You had to be there to experience all the ALAPARC inaugural meeting had to offer, but the co-chairs have attempted a summary:
We held our inaugural meeting on November 6-8 at the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center in Andalusia, Alabama, and we are so pleased with the outcome. Our weekend and our meeting kicked off Friday night at our welcome social, the centerpiece of which was a canoe full of beer, which we contained in biodegradable cups provided by Off The Vine Produce. Participants streamed in as the Red Hills Salamander Discussion Group ended and feasted on delicious quesadillas provided by Karan Bailey. Wild sausage balls a la Stiles were a huge hit. Each of the appetizers were dipped at one point or another in Sean Graham’s tailgater’s delight Hormel Chili cheese dip. Attendees ignored warning signs regarding the relative heat of this dip at their own peril.
Energized by coffee provided by Higher Ground Roasters, Saturday morning’s talks began with a welcome by Co-Chair David Steen, with photos of beautiful environments and imperiled amphibians and reptiles from throughout the state. Our invited speakers gave us inspiration for the conservation road ahead. Among several esteemed individuals, this session included Matt Aresco, who gave an inspiring account of his odyssey to protect turtles in Florida and Alabama. Ken Dodd, who has strived for conservation causes throughout his long tenure in the southeast, provided sobering news regarding the Flattened Musk Turtle and Red Hills Salamander.
Three ALAPARC initiatives were officially announced and a lively discussion of the current status of Alabama hellbenders ensued. It is clear that the gopher frog, hellbender, and education/outreach initiatives will each get underway very soon, and many interested parties have exchanged information and emails to get the ball rolling on the three initiatives. Linda Weir provided a background of the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program and highlighted how Alabama represented a gap in coverage.
Saturday neared conclusion with a simultaneously entertaining and shocking presentation by Michael Bloxom, an Alabama wildlife law enforcement official, who chronicled his years busting bad guys selling illegally collected reptiles. Shawn Jacobsen finished the day with a tribute to George Folkerts, infusing many with a renewed respect for this Alabama conservation champion.
We enjoyed a delicious southern fried seafood feast on Saturday night which was made by the skilled chefs at the Dixon Center and provided by a generous donation by Project Orianne. Many felt the meal alone was worth the price of registration! They were then floored when the beer continued to flow during the official ALAPARC 2009 meeting social and poster session. Thinking caps were donned as those daring enough took part in the first annual ALAPARC lab practical trivia quiz. This crossword-style quiz featured many native Alabama herps and specimens from the Auburn University collection. Knowledge of herp nomenclature wasn’t sufficient to complete this challenge; participants also had to be schooled in the lore of Alabama herpetology, from both sides of the Black Warrior.
The “facultyesque” category was won by Mark Bailey; however, the “student” category was a tie between Bill Sutton and Helen Czech, necessitating a frog call-off tie-breaker with Helen emerging as the winner with an impressive Hyla versicolor trill. Despite George Cline’s protestations that the noise was more accurately described as Hyla chrysoscelis, Helen took home the prize, an ALAPARC t-shirt (available at http://www.cafepress.com/alaparc). Later, Bailey’s win was challenged and an impromptu call-off took place between John Jensen, Bailey, and Eric Soehren. Jim Godwin won despite his lack of membership in the contest. Since Jim cheated, Mark retained the crown.
Day three of the meeting was composed of submitted research talks and the audience was thrilled by the diversity of research and conservation efforts in the state. Some of the talks included Thane Wibbels’ report of the past, present, and future of Alabama terrapins, Chris Thawley’s interesting report on niche modeling in non-native frogs, Samantha Collin’s report on canebrake reproduction, and Bill Sutton’s reports on post-fire effects in the Bankhead National Forest, among many other excellent talks. Check out the meeting program for abstracts of all the presentations.
After closing words from Sean, we enjoyed another terrific lunch from the Dixon Center and a group photo. Sadness over leaving was tempered by the hope of good things to come, a renewed sense of purpose, and the prospect of returning next year to be together again and see what we found in our dipnets since we last met.