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Good Natured Pa’ians: Reptile and Amphibian Expert Inspires Through Volunteerism, Photography, Social Media

May 30, 2018 01:00 PM

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​Volunteer. Nature photographer. Outdoors and wildlife enthusiast. Communicator, organizer, and educator.

Meet Kyle Fawcett.

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Kyle Fawcett in front of unnamed falls in Rock Run Valley, Loyasock State Forest. (All of the following photos in this feature were taken by Kyle.)

The 31-year-old has lived all his life in Pennsylvania, hailing from and currently residing in Union County. His passions have driven him to make a real difference in northcentral Pennsylvania, also impacting the entire state.

Helping Identify, Determine the Status of Herps

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Grey tree frog, Clearfield County

Kyle became interested in herps (reptiles and amphibians) not long after he began enjoying photography. He’d take photos of whatever he’d see while fishing, kayaking, hiking, camping, and geocaching, including flowers, birds, butterflies, and salamanders.

A natural curiosity made him want to learn what species they were, particularly the herps.

He recalls once stumbling across several eastern newts in Loyalsock State Forest, admittedly not knowing a thing about them at the time, and contacted for help identifying them. At the time, he thought they looked like the gecko from the insurance commercials and was concerned they may be someone’s pet.

Jason Poston contacted him with some information and let Kyle know about an effort that was just beginning: the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS). Kyle was hooked, and now he helps Jason, statewide coordinator of PARS, as the coordinator of Snyder, Northumberland, and Union counties for PARS.

There, he helps determine the distribution and status of all amphibians and reptiles throughout Pennsylvania, with other citizen scientists known as “herpers.”

His favorite part of the project? It’s two-fold.

One part is finding the wildlife. “No matter how common something is or how many times I’ve come across a species, I’m always excited to see whatever animals I find,” Kyle said.

Another part is meeting people. “From the various volunteers I’ve worked with, to the Fish and Boat staff and the many rangers, educators, and foresters from DCNR I’ve met and worked with, they’re all just great people that are absolutely passionate about what they do, and over the years, I’ve become friends with many of them,” he shared.

PARS is a joint citizen science project of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation, with additional funding from DCNR’s Wild Resource Conservation Fund.

Hundreds of Hours Devoted to PA Nature and Wildlife

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Volunteers with full boats during a 2017 river clean up.

Kyle logged more than 700 volunteer hours in 2017, so it’s no surprise that PARS recognized him with the Volunteer of the Year Award. Then this year, he earned the Ambassador Award. Volunteering is a calling for him, and he loves helping out as much as he can to support conservation and recreation in Pennsylvania.

“Most parks and forest districts have a limited number of staff, so when they want to do a project and can utilize volunteers, it is a huge help to them and frees their staff up to do larger projects,” said Kyle.

He’s helped participate in (and sometimes organize) efforts including:

  • A bioblitz (biological surveying to record living species in an area during a specific time frame) at Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center
  • Spring cleaning at Little Buffalo and Raymond B. Winter state parks
  • Graffiti cleanups at Michaux State Forest
  • Roadside cleanups in Bald Eagle State Forest
  • Helping to treat eastern hemlocks for hemlock woolly adelgid in Rothrock State Forest

“The staff are always super thankful when people come out to help, and it really makes you feel like you have a personal stake in the various natural areas throughout the commonwealth that are maintained for our use,” said Kyle.

Raising Awareness and Bringing Conservationists Together

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Close-up shot of the head of an eastern garter snake

Kyle uses his photography skills and active social media channels as ways to raise awareness and educate, as well as bring Pennsylvania conservationists and volunteers together.

He believes that social media plays a pivotal role in reaching people about how they can help make a difference in natural places. In fact, it’s how he got started volunteering. He stumbled on a graffiti cleanup event that the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation organized, and since then, he’s constantly looking for ways to get involved. He also became a DCNR volunteer and regularly scans the agency’s calendar of events.

Sharing pictures has always been a favorite way for him to reach out to others about conservation. He shares before, during, and after shots of a graffiti or tire clean up, so people can actually see the impact a small group can make. Images of volunteers walking a canoe through a river because it’s completely filled with trash that once was in the water also is something he finds very powerful.

Kyle also shares a great deal of herps information with his followers on Facebook and Instagram.

“I’ll post pictures of animals, for instance, a northern copperhead, and I’ll write about how they’re in decline, and that it is important -- as there is a protein in their venom that researchers are using in trying to find a cure for cancer. Or I’ll post a picture of a leopard frog and write about how they were once common across North America, and now in most areas of Pennsylvania they’ve disappeared, so it’s important that if people see one, they report it to the survey.”

Another reason he takes photos? To show his 90-year-old grandmother.

“Anyone that has seen my Instagram account knows I’m absolutely in love with nature photography. I started out with a cheap point-and-shoot camera that I’d take pictures with to show people I knew that maybe wouldn’t be able to go to where I was going. Obviously, my 90-year-old grandmother won’t be hiking up a mountain with me to watch the sunrise at an overlook, but I could take a camera along with me and then show her pictures of it.”

Learn More

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Sunset over Bald Eagle State Forest at the overlook on Jones Mountain Road

To learn more about Kyle, check out his Facebook and Instagram accounts for his nature and wildlife photography.

For more about PARS, and to report herps sightings, visit the survey’s website.

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