Our Science Gurus: Doug Bechtel, Joanne Glode, Ray Konisky, Wink Lees and Jeff Lougee.
The New Hampshire Chapter, staffed by 16 incredibly talented individuals, boasts a robust and dedicated conservation team. These scientists do everything from research to stewardship and anything in between. But who are they really? Nature.org wanted to know the men and women behind the science in New Hampshire. Meet a few of them below, learn about what they do, what inspires them and what they think is just plain... well... gross about their work!
Douglas Bechtel is the New Hampshire Chapter's Director of Freshwater Science & Conservation. An avid hockey player and local disc golf legend, Doug has been with the Conservancy for 14 years.
Nature.org: Where is your favorite site to work?
Doug Bechtel: I moved to Arizona after college and had the opportunity to work with the team studying the impacts of Glen Canyon Dam on the Grand Canyon. Field work usually entailed 9-21 day river trips on the Colorado River in the Canyon, stopping at long-term study sites along the way. There is nothing quite like looking up from the plants you are counting in a desert study plot to see the sun cresting over the red-brick sandstone and cream colored limestone walls of the canyon. This time in my life definitely set me on my conservation path.
Nature.org: What is the ickiest thing you’ve ever stepped in?
Doug Bechtel: Rock snot. That’s right. Rock snot. It is as gross as it sounds. It is invading cobbly river beds. Rock snot (I like saying it) is actually Didymosphenia geminata, a diatom that impacts river bottom ecosystems and it forms a gel-like slime that resembles… you know.
Nature.org: If you were stuck on an isolated preserve with one person, who would you want it to be and why? (relate to your work)
Doug Bechtel: Larry Stevens. Most awesome ecologist, musician, artist. He was my mentor and employer in the Grand Canyon. He observes the world through the eyes of a scientist and a philosopher, he has a great sense of humor and wonder, and he likes beer.
Joanne Glode joined the Conservancy in 2003 and is the chapter's Southern New Hampshire Stewardship Ecologist. When she's not removing invasive species, performing trail work and maintenance or working with volunteers, she can be found climbing the rocks of New Hampshire or lobstering in Great Bay with her family. She's also credited with instituting "tea time" most afternoons at the office.
Nature.org: What do you love most about your job?
Joanne Glode: I love stepping away from the computer, the phones, and schedules and getting outside. The potential for adventure, exploration and discovery upon each trip into one of our Preserves is exciting and inspiring.
Nature.org: Have you ever feared for your life at work?
Joanne Glode: I’m too much of a chicken to put myself in situations of too much danger. But, once I was on an assignment to survey talus slopes and cliff natural communities in Massachusetts. My field assistant, Matt, found a great cave in one of the cliffs that we were documenting. He made a great roaring sound which echoed into the cave and he marched into the opening in the cliff face with great confidence to explore. A moment later I heard another slightly different roaring sound and Matt raced out the cave white-faced exclaiming “that wasn’t me!!”. We never did find out what that noise was, as the two of us quickly determined that we had definitely collected enough data on this location and sped off expecting a Sasquatch on our heels!
Nature.org: What on the job made you laugh so hard you doubled over?
Joanne Glode: One day I offered to help a co-worker do a rare plant survey of a wetland. My co-worker was so excited to have help with her survey work that she loaded up her canoe with all our gear and pushed it out into the pond with enormous enthusiasm and a gigantic smile! However, in her enthusiasm she forgot to load herself, or me for that matter, into the boat. So we watched from the shore as the canoe took off across this smelly, chocolate brown pond water. Not willing to let this dampen her enthusiasm for the day she jumped right into that mucky pond with her same giant smile and swam out to bring the canoe back. Since 2003, this has remained one of my favorite humorous moments from the field to recall.
Dr. Raymond Konisky is the New Hampshire Chapter's Director of Marine Science & Conservation. Ray came on board in 2007 and spearheads the Oyster Restoration Project. When not knee-deep in Great Bay, Ray enjoys being a rock star.
Nature.org: What’s the newest, freshest approach you are bringing to your job?
Ray Konisky: We really think that oyster restoration is our best hope for improving Great Bay. An adult oyster can clean 20 gallons of seawater a day – just the kind of help our estuary needs right now. People have been growing oysters for thousands of years, but we’re doing it a little differently here. We truck in clamshell by the ton from a seafood processor in Rhode Island, clean and dry it at a storage facility, and use barges to “plant” a thin layer of shell on the muddy bottom of the estuary. Last year, we got about 1000 oysters to naturally settle for each of 25 tons of clamshell we planted. This year, we planted 100 tons! Our techniques and the scale of our operation is unique to New Hampshire but there’s been a lot of interest coming from other states.
Nature.org: What do you do that might surprise us?
Ray Konisky: I play saxophone and keyboards in a local rock-n-blues cover band called Rizing Tide. I’ve also tried writing music but nobody wanted to dance to songs about salt marsh and oyster restoration. (Note from nature.org: We would!!!)
Nature.org: What’s been your most embarrassing moment on the job or in nature?
Ray Konisky: Our project has attracted a lot of interest from journalists and reporters. I’ve had some not-so-flattering pictures of me published, bare-chested and covered with sweaty clam slime!
Wendell "Wink" Lees is the chapter's Northern New Hampshire Land Steward. Joining the Conservancy in 2005, Wink maintains all aspects of all the north country preserves - a monumental task he takes on with pride. A Mount Washington Valley native, Wink can always be found out in nature - whether it be for work or pleasure.
Nature.org: What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to put on your expense report?
Wink Lees: Before we purchased a rack for our Northern NH stewardship truck, we creatively strapped and roped all manner of things to the truck’s cab and tailgate and everything in-between. Often challenging was locating the best item to provide protective padding underneath an assortment of lumber, canoes & kayaks. What I discovered to work best for the canoes and similar watercraft were the swimming pool noodles that could be purchased in a variety of sizes and colors. If you cut them in several sections lengthwise and then sliced them end to end in as far as the hollow center, they would fit very well over the sharp edges of things. So, included in one of my expense reports, was the charge for “swimming noodles” as well as an explanation of the purpose of purchase.
Nature.org: What’s been your most embarrassing moment on the job or in nature?
Wink Lees: Since early childhood I have tended to suffer from chronic embarrassment and so typically take extreme precautions in order to avoid anything remotely threatening in this category. Over the years I have found that sequestering myself alone in my living room at home is the safest way to operate whenever possible. When the going gets tough, the tough get reclusive!! However, I have had the occasional, albeit minor, slip-up and what first comes to mind has to do with a situation in which I was at the office but had just completed a rather intensive telephone conversation with someone from the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, an organization I volunteer for. The telephone rang immediately after I had put the receiver down from the previous call and I answered cheerfully, “Upper Saco Valley Land Trust” rather than my usual “Nature Conservancy…this is Wink”. On the other end was a more senior Concord-based TNC staff member who was both bewildered and not amused. I instantly broke out into a heated sweat of embarrassment and made even more of a fool of myself as I stumbled to find coherent words that might save me. Saving words failed to emerge from either myself or said senior staff member.
Nature.org: When was the last time something on the job brought you to tears?
Wink Lees: Let’s see…tears of desperation? …sorrow?...rage?...joy?...laughter? I’ll stick with laughter since that seems the safest area to tread. I go back to when I was fairly new to TNC and was walking potential burn units in the Ossipee Pine Barrens with fellow NH staff member Jeff Lougee and Maine Southern Preserve Manager (and noted fire boss), Parker Schuerman. It was the first time I had met Parker and in the process of making the introduction, Jeff noted that I was the new Northern NH Land Steward but also, and with characteristic straight face and believability, a retired Professor of Astrophysics from MIT. The three of us then continued to proceed along the path we were following without further discussion and I waiting for an imminent correction from Jeff regarding the line about my retired professorship status….which, of course, never came! Honest and guilt ridden person that I am, I finally broke down and came clean with Parker informing him that I was, indeed, not a retired Professor of Astrophysics from MIT or anything remotely related to such. In retrospect, I often have a laugh (perhaps not to tears) over that first introduction to Parker and how the deadpan, stone-faced, Jeff Lougee would cheerfully never have revealed his bluff. He continues to periodically pull this stunt in different ways as he probably has gotten away with for most of his life. Only my own father and a close friend and former AMC Hutman Andy Damp (rest their souls) could pull this sort of thing off to the equal of Jeff’s gift for the b.s.
Jeffrey Lougee is Director of Stewardship & Ecological Management for the New Hampshire Chapter. Based in the North Conway Field Office since 1999, Jeff is instrumental in establishing prescribed fire in the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve. An avid biker, hiker and naturalist, Jeff is also an accomplished rock climber and has traveled to Yellowstone and Newfoundland to summit their peaks.
Nature.org: What led you to a career in science?
Jeff Lougee: I credit a close friend from college, Brendan, with opening my eyes to how fascinating the natural world is. I remember walking into the Green Mountains in Vermont with Brendan in the early 1990s and looking at lycophytes. I was blown away by their connection to the past - about 360 million years!
Nature.org: What are the weirdest/most disgusting things you've had to do in the name of science?
Jeff Lougee: I did a fair amount of collecting of Lepidoptera in the early 2000s and always found it awkward explaining to friends how I had been massaging the abdomens of moths so I could look at their genitalia. I was just following the instruction of an entomologist would wanted female specimens of a moth I had access to...
Nature.org: What is the last thing you Googled on the job?
Jeff Lougee: Ah, such is the life of someone who has been around the Conservancy long enough. It wasn't science related. I was looking for court dockets related to Class VI roads in one of the towns we work in. I wish I could say it was a search for images of moth genitalia.