Former Editor and Current Board Member, Brett Amy Thelen, Wins Award

by Caroline Ailanthus

This spring, Whole Terrain had the opportunity to celebrate one of its own when former editor and current board member, Brett Amy Thelen, won Antioch University New England’s 2012 Alumni Environmental Excellence Award.

This award recognizes an alumnus (or, in this case, an alumna) “who has made outstanding contributions to the sustainability of the environment through professional or personal actions.” Brett earned this recognition through her work as the Program Director of the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory, or AVEO, which is a subset of the Harris Center for Environmental Education. Brett’s work includes coordinating a variety of citizen science projects, the best known of which may be the Salamander Crossing Brigades.

Salamanders spend most of their lives underground, but, as amphibians, most species must seek water to breed. Every spring here in New England (and elsewhere), several species of salamanders travel overland to join frogs and toads in the vernal pools where they can mate and lay eggs. Vernal pools are relatively safe places for young amphibians because the fact that they dry up in the fall means they don’t harbor fish which might eat amphibian eggs. Unfortunately, there is another danger that breeding amphibians are not equipped to avoid; these days, many must cross roads on the way to their pools, where many of them die—unless there is a Salamander Crossing Guard to help. On the warm, wet nights that salamanders travel, volunteers mobilize at known crossing points, catch salamanders trying to cross, and carry them safely to the other side of the road. Generations of the winsome little crawlies will live because of Brett’s crossing guards.

The Salamander Crossing Brigades are more of a stewardship project than a citizen science project, unlike other AVEO activities like the Vernal Pool Projects or Project Nighthawk, where the emphasis is on volunteers collecting data. But all of these projects take on work that could not otherwise get done, and they provide ways that ordinary people can get personally involved in conservation issues. In a time when too many people live indoors with no real connection to nature, seeing the permanent smile of a salamander’s face by flashlight can be enough to reconnect someone to the land.

In addition to her work for AVEO, Brett teaches coastal ecology at Franklin Pierce University. She also serves on the editorial board of Whole Terrain. It’s a lot to keep going, but we’re not surprised, knowing Brett. After all, she was the editor of the 2005-2006 issue of Whole Terrain, Celebration and Ceremony.

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