Director of Science
Samantha leads the Maine science team, which includes the stewardship staff that care for TNC Maine’s preserves; scientists that work on topics as diverse as freshwater ecosystem restoration, conservation prioritization, renewable energy siting, spatial ecology, mapping and database work; and specialists in community engagement and social science. When asked about the diversity of science practiced at TNC, Samantha remarked that “Its’s critical that we base our conservation actions on sound natural science, and it’s just as important that we understand and practice the science of people. By understanding what motivates people to take care of nature, we can dramatically increase our effectiveness.”
Samantha spent two decades in Maine State Government natural resource agencies linking natural science, social science and people to improve public decision-making about natural resources. She has served at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and most recently as head of Maine's Land Use Planning Commission. Samantha also has experience in the academic, nonprofit and private sectors.
Samantha holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and English literature from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation from the University of Massachusetts, focused on human dimensions and conflict resolution.
Samantha’s first introduction to TNC was as a burn crew member in Minnesota and a preserve caretaker in California, and she has now come full circle back to the organization that helped her get her start in the field. When she is not at her desk, Samantha can be found in the wild parts of New England and Atlantic Canada, exploring and learning.
Winter is Worth It
January 20, 2021
Spring, summer and fall are colorful and noisy. Fish tickle our toes when we swim. The osprey shrieks at us as we get too close to the nest. Vibrant greens and flaming reds dominate our views through the forest. The baby birds in the nearby park are shouting to be fed, and flowers and insects are showing us their showy and remarkable best sides. It is easy to find marvels of nature all around us, even in our local patch of trees.
With December, a quieter season arrives. One that is stark and plain. A world in which margins of survival become razor thin. When we have to make the extra effort to strap on snowshoes or skis and work a bit to get out there. Stand in the woods, far from a road, in mid-winter, and it can be eerily quiet. The color palette is simpler, dominated by the contrast of brown and green against white. When there is less to fill up the senses, we can notice smaller things. Maybe we notice a gorgeously complex ice crystal on the edge of a gently trickling seep or admire the fortitude of a sapling that has bent under the snow load, just waiting for the chance to stretch back up.
In winter, it is sometimes hard to see what our plant and animal neighbors are up to. Right now, I am re-reading Bernd Heinrich’s remarkable book “Winter World.” When I step outside my door, Heinrich’s description of the subnivean zone - that space where the earth is just warm enough to open up tunnels under the snowpack - fills my imagination with pictures of moles and voles scurrying under the snow, keeping our natural cycles going by eating tender bark and dried grasses and moving seeds around. What a contrast between the soft white blanket that seems so static and the busy world happening underneath. Under the ice, some insects breathe by carrying air bubbles on their bodies which are recharged by oxygen diffusing into the bubble from the surrounding water. The frogs that make such a racket in the spring could be sitting, frozen, under leaves on top of that glacial erratic boulder that kids are climbing in the snowy woods. And tiny birds that eat nonstop all day in the winter just to stay alive may be huddled together in an empty tree cavity near you, sharing their warmth with each other to make it through another night.
While we can read some winter drama in the snow, for example where a hare track and a bobcat track come dangerously close, or where a vole has left a tiny track as it scurries across the open snow between safer, covered spots, so much of our amazing, beautiful winter world is harder to see. What is easy to see, though, is how winter serves people. In northern New England, winter is a joyful time for recreation and enjoying the magic of a transformed world for locals and for visitors, and winter is an important part of many rural economies. The snowpack in the winter that melts slowly in the spring is our drinking water and flood control. And cold temperatures in the winter help control insects and diseases that are more common in warmer climates. This quiet, plain, and challenging season is a powerhouse of benefits for our human communities.
As the climate changes, people in Maine are seeing shorter winters with more rain and less ice and snow. Our winter world is changing. But winter is still beautiful, still worth a closer look. And it is worth saving as much of winter as we can. At TNC we can use science to find the places that will give plants and animals the best chance to adapt, and then protect those places. We can study how people make decisions about nature to help us encourage meaningful change. And everyone in Maine can speak up for this precious, amazing place that is a source of delight and solace for anyone willing to stand outside on a winter’s day.
Seeing nature in winter takes more work. It’s quieter, harder work. But it’s worth it. And saving it is up to all of us.