Wisconsin’s Green Bay and Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay are roughly 730 miles apart. One is freshwater, one saltwater. One provides migrating and breeding waterfowl habitat, the other offers wintering habitat. Ducks Unlimited manages large conservation programs at both spots.
This past November and January, the two DU biologists responsible for overseeing these areas developed a ‘biologist exchange’ pilot program, each visiting the other’s turf to learn new methods for improving wetlands. What they took away from their experiences went beyond submerged aquatic vegetation and water-control structures.
Brian Glenzinski, DU’s regional biologist for Wisconsin, has built a robust coastal and inland wetland conservation program since 2012. Jake McPherson is the DU regional biologist for the mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, and has managed Atlantic Flyway habitat since 2011.
“Working from a field office in Maryland, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to see the work our colleagues are doing in other states,” McPherson said. “I have my way of doing things here, but I don’t know if somebody is doing wetland conservation in a different manner that’s more effective. It drove me to say, ‘I need to go to more places.’”
McPherson spent three days in Wisconsin, where Glenzinski took him to 10 project sites from Green Bay and south along the Lake Michigan shoreline. They toured land protection sites around Horicon Marsh, a water-level management project at Big Muskego Lake and shallow emergent wetland restoration at Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve for ducks and pike.
“My expertise is providing habitat for wintering ducks,” McPherson said. “We don’t think as much about reproduction on the Atlantic Coast, but seeing this habitat in person reminds you that these birds are migratory and we need to provide for them at every latitude. The better I understand waterfowl needs elsewhere, the better I can do my job at home.”
Glenzinski, meanwhile, spent three days in Maryland and Delaware in January, exploring more than a dozen spots on the peninsula between Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. The duo toured several private lands projects and large-scale public land efforts at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
“When you are focused on your own program, you get your blinders on,” Glenzinski said. “This helps broaden your perspective. I don’t even think about tidal systems in the detail I observed them there. Jake is dealing with sea level rise, and this helped me appreciate the challenges we have on the East Coast. You can read about them but seeing them gave me a great perspective.”
The two dug deep into waterfowl science, marsh management and best practices that makes Ducks Unlimited the leader in wetlands conservation.
“It’s really impressive when you go around someone else’s neighborhood and you meet who they work with, and everybody is so complementary of DU,” Glenzinski said. “You see how these partnerships work and see how we are effective in each region, no matter where we live.”
Both men said their favorite part of the exchange was strengthening the professional and friendly relationship that is crucial to successfully improve wetland habitat on a continental scale. Each took a vacation day to hunt in their colleague’s territory.
“One of my highlights was spending time with Jake out in the duck blind,” Glenzinski said. “We get together as biologists and we geek out on biology, but you always hear about relationships forged in duck blind for a reason."