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Shelburne Falls woman wins award from New England Wild Flower Society

Cynthia Boettner lauded for conservation efforts

Recorder/Paul Franz
Cynthia Boettner of Shelburne Falls, seen here in Sunderland with garlic mustard, an invasive plant from Europe, has won the New England Wild Flower Society Conservation Award for her work on invasive species.

Recorder/Paul Franz Cynthia Boettner of Shelburne Falls, seen here in Sunderland with garlic mustard, an invasive plant from Europe, has won the New England Wild Flower Society Conservation Award for her work on invasive species.

SUNDERLAND — A Shelburne Falls woman, Cynthia Boettner, has spent many years fighting for New England native plants and wildlife habitats against the threat of invasive plants.

Since 1999, Boettner has worked at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Sunderland, where she serves as the Invasive Plant Control Initiative coordinator. At the refuge on East Plumtree Road she works as part of a team protecting the Connecticut River Watershed, which is made up of 7.2 million acres running from New Hampshire through Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut to the Long Island Sound.

She helped to establish the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England or IPANE which is a database for professionals and volunteers to understand the plants that are threatening to overtake native species.

Boettner also organized the first meeting of the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group to address the threat of invasive plants in the state.

A major keystone of her work is educating others about the invasive plants and the threat they pose as they take over the land, water and resources of the native plants that are essential for New England’s wildlife.

Although Boettner is shy and unassuming, her work is making a lot of noise, catching the attention of some of the most prestigious organizations in the conservation and environmental world.

This past week, the New England Wild Flower Society honored Boettner with the 2012 Conservation Award, which is given to an individual or group for outstanding achievement in furthering the conservation of North American plants and their habitats throughout New England. The mission of the society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes. Each year, the New England Wild Flower Society gives awards to one state winner from each state in New England, as well as awards for conservation, education, and public and private landscapes.

The Wild Flower Society chose Boettner for the award for her commitment to conservation throughout the entire Connecticut River watershed. The regional group also cited Boettner as a key member of the IPANE and the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group.

Boettner helped to collaborate with partners from the University of Connecticut and the wild flower society to write the original grant that initiated IPANE. The funding enabled Boettner to start a networking arm of IPANE to join more than 1,000 people throughout New England concerned about invasive plants.

As part of the state’s invasive plant advisory group, Boettner co-chaired meetings to develop criteria and evaluate plants for invasiveness, which led to an educational guide and a ban of those species from sale and importation.

Most recently, Boettner worked to secure a grant to fund projects for six sub-watershed cooperative level invasive species management areas in the river watershed.

Despite her award, Boettner credits much of the work to volunteers and the partnerships the wildlife refuge has developed in fighting invasive plant species.

“I might have gotten this award but it’s really all of these other people that have done the work,” Boettner said. “Our refuge is conserved in partnerships. It takes people from all walks of life with all different skills and abilities to make a difference. The refuge pulls all these people together to make things happen. It’s people active in partnerships that make it a success.”

Originally from the Detroit suburbs, Boettner’s interest in the environment sprang from her love of the outdoors. Growing up amid tall buildings and city streets, Boettner didn’t have much contact with nature besides her involvement in the Girl Scouts and family trips to northern Michigan. As a young girl, she would even spread a blanket in her backyard, trying to get a little bit of outdoor life.

Her love of the outdoors and desire to help the environment inspired Boettner to pursue environmental science. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, she took a biology field study class which cemented her interest. In 1980, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.

After graduation, Boettner worked for the Flint Environmental Action Team, a group focused on city improvement in Detroit. While working for the Flint team, Boettner met an intern who had graduated from the Conway School of Landscape Design. It was at that time Boettner and her husband, George, who works in the environmental conservation department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, wanted to move east and attend graduate school. Boettner earned a master of arts in sustainable landscape planning and design from The Conway School.

Upon graduation, Boettner worked for UMass. studying invasive insects for the next eight years.

In 1999, Boettner befriended staff at the wildlife refuge, who encouraged her to apply for a job working on invasive plants.

The job was a perfect fit.

“I like being outside, pulling water chestnut from the Connecticut River Watershed,” she said.

At the refuge, Boettner works to prevent the growth of invasive plants along the watershed, such as the water chestnut and Japanese Stiltgrass.

“We’re trying to keep the land functioning as good wildlife habitats,” Boettner said. “We’re all dependent upon the watershed. It affects the purity of the water we drink.”

Invasive plants can cause the loss of native plant species, for which native wildlife have developed a taste.

For example, the dense growth of water chestnut can choke out a water body, making boating, fishing and swimming nearly impossible. The weed also shades out native aquatic plants and offers little value to wildlife. The seeds also have sharp spines that cause puncture wounds.

The refuge is also working to curb the growth of Japanese Stiltgrass, which is invading Conway. Considered one of the worst invasive plants, stiltgrass can suppress the regeneration of forest trees and other native plants. With the help of the Conway Highway Department and local volunteers, like Ruth Parnell of Conway, Boettner and the refuge work to pull the stiltgrass from roadsides, trails, streamsides and deer paths.

Despite all her work, Boettner said “every one of these projects would not have been possible without the many colleagues, partners, college student interns and volunteers involved.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268

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