 sites to detect presence of the virus. An intensive survey at nine of these sites was conducted to better assess the ecology of the virus and its zoonotic hosts. In the intensive study, we also compared Sherman and Longworth traps for effectiveness. Here, four 25-trap grids were used, two on forest edge and two ca. 100m interior. Over 10,700 trap nights at 36 sites yielded 1,073 small mammals. Peromyscus leucopus represented 85% of all captures, followed by Clethrionomys gapperi (8%), Blarina brevicauda (5%), Tamias striatus (2%), Microtus pennsylvanicus (< 1%). Of the 923 small mammals tested, only P. leucopus were positive (6%) for Hantavirus. We did not detect a significant relationship between relative density of P. leucopus and Hantavirus prevalence at a site. However, ca. three times more males (8%) were positive for the virus than females (3%). Additionally, a higher percentage of positive P. leucopus were found in interior grids (9%) than in edge grids (4%). We had significantly higher success with Longworth traps (5.7 per trap night) in grids compared to Sherman traps (3.4 per trap night). Our results suggest that P. leucopus is the primary reservoir of Hantavirus in Rhode Island. The observed spatial and gender-based trends in Hantavirus prevalence may reflect idiosyncrasies in mouse ecology and perhaps are factors limiting human infection.

Marine Mammals in Rhode Island

Robert D. Kenney
Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882
Robert Nawojchik
Mystic Marinelife Aquarium, 55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, CT 06355

At least 24 species of marine mammals, from three orders and eight families, were recorded over the last 20 years from strandings on Rhode Island shores and/or sightings from Narragansett Bay, Block Island Sound, or farther offshore. The most commonly stranded, and the most familiar, species is the harbor seal, with sightings and strandings of all four seal species increasing in recent years. The most commonly stranded cetaceans (four or more records each) are long-finned pilot whales, minke whales, harbor porpoises, common dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins. Of these, only minke whales and harbor porpoises are commonly sighted relatively near shore, while the others are more common on the outer shelf. Other species which are frequently sighted, but rare or absent in stranding records, are fin whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Perhaps the most unusual species are True’s and Blainville’s beaked whales, poorly known deep-ocean inhabitants stranded once each; northern right whale, the world’s rarest whale, with a sighting of a mother and calf by whale-watchers in 1994 and a stranding of a juvenile in Middletown in July 1995; and manatee, with one animal reaching Point Judith in August 1995.

Fish Biota of the Blackstone River at Four Stations in the Vicinity of Woonsocket, Rhode Island

Grace Klein-MacPhee and Aimee A. Keller
U.R.I. Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett Bay Campus, Narragansett, RI 02882-1197
Henry Rines
Applied Science Associates Inc., 70 Dean Knauss Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882

We are conducting a fish survey at four stations along the Blackstone River to monitor fish populations above and below the intake structure of a cogeneration plant operated by Ocean State Power. Non destructive sampling was conducted on 6 dates by seining, and electrofishing. We have completed 2 years of sampling. Thus far we have collected 13 species in 1994 and 13 in 1995 with a total of 16 different species. The finfish population is typical of sluggish, low-gradient regions of rivers. There is some variation between years. In 1994 the most abundant species were white suckers, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish; in 1995 the most abundant species were bluegill sunfish, common shiners, and white suckers. Species composition and diversity varies above and below the Thundermist dam, being lower above than below indicative of degraded habitat. Compared to a survey done in 1987, there appears to be a greater number of species present in 1994-95 (16 vs. 11) , and a change in relative abundance perhaps indicating an improvement in water quality. Continued monitoring should reveal which factors are important in controlling the observed variation.

Multimedia Tools for Teaching Ecology

Gaytha A. Langlois and Jerome Montvilo
Department of Science & Technology, Bryant College, 1150 Douglas Pike, Smithfield, RI 02917

A perennial challenge facing ecologists attempting to convey to students the realism of a habitat or ecosystem is to illustrate concepts, data, and numerical analysis in an interesting format that captures the dynamics of the actual system without de-emphasizing the scientific investigation that underlies the formation of theories and overviews. Difficulties include the choice of format for displaying organisms and their behaviors and the creation of graphic illustrations that depict reality. Further complications include the level of complexity implicit in most ecosystems, as well as the link between ecosystem perturbation and public policy. Based on studies of microbial ecology in estuarine and fresh water ecosystems in Rhode Island, a multimedia presentation has been prepared, using a Macintosh authoring station and interactive video, to show the possibilities for linking direct observations of protistans and invertebrates in their natural environment with conceptual models for trophic and behavioral interactions thought to be operating. These media tools also permit the educator to incorporate discussion of public policy implications for protection or effective management of estuarine or aquatic ecosystems, thus providing an excellent teaching technique, applicable in many learning environments.

A Grassroots-Community Based Method to Identify Tidal Marshes for Potential Restoration

Andrew A. Lipsky and Nicole Cromwell
Save the Bay, 434 Smith Street, Providence, RI 02908

Much of Narragansett Bay’s saltmarshes have been degraded by filling, road and culvert construction, and pollution leading to severely impaired and altered coastal wetlands. Save The Bay’s Habitat Protection and Restoration Program is developing a Tidal Marsh Restoration Assessment workshop for the Spring of 1996. The project is designed to comprehensively evaluate the current state of our estuary’s tidal marshes and provide both a quantitative and qualitative cost-effective tool for assessing the functional health of both tidal and formally tidal coastal marshes. The method employs techniques modified from a similar approach taken by NH Audubon Society’s Coastal Method. The evaluation process is designed to be used by local citizen groups, municipalities, and concerned individuals. A large number of potential funding sources that can be utilized by local communities to conduct restoration do exist but are relatively untapped sources. By linking coastal community groups and citizens together in a unified accepted approach for identifying areas for potential restoration there is greater leverage for action and funding.

Ecological Data Used for Curriculum Kit

Eugenia Marks and Ellen Forman
Audubon Society of Rhode Island, 12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI 02917

Audubon Society has developed a curriculum and integral kit about the impacts of pollution to organisms in Narragansett Bay for 7th & 8th grade science classes. The kit’s activities, simulating actual experiments, are derived from studies performed for the National Estuarine Program’s Narragansett Bay Project and from other field studies. The authors, the curriculum’s manager and marine scientist, respectively, will display some of the actual data, published in journals or provided by scientists at URI’s School of Oceanography or the National Marine Fisheries Lab, and the curriculum and kit materials that were derived from the ecological information. The curriculum was written by Sandi Ryack-Bell, M.A., environmental education; researched by Ellen Forman, A.B.D., marine biology. The concept and implementation are due to Eugenia Marks, M. A., environmental studies. School budgets often prohibit field experience, a critical element as students abstract concepts from concrete knowledge. To overcome the financial obstacle, we have attempted to simulate a field experience with videos, slide programs, and 15 activities in which students collect and analyze data based on actual experiments. For example, we attached carpet thread in data-appropriate numbers to mussel shells to show the impact of exposure to various metals on byssal thread production.

Moths of Rhode Island Bogs and Barrens

Mark J. Mello
Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies, P. O. Box 87037, South Dartmouth, MA 02748

In order to assess the occurrence of rare species of moths in Rhode Island, two of the most likely habitats to house rare species were surveyed from April through October, 1995: acid bogs/fens and pine barrens. The former was supported by the R. I. Natural Heritage Program through a grant from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the latter, through support of the Rhode Island Office of The Nature Conservancy. Although identification and analysis is still in progress, over three hundred species were identified, including at least a dozen of special concern, including possibly a first record for the state of the pitcher plant borer, Papaipema appassionata. Sites surveyed included Great Swamp, Diamond Bog, Grass Pond, Arcadia Wildlife Management Area, and Pawcatuck River.

Predicting Plant Diversity with a Geographic Information System:
The Influence of Abiotic Heterogeneity, Anthrogenic Disturbance, and Site Size

William Nichols and Keith Killingbeck
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881
Peter V. August
Department of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

Indices of abiotic diversity calculated as spatial variation in slope, aspect, and soil drainage class from extant databases in a Geographical Information System (GIS) were used as predictors of biotic diversity in 26 Audubon refuges in Rhode Island. After removing the influence of refuge size on biotic diversity, vascular plant species diversity was found to be highly related to geomorphological diversity. For example, diversity in soil drainage class alone accounted for more than 50% of the variance in plant species diversity among refuges (R2 = 0.55, P 0.001). Geomorphological diversity indices based on the combination of slope, aspect, and soil drainage class data were not as effective at predicting overall plant diversity as drainage class alone, but were more effective at predicting biotic variables such as diversity of tree species and diversity of native woody species. Disturbance, estimated as the percentage of species in each refuge that were introduced aliens, had significant influences on both plant species diversity and the degree to which biotic and abiotic diversity were linked. The ability to efficiently predict plant species diversity from GIS-derived geomorphological diversity indices will facilitate the rapid identification of sites with unusually high biodiversity.

History of New Bedford Harbor: Ecological Consequences of Urbanization and Implications for Remediation

R. A. Voyer, C. Pesch, W. Nelson, and J. Garber
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Ecological Effects Laboratory,
Atlantic Ecology Division, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882
J. Copeland and R. Comeleo
R.O.W Associates, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882

Analysis of historical data represents a significant adjunct to scientific examination of polluted sites. It offers insight into causes and interrelationships between ecology and urban pollution and provides a valuable context for design of remediation activities. New Bedford, Massachusetts, located on the Acushnet River and Buzzard’s Bay, has undergone four developmental phases since European settlement in ~1650: agricultural, whaling, textile, post-textile. Changes in coastline morphology and loss of habitat accompanied wharf building during the whaling period (1750-1870). Wetlands were filled and used as building sites during textile development (1850-1940). Also, during this latter time period, population expanded six-fold, resulting in increased raw sewage discharges to the estuary. Shellfish beds were closed in 1904 due to outbreaks of typhoid fever, and remain closed. In the post-textile phase (1940-present) a hurricane barrier constructed to protect the fishing fleet and city altered estuarine hydrology. PCB contamination of the harbor has further limited fishing and restricts harbor revitalization.