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Julian Shepherd

Biological Sciences professor creates database
   of Broome County's natural areas

Julian Shepherd, associate professor of biological sciences, has spent the past 10 years creating an inventory of 240 sites of natural interest in Broome County. He spent thousands of hours recording more than 8,000 trees, shrubs, insects, fish, mammals and more, while also mapping the terrain in order to value the sites based on biodiversity and topographic wonders.

The impetus for the study was the near loss of the IBM Glen, an area of pristine, natural land in the Town of Union that spans over 200 acres and includes a gorge, creek, wildlife and some of the oldest and largest trees in Broome County. In 2000, IBM had the glen surveyed for possible logging and drew up a contract with a logging company for selective logging, Shepherd says.

“Ignorance of its value as a natural area contributed to this threat, now averted,” he says.

The Waterman Conservation Education Center acquired the IBM Glen as a nature preserve in 2005. Shepherd says the glen is just one of many natural gems in Broome County.

“We do have a lot of public spaces, but we don’t know all the private spaces that have natural value,” Shepherd says.

Shepherd decided to catalogue the natural spaces, both private and public, in Broome County, to create a comprehensive database that assesses the value of the 240 areas of biological, botanical and geological interest. During the decade it took to complete the database, Shepherd grew in age and wisdom.

“I had to characterize the ecology and then identify everything there, all of the flora and fauna,” he says. “Believe me: I learned a lot of botany.”

Shepherd spent about three hours at each location and returned at different times throughout the year to observe the changing wildlife and plants. He recorded his observations in a field notebook and brought plant specimens back to his laboratory for inspection and identification.

“I input the information in a database and then evaluated each area,” he says.

The result was a detailed report called “An Inventory of Natural Areas in Broome County,” which was presented to the Broome County Environmental Council. The database can be used as a reference for the county and its municipalities to protect special areas in the hope of keeping these natural spaces untouched.

“The main aim is preservation and conservation of natural areas,” Shepherd says. “And you can’t do that until you have identified them.”

The only monetary assistance Shepherd received was $1,000 from the Sierra Club to set up the database.

Shepherd is pleased with the feedback from his report, but he wants to reach a broader audience.

“I would like to turn it into something a little more popular,” he says.

Shepherd wants to create a book about the natural areas of Broome County with descriptions and pictures of the beauty and wildlife at the various sites. He also plans on breaking the report down into smaller reports specific to each township. And while Shepherd wants to preserve the natural areas, he says that does not mean all of the areas have to be bought up and turned into parks.

“It could be just encouraging private owners to protect them,” he says. “A lot of people are proud of the natural value of their property.” The time spent traveling the county was more play than work for Shepherd.

“I did a lot of it by bicycle,” he says. “I actually toured the county by bicycle.” His Tour de Broome County included two of his favorite places.

“Chenango Valley State Park is naturally a really great place,” Shepherd says. “So is the (Binghamton University) Nature Preserve.”

In fact, Shepherd says the 10 years spent collecting and evaluating data was not work at all.

“I enjoyed doing this immensely. It wasn’t a task,” Shepherd says. “Many of the areas were fascinating.”

— Grace Guy

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Last Updated: 3/1/17