RCN 2.0 Update

The Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) grant program was created as a mechanism to share expertise and funding by northeastern states to address landscape-scale issues, advance collaboration and likelihood of success, and result in more effective conservation of species. The first phase of the RCN program was developed in 2007, resulting in 47 funded regional conservation projects. The current phase, RCN 2.0, was developed in 2017, and is organized around three projects, Turtles, Pollinators and Technical Services, with objectives for the period 2018 to 2022.  Each project has multiple jobs, and under each job are multiple General Service Agreements (GSAs). A summary of the progress and status of the GSAs follows.



The Northeastern USA supports five species of Emydine turtle including Blanding’s, Spotted, Eastern Box, Wood, and Bog Turtle, all of which exhibit late sexual maturity, small clutch size, extremely long reproductive lifespan, and a range of semi-terrestrial habitat preferences. These life history characteristics have rendered populations susceptible to decline associated with habitat loss and fragmentation. In fact, widespread declines are evident, contributing to a Northeastern regional consensus that all five species merit RSGCN status.  Furthermore, three of the five species are currently being considered by the USFWS for listing consideration under the federal Endangered Species Act (Bog Turtles are already federally listed as Threatened). Regional Working Groups, led by state wildlife agencies, have formed to ensure the persistence of these species as functional components of the Northeastern fauna. The Working Groups have developed (or are developing) Conservation Plans based upon Conservation Area Networks and prioritized, site-specific actions. Collectively, the Northeastern states (through State Wildlife Grants programs) have made a nationally significant investment in Conservation Planning for these at-risk species. The RCN Project 1 Turtles will protect our regional investment and help ensure the stability of remaining populations by addressing the most urgent regional conservation priorities for multiple species at multiple scales.


JOB I. Spotted Turtle Conservation


GSA 00040 – Virginia Commonwealth University – Active

The purpose of this GSA is to characterize standing genetic diversity and structure of the Spotted Turtle to help in developing the Conservation Action Plan and to provide guidance for a proposed Conservation Area Network.


GSA 00041 – Salisbury University – Active

Investigators are conducting population monitoring and DNA collection for spotted turtles at four study areas in Maryland and Delaware following the Spotted Turtle Assessment protocol developed by the Spotted Turtle Working Group.  Work is coordinated with the state natural resource agencies. The 2019 sampling was completed at three sites and will begin again during the 2020 season.


GSA 00042 – Jason Tesauro Consulting, LLC - Completed

Investigators conducted visual rapid assessment (VRA) and trap-based rapid assessment (TRA) of the spotted turtle at 6 sites in New Jersey during the 2019 field season.  The Spotted Turtle Assessment Protocol developed by the Spotted Turtle Working Group was used during the surveys and for collecting blood samples for DNA analysis.

The sampling locations were identified using data from the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, land managers and local biologists and spanned 6 counties. A total of 49 spotted turtles were captured by the surveys, additional incidental surveys outside of the TRA/VRA time windows yielded additional captures and blood samples, for a total of 74 blood samples.  All samples and identifying data were sent to a lab for processing.


GSA 00043 – West Virginia University Research Corporation - Completed

During the 2019 field season, investigators performed 1) trap-based demographic assessments (DA) of spotted turtles at wetlands in West Virginia with known spotted turtles populations, 2) trap-based rapid assessments (TRA) at wetlands in West Virginia with historical records of spotted turtle populations, and 3) intense trap-based population sampling to assess the success of a spotted turtle translocation program implemented in 1985. The Spotted Turtle Assessment Protocol was used in this study. Across 15 sites in West Virginia, 80 unique individual spotted turtles were captured. Turtles were measured, marked via carapace notches and/or PIT tags and DNA samples were collected. All samples and identifying data were sent to a lab for processing.


GSA 00045 – SUNY Potsdam Research Foundation – Active

The objective of this GSA is to support the implementation of conservation planning for spotted turtles. The tasks include: 1) Coordinate selection of study areas with the state and permits required. This task has been completed for 2019 and is ongoing for the 2020 season. 2) Conduct trap rapid assessments (TRA), demographic assessments (DA) or visual rapid assessments (VRA) for spotted turtles at 10-15 sites in New York. This task was completed for 2019 and ongoing for 2020. 3) Collect DNA samples of each spotted turtle encountered.  This task was completd for 2019 and ongoing for 2020.


GSA 00046 Amendment 1 – The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation – Active

This GSA will support spotted turtle population monitoring and DNA collection at three to five study areas in Delaware for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) following methods in the Spotted Turtle Assessment Protocol.  Coordination of the study areas for the 2019 and 2020 seasons was completed and spotted turtle surveys were completed for 2019, and planned for 2020. DNA samples were delivered at the end of the 2019 sampling season to DNREC.


JOB II. Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Plan      


GSA 00046 – The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation – Active

The objective of this GSA is to develop a status assessment and conservation plan for the Eastern Box Turtle. Goals for this effort include intitiation and coordination of a formal, standardized, inter-state monitoring efforts for the Eastern Box Turtle, the design of effective habitat management strategies and an assessment of regional populations and conservation implementation strategies. The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation, the Patrick Roberts Northern Research Station (RCN GSA 00047) and the United States Forest service are working in coordination with state agency partners. Coordination of sampling and monitoring protocols and efforts  during the 2019 season has been completed. A database has been developed to house the 2019 data as well as legacy data.  Planning, coordination and training for the 2020 season is underway.


GSA 00047 – The Patrick Roberts Northern Research Station - Active

This GSA will work to develop a Status Assessment and Conservation Plan for the Northeastern populations of the Eastern Box Turtle to advance the goals of the Regional Conservation Priorities for Freshwater Turtles at Risk in the Northeast. Working with state agency and non-governmental partners, the contractors will initiate a coordinated, voluntary sampling effort in the Northeast, finalize protocols and sampling locations and gather monitoring data. All data will be entered into a centralized, secure database maintained by the contractor. The efforts will produce a species distribution model based on best available occurrence data, an Eastern Box Turtle Status Assessment and Conservation Area Network. At the end of the 2019 4th quarter, occurrence data from states had been entered into the database and coordination among the partners continues to plan for the 2020 season.


JOB III. Road Mitigation


GSA 00033 – Clarkson University - Active

This GSA is designed to reduce turtle road mortality through improved “mortality” hotspot identification and mitigation strategies.  The plans will advance the goals of the Regional Conservation Priorities for Freshwater Turtles at Risk in the Northeast by: improving the overall approach to identifying turtle road mortality conetrations, designing effective mitigation strategies and assessing the mitigation. Work on this project to date has included coordination among partners, a review and synthesis of current hotspot identification methods and the development of monitoring and mitigation practices.


JOB IV. Wood & Blanding's Turtle Conservation


GSA 00046 Amendment 2 – The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation – Active

The objective of this GSA is to advance conservation efforts for the Wood Turtle by identifying, prioritizing and facilitating the implementation of high priority actions within Focal Core Areas in the Northeast.  In addition, this effort will track progress of actions by partners, revise and distribute Best Management Practices, conduct technical assistance trainings, seek funding and perform surveys in locations where data is lacking. To date there has been coordination and communication among partners and planning for future conservation actions and meetings.        


GSA 00057 – Daniel Martinelli – Active

This GSA will provide a multi-user, secure, web-based database to support northeastern regional turtle conservation programs. The database will house collected location and species data for Blanding’s, Spotted and Wood Turtles. The database will be customized to securely allow users to see only data for which they have permissions to access. Currently, the data from past years is ready to be imported and the application testing can begin.


GSA 00074 – The Orianne Society – Active

This GSA will work in partnership with the Northeastern Blanding’s Turtle Working Group to coordinate partners, prioritize conservation actions, track and monitor actions and help refine and implement Best Management Practices. Currently, work includes site specific meetings and developing timelines for future conservation actions.



Although many groups of native pollinators remain understudied and poorly understood, there is increasing evidence of alarming declines in some species.  Many pollinators depend upon open habitats and canopy gaps for foraging, and in the Northeast, xeric, fire-influenced grasslands and barrens likely support a unique native pollinator assemblage.  These habitats are found in states throughout the Northeast Region, require active management, are in decline, support disproportionate concentrations of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), and have been identified as priority conservation targets in many Northeast State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs). The objective of the RCN Project 2:  Xeric Grassland, Barren, and Woodland Pollinator Conservation is to improve the ability of Northeast states to implement cost-effective habitat management for the benefit of native pollinators and RSGCN that depend upon these priority habitat types.


JOB I. Pollinator Monitoring Protocols  


GSA 00031 – University of Massachusetts - Completed

During 2018, laboratory technicians sorted, processed, preserved and shipped bee specimens and entered the data. Over 500 hours of lab work was performed for this project.


GSA 00032 – Joan Milam - Completed

Through the Xeric Grassland, Barren and Woodland Pollinator Conservation Project, a standardized pollinator protocol was developed to improve the ability of participating states to implement cost-effective habitat management for native pollinators.  During the 2018 year of the project, a network of 12 state, federal and non-profit organizations from eight states (VA, MD, NJ, NY, MA, NH, VT, ME) participated in the pollinator monitoring surveys.  The standardized  Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) pollinator protocol was provided for each organization along with webinar training.  During the sampling season, 3237 bees representing 5 families, 25 genera and 125 species were collected and identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible, including 3 species listed in State Wildlife Action Plans. The datasets developed from these surveys will be used to guide future management activities for pollinator habitats.


GSA 00050 – Michael Veit - Completed

Logged 8 hours of processing bee samples from the RCN pollinator surveys


GSA 00078 and GSA 00078 amendment 1 – Clare Maffei - Active

To date, 2,567 bee specimens identified, project is continuing for additional specimen identification and data entry into a database.


JOB II. Vegetation Monitoring Protocols                             


GSA 00030 – Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife - Completed

This GSA developed the vegetation sampling protocol to be used for the RCN Pollinators projects in xeric habitats. Vegetation methodologies and plans that are reproducible over time for grassland, shrubland, open woodland and successional forest sites.  Data analysis and storage templates for the vegetation sampling data were also produced and reviewed by the technical team for the RCN Habitat for Pollinators project.


JOB III. Adaptive Habitat Management & BMPs


GSA 00060A&B and GSA 00060A&B Amendment 1 – Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Active

The objective of these GSAa are to increase pollinator habitat at multiple sites.  Actions will include reducing invasive species and cold season grasses, increasing the coverage of pollen and nectar plants, increasing early successional habitat and removing less desriable species including loblolly pine, maple and sweet gum. The amendment 1 allows habitat management and monitoring to continue through 2021.


GSA 00061 – Linda Loring Nature Foundation - Active

Work under this GSA will manage important pollinator habitat on the Linda Loring Nature Foundation that was previously kept in an early successional state from wind and salt spray.  Once invasive Japanese Black Pines became established, they reduced the influence of the wind and salt spray and altered the open heathland and grassland habitats to become more dominated by the pine trees and woody shrubs. Actions to date include removal of non-native invasive Japanese Black Pines (Pinus thunbergii) and removal of the thick pine needles that have been built up on the property for decades. Surveys of native vegetation and pollinators are planned in 2020 growing season. 


GSA 00067 and GSA 00067 Amendment 1 – Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission - Active

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve protects a globally-rare, fire-dependent ecological community of inland pitch pine-scrub oak barrens habitats. The preserve sits in the largest field of inland sand dunes east of the Rocky Mountains and supports 76 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including the endangered Karner blue butterfly and the federal candidate frosted elfin. The RCN funded project on the preserve included vegetation and bee sampling following the RCN sampling protocols prior to treatments on the preserve to help maintain the natural habitats and community structure suitable for the Karner blue butterfly and other SGCN.  After the surveys were completed across the 5 management units, 3 management units on the preserve were treated with a dormant season mowing followed by a growing season prescribed fire while 2 management units were monitored as control units.  Monitoring of the units will continue under the Amendment 2.


GSA 00073 – New Hampshire Fish and Game – Active

This GSA will manage at least 2 habitat units in the Concord Pine Barrens Conservation Area. Vegetation monitoring was conducted prior to treatments and is planned for post treatment. Treatments have included prescribed burnds and shrub mowing. Additionally, bee sampling was conducted in the units.


GSA 00084 – Stone Environmental – Active

Vegetation and pollinator surveys will be conducted at the Sandbar Wildlife Management Unit both before and after treatments.


JOB IV. Coordinate Project Team                           


GSA 00070 and GSA 00070 Amendment 1 - Strategic Stewardship Initiative, LLC

The goal of these efforts are to improve the ability of Northeastern states to implement cost-effective habitat management practices for the benefit of native pollinators and SGCN. There are 3 objectives: 1) document, share and refine best management practices developed by partner states; 2) implement multi-state, large scale, experimental adaptive management at select sites and 3) develop standardized vegetation and pollinator monitoring protocols for both experimental management sites and other managed habitats in the NE region.  Work continues with this effort to continue supporting a regional network for shared expertise, methods and costs for improving habitat for native pollinators and SGCN.



The Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee has produced list species designated as “Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN).” The Technical Committee has also developed a database in which it has captured key data from state Wildlife Action Plans, creating the first regional database in the U.S. centralizing that information.

This work and these products have been greatly enhanced by technical assistance provided through RCN-funded contracts with Terwilliger Consulting, Inc. (TCI). The RSGCN list, habitat classification lists, and SWAP roll up and analysis have been created from huge amounts of data that were largely unstandardized. TCI provided complex analysis that allowed objective and biologically sound analysis of the status and threats to over 3,000 SGCN named by states. TCI also developed the regional Wildlife Action Plan database – a single location from which any partner may evaluate and extract information about SGCN, important habitats, threats and key conservation actions from all Wildlife Action Plans in the NEAFWA.

These tools – the RSGCN list and the SWAP database – set the stage for true regional collaboration and conservation of the species of highest priority for the region.  Maintaining a focus on the RSGCN and measuring progress regularly is the next logical step to affecting this regional conservation. As it stands, the RSGCN list does not include proportionately as many invertebrates and those taxa teams are ready to continue that evaluative work. In addition, the SWAP database is missing some or all data from three states.   The true power of this database to inform and influence partner priorities and decision-making is dependent upon its completeness, accuracy, and updated status.


JOB I. Technical Support and DB Management                                                                                            


GSA 00029 and GSA 00029 Amendment 2 and Amendment 3  – Terwilliger Consulting - Active

This GSA has two objectives: 1) identify, review and update priority invertebrate SGCN and 2) populate regional Wildlife Action Plan database, provide on-going technical support, training, deployment and evaluation. During 2018, through work under this GSA, the invertebrate steering committee determined that the priority taxa to address for objective 1 were Stoneflies (63 species) and Bees (132 species).  Work on objective 2 included working with states to access and upload data with quality assurance/quality control of remaining Wildlife Action Plan data. Surveys were submitted to determine how the regional SWAP database can be used to address other priorities and actions.  Amendment 2 added to the scope of work the maintenance of the SWAP database, research in support of state diversity programs, documentation of taxonomic team ream reports and summary reports on the conservation status of RSGCN. Amendment 3 further increased the scope of work to collect and compile data and expert review of the most limiting factors of NE RSGCN prior to updating the list in 2021-2022.