What to do at the Museum: Meet the Museum’s New Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator

January 2020

Meet Jack Schneider, the Henry L. Ferguson Museum’s New Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator

In February 2019, the H.L. Ferguson Museum added a new position to its team: a land trust stewardship coordinator to oversee the preservation and maintenance of the Trust’s 340-plus acres of undeveloped property and its extensive trail system. To fill this role, Jack Schneider has joined the Museum’s staff in a part-time, year-round position.

A resident of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Schneider recently served as a volunteer for the Aspetuck Land Trust and the New England Wildflower Society. He has an extensive background in aquarium management as he served as the curator of fish and invertebrates at the Mystic Aquarium from 2013 to 2015. Prior to that, he served as director of education and animal curator at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut. Schneider also worked at the Oklahoma City Zoo, Mystic Marine Life Aquarium (today’s Mystic Aquarium) and the New York Aquarium. Schneider received a MBA from Oklahoma City University and a master’s in zoology from the University of Rhode Island.

Schneider’s plans include developing, in concert with the Museum’s Board, conservation goals and objectives for each of the Land Trust properties. His future plans include a science-based program for managing invasive species on Land Trust properties, which will include the creation of a community-based monitoring capacity with volunteers mobilized to improve the understanding and management of the resource through field habitat surveys.

How did your past work lead you to the job as land steward for the H.L. Ferguson Museum’s Land Trust?

I have been interested in nature since childhood, which led me to study zoology and ecology in college and graduate school. My past and present work experience support a conservation goal of engaging people with nature. My previous work in public aquarium education was to foster understanding and relating to natural history and the environment using a living collection. I hope to do the same now caring for the unique lands conserved by the Museum.

Early in my career I managed trails at Sapsucker Woods at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. I’ve enjoyed gardening, landscaping and managing woodlands as hobbies for years so I’m familiar with many of the tools and practices used on Land Trust properties.

What are your overall goals for the Land Trust for the upcoming year? 

I’ve been implementing the goals and priorities determined by the Museum Board’s Land Trust Committee, which include maintaining open and safe trails and fostering healthy habitats. We hope to involve Islanders in specific projects to benefit the Island’s ecosystem.

One of the exciting projects, initiated by Museum Board President Elizabeth McCance with Fishers Island School Principal Christian Arsenault, is centered at the Museum Sanctuary. This project includes students from the upper grades, led by their teacher, Adam Murray. We’ve been working out the details of the curriculum, which is scheduled to begin at the end of January

What are your goals for the Land Trust trail system in the upcoming year?

Aside from helping Land Trust leaders Bob Miller and Scott Reid make the trail system welcoming to users and hospitable for wildlife, we are planning to adopt geographical and trail mapping applications to better manage the trails and properties. This will help to pinpoint property boundaries in the field as well as identify the locations and monitor the status of both desirable and undesirable plants and animals.

There are many places being impacted by aggressive native and exotic plants. We’ll be controlling those species growing in locations where their establishment would have the most immediate or consequential detrimental effects.

Also, we hope to reestablish some of the overlooks which have become overgrown with trees and shrubs that obscure the striking views. A small section was cleared at an overlook along Chocomount Trail with Terry McNamara and two students last summer. This is an excellent team-building and social activity that benefits the trail experience.

What wildlife sightings on Land Trust properties have excited you the most since taking the job?

I was excited by spotting and photographing a spider, which perfectly mimicked lichen encrustations on a fallen tree branch. Using the photograph, an arachnologist at The American Museum of Natural History identified it as being a humpbacked orbweaver, Eustala anastera.

During the past couple months a flock of a dozen or more cedar waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, have been spotted in the wooded properties that bracket the Middle Farms grassland. I think that this species has a uniquely beautiful plumage pattern.

Have you spotted any unusual plant species or unique flora that visitors on the trails should keep an eye out for?

I have been intrigued by the contorted shapes of the black cherry trees, which, in some cases, reverse their natural growth towards sunlight and turn back towards to ground. I’ve not seen that pattern in so many individuals before. Jeff Edwards and other landscapers suggest that it is caused by vines distorting normal growth, which I assume must happen when the trees are young and still pliable.

Growing in a soggy wetland along a heavily shaded section of the Clay Pit Trail is a large bed of horsetails, Equisetum sp., which is unique and interesting.

How should people contact you if they want to report any wildlife sightings, plant sightings or areas on the trails that need attention (like a downed tree or the like)?  

I welcome the help, interest and ideas. Email is best: hlfmlandtrust@gmail.com.

What is your favorite aspect of the job thus far? 

I enjoy the combination of field and desk work. I especially appreciate being able to decide daily and short-term activities and the support from Pierce Rafferty, Elizabeth McCance, the Museum’s Board of Trustees and the Fishers Island community who’ve been volunteering their time acquiring and maintaining these amazing properties and trails to be conserved in perpetuity. I am especially pleased when I see people using the trails, too!

Did You Know?

The Henry L. Ferguson Museum has a research library on its second floor. In the main room you will find a long library table alongside shelves stocked with hundreds of books, ranging from general reference books about sailing, archaeology, astronomy and natural history to an array of books written by Fishers Island residents (past and present). There’s a rare, almost-complete set of Lloyd’s Register of American Yachts that was donated by the family of the late Sandy Riegel.

There’s also a section in the general reference area that is devoted to children’s books about a wide range of subjects. There are a number of Eyewitness Books about such topics as the ocean, weather and rocks and minerals, as well as other books about wildlife and marine life.

The library’s adjacent Tower Room houses an extensive collection of approximately 500 nautical books donated by the family of the late Jerry Riegel as well as others donated by the family of Burton Tremaine Jr. and other Museum members.

While the Museum’s book collection is for reference only and cannot be removed from the premises, the library is an ideal place to spend an afternoon throughout the year.

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