New York

Meet Chris Zimmerman

Learn more about this defender of bog turtles and butterflies!

Whether it’s chasing Karner blue butterflies across the Saratoga Sandplains or trekking waist-deep through a wetland to track bog turtles, Conservation Ecologist Chris Zimmerman has the endangered species of Eastern New York covered. In fact, his soft spot for at-risk critters is so large, that it’s earned him an affectionate nickname: “The Healer.”
“One of the best things about working in eastern New York is the diversity of the landscape. It is just too hard to narrow it to a favorite.”

What led you to a career in science?

Chris Zimmerman:

I guess you can say that my love for the outdoors began when I was a child. My family spent many weekends camping with my grandparents at state parks in Ohio. I always loved these adventures and still recall sitting by the campfire at night and canoeing during the day. One particular magical moment was on a sunset canoe trip on Cowan Lake with my grandfather. I can still remember him telling me “this is what it is all about.”
My interest in the natural world continued throughout my school years. I was a member of an Explorer Post that engaged in white water rafting in West Virginia on the New River, backpacking in Kentucky, and canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. The summer after I graduated high school, four of my friends and I fixed up an old Econoline van and traveled for a month to National Parks in the western United States. My favorite was Glacier National Park, while on a backpacking trip we saw a grizzly bear.

Where is your favorite site to work?

Chris Zimmerman:

One of the best things about working in eastern New York is the diversity of the landscape. Whether it is walking through the wetland habitat of the endangered bog turtle, the grasslands in the Saratoga Sandplains filled with the endangered Karner blue butterfly or the hardwood forest in the Catskill Mountains during the fall, I enjoy them all. It is just too hard to narrow it to a favorite.

If you were stuck on an isolated preserve with one person, who would you want it be and why?

Chris Zimmerman:

If the person was not going to be my wife or daughter but rather someone from TNC, I would want to be stranded with a long-term Conservancy scientist. I would like to learn more about past conservation efforts and relate them to the projects that I currently work on today. There are many folks who might fit this bill, but the person who comes to mind is Craig Groves. His publications have profoundly influenced the way I think about conservation. An added bonus is that he lives in Montana. If the preserve could be on a Montana mountaintop, I might want to be stranded for a long time.

What is the ickiest thing you’ve ever stepped in?

Chris Zimmerman:

The Perry Preserve has a number of wetland systems that include a few floating bog mats. On one particular day in the field, I had been working and didn’t notice that the vegetation wasn’t firm so I took a step and the water was over my rubber boots. It came as high as my waist and at 6’2”, you can say that I was certainly more than knee-deep in water.

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