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The Faces of Audubon in the Field

Once each week, Audubon’s six-person conservation staff gets together for a work day at one of the refuges. Sometimes trail maintenance is on the agenda, or clearing trees damaged in a storm, or preparing refuge buildings for winter, or even grading a gravel parking lot. During the rest of the week, their responsibilities are even more varied. 

Visitors who view the conservation staff as the face of Audubon should not be surprised to find them mowing grass, repairing kiosks, building boardwalks or doing innumerable other tasks that some may not consider conservation work. But while they are happy to answer questions, identify plants and do whatever else may be necessary to help visitors enjoy their experience on the property, there is always more to do. 

“Conservation work isn’t always glamorous; it’s not like the traditional park ranger,” said Scott Ruhren, Audubon’s senior director of conservation. “One of the things that makes us especially complex is that we own a lot of buildings, which require upgrades, repairs and sometimes landlord-type duties.” 


Pollinator Garden prep

Mike Cavaliere is the resident caretaker at Eppley in West Kingston, for instance, but he is a jack-of-all-trades and can be found doing repairs of one sort or another at any of Audubon’s refuges. Laura Carberry is the resident refuge manager at Fisherville Brook in Exeter and an expert birder, so she leads the Wednesday Morning Bird Walk somewhere around the state, teaches birding classes, and conducts bird surveys at a wide variety of Audubon properties. 

Ruhren said that the entire conservation staff floats from property to property, depending on what needs to be done. They lead public events at their designated properties, and they all pitch in at major Audubon events, from Raptor Weekend to Party for the Peregrines. Some, like Kim Calcagno, the refuge manager at the Fort and Powder Mill Ledges refuges, often lead scout programs or bring animals to church groups or nursing homes for nature presentations. 

“I’m really impressed with the varied skills that the staff has,” Ruhren said. “And they’ve developed some unexpected skills as well.” 

While Joe Metzen’s primary role is facility maintenance at the Maxwell Mays refuge in Coventry, he has taken it upon himself to learn mushroom identification, making him Audubon’s number one fungi guy. And although Cavaliere mostly manages properties and equipment, his passion is reptiles and amphibians, which led him to launch a study of vernal pools on Audubon properties. 

“We encourage them to develop their passions, which provides motivation and ensures they’re not always doing the same thing every day,” Ruhren said. “It’s not expected of them, but we encourage it.”

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