We Are Nature

Bridges and Bivalves

December 02, 2022 Carnegie Museum of Natural History Season 1 Episode 6
We Are Nature
Bridges and Bivalves
Show Notes Transcript

Some freshwater mussels can live for over 100 years! During that time, they filter water and improve aquatic ecosystems. Today’s episode is about how aquatic life intersects with the human world. We’ll learn about everything from mussel charisma to climate-proofing infrastructure. Featuring an interview with Eric Chapman, Director of Aquatic Science at the Western PA Conservancy.

Visit waterlandlife.org to learn more about Western PA Conservancy’s work to protect and restore exceptional places. 

Watch the companion We Are Nature video series–including a short video about freshwater mussels–here.

Episode Credits: Produced by Taiji Nelson and Michael Pisano. Field Recording by Mark Mangini. Research and editing by Michael Pisano. Music by Mark Mangini and Amos Levy.

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Eric Chapman (00:00:01):

To me, it's part of my being. Being on the waterway is what makes me whole. Whether it's salt water or whether it's snorkeling a stream looking for freshwater mussels, there's nothing that makes me happier than being on the water. And I think that a lot of people during the pandemic and in general have decided or have found that the water is their happy place too.


We're seeing lots more people out fishing now. We're seeing more people recreating. And it's really important to maintain that balance or that connection with nature. Everyone has a cellphone, everyone loves that cellphone, but I think it's really important to put that down and walk away and get out and explore a stream, a creek, a lake, a river.

Michael Pisano (00:00:54):

Welcome to We Are Nature, a podcast about climate action presented by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I'm your host, Michael Pisano, and today we're talking about green space as in places like public parks, state forests, game lands, gardens, and everywhere else you might find humans spending time outdoors.


What does climate change mean for these places and for the non-human neighbors who call them home? And how are humans helping them prepare? We'll be spending a few episodes on green space and talking about everything from equitable access to green space, to outdoor education, to infrastructure, to nematodes. Today's episode features Eric Chapman.

Eric Chapman (00:01:35):

I'm the director of aquatic science for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's Watershed Conservation Program based in Indiana, Pennsylvania. I've been with the Conservancy since 2006 looking at freshwater mussels, hellbenders, eastern brook trout, macroinvertebrates all across the commonwealth.

Michael Pisano (00:01:53):

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's work is a stellar example of how we can protect Pennsylvanian places, non-human neighbors, and people all at the same time. It's also a great example of how scientists and community members can share knowledge and work together towards shared interests.


Eric and I talked in a field by Mahoning Creek up in Armstrong County, just about an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh. Our conversation ranged far and wide from the unbelievable reproductive strategy of freshwater mussels to climate proofing infrastructure, to cultivating a right relationship with nature.


Let's talk, before I forget about where we are right now. Can you just give me a little bit of an overview of why we're here also?

Eric Chapman (00:02:39):

Yep. So, we are here in Armstrong County in Pennsylvania looking at freshwater mussel populations. So, behind me is the Mahoning Creek. 30, 40, 50 years ago and still has some problems today from acid mine drainage, but it was really bad back then. We started doing mussel surveys here in 2019. The mussel fauna was really, no one had an idea what was going on here. No one really had an idea of what the populations looked like.


And that's been my role in aquatics in Western Pennsylvania is finding those recovering systems. That's where I love to work. I love to find places that were not on the map, so to speak. So, we'll come out and do a survey and try and document the fauna. Even today we found a new species, I'm pretty sure in this stream from when we were doing surveys in 2019. So, that's wicked cool for me.

Michael Pisano (00:03:29):

And what does that indicate about this place in general?

Eric Chapman (00:03:31):

So, for me it's a couple, probably two or three fold. Number one, it's under surveyed, it's underappreciated. Two, it's recovering. And three, we surveyed, I think we did 11 sites here, and I even surveyed at this exact same spot we were this morning and we still found another species. So, just because it has been surveyed, I think repeat surveys are always a good thing. You can try and bolster that knowledge and get a broader data set is always a good thing.

Michael Pisano (00:03:57):

So, in the same way I asked Charles about the biodiversity of Western Pennsylvania ... That's Eric's colleague Charles Bier, senior director of conservation science at Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Don't worry, you'll get to meet him later this season ... It's like in the landscape. If you're not from here, what would you expect to see? What are the treasures here? And I'd love to ask you the same thing with specific focus on our waterways.

Eric Chapman (00:04:23):


Michael Pisano (00:04:23):

What kind of things live around here besides people?

Eric Chapman (00:04:26):

So, our waterways here in the upper Ohio Allegheny system, we have some of the best freshwater mussel populations in the world. Pennsylvania's blessed with that. With our hellbenders as well, Pennsylvania has some of the highest density populations in the hellbender's range.

Michael Pisano (00:04:44):

The hellbender, also known as the Allegheny alligator, lasagna lizard, grampus, and my personal favorite, the snot otter is the largest salamander in North America. They can grow to over two feet long, making them one of the biggest amphibians in the whole world.

Eric Chapman (00:05:00):

If you go from that warm water system where they like to live to the headwater systems, brook trout are going to be our number one focal species higher in the watersheds. The Allegheny has a nice population of brook trout, but if you jump one watershed over to the west branch of the Susquehanna, that's where an Susquehanna as a whole has much higher density populations of brook trout, but still wonderful brook trout populations nonetheless.

Michael Pisano (00:05:25):

And when you're looking at these kinds of organisms, these kind of ecosystems, what kind of questions are you asking? Why do this?

Eric Chapman (00:05:32):

For each group, it's a little bit different, for the macro I'll start out at the bottom. The macroinvertebrates-

Michael Pisano (00:05:37):

Meaning any insects, snails, worms, shrimp, shellfish, and similar animals without a backbone. That's the invertebrate part. And then macro just means you can see them with your naked eye. Pennsylvania's aquatic macroinvertebrates include everything from dragonfly larvae to crayfish.

Eric Chapman (00:05:52):

... we like to look at them because they are the easiest indicator of ecological condition or ecological health. If there is a situation where a stream is being impaired or impacted by acid mine drainage or improper agriculture or improper silviculture techniques, the macroinvertebrates are going to be the first ones to bounce back. They have a much shorter life history than the eastern hellbenders or mussels. So, you can see environmental change rapidly within a season or two.


Brook trout. Brook trout, we love working with them. In the beginning, back in 2009 or '10, we were one of the initial partners with the NSS waters program for Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. So, that was basically going out and trying to document where do we have brook trout across the state. If we can document natural reproducing brook trout populations, the stream gets a higher level of protection from disturbance.


So, we spent six, seven, eight years canvassing the whole state. Our work was focused chiefly in the upper Ohio drainage and then the Chesapeake Bay watershed mostly in the west branches of the Susquehanna and just going out and doing tons and tons of electro fishing work to try and document those populations.


The last five to seven years we've taken that and gone to the next level and we've been doing a lot of aquatic organism passage surveys. So, looking at replacing failing infrastructure, replacing culverts so the brook trout can get higher into the watershed to try and combat climate change.


Hellbenders. Hellbenders, when we started in 2006 and 'seven, we need to try and figure out where these animals are. We really don't have a good distribution for them across the State of Pennsylvania. Used a lot of Dr. [inaudible 00:07:34] information from the '90s when I was in undergrad up at IUP, Indian University of Pennsylvania.


Went back and surveyed some of his old sites and then canvased the state in the upper Ohio watershed trying to document where they were found. found a lot of new populations, very fun, interesting work. COVID has kind of made it very difficult to survey for them now because we need to be on top of each other, lifting thousand pound rocks. Think of rock the size of the hood of your car. You can't do that socially distance. So, we haven't been able to do that since the pandemic started. And then finishing up with the freshwater mussels, that's what we were doing this morning. Freshwater mussels are probably my favorite group of animals. I love working with mussels, I love doing mussel surveys. And Charles will say they're the canary in the coal mine. When our freshwater mussel populations are winking out and we're losing them, we know things are going bad.


Freshwater mussels can live up to a hundred years. So, if we have adults of a certain species in a given stream, it's one of the ways that I can see that the water quality in this stream has been very good for quite some time. So, that's one of the positives that I think that freshwater mussels bring to the game is that you can see that we've had stability for a long time because we have mussels there.


The upper Ohio Allegheny watershed has some of the best mussel populations in the world. We have gone from just trying to document mussels to doing restoration projects for mussels to also augmenting populations. When we replaced the Hunter Station bridge in Tionesta back in 2015 and 16, PennDOT paid to move those mussels out of the harms way of the bridge because there were so many federally listed mussels. As a result of that work, we also took 36,000 common individuals and put them into the Clarion River to try and augment the Clarion River's fauna. So, bringing the Clarion River back. So, that's kind of like the last phase of where we're at with mussel work is restoration, which is really cool.

Michael Pisano (00:09:28):

Yes, and there's a lot that I want to dig into there. You mentioned culverts and other infrastructure as part of climate change mitigation. Can you just draw the connection between that? I mean, how does infrastructure connect in that way?

Eric Chapman (00:09:41):

So, infrastructure and climate change really go hand in hand. We normally don't see it until we get a massive rain event like we had when superstorms Sandy came through. That kind of opened to everyone's eyes to that in recent times. And a lot of times what happens is when you have a road and a stream intersect highway engineers, they want to make sure that the stream can go underneath the road, the road can go over top and as long as the water passes the road, were great. A lot of times culverts were put in that were too small. So, we had round pipes that were three feet when the stream was six feet. So, your stream is twice as wide as what your culvert is and you'll get a bottleneck. When you have a superstorm Sandy come in and you get 15, 16 inches of rain in 24 hour period.


What happens is those culverts will get so backed up that they end up blowing out and they'll blow the road apart. And now you have communities that are cut off from EMS support because of that culvert being blown apart. So, what we have been working for the last probably six or seven years is we are part of the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative, which is a 13 state process or group that looks at measuring culverts exactly the same all across that mid-Atlantic region.


And we're all measuring culverts the exact same way so that we can put this data into a database and prioritize places that you could prioritize for excellent brook trout populations and trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change for human benefit, which is making sure that roads are open for EMS travel and support, but also benefiting our aquatic species as well. So, brook trout can move higher up into the watershed as our stream temperatures get warmer, they need to be able to get higher and higher into the system.

Michael Pisano (00:11:22):

Excellent. And yeah, I'm going to want to talk a little bit more specifically about those types of infrastructure in a bit. For people who aren't familiar with kind of the prognosis for climate change here, you mentioned superstorm Sandy, are we going to be seeing an increased frequency of those kind of storms? What are we expecting to see in southwestern Pennsylvania, in western Pennsylvania over the next hundred years as the climate changes?

Eric Chapman (00:11:45):

Yeah, I think we're going to see a greater frequency of storm events like superstorm Sandy. We're seeing more rain every season. It seems like we used to be able to do ... A simple example was we used to have wonderful Julys that were very dry and we could count on going out and surveying. And I would plan our whole season out in February. We quit doing that three years ago because all I would do is plan our whole survey season out and cancel everything because we got rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. I've only been back in western Pennsylvania for 15 years, but I've noticed that it's definitely getting wetter in the summer for us. We're getting much more longer storms, higher intensity storms, lots and lots of water in a given shot.

Michael Pisano (00:12:26):

Flooding, I see as this connection point that's really clear for most people between human health and wellbeing and what we would consider maybe wild health or non-human organisms health. Can you just kind of talk about that for a second? What happens when there's a flood in a place like this? What's going to happen to this ecosystem?

Eric Chapman (00:12:52):

Yeah, I mean flooding is one of those things that's completely natural. Flooding from a human standpoint is horrible. The problem is that we have built infrastructure, we've built houses right up to the edge of streams and rivers. 300 years ago those streams had access to their flood plain and could disperse that energy. Now we have kind of concrete or we've built in so tight to the stream that when we get these massive rain events, the water has nowhere to go but up. And when it goes up, it's now into my house and that's bad. Flooding out here, there are some species of fish that will complete their life cycle out in the flood plain. And if we can't have flooding it's not good for those fish populations. So, flooding is a very difficult problem. It's a human problem because of a lot of the building that we have done, a lot of infrastructure we've done and we've put too close to streams.

Michael Pisano (00:13:50):

I'm curious at a high level how those waterways have intersected with human history here. I mean, we think of Pittsburgh, let's say for example, as part of the Rust Belt, it's got a post-industrial kind of vibe. I mean, what does that actually mean? How have our waterways been impacted by people living here?

Eric Chapman (00:14:05):

Yeah, our waterways have been impacted historically since people first were here. I'll give you a great example would be the Clarion River. There's a paper written by Dr. Ortman called The Destruction of Freshwater Funnel in Western Pennsylvania. And he wrote that in the early 1900, I think it was published in 1909. And he has a piece in there that says The clearing river flowed black like inc. And all life was completely dead.


So, fast forward to now and we are starting to see hellbenders in there, we have mussels in there. We're seeing recovery in those watersheds and it's a really wonderful thing for me to be able to go out and survey those stream and try and document what we have today. Because so much of Western Pennsylvania was impacted by acid mine drainage, by incredible deforestation. The whole state was basically clear cut. So, the Clarion River Watershed is a great example where we have old photographs that show not a single tree left. So, all of that sediment, all of that is just washing into the stream.

Michael Pisano (00:15:05):

Sediment, meaning all the soil that the healthy forest kept anchored in place, or maybe it's soil from nearby farmland for example, that's carried away in water runoff. When all that dirt and debris flows into a waterway too quickly, it can seriously gunk up the works.

Eric Chapman (00:15:21):

And that's across from the smallest little tributary all the way to the main stem, Clarion River. So, recovery is real and it's happening and that's been a part of my career has been documenting that recovery across the state.

Michael Pisano (00:15:32):

And I mean, as best as you can tell, why is that recovery occurring?

Eric Chapman (00:15:36):

I think the recovery, the best part of the recovery that we're seeing I think was the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act has really accelerated things and people are being more cognizant of the environment. They're recognizing that clean water's important. You don't want to be having contaminated drinking water. We've seen what happened out in Flint and lots of other issues around the region and it's just clean water is an essential part of life.

Michael Pisano (00:16:06):

I would also argue, and I would love for you to make the better articulated version of the argument that it's essential to human life to have hellbenders, to have freshwater mussels.

Eric Chapman (00:16:16):

I totally agree.

Michael Pisano (00:16:17):

Can you connect the kind of dots again? Why is life at that scale relevant to life at our scale?

Eric Chapman (00:16:22):

Life at that scale is telling us if we have hellbenders, if we have mussels, if we have brook trout, our waterways are doing really well. If we have those species present in an ecosystem, it means it's intact. And intact ecosystem is going to benefit us in the end. My favorite way to explain it to people is that freshwater mussels, filter feed, that's how they make their living. So, they're pulling everything out of the water column comes in, in current siphon goes out, the out current siphons, they are providing an ecosystem service to us. They're cleaning water for us for free.

Michael Pisano (00:16:54):

It's wild. I mean, I think most people on the street, and I don't think it's any fault of their own. Maybe just the way that our education is oriented. Most people don't know that there are freshwater mussels.

Eric Chapman (00:17:04):


Michael Pisano (00:17:05):

I mean I told my mother yesterday, I was doing this interview on the phone, she said, "What is a freshwater mussel?" Maybe that's a good thing that we could talk about. I mean, what is that organism? How is it different from a mussel that you might eat in a restaurant, which is probably most people's exposure?

Eric Chapman (00:17:19):

Sure. The freshwater mussels that we have here, they're fantastic animals. I love looking at them. From a human standpoint would be their filter feeding capabilities. We didn't get any here today, but you look at a mucket, Actinonaias ligamentina and they are capable of filtering over 20 gallons of water, per day per individual. When you get into the Allegheny, you'll have beds of thousands of them. So, if you extrapolate that out over the course of the whole Allegheny River, the ecosystem service that one species provides is unbelievable.


Well, if you look at the Allegheny, there's 24 plus or minus species in that system. It's a huge ecosystem service that we are benefiting from having mussels here. They're a part of stabilizing stream beds, macroinvertebrates love to colonize on their shells. So, you'll have a mini ecosystem on top of those mussel shells. There'll be Caddisflies attached to them. When those Caddisflies hatch, they're going to feed the fish that are hanging out in the mussel beds and so on and so on and so on. It just builds off of them.

Michael Pisano (00:18:19):

Yeah, it's all connected.

Eric Chapman (00:18:21):

100% connected.

Michael Pisano (00:18:24):

It never gets old for me. What are the threats to mussels right now? I guess I'm curious about two main categories. One, they're arguably one category, but let's start with climate change broken out. How is it changing climate a threat to our freshwater mussels?

Eric Chapman (00:18:41):

So, climate change to our mussel populations, I would say the biggest threat to them is going to be the increased runoff. All of that rain that's coming into that system is going to carry, if it's washing off of roads, it's going to have oil, it can have grease, it can have all of those petroleum chemicals coming into that system. Sedimentation is going to be the other big driver from runoff. So, if you couple those two things together with climate change, I think that's going to be our biggest problem for freshwater mussels.


Take a step back, damming our rivers has probably been the biggest threat or change to our mussel community that we see. You take what was once a free flowing river and you've now turned it into a series of lakes and when you have those series of lakes, you lose your flow. And a lot of our federally listed species are highly flow dependent species. They can't live in slow moving waters. They need that high flow from an oxygenation standpoint, they need that from a food standpoint. And when you put those series of locks and dam in the river, you've completely changed it now into a series of lakes.

Michael Pisano (00:19:42):

In a healthy southwestern Pennsylvania river or stream, you can kind of choose whatever waterway you like. How are these organisms that we've talked about like freshwater mussels, hellbenders, aquatic macroinvertebrates, how are they all working together? I mean, paint me just a quick little picture of that ecosystem.

Eric Chapman (00:20:01):

Okay. So, your macroinvertebrates are going to be the building block of your whole aquatic ecosystem. So, they are going to be the bottom of your trophic pyramid. They're going to be food for all of your fish. Let's back up a second and say that those macroinvertebrates are taking all of the leaf litter that's being washed in the stream. They're breaking that leaf litter down, so they're going to be feeding on that leaf litter. Now they have grown, they've metamorphoses, the fish are there, the fish are going to be feeding on those macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates, you could also throw crayfish into there as well because there can are detritivore. Crayfish or tied to hellbenders. Hellbenders feed almost exclusively on crayfish. So, if we don't have any crayfish, we don't have any hellbenders. And freshwater mussels are basically the bottom of everything because they're stabilizing that whole stream bed.


When you have dense populations of freshwater mussels, they'll build mussel beds. On those mussel beds are macroinvertebrates, colonize that mussel bed living on the outer shells of the mussels. So, then the fish are now hanging out because they want to feed off the macroinvertebrates. Freshwater mussels have an amazing reproductive strategy. It's external fertilization. So, the external, the male will release sperm in of the water column. The female filters the sperm in, fertilization happens internally. She will then take her mantle edge, that's the creature shell and makes it into a lure. And depending upon species, it'll look like a minnow with complete with an eye spot and fins or it'll be a crayfish. It'll even have pinchers coming off the side. An animal that doesn't have eyes knows what a minnow or a crayfish looks like. It's mind blowing. She sits there and waves that.


If you're a small mouth bass or a rock bass or one of the other species of fish, you come up and you try and bite that lure. When they bite that lure, they'll release the glochidia, the baby tiny mussels. So, very, very small mussels, less than a millimeter. They go into the mouth of the fish, they hang onto the gills, they'll hang onto the fins. Fish goes, wow, I thought that was a crayfish and I just got a mouthful of ... Baby mussels swims off and those mussels will grow on the fish and after four weeks, six weeks, depending upon the species, those baby mussels will drop off. And that's how we see upstream dispersal of freshwater mussels. It's fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.

Michael Pisano (00:22:24):

And is that like a parasitic relationship?

Eric Chapman (00:22:27):


Michael Pisano (00:22:28):


Eric Chapman (00:22:28):

It would be a parasitic relationship. And some of the species of freshwater mussels will only use one fish. So, if you lose your host fish, your mussel is gone. So, our most highly endangered mussels are federally listed species typically are one or two species of fish. That's why they become in danger because they lose their fish so they can't complete their life cycle.

Michael Pisano (00:22:53):

Excellent, thank you. So, okay, when we're looking at that ecosystem as a whole with its relationships, how does climate change threaten that kind of balance or the operation of that ecosystem?

Eric Chapman (00:23:06):

Yeah, I would say that climate change is going to really mess with the balance as a result of all of that sedimentation. So, sedimentation is a big problem for freshwater mussels because it can completely cover their shells. If you get a five inch rain event, I have not done this yet, but it'll be probably really interesting, would be to put sediment traps out and measure how much sediment is coming into the system after we get one of these incredibly strong storms that's washing all kinds of material into our system, you can basically completely cover that mussel.


If the mussel becomes covered with too much sediment and it can't burrow back up through that, it's not going to be able to filter food, it's going to suffocate and die. Same thing with hellbenders. Hellbenders, the biggest problem for them is going to be all of that sediment washing in and clogging their nest rocks. And the nest rocks are where they raise their young, they get completely silted out and they lose that and you're going to lose generations of hellbenders.

Michael Pisano (00:24:03):

And I mean, let's kind of keep extrapolating out. How will that impact the way that people interact with our waterways here?

Eric Chapman (00:24:13):

That's an interesting question. People I know, I wouldn't want to go and take my dog and play fetch in an area that's highly polluted, near contaminated, it's not a great place. I don't want to put my animal there. I don't want to go swim in a place that's got dead fish. So, it's not a picturesque place to recreate. I think of the one thing that we've seen from the pandemic is that kayak sales are through the roof, paddle board sail are through the roof. Everyone is going where during the pandemic? They're going outside. We're enjoying our waterways more. We've never seen more people out and about on lakes and rivers and it's wonderful. And I just hope that everyone appreciates how important that is to our sanity is to be able to get outside and recreate and enjoy nature.

Michael Pisano (00:25:00):

Yes, I would love for you to expand on that. That's exactly what I was going to ask about next. I mean, yeah, what is the value to you, even just in your personal experience of spending time? Let's start specifically on the waterways.

Eric Chapman (00:25:12):

To me, it's part of my being. Being on the waterway is what makes me whole, whether it's salt water or whether it's snorkeling a stream looking for freshwater mussels. There's nothing that makes me happier than being on the water. And I think that a lot of people during the pandemic and in general have decided or have found that the water is their happy place too. We're seeing lots more people out fishing now. We're seeing more people recreating and it's really important to maintain that balance or that connection with nature. Everyone has a cellphone, everyone loves that cellphone, but I think it's really important to put that down and walk away and get out and explore a stream, a creek, a lake, a river.

Michael Pisano (00:25:53):

And this is a question we're asking pretty much every interviewee, how do you think climate change will impact how we pursue happiness?

Eric Chapman (00:26:02):

Wow. It's a good thing I didn't look at these questions. As I said, we're not doing this today. I think climate change is really going to make a high quality recreation experience, probably a little bit more difficult. Increased rain events, we have the picture perfect day today. But most people generally don't like to be outside when it's raining. We have no choice. We have to go and do our work so we're in it no matter what. But yeah, I think those high frequency rain events are going to make could make recreation not as enjoyable. When it's 50 degrees out in rain, it's not as much fun as when it's 70 in beautiful sun. So, yeah, I think that's one aspect of it.

Michael Pisano (00:26:42):

And what kind of things can we do to mitigate that?

Eric Chapman (00:26:45):

I'd love to see us pull things back from our streams to have bigger stream buffers. If we can plant trees along streams. That's one of the things that we've been doing to try and combat climate change. So, one of the things that the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy that we have been doing is planting more riparian buffers in places that we can because trees along the stream is a wonderful thing.

Michael Pisano (00:27:08):

Riparian, meaning the zone where a river or stream meets the shore.

Eric Chapman (00:27:12):

Those trees are going to help suck up that extra water. When the stream does get out of the bank and there's a great flood plain community there of riparian vegetation, it's going to slow the waters down. They're going to, for a backup, but for a lack of a better terminology, the water is going to dissipate off the trunks of those trees and it's going to slow that energy down instead of having a concentrated flow down river.

Michael Pisano (00:27:34):

Yeah, yeah. Helps with all sorts of things. Erosion. Yeah, I mean you just brought up the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, so let's shift gears really quickly and talk about them. I mean, for someone who's never heard of it, first just give us the elevator pitch. What do you do?

Eric Chapman (00:27:48):

What we do? The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is a multifaceted organization. I am in the watershed conservation program. We also have a program in Pittsburgh, community Gardens in Green space that if you're from the Pittsburgh region, you know that very well where they do the street trees, the planters, WPC owns Falling Water. So, Falling Water is that wonderful house down on bear run that has an inspiration for architecture. The watershed conservation program that I'm a part of, we do pretty much anything that comes in contact with water, we have a hand in. From all of the survey work that I'm a huge part of, to there's also a restoration side of the work that we do. We work with local farmers to try and put best management practices on the ground to try and mitigate flooding, to try and reduce erosion. We will try and fix failing stream banks.


We also do a lot of the culvert work to try and combat climate change. So, helping with infrastructure issues. We help write nutrient management plans for farmers that help them farm better so they're not putting excess nutrients onto the soils that when we get a five inch rain event that all watches into the stream. We do a lot of ripe pairing buffer tree plantings to try and increase that stream canopy, stream canopy corridor.


What else are we do in Pittsburgh? All kinds of different things. Pittsburgh's doing a lot of work with storm water to try and mitigate storm water impacts. And I think that's a really important thing for climate change that we're doing in an urban environment. So, WPC has an urban role, but we also have out here are more rural as well. And we have a group that works up in the Allegheny National Forest that works with the ... Allegheny National Forest foresters where we're inserting large woody materials back into the stream. So, going and cutting down larger trees to drop them into this stream to try and allow the stream to access its flood plain more. So, it's kind of new work that we've been doing over the last five years or so, but I think that's really important for climate change as well.

Michael Pisano (00:29:51):

Yeah, I mean can you help, for someone who's maybe just not super familiar with all the concepts there, give me a really clear idea of how that kind of work mitigates climate change.

Eric Chapman (00:30:04):

So, doing large wood material additions to the stream. If we would roll back 200 years, we'd have trees falling in stream all the time. But the way that we have managed our lands a lot the last 80 years or so, we haven't done a lot of wood additions to streams. We haven't cut a lot of trees. So, it's a practice that started from the US Forest Service. So, we've worked a lot with them.


Our staff have been to trainings, put on by the Forest Service to teach you a proper way to do this and we will go along and cut trees and directionally fell them into the stream to increase that wood composition in the stream. Because if you have a lot of wood in the stream, you have more food for your macroinvertebrates, you also have more hiding places for your brook trout and your other fish. So, by adding that wood into the stream, you're increasing habitat in the stream, but you're also allowing as the waters come up to interact with that wood to get out into the flood plain to dissipate flood waters.

Michael Pisano (00:31:06):

Excellent. And let's do the same thing with some of the infrastructure projects. So, maybe just start by describing ...

Eric Chapman (00:31:14):

Call the project.

Michael Pisano (00:31:15):

Yeah, that's exactly it. The perfect mechanism of it would be great to hear about and then what you hope the impact is.

Eric Chapman (00:31:21):

So, a lot of the culvert work that we have done, we are really using Geographic Information System, GIS. GIS has been a huge driver for the work that we have done ever since I've been at the Conservancy the last 14, 15 years. We use GIS to take land cover data to take all of the fish data that we have looking at water quality information from the DEP data and we overlay all of that. And then we'll take that and match it to a culvert on a stream that we know and we'll go out and do a survey. And if we have brook trout, let's say we have a really good brook trout population down below the culvert, downstream of the culvert, we have no fish upstream of the culvert. So, you've done that, but you've gone out and you've done your electro fishing survey, you know there's no fish upstream of that.


We'll write a grant partner with a local municipality, normally one of the conservation districts. So, as a partnership, we'll all raise funds, go out, hire a contractor or take that undersized culvert out. And a lot of times we're trying to put timber deck bridges in. So, remove any infrastructure from the actual stream channel and then go back and look at the fisheries in that area post replacement. And we're seeing that we're getting fish that are able to move now up through that structure and we're increasing the range of those species, which is what the hope and dream is. And it's a twofold benefit because we get the brook trout able to move upstream, but we also get improved infrastructure for the people that live in the area. So, they don't have to worry about their road washing away in the next storm.

Michael Pisano (00:32:52):

Yeah, hugely important. And this is maybe an obvious question, but why do you have to do that work in the first place?

Eric Chapman (00:33:00):

We have to do that work because 30, 40, 50 years ago when a lot of these crossings were put in, we didn't think about climate change. It wasn't a thing back then. So, a lot of the engineers looked at the stream, looked at what it was, how it was on site and said, I'm going to use four feet, let's say for the stream width. I'm going to put a four foot culvert in. That's just what you did back then. Now we use 1.2 or 1.5 times the bank full width. So, instead of using a four foot culvert for a four foot stream, we're going to use at least a six, maybe an eight. If I'm doing it, I'm taking the culvert out and I'm going to put a timber deck bridge in and not even have to worry about it. So, that you have the ability for that much stream to move through an area in a high water event.

Michael Pisano (00:33:47):

One of the things that we're trying to focus the series around is collective action and that specifically in contrast to the idea that to battle climate change, you need to get a reasonable straw, you need to do individual scale actions. And this isn't to discount maybe the importance of that in some different ways, but I'm curious about the importance of collaboration and community in the work that you and the WPC does.

Eric Chapman (00:34:11):

Yeah, I mean there's not a single project we do without collaboration. We love working with the local municipalities. They live in the areas that we're working. I'm not an organization that's going to come in and say, hey, I'm from Indiana or I am from Pittsburgh. This is what you need to do. That's a way to never work in an area again. The way that we do is I want local buy-in. I want the local child unlimited chapter to be a part of the project. I want the Cons County Conservation District to be a part of the project and everyone brings their collective knowledge and resources to the table. We look at the problem and say, hey, this is what we need to do to fix this. Let's all work together. You guys raise some funds, we'll raise some funds. We can do the science monitoring the project, and with a really nice project at the end of the day.

Michael Pisano (00:34:55):

That's awesome. And I think there's kind of a related amorphous question that I haven't quite formulated yet about American culture, I guess. I think it's safe to call Americans individualist by and large. And I'm curious, I guess about how to extend the idea of community and buy-in to work like what you do because it can't just be the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. So, how do we invite people to this process, do you think?

Eric Chapman (00:35:32):

One of the ways it's worked really well for us in the past is public meetings. We will bring maps of the watershed, we'll bring maps of project areas and we'll send postcards out now that we're 20, 21, everyone has a phone. You can put things on Facebook. And you can really try and reach as many landowners or stakeholders in a given watershed as possible. And we invite everyone to come and give us their input. They've lived there, sometimes two, three, four generations have lived in the same spot. You guys know what happens in your watershed, I don't. I know how to fix things, let's work together. You explain the local knowledge to me, I'll say, this is what I think we should do and we all work together.

Michael Pisano (00:36:15):

I love that. Yeah, thank you. How could a concerned Pennsylvanian get involved with the type of work that you're doing with our waterways?

Eric Chapman (00:36:24):

Yeah, we take volunteers out on projects quite often. Our construction staff uses a lot of volunteers in the Allegheny National Forest region. I believe we put things on Facebook, kind of the stuff that I do is a little bit more challenging because some of the species that we're dealing with, the federally threatened and endangered species, I really don't don't want to have that broadcast all over the place because we try and mask their distribution a little bit. But when we're doing backpack electric fishing surveys for brook trout and things like that, I've taken volunteers out many, many times.

Michael Pisano (00:36:59):

Very cool. And then I'm also curious, you mentioned earlier the Clean Water Act. Does that inspire a model for future policy? I mean, what do you think could happen on a policy level to help in climate change mitigation?

Eric Chapman (00:37:15):

Yeah, I think on a policy level for climate change, that's going to be one of the most difficult questions to deal with because it's an uncomfortable question. A lot of the choices that we have made in the past are what's affecting us now. I would say the biggest example to that, I would say all of the things that are built too close to our streams. And once again, I don't want to move someone out of their house. But mother nature's probably going to do that for them eventually.


If we get enough flooding, we're seeing impacts in Pittsburgh with just, we get a combined sewer overflow event in Pittsburgh if we get a quarter inch of rain. So, that's another huge problem to deal with trying to update that infrastructure. I think the policy implications that we need to have are ones that are going to increase buffers on streams. We need to get our setbacks back. And that's an uncomfortable situation to talk about and deal with because frankly, we're going to have to move people out of the way of the stream. I think that's the only way we're going to be able to deal with it.

Michael Pisano (00:38:15):

It's probably easier than moving the stream.

Eric Chapman (00:38:18):

We don't want to move the stream.

Michael Pisano (00:38:19):

We don't.

Eric Chapman (00:38:20):

The stream wants to be where the stream wants to be.

Michael Pisano (00:38:21):

I'd like it to be there too personally. And then thinking about the community or one of the communities that I would say you belong to, which is scientists and conservationists, people who are merging these two. There's this phrase that I hear a lot that we don't have much time to take meaningful, decisive action. What does that look like in your community, do you think? I mean, ideally speaking.

Eric Chapman (00:38:49):

In the scientific community, I think we're seeing change on some things. For me, I have always thought of we don't know everything yet. We still need to get out there and do surveys to try and document what we have. I find it incredibly invigorating that it's 2021 that I'm still finding streams that we don't know had mussels in them. So, I feel like my contribution or my group's contribution to science is documenting what we have and I want to document what we have before it's gone. Am I saying that everything's going to disappear? I don't think that's accurate. I think the cold water species are going to be hit much harder than our warm water species because they are so much more dependent on stable cold water. That's why we're doing so much work with the culvert replacements to try and allow those animals to get higher into the watershed, to escape those warming temperatures.

Michael Pisano (00:39:43):

Give them a little mobility.

Eric Chapman (00:39:45):


Michael Pisano (00:39:47):

It's wild to think about refugees. It's normally a human concept, but it is happening as organisms have to change their ranges and things.

Eric Chapman (00:39:55):


Michael Pisano (00:39:56):

Yeah. Wild. Okay, we're going to shift away a little bit from climate change. It's still extremely related and feel free to connect the dots as much as you like. But one of the main themes of the museum's [inaudible 00:40:12] scene work in general is that we are nature, that we are [inaudible 00:40:16], not some separate thing. And our culture has maybe gotten us a little bit in trouble and abstracted away from that. And so I guess just to start, what are the threats to our waterways besides climate change right now?

Eric Chapman (00:40:39):

So, I would say that the threats to our waterways in Western Pennsylvania, it's really tough and most of it's a result of our own fault. If we're farming too close to a stream and we have all of those fertilizer washing into the stream, it's going to become eutrophied, way too many nutrients. That's why we're seeing the issues that we're seeing in the bay. And it's not just farmer's faults.

Michael Pisano (00:41:05):

In fact, it's got a lot to do with poorly distributed subsidies and predatory corporate systems that incentivize shortsighted industrial farming practices. You can hear all about that and about better alternatives in our episode about regenerative agriculture.

Eric Chapman (00:41:20):

It's people fertilizing their lawns, it's people plowing too close to the field, it's our golf courses. But it's a people problem. We need to appreciate what we have out here in our waterways and I think it needs to be more of a forethought in what we do than an afterthought. I think that the afterthought has caused a lot of the issues that we have. But I honestly feel that we're starting to see more forethought. If there was any positive that came from the pandemic, I'd like to say that I feel that people are appreciating the wild spaces and the outside, and a lot of the work that we do more now than what they did before.

Michael Pisano (00:42:03):

I think it's a common talking point that I've heard leveraged against climate change mitigation or even acceptance of climate change, that environmentalists or conservationists or stewards, whatever you want to call them, want to take your X away. They want to make sure you never eat a burger again or you're not going to eat fish. Everyone's going to be a vegan. I'm in trouble. Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about a right relationship with nature? I mean, it can't be extractive to the point that it is now, but is there a middle ground mean? What do you think of as a good way of coexisting?

Eric Chapman (00:42:45):

Yeah, I mean there's nothing better than spending a day hiking up into a beautiful back country stream and catching a couple brook trout and eating them. They're a resource. Now, if you were to go to a stream and catch 200 brook trout and eat all of them or take all of them out, that's a serious problem. But we have rules and regulations in play from the Pennsylvania Game Commission that says how many deer you're allowed to harvest. We have rules in place from the Fish and Boat Commission that say, thou shall not eat more than 12 trout from this. I think you keep five trout now. But we have regulations in place to allow harvest because we have to have harvest. Harvest is huge. How we balance our populations, especially for whitetail deer.


That I think that there can be that harmony with going out and shooting some rabbits and enjoying a nice rabbit dinner or harvesting a deer or catching some trout, or large mouth bath for that matter. I see no problem with that. It's just making sure that you don't overstep your bounces. You should only take what you can eat. There's no reason for, I don't have to take your limit every time you go. There's no reason for that, in my opinion. I feel that if you catch two or three trout and you want to have a trout dinner, I think you should have at it.

Michael Pisano (00:44:05):

That'd be for you. Yeah, yeah. I appreciate that. And I think that also ties to me or ties back to another kind of abstraction that I see in culture, which is abstraction from where our food comes from.

Eric Chapman (00:44:20):


Michael Pisano (00:44:21):

So, can you talk, I mean, this isn't maybe your area of expertise, but the food system is I think that's a problem.

Eric Chapman (00:44:29):

Well, it's a huge problem in my opinion. I'm an aquatics guy, but I believe in that, you know what I mean? No one knows where their food comes from. That's why I feel it's really important that if you eat meat, you should hunt. You can go out and harvest a deer and you can take that deer to a processor if you'd like. But I butcher my own deer and my kids have helped me with that since they were three years old.


They understand where their food comes from. If you're going to be a meat eater, I feel that's part of the deal. I think that's something that a lot of people, and it's not just an urban thing. I think there's a lot of rural people that may not have never been involved in hunting or gathering for that matter. This time of year, we're picking mushrooms whenever we're out. Because we find mushrooms all over the place and I'm making mushroom risotto tonight from the end of the woods that we found when we were out on Tuesday. So, that's what we're all about. I think that harvest is a great part of a reward from coming outside.

Michael Pisano (00:45:26):

And just from speaking with other folks who hunt, I personally love foraging a ton. I find that foraging gives me a special connection, a deep looking, a deep thinking about learning and curiosity and coming alive in nature.

Eric Chapman (00:45:44):


Michael Pisano (00:45:44):

Can you just speak about how that [inaudible 00:45:47], which I think some people view hunting or fishing as violent and not, there's like a disconnect between that and the way it connects you to the natural world. I mean, talk about the act of being out and hunting or whatever that is to you.

Eric Chapman (00:46:02):

Yeah, I mean, to me it's a philosophical thing. I feel that when you come out and spend a day of field and you're out grouse hunting and you've walked five miles and it's 25 degrees out and it's snowing and you put that one grouse up and you actually hit it. You can't believe you shot it and you bring that home and you prepare that yourself and you make a grouse medallions over wild rice or something like that.


And to me, there's no better feeling knowing that I helped contribute to the food that I ate that day. I didn't go to the store and buy that. You can't buy grouse. You can't buy native brook trout that you're eating on a hiking trip. To me, it's a deeply philosophical thing, knowing that I'm providing for myself. And I feel that connection with the outdoors is, yes, I did shoot that grouse and I killed that, but grouse are being killed by coyotes and foxes and all kinds of different birds of prey. And it's our way of being part of the equation.

Michael Pisano (00:47:03):

I mean, this is too big of a question probably, but I'll ask it anyway. How have we gotten taken out of that equation? I mean maybe not how, but how do you think we could get back to that? Maybe not everyone who's in is going to have the access to come out and look for their own food. How do people who are living in our urban centers in Pennsylvania, how would you suggest they try reconnecting with that?

Eric Chapman (00:47:31):

I think there's a lot of sportsman's groups that can be found in the city. You have numerous sportsman's clubs around that are doing all kinds of activities to try and get people back into the outdoors. Every single person almost today has a smartphone. You can look up outdoor opportunities near me and that's going to come up on your phone and you could connect with them.


The game commission has all kinds of activities that you can find on their website with how to introduce new hunters. Not everyone grew up in an outdoorsy family. I was fortunate I did. My grandfather and my father both taught me how to hunt, and I've taught my son and my daughter both how to hunt. It's a part of this is my favorite time of year fall. We're coming into hunting season. To me, it's part of my life and I think it's exceptionally rewarding to harvest the food that you eat because you're helping to break that supply chain.

Michael Pisano (00:48:29):

There are many ways to do this. Again, check out our episode about regenerative agriculture and either of our episodes about urban farming. If you live in western PA, I can personally enthusiastically endorse the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, which is full of very knowledgeable and wonderfully helpful members who can help you find some free food medicine and fun out in the woods. Regardless of whether it's hunting, gardening, foraging, fishing, or finding a local farm market, get in touch with where your food comes from. It truly can help mitigate climate change and it offers a path towards a relationship of reciprocity and gratitude with non-human life. How is this line of thinking about recreation connected to WPCs work?

Eric Chapman (00:49:18):

It blows me away the amount of property that we own and steward that we have open for recreation opportunities. Toms Run Done in Pittsburgh is a very popular place where you can pull up our properties map and find trails and go hike. And there's lots of different opportunities if you're down at falling water, we have the 5,000 plus acre bear run nature reserve that surrounds the house. You can camp there. There's lots of ways on our properties and it's one of the things that makes me proud to work for WPC is that we purchase land, but we also don't purchase land to shut it down. We purchase land to allow outside access and recreation opportunities for anyone, all walks of life.

Michael Pisano (00:50:02):

Yeah, it's super important to open it up to care for it as you do, and also to then let other people know that it's there.

Eric Chapman (00:50:09):

Sure. We don't hide where our properties are. I mean, it's on the web.

Michael Pisano (00:50:13):

You make maps for them, it's the opposite.

Eric Chapman (00:50:16):


Michael Pisano (00:50:16):

I've been to all those places you mentioned. It was great. And I guess I'd love if you can to connect that back to this idea of non climate change, specific anthropogenic threats to our natural bounty in the area. What is WPC doing to mitigate some of those or to fight against some of that?

Eric Chapman (00:50:39):

So, I'd say one of probably the best ways that we're trying to work with that is managing the lands so that you have all of the appropriate habitats for all of the species you do expect to see. Rough grouse, for instance. They like early successional habitats, so you cut trees for them. Logging is not horrible. Improper logging is horrible. I fully support the silviculture industry. It creates thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania, especially in western Pennsylvania.


And bringing that timber to market is huge, but it needs to be done in a proper way. I think WPC does a pretty decent job of managing our lands by cutting trees where we should. I think we could do a little bit more of cutting trees. But some people aren't comfortable with that and that's fine. But I think bringing that timber to market is important. It also helps to shore up the bottom line. It's important. Everything unfortunately in today's world has a dollar sign attached to it. And a lot of the places that we steward are exceptionally important places.

Michael Pisano (00:51:47):

I agree. And can you talk about what makes those important outside of the kind of capital of it? I think something that I hear often, and I haven't figured out what exactly rubs me the wrong way about it. But in conservation discourse, let's say about pollinators, you hear about the amount of crops in dollar amount that they help pollinate every year. Ecosystem services, I think is the idea or the general thing, is that what it is?

Eric Chapman (00:52:20):

Yep. I'm fine with that.

Michael Pisano (00:52:23):

I get that that's like an important talking point for why it's important to have bees and bats and stuff. But also there's an inherent value to them that's much harder to describe. But that also to me feels almost like it might be more impactful. You throw around enough big numbers, big money, numbers, people stop giving [inaudible 00:52:42]. I mean, it's like I hear three statistics in a row and I blank out. I'm gone. I'm asleep in the back of the room. You tell me about reverence, something that you feel really spiritually connected to, you can learn from, you can engage with and it'll enrich your life. I guess I'm just answering the question now, but I want your-

Eric Chapman (00:53:03):

No, it's fine.

Michael Pisano (00:53:04):

Your feeling on that. What are the value of these things outside of that bottom line?

Eric Chapman (00:53:09):

Yeah, I mean there's an intrinsic beauty that you'll see in the water. You put a mask and a snorkel on, and I take you to a mussel stream. I struggle to describe it with words, with how beautiful it is to see those mussels filtering and doing their thing and the fish that are associated with them and the macroinvertebrates that are present. And it's one beautiful ecosystem and I can't put a dollar amount on the value of that mussel. I mean when we have spills and fish and boat has determined what those animals are "worth".


But to me it's much more important than money because once one of those are gone, they're gone forever. We can't get it back. So, I think we need to do, the protection is important so that we don't wink out. We don't lose those species. It's when they're gone, they're gone. You know what I mean? And freshwater mussels are kind of like the redheaded stepchild of the conservation world. I mean, people know about them. There's a lot of people, not a lot. There's some of us that work on them, but they're not an elephant. They're not a baby rhinoceros, they're not a kangaroo. They're not cute and cuddly. That's probably why I love them so much. They're the underdog, I'd say in the freshwater conservation world.

Michael Pisano (00:54:23):

That brings its own kind of charisma, I think.

Eric Chapman (00:54:25):

Yeah, they're incredibly charismatic for me.

Michael Pisano (00:54:28):

Yeah, I mean I think that relates to something that I talked about with Charles, which in general was this idea of getting funding or doing conservation narrative work around charismatic megaphone. Your tigers, your baby elephants. And to some degree of course that works. And I'm not immune to a baby elephant.

Eric Chapman (00:54:51):


Michael Pisano (00:54:52):

That tickles my heart strings. But it also seems that we're falling short in a lot of ways for conservation of species. Can you think of another way to tell these stories?

Eric Chapman (00:55:06):

I think my favorite way to tell the story is to grab someone by the hand and walk them out into the stream. To take someone out and show them this is what we have here, this is what is natural, this is what is native, which is what belongs here. And we have done a ton of education work in the past. To me, it's all about bringing the next generation and appreciating what we have in Western Pennsylvania. Is everybody going to think a mussel is wonderful? I don't think so, but I think if we can help draw that connection to them to at least appreciate how important they are, then we've done a good thing.

Michael Pisano (00:55:45):

I think a very good thing indeed. And I think that's going to take us towards wrapping up here. So, I guess I'm curious, you mentioned trying to expose the next generation specifically to some of these wonderful things. We're trying to think at a couple of different time scales for this exhibit to match up with some of the other resources that are being produced for it. Just a quick plug, if you're in Pittsburgh, come check out the We Are Nature hub space at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


And one of the sets of resources is a series of time capsules. Time capsules that do in fact happen to be shaped like giant tardigrades. These were made by artist and museum science communication fellow Asia Ward. Those time capsules are in that same, We Are Nature hub space drop into the museum and leave a note for future humanity. Folks are being asked to reflect on questions based around, I think it's seven years from now, which is related to the IPCC report of how much time we have to do something. And then some longer amounts of time looking ahead into the future. So, I guess I'm curious first thinking about between now and let's say the end of this decade, what do you see or hope to see accomplished in this community or in this part of the world?

Eric Chapman (00:57:04):

I'd say first and foremost would be that appreciation for the species that are here. I think that's something that we can do in the near and now pretty easily. And using technology, which I can't stand, but we can use it for good, would be to put those species out there that are really important. That could wink out if climate change goes completely unchecked and help influence people to make better decisions because of what we have out here in our waterways. I think the culvert work is incredibly important. It's one of those things that we can go out and we can pop a culvert and we can put a timber deck bridge in and you'll have fish moving up in days.


I mean, we have done dam removal projects where I've had the excavator in the stream, jack hammering the dam out and when we stopped for lunch and notched the dam and come back and there's fish moving upstream that day while the excavator is sitting in the stream, our species move. They like to move around. So, those are tangible right now things that we can do, is to keep moving ahead with that aquatic organism passage concept and keep moving and replacing culverts to allow those animals to move. So, I would say yeah, definitely using the technology to harp on what you have, what's here and what's right in your backyard. And then the culvert projects for sure.

Michael Pisano (00:58:27):

Excellent. And then let's look ahead a little bit further. Give me 50 years from now, what do you hope that your colleagues, your future colleagues would have accomplished in 50 years?

Eric Chapman (00:58:40):

I would love to see freshwater mussel distributions explode. I'd love to see our waterways cleaned up. It's not something that I do personally, but the work that's been done the last 40 or 50 years on acid mine drainage has been, you can't underestimate how much it has changed our watersheds in Western Pennsylvania.

Michael Pisano (00:59:02):

Final plug of the day, check out our episode about Mountain Watershed Association, who are some of the many Pennsylvanians working to clean up abandoned coal mine pollution and organizing against future coal and other fossil fuel extraction.

Eric Chapman (00:59:14):

I hope that the people that do acid mine drainage work run out of work to do because they fixed everything. That would be awesome because acid mine drainage is one of the biggest problems that we have in these rural areas because of the aluminum, or depending upon what type of discharge it is exceptionally toxic to all aquatic life. So, I hope those guys have run out of places to fix. That would be awesome.

Michael Pisano (00:59:38):

Agreed. This can be really grim and depressing to think about climate change and to think about extinction of things that you know have studied for many years. How do you keep hope for future life?

Eric Chapman (00:59:57):

I keep hope for future life by living in the now, right now, surveying all those places that I feel, using my colleagues, their experiences, and picking those places that haven't been looked at and going out and surveying them and putting that dot on the map. Everyone teases me, but that's like my saying is, but I want to put dots on the map. I've been doing dots on the map for 15, 16 years now, and I've been trying to make this map of all of the species that we work with across the state. I think it'll be really impactful to see all of those places that had no information to where we are now.

Michael Pisano (01:00:36):

Yeah, absolutely. Okay, I'm going to resist a follow up because we are just over an hour now, so I'm curious.

Eric Chapman (01:00:45):

That's crazy.

Michael Pisano (01:00:46):

Yeah. Kind of flew.

Eric Chapman (01:00:48):


Michael Pisano (01:00:49):

Yeah. Is there anything that you would like to say, either in wrap up or going back to anything we talked about?

Eric Chapman (01:00:57):

I really appreciate the opportunity you guys have given us to talk about the work that we do at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. I think freshwater mussels are one of those really underappreciated groups just because people like your mom have never heard of them, they have no clue. My kids think I'm a little weird because of the work that I do because I spend so much time looking at freshwater mussels.

Michael Pisano (01:01:19):

But I think that makes you a good parent officially.

Eric Chapman (01:01:20):

I'm fine with that. My kids know about mussels. Everyone that works here, their kids know about mussels. It's one of those things that's a really eye opening, life changing experience. I think if you can put a mask and a snorkel on and you can get in a stream and you can see that, it's just they're awesome.

Michael Pisano (01:01:45):

Many thanks to Eric Chapman for the excellent conversation, for many reasons, to be hopeful and for reminding us to get out and get connected with our living world in whatever ways are possible. To learn more about the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, go to waterandlife.org or follow them on your preferred social media. Better yet, go check out one of the beautiful green spaces they care for, maybe even on a volunteer day. Thanks also to, Bonnie McGill, Sierra Krist, and Nicole Heller at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The music in today's episode was made by two of my most talented friends, Mark Manini and Amos Levy. Until next time, here's some wise words to help walk you out your door to explore somewhere beautiful.


When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beach, the oaks, and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me and daily. I am so distant from the hope of myself in which I have goodness and discernment and never hurry through the world, but walk slowly and bow often. Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, stay a while. The light flows from their branches and they call again. It's simple, they say, and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine. That was Mary Oliver's poem, When I Am Among the Trees. I've been and hoped to remain your host, Michael Pisano. Thanks for listening.