Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 27, 2012

Local duo releases Alpine guide

Andover duo produce environmental guide

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — The number of lynx and mountain caribou have declined in New England. A new book from two Andover natives helps identify where they’ve gone.

Mike Jones and Liz Willey, members of Andover High’s class of 1998, recently co-edited the Eastern Alpine Guide. The book documents the biodiversity throughout the Alpine Mountains, from Mount Washington all the way into Newfoundland.

To catalog the species living in the hills, Willey and Jones frequently used motion sensitive camera technology that only snapped photos when something walked into the frame, according to Willey.

They also found and documented an array of amphibian species and vegetation, “different species that might be up there that people weren’t aware of,” she said.

To do the book, the two collaborated with several other climatologists, geologists and biologists to record what exists in the northernmost reaches of the Appalachian Mountains. The two worked on the project for nearly ten years, though they only settled down to write it recently, Jones said.

They’ve been married for five years.

“It was fun to sit around a camp at night with researchers from Quebec and New England, and it was an interesting experience,” Michael Jones said. “Even the opportunity to work with both people in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces was fun and exciting. We learned a huge amount.”

After graduating from Andover High a decade and a half ago, the two pursued different degrees for different careers. Willey went to MIT in Cambridge, majoring in engineering, and Jones pursued a natural science degree at Hampshire College in Amherst. After that, they pursued doctorates in biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The primary goal of the book project was to build a constituency of knowledgeable citizens who both understand and seek to protect the regions where these animals live, according to Jones.

“As you go further north into Canada, those are protected as national parks. But just about half of them have no formal protected status,” Jones said. “We became interested in trying to build a constituency for those areas. That turned into this book.”

Through their journey, the two found themselves finding several species of animals that were once abundant in New England but, as the area went through intense development, receded north into protected areas.

“As a New Englander, it’s always exciting to see the species that used to be in New England,” Jones said. “These mountain ranges in Quebec are still strongholds for mountain caribou.”

Now, with the book published and reaching other markets, the two are returning to their roots, at least to some extent.

“When we were in Andover, we were involved in some of the turtle studies going on,” Jones said. “Next year or so, we’ll work up and down the east coast, trying to identify remaining populations and get the stakeholders on board to make sure the turtles persist.”

Turtles represent an interesting dichotomy in our world, the duo said.

“Turtles have a special challenge ahead of them because they’re so long lived,” Willey said. “They live so much longer than any of the other animals around us.”

“These turtles that people see laying in sandboxes or in the back yard may be older than they are,” Jones added, “but it’s interesting to see how quickly they can be hit (by cars) on the road.”

One goal “is figuring out how much they’ve declined and where the populations are,” Jones said. “The other is prioritizing land protection and getting a baseline estimate so we can measure change over time in the population and see how fast they’re declining, and over time respond accordingly based on what the populations are doing.”

For more on the Eastern Alpine Guide, visit easternalpine.org.