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New Jersey

Stewarding the Land: Q&A with Damon Noe, Stewardship Coordinator

Damon Noe, Stewardship Coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter, recently celebrated 10 years with the Nature Conservancy. Damon got his start with the Conservancy  in 2000 as a seasonal intern at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve.  From there he finished his Master’s degree in Environmental Science from Montclair State University and joined the Conservancy full time as a land steward. Damon is an avid nature photographer, and spends much of his free time photographing all things natural in NJ from picturesque landscapes to the creepy crawlies of the macro world.
"The osprey bolted upright as I did exactly the same thing and we stared at each other for a moment right before I snapped the picture."

Damon Noe

You've recently celebrated 10 years at the Conservancy - much of that time spent as a land steward on Conservancy nature preserves.  What exactly does a land steward do?

Damon Noe:

A land steward cares for our protected lands using the best planning and management practices available, many of which are continually evolving.  We've got to keep up with changing times - for example now more than ever it's become apparent that people and nature must coexist together - the two are inextricably linked.  As land stewards we need to have a certain respect for both and find a way to reconcile people's needs with nature's needs.  Put simply a land steward cares for the land in a way that is mutually beneficial to the land, the people who depend on its services and all manner of native life that call it home.

You spend most of your time immersed in New Jersey's special places; what's your favorite nature preserve and why?

Damon Noe:

The Maurice River Bluffs preserve has been enchanting me for some time now.  I was born and have spent most of my life right here in southern New Jersey. Thus, being a “flat lander” by default, it lets me enjoy some very unusual topography, panoramic views, an incredible breadth of species from nesting bald eagles, dragonflies such as the Comet Darner, unique orchids and, of course, great birding during migration.  All this within reach of my camera lens I might add!

What's been your craziest encounter on a preserve?

Damon Noe:

During a routine patrol at our Manumuskin River Preserve, I came upon a truck literally teetering back and forth on top of a hill just inside our boundary. As I approached the driver emerged from the vehicle, looking completely disheveled and exhausted.  Turns out he had been there for three days, two of them without food or water. He didn't have a phone and had been afraid to leave his vehicle. The truck was wedged in there harder than I thought; I broke two straps, raked the side of his truck across 2 pine trees, and damaged my own truck in my efforts to get him out. (Disclaimer: If my boss is reading this, yes, I know, this is not how I had previously explained the damage.)

On the same note, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found on a preserve?

Damon Noe:

That's an easy one; it would have to be the somewhat new full size refrigerator and toilet side by side smack in the middle of our Forked River Mountain Preserve, with no visible roads or easy access within about a mile in any direction!

You’ve been with us a decade – care to share a career highlight with us?

Damon Noe:

I've really enjoyed being a part of the LEAF internship program for the New Jersey Chapter. Basically, the Conservancy's LEAF program pulls kids from urban areas and sends them to us for a month where they assist us in every way imaginable. We immerse them in all things nature and they get to learn what conservation is all about. To see kids who were terrified of insects one day, then up to their waist in water chasing dragonflies the next says it all for me. I love showing them that nature is the real PlayStation in life. It has been humbling and exciting to have the opportunity to change the lives of a younger generation.

You are also very passionate about photography, in fact this website is full of Damon Noe originals. Has working here influenced your interest in photography?

Damon Noe:

It's given me the opportunity to see some of New Jersey’s gems as well as capture some of my most memorable images. It's a blessing to be able to work in unspoiled areas, where things are as nature intended. Beautiful landscapes and cool species all around me—a photographers paradise! Teaching photography seminars through the Conservancy also allows me share my passion and, at the same time, get people out in nature.

Do you have a favorite photo you took while at a preserve?

Damon Noe:

One of my all time favorites occurred on a wetland restoration site we manage. It's a picture of a startled, upright juvenile osprey staring directly at me. They usually play dead when approached. It was one of my first banding attempts and I had my first camera around my neck as I slowly crept up the ladder to the nest. As I got to the top the osprey bolted upright as I did exactly the same thing and we just stared at each other for a moment right before I snapped the picture. I think if the osprey would have taken my picture I would have had that same expression on my face!

Khara McKeen is the communications coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

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