Recently, we had a very special excursion that we cannot wait to share with you. Land that used to be a farm is now overflowing with native plants, which, of course, draw in native insects. So then the native birds move in, and suddenly, it’s heaven! And did we mention the beavers??? Join us for this guided tour with Matt Perry, our guest this week, and find out what the world should look like.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Matt Perry is the Conservation Director and Resident Naturalist at Spring Farm CARES in Clinton, New York. Since 1999, he has overseen a rewilding project that is converting 260 acres of former agricultural fields into biodiverse wildlife habitat. In Central New York, Matt is recognized as an authority on wild birds, their behavior, and their habitat. He is the President and Co-founder of the Utica Peregrine Falcon Project, a long-time board member of Beavers Wetlands & Wildlife – an organization that advocates for wild Beavers and is dedicated to solving Beaver/Human conflicts and has written hundreds of nature-themed articles for “Mohawk Valley Living Magazine” (a publication circulated throughout Central New York and available on the web). He is also a former regional editor of “The Kingbird,” which is a quarterly journal published by The New York State Ornithological Association. Matt is an ethical vegan, and vegan principles play a major role in all the ecological projects he is involved in.
Jasmin Singer: Just for the sake of the interview, can you say your name and what you do here?
Matt Perry: I'm Matt Perry, I'm Conservation Director at Spring Farm Cares. I'm the Resident Naturalist and the Sanctuary Manager. I oversee habitat restoration projects on about 260 acres of former agricultural land.
Jasmin Singer: Wow. So, what's the sanctuary?
Matt Perry: The sanctuary is yonder. And we're doing mostly reforestation. But we're also doing wildflower restoration as well, native wildflower restoration. And we have a colony of beavers that are in charge of our wetland restoration.
And we've had the same colony for 24 years, and the current matriarch and patriarch of the colony are the grandchildren of the original two that came here to the property.
Jasmin Singer: You're kidding! Wow!
Matt Perry: That was Morton and Sarah that came in 1999, and now we have their grandchildren. The matriarch now is Tippy, who is 11 years old.
Mariann Sullivan: How long do beavers live?
Matt Perry: In the wild they say they live until they're about 10. Tippi's going on 12, so I'm hoping that she's going to well outstrip normal mortality for the species.
Jasmin Singer: Randy and I were just discussing Tippi Hedren, because she was a big animal person. You know, Tippi Hedren from The Birds?
Matt Perry: Right, right.
Jasmin Singer: So anytime anyone has someone named Tippi, I'm like, oh, Tippi Hedren?
Matt Perry: Well, she was named because when she was a baby, she used to go like this, kind of teeter when she swam. And so I started calling her Tippy Canoe. And that's where Tippy came from.
I carry some birdseed because I put birdseed on top of fence posts for the birds. That keeps them interested in hanging out where I hang out, self serving.
Jasmin Singer: I know this is a hugely general question, but what is the situation that the animals are in before they find themselves here?
Matt Perry: It's a problem to find habitat, so that's what we try to provide for them.
Because they have degraded habitat throughout the area, it's mostly farmland that's being used for growing...
Mariann Sullivan: Corn...
Matt Perry: corn for...
Mariann Sullivan: for cows...
Matt Perry: cows.
Mariann Sullivan: and pigs.
Matt Perry: Yeah, and silage and that's what the soy that they plant here is also for animal consumption.
Mariann Sullivan: Soy and corn and soy, that's all you see by the roadside.
Matt Perry: Essentially, this whole area has been devoted, most of the land, probably 90 percent of the land around here is devoted to animal agriculture, which is terrifying, really, if you think about it, because there's just almost no place for our wildlife to go.
There's some woodlots, but woodlots constantly get picked over, they get logged, and the state environmental agency encourages landowners to log it, which degrades it as habitat. And so there's so many species that cannot live anywhere around here. And so what we're trying to do is produce a certain amount of contiguous forested habitat that will enable a lot of these species, which are mostly neotropical songbirds, which have to go all the way to Central and South America to spend the winter.
To give them the habitat that they need to still be here in this region.
Mariann Sullivan: How many acres do you need in order to do something like that? You have 260, but what's the minimum?
Matt Perry: I would say at least 200 to 300 acres. It's hard to do anything less than that. There's some adjacent land, which we don't control, that's beyond our border that we could count as some of that contiguous acreage, but if that gets destroyed then we lose viability here.
Mariann Sullivan: Is it protected or are you just running on luck?
Matt Perry: No, it's neighboring land and so far you deal with whoever owns it. Right now, there's people that care about it as habitat, but someday they'll sell. The people that owned it before had it savagely logged several times, so that seriously degraded it as habitat.
Mariann Sullivan: I just want to check in and make sure you said this was totally agricultural land, or did you have some forest land? But I also want to ask you, let me ask you two questions at once, even though that's really annoying. Like how much maintenance do you have to do?
Matt Perry: It depends. A lot of our plantings have to be protected. Because we love our deer, but our deer also over browse. So the over browsing inhibits the regeneration of forests. So we have to protect certain areas from the deer, at least partially. So we're, it's funny because we're also protecting the deer from the hunters, but now we're protecting the plants from the deer.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, well that's tough.
Matt Perry: And the hunters around here, of course, also kill the predators because, there's no rhyme or reason to what the state environmental agency mandates. So they allow them to kill the coyotes. And deer hunters go out and they say that they're saving us from overpopulation of deer.
But then anything that's capable of taking a deer, they will kill because they don't want the competition.
Mariann Sullivan: I actually follow this guy on Twitter. I just found him, his name is Owen Dalton, I think, and he's in Ireland, in the Bear Peninsula, and I found him just because that's where my folks are from, so I was looking it up, and he has rewilded his land, but he just You know, there are deer there in Ireland, they're called Sitka deer, they're not native, and he just hates them.
And it's that mentality. Everything else he's doing, I love. And then when it comes to the deer, it's not just that he fences, you do what you have to do, but he hates them.
Matt Perry: Some people actively will kill them, to stop them from, they'll essentially step in and manage, which means kill.
And they'll step in and be the apex predator that will take the deer out of the equation.
Mariann Sullivan: And they think of it just as them as being part of nature, but come on!
Matt Perry: If you go out west, essentially all the ranchers, they have the government come in and kill the predators that come near.
So it's just ridiculous.
Mariann Sullivan: Does Wildlife Services, as they call it actually have a role here?
Matt Perry: No, they're pretty much just out west. I'm sure they probably do have some kind of...
Mariann Sullivan: If you called them, they'd be happy to come and kill somebody.
Matt Perry: But they're mostly, yeah, I know, right? Well, I just had somebody just a couple of days ago, I bought a farmhouse this year. I had to leave the place that I was renting. So I bought a farmhouse out in the country, and it's like adjacent to state land and I was moving some stuff, and there was there's a son of this woman who was helping me do the move, and the coyotes started calling, you know, coyotes sing. And it's beautiful to hear, and I was like, oh my god, listen to the coyotes singing, and the son said to me, oh, you have a coyote problem? Do you want me to come and take care of it?
It's like, what? And I said, no, we love our coyotes, we absolutely need our coyotes, of course I don't want you to do that. And he said well, the farmers don't love them. I was like, what have the farmers done for us lately? You know?
Mariann Sullivan: The coyotes are, just the most extraordinary animal because they're the most persecuted animal, I think, on the planet. And yet they never give up. They're living in Manhattan now.
Matt Perry: They are brilliant animals. Persecution has made them expand throughout the entire country now.
So they are now everywhere. So once they were just in the West, you know, western part of the country. They're all over the place. Did you look into that book I told you about? Coyote America by Dan Flores?
It is available on Audible, too, I think you mentioned that you listen to books. Because I listen to books, too.
It goes through the amazing. I told you, it's a little bit about a people's history of the United States, but, he goes into the entire history of people and coyotes. He's not vegan.
Mariann Sullivan: We have exceptions, wildlife and to some extent companion animals, we don't require that people be vegan because we wouldn't have anybody to interview.
Matt Perry: That's my electric bike, that's what I use to patrol the property with. I used to use a gas powered ATV, which I hated myself for.
Mariann Sullivan: That's how I feel about my car.
Matt Perry: And so now this thing is wonderful. It's electric, it's very sturdy and I really like it. It's a great way to go around.
Jasmin Singer: I have the rad city bike. I love it.
Matt Perry: This was all cow pasture in here. And it's starting to grow in by itself now.
Mariann Sullivan: So, I shouldn't have asked you two questions at once, but you didn't answer my first one. Was it all agricultural land?
Matt Perry: There were some woodlots. Typically, what would happen with the old farmland around these parts, they would always keep a woodlot for firewood.
So even though originally if you came here in 1780, this was all old growth forest. But upstate New York was settled relatively late for an Eastern State because the Oneida Nation continued to own it. But after the French and Indian War and after the Revolutionary War, Europeans started to settle it.
Mariann Sullivan: Before that, originally, it was mostly all wooded, wasn't it?
Matt Perry: It was almost all wooded with the exception of areas that were blowdowns and beaver meadows.
But the beavers were pretty much gone by the time this was settled, early on. Because beavers were trapped out very early, unfortunately, because that was the first major industry in the United States was the beaver fur trade. So they killed all of the beavers and most of the other fur bearing animals, too.
But they were very efficient killing the beavers because they wanted them so bad. But they also killed the cougars that lived here, the black bear, and the wolves, the eastern wolves. They're all wiped out.
Mariann Sullivan: But we still have black bear, don't we?
Matt Perry: We still have, and they are coming back, they're coming back. We had one come through.
Mariann Sullivan: I don't think we have cougars though, I've never heard of cougars...
Matt Perry: No we don't, although they are starting to come in from the west into eastern states. Once in a while, one is hit by a car. That happened in Connecticut a few years ago.
Mariann Sullivan: Connecticut?
Matt Perry: Yeah. they're mostly coming in from the Midwest.
A lot of people claim they see these animals, but people say they see Bigfoot too.
Jasmin Singer: That's true.
Matt Perry: There's a lot of trailside plantings. They all look terrible this time of year. These are greenhead cone flowers. I planted like a break here with native white cedars. to kind of block the road. Route 12.
Mariann Sullivan: You planted those?
Matt Perry: Yes.
Mariann Sullivan: Wow.
Matt Perry: Well, I've been here a long time.
Jasmin Singer: How long did you say you were here?
Matt Perry: I've been working here for 24 years. I started volunteering a few years before that. But that was mostly just to feed birds and to patrol for hunters.
We're entering the first reforestation field here, so these will be large trees someday. This is a swamp white oak which is planted in a relatively wet area, and this is a bur oak. Now these are all wonderful nut producers, acorn producers, which will someday provide a lot of food for wildlife.
So a lot of the plantings we've done in here we've done because they produce a lot of food. And what is missing from the other areas that probably look a lot like this from a distance when you're driving by, like a brushy area or an area with the young forest, they don't have the food. A lot of them are devoid of food, so what we try to do is make a great diversity of different foods for wildlife.
This is a Washington Hawthorn here. It has these red berry like thorn apples, which will be very good for birds that spend the winter here.
Jasmin Singer: What kind of birds would you say?
Matt Perry: It's mostly Cedar Waxwings, American Robins. People don't realize it, but a lot of robins do spend the winter up north.
Mariann Sullivan: I did not realize that, because you don't see them, and then all of a sudden in the spring, they're like, hey!
Matt Perry: But interestingly, the robins that spend the winter with us are not the ones that spend the summer with us. The robins that spend the winter with us are coming south from Canada.
Jasmin Singer: Oh!
Matt Perry: And our robins go south. Yeah, it's a changeover. It's seamless, so you don't realize, hey, that's not the same robin that nested here.
And that's true with a lot of birds, actually. They do this kind of do si do.
Mariann Sullivan: So almost all of them migrate somewhere.
Matt Perry: Yeah. There's a, but you'll have some that are permanent residents, like black capped chickadees downy woodpeckers. They're non migratory. So they'll hold the same territory all year.
They might move a little bit, move to an area like here. We'll get a lot of guys in that nest, in the surrounding neighborhoods because there's more food here. So they'll come here and spend the winter here. So they didn't migrate, they only moved over a few miles.
So we'll end up with a few hundred chickadees that we see. I'm not sure how many we have that we don't see. Oh, I forgot to point out the birch here, the river birch. I planted that guy, too.
Jasmin Singer: That big one?
Matt Perry: Yeah, that big one.
Mariann Sullivan: That big one?
Matt Perry: Yeah, it was just a little stick when I put him in there. So trees grow at all different rates.
Mariann Sullivan: The reason that I'm noting that is that the guy from the nursery recommended that I put a river birch in my teeny tiny backyard. I'm not sure that's a good idea at all.
Matt Perry: It will grow huge. A lot of people plant them as ornamentals. It's one of few native species that has been adopted as an ornamental.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my teeny tiny backyard, but I wanted something native, and they knew a little bit about native planting and talked about it, but they didn't have very in depth knowledge.
Matt Perry: The pin oak here. Pin oaks are small oaks relatively small, so it's in the red oak family, and they produce very small acorns.
We've planted smaller things at the border of the field, so trees of smaller stature like this. This is a bayberry here. Bayberry has waxy, fat rich berries, which are really good for wildlife when they have to migrate they will eat fat rich berries to help fuel their journey south.
Mariann Sullivan: So do you have advice for people who don't have 260 acres but who do have backyards things they might do?
Matt Perry: Oh sure, yeah. We have a horticulturalist who will even give people seeds and in some cases plants that they can plant out in their yards. Yeah, we encourage people to plant with natives because the native species are the ones that our native animals have a relationship with.
They're either have a relationship with it to use as nesting materials, or to use as habitat, or to use the food, or the pollen, or nectar. So yeah, we encourage people to use natives, even if they have a small area. And people like to have really tidy yards, often. They don't like to have any wild area.
You don't have to plant anything at all. If you just leave a section of your yard wild. Then that would be food for caterpillars and for...
Mariann Sullivan: It's totally my idea of gardening, just sit there and watch it.
Matt Perry: Yeah, you don't have to do anything, really. You can just let things go, and a lot of natives will come in.
Mariann Sullivan: Actually, one thing that happens with me, though, is a lot of quote unquote weeds come in. Non natives that, tend to be really strong. And out compete the natives. Yeah. It does require a little managing.
Matt Perry: Oh yeah, definitely, but you could do it as much as you want, or you don't have to do any at all.
You really, if you want to actively manage, you have to be careful of when you manage. I find that when the weather gets warm, people go out and attack their yard with all these implements, and that happens to be around the same time that birds are just starting to nest, so you're cutting the branches that they might be nesting on.
Then they'll wonder why they have eggs on the ground, from a destroyed robin's nest or something. You have to be careful about what time of year you do your pruning, and what time of year you do, all of your more active gardening.
Mariann Sullivan: What about this time of year?
I've been told that it's good to just leave everything because somebody will be able to find, either insects or maybe small mammals will be able to find habitat. Just in all the stuff you leave lying around, rather than tidying it up before winter.
Matt Perry: If you rake up an area, you're going to be raking up a lot of cocoons, including cocoons of silk moths, which are like the luna moth, and all these really beautiful, huge moths that people seem to like.
So you'll actually be destroying the habitat for them, because they will have their cocoons, they'll overwinter in their cocoons underneath the leaf litter. And also, salamanders if you're in a wetland area, near a wetland area, might have some salamanders or some other amphibians. But, yeah, you disturb it, and you also disturb caches of food that mice will take sometimes an old bird's nest and fill it with seeds that they collect.
That'll be their cache for the winter. They'll put a cap on it to weatherproof it. They'll build a little cap on top of the nest, and they'll access that through the winter. So if you go and, decide you want to get all that jungle out of there, out of your yard, you'll destroy their...
Mariann Sullivan: I love this theory of gardening. Just don't do anything.
Matt Perry: Yeah. You can get away with that. I'd approve.
Jasmin Singer: So is this this is a non profit?
Matt Perry: Yeah.
Jasmin Singer: And why was it originally founded?
Matt Perry: Do you mean for this side of the road? For the nature sanctuary?
Jasmin Singer: Yeah.
Matt Perry: It was to provide habitat for wildlife. They always loved wildlife across the street. Actually, Bonnie, who's our executive director, it was her family that owned this. It was their dairy farm many years ago. Her grandfather, Francis Jones, had prize winning dairy herd.
Yeah. but he made a lot of money. . And then he lost it all in the depression. So he actually lost this side of the road. Bonnie, my boss, she worked in Hollywood in the sixties and seventies and she was in a number of series. Had guest appearances on things like Perry Mason and M. A. S. H. She bought back this side of the road and she turned it into a nature sanctuary.
Mariann Sullivan: And had it been a dairy farm through all those years?
Matt Perry: It had been a dairy farm after that, too, yeah. As a matter of fact, there was somebody that came for a tour a few weeks ago that said he worked here in the 50s and 60s when it was a dairy farm. So yeah, this was all cow pasture in here.
There were no trees. This was a field that they were still mowing when I first came here. This is witch hazel, by the way. Do you know what witch hazel is? People use it as an astringent. It flowers this time of year. It's one of the few trees that flower this late in the season, but it's an understory plant, so they don't grow into really large trees, but they're shade tolerant, so they grow under the canopy of the forest.
Mariann Sullivan: Beautiful, beautiful color.
Matt Perry: Isn't it? Yeah, it turns golden. This was all field, as I said. This is the tulip tree here.
I planted a number of tulip trees. There's a white oak over there.
This is a black cherry tree. The black cherry trees really produced a lot of cherries this year. The cherries are very small and perfect for birds. You'll see little fenced in areas in here. Those fenced in areas are an experiment. We're trying to grow the forest understory at the same time we create a forest canopy.
Instead of waiting until it's a fully fledged forest. We've brought soil grafts in from the old woods that are way at the back of the property. And within those soil grafts you have perennial wildflowers you have tree seedlings, you have fungal spores, you have bacteria, you have everything you need in the soil that we want to...
Mariann Sullivan: Oh that's so cool! You just bring the soil and that's all you have to do and dump it here and everything.
Matt Perry: Yeah, we brought grafts, literally squares of the soil and we put them in, we place them in here, we're protecting them. Half protecting them from deer. Deer can still get in, but I told you we do have a problem with deer over browsing things.
If you just make a little weak fence, that's enough to discourage them. So they will jump in and eat some of it, but they won't eat all of it. And they won't hit it every day like they would if it was just in the open. So we've found a way to coexist with the browsing habits of deer without putting ridiculously tall fencing everywhere. Our fences are constantly falling over, too. We have to always fix them. It sounds like it's raining a little bit. Is that okay with you guys?
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, it's totally fine. We're not precious people, despite what they say about us.
Matt Perry: Yes, you're very precious. You're my only vegans.
Jasmin Singer: When did your vegan story start?
Matt Perry: 20 years ago I became vegan, fully fledged vegan. I had been a vegetarian for 20 years before that. I stopped eating meat in 1983. January, 1983.
Jasmin Singer: I've also been vegan for 20 years.
Matt Perry: I regret that I didn't become a vegan earlier.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, who doesn't, right?
Mariann Sullivan: That's the only big regret most people have.
Matt Perry: Yeah, I know, it seems completely inexcusable. It's embarrassing to say that it took me that long to like...
Mariann Sullivan: You mean to go from vegetarian to vegan, or to go from meat eating to...
Matt Perry: To go from vegetarian to vegan. It's like, why didn't I do this earlier? It was a little bit harder back then.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, it was harder.
Jasmin Singer: Mariann has been vegan since the mid 90s.
Mariann Sullivan: Mid 90s, yeah. It was a little bit harder.
I lived near a health food store, so it wasn't really that hard. No cheese, other than that. Ten years earlier than that, it was even harder.
Matt Perry: This is a chestnut oak, by the way. It's another species that produces valuable food for wildlife. Which you won't find in most of the woods around here.
Mariann Sullivan: And all of these are planted?
Matt Perry: Yes.
Mariann Sullivan: And where do you get them from? Do you have to go buy them?
Matt Perry: There are nurseries that deal with native stuff, but a lot of them are from the state nursery. That's one useful thing our state does. The DEC has a Saratoga tree nursery, which they raise mostly native trees and it's subsidized too.
So it's relatively inexpensive. So I get hundreds of trees from them every year.
Mariann Sullivan: That's so great.
Matt Perry: And it's really good when you do reforestation, because you really have to plant hundreds and hundreds to ensure that five survive. So it's very small. The stock we're getting, people think you're planting trees, so they think you're planting something that's tree size.
No, we're planting things that are like this big. And sometimes that big.
Mariann Sullivan: So the chances of them not making it are high.
Matt Perry: And we have to use tree protectors. You'll see some wired tree protectors around and different types of tree protectors over the years. This is another grass garden here where we brought in soil from the backwoods.
Oh, this is a sad story. This is an American chestnut. You've probably heard of American chestnuts. Almost all died of the chestnut, chestnut blight. You get some that are supposedly blight resistant and I did get a bunch and I planted some and this was one and it got the chestnut blight a few years ago. I have a few that died already that were much bigger than this one, actually, they were producing nuts every year.
I was very happy and then they got the blight. This is what the blight looks like. They got this kind of canker with these little orange fungal flowers, if you will.
Mariann Sullivan: I don't think I've ever seen a chestnut. I've never seen these leaves before.
Matt Perry: It's very sad.
Mariann Sullivan: The chestnut story is unbelievably tragic.
Matt Perry: Yeah, there's a good book out there about the chestnut blight.
It's a very fascinating story.
Mariann Sullivan: I mean, they used to be everywhere.
Jasmin Singer: Do you know what it's called?
Matt Perry: I can't remember, but I've got it in my library on my phone. I could look it up for you. We'll talk about books.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, that would be great.
Matt Perry: When we have our lunch break. Oh, that's a yellow birch there, too. I forgot to point out. I love those trees.
We sometimes call them... This tree right here.
Mariann Sullivan: That has the peeling bark. It's beautiful bark. It's almost silvery.
Matt Perry: Yeah it's silver gold. We sometimes call them beaver gold. The beavers like them too.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I want to hear about the beavers.
Matt Perry: You're going to see their pond. Let me show you their pond.
So unfortunately, the chestnuts died out around 1900. That's when the blight really took. And we never had chestnuts here, so I thought it would be safe to plant them here. Chestnuts are west, in Syracuse, and they're east in Albany, but they were not in this part of the Mohawk Valley.
So I thought, oh, okay, I can plant chestnuts, and we'll see how they do. But unfortunately, they're not blight resistant.
Mariann Sullivan: Isn't there a hybrid?
Matt Perry: Yes there's a hybrid between the Chinese and the American, and I tried it, but it seemed to have issues here. There's also the chinkapin, which is like an orchard sized tree version of the American chestnut. And they seem to be doing okay. I planted a lot of those.
This is a black ash here. We're worried about our ash trees, too, because it's another family of species that are in trouble. There's an exotic insect called the emerald ash borer that's been killing ash trees throughout the whole section of the country. And it's just starting to reach here.
It has not reached the nature sanctuary yet, but it's down the road a few miles in Clinton. And it's over the hill about a mile away that way, so we're living in fear. That's our modern age, is that international trade has brought all these exotic diseases to our native forests, so we lose the American elm.
We mentioned the American chestnut, the American beech, too, which is a very important part of our forest, one of the most common trees we have. The hemlock, the eastern hemlock, which is the only evergreen tree that grows naturally in our forests around here. And we're gonna lose just about all these guys.
So what is the food and habitat going to be like for wildlife here? That's why we're planting such a diverse forest here with so many different species. So if a disease hits us hard, we'll still have a forest. If a disease hits, the standing forest, it's going to take out, half of it because you're dealing with a forest that's only made up of seven species, primarily, and a forest here that's made up of 25 species. So you can see how a disease coming through affects it. It is terrifying.
Mariann Sullivan: Do other places around the world have as big a problem, or is it because, Asia and Europe are connected, so maybe there was always a little bit more exchange?
Matt Perry: They do have a problem, but you're right. It's not the same problem that we're having. I think we were isolated. The same way that Native Americans weren't ready for our diseases, and then it killed a massive percentage of them. That's what's happening to our flora.
Mariann Sullivan: There's a problem of when people do landscape, they deliberately bring in all the wrong plants.
Matt Perry: Yeah, the, I think the chestnut blight started from, oh god, it was like some botanical society or something brought in some exotic chestnuts and that's where the disease started in New York City and spread and killed all the chestnut trees practically.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, we're talking billions and billions of trees, everywhere.
Matt Perry: And once they started dying, they did salvage logging, and cut all the ones that even weren't dying.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, cause then you got farmland.
Matt Perry: This reforestation is mostly white pine and red oak. And that's a type of habitat that I'm hoping will attract specific bird species. Also, below this reforestation we left an area in meadow, which we planted with wildflowers. So there's a lot of different species of wildflowers in here.
Because you have to maintain a little bit of meadow too for butterflies and for meadow nesting birds. And naturally in a forest you would have that. It would be created by fires and it would be created by snow load, snow storms, ice storms, so you would have breaks. And historically too, in this region, we had passenger pigeons.
Passenger pigeons were all killed off deliberately in the 1800s. That was once the most numerous bird in the world. Flocks of over a billion would fly through, and they relied mostly on beech trees, beech nuts for their food, and they would breed in these areas. Since they were colonial nesters, they would have hundreds of nests in trees, and wherever they nested, they would actually create an area where all the trees would die.
So there'd be a big strip of land that might be miles long and maybe a mile wide, We're a half mile wide or something, and that area would become dead and become eventually like a meadow. And birds evolved to use that edge habitat between the forest and the meadow, and also birds would nest in the meadow, different species, so it's a very complicated ecology developed here that we completely upended when we came here and prepared it for agriculture.
Jasmin Singer: Speaking of agriculture, the pigeons were brought here by the Dutch as food animals. That's why they are, like, icon animals. We have them tattooed. Just, pigeons are seriously, to me, heroic.
Mariann Sullivan: Because they got out.
Jasmin Singer: They got out.
Matt Perry: Yeah pigeons are vilified by a lot of people, unfortunately. But, our non native pigeons, are essentially, I consider them to be natives now.
As much as we are. They're naturalized natives.
Mariann Sullivan: We're not getting rid of us, so...
Jasmin Singer: That's too bad.
Matt Perry: We had native species of parrot, too, that people killed off, too. Yeah, it was called the Carolina parakeet. It was a parrot. It was the only North American parrot. And they killed all of them because they ate fruit.
And so the farmers had to, of course, kill them all. But they were gorgeous birds, and wonderfully intelligent birds.
Mariann Sullivan: How do you deal with the whole, the fact that there are so few people in wildlife conservation who have a big picture about animals.
Matt Perry: It's a never ending frustration because they will appreciate animal species, native animal species, but they don't really care about individual animals at all.
It's like the experience of an individual animal. It means nothing to them. That's how they can go ahead and justify culling deer, or culling barred owls in areas where spotted owls are supposed to nest, or cull blue winged warblers in areas where golden winged warblers are supposed to nest. It's like they make these choices.
It doesn't make any sense to me.
Mariann Sullivan: How do you deal with choices that are not that arbitrary, or maybe they all are, I don't know, but are there areas in which some non native animals really are creating problems for native animals?
Matt Perry: They are creating problems.
Mariann Sullivan: How do you deal with that?
Matt Perry: Sometimes you deal with it by just allowing more habitat to exist, so they're not fighting over the same tiny space. We mentioned the bluebirds earlier today, and how do you deal with that? Do you kill the house sparrows that are using the bluebird boxes, or do you put up more bluebird boxes?
It seems to me, put up more boxes is the answer. For the most part, house sparrows only nest in boxes that are close to dwellings or close to some kind of farm or city buildings or something like that. If you have bluebird boxes right in the middle of a field that has no farm buildings around it, it's pretty much only going to be bluebirds that use it.
Or tree swallows or species that conservationists tend to care about.
Mariann Sullivan: It just seems to me like, if we actually forbid the use of lethal methods, we'd figure out a way to do this. It's just that we turn to that first.
Matt Perry: We turn to it because it's an easy way. To kill your way out of things. Instead of using birth control, too, for when they have a problem with deer, they go to the kill method because it's easier to just hire somebody to shoot them. But it's ridiculous, too, because, a lot of the deer hunters, they're still using lead ammunition. Yeah, they're using lead, and it's legal for them to do it.
And what they do is they gut their deer, after they kill it, they gut it, and they leave this pile of contaminated dog food, essentially, out for any scavenger to eat and poison. And, I told you how I have a relationship with a number of different wildlife rehabilitators. And just about every bald eagle they get in, that they test, has lead in their system.
And it's from that. It's because bald eagles will eat... That's a red squirrel calling.
Bald eagles will scavenge. They'll eat carrion.
And they get poisoned regularly. Test their blood and they have, and that's true with golden eagles too, which are hard to come by, but they will get poisoned as well.
Mariann Sullivan: Alright, on to the beavers.
Matt Perry: Yeah, so we're very active in helping our beavers. We want them to stay here, so I've been bringing our beavers things for the past 24 years, because otherwise beavers tend to eat all their favorite food and then they move on. So we've been trying to encourage them by doing plantings for the beavers.
And I also go to neighboring properties where I get permission to cut their poplar trees and I'll take the beavers poplar trees.
Jasmin Singer: Oh, wow.
Matt Perry: And also I give them sweet potatoes and apples and carrots.
Jasmin Singer: That would be an amazing knock at the door to get.
Matt Perry: Yeah. I should, since we probably want to see our beavers, I should show you, I took a video of Tippy.
Mariann Sullivan: How many of them are there now?
Matt Perry: I think the colony's pretty small right now because as they get older they have fewer youngs. So actually an established colony tends to reproduce very slowly. Normally if you have a colony of beavers, they'll produce about six kits a year. Tippy only produced three this year. One actually died, so she only has two babies this year.
But they retain their young for two years. Because it takes a long time for beavers to figure out the world. And to learn all they need to know to be beavers, and the two year olds disperse from the colony. They don't get kicked out. They just decide it's time to go.
Mariann Sullivan: And there's places for them to go around here?
Matt Perry: No place safe, really. There's some places if they're lucky they can persist, but there's no place like us.
Mariann Sullivan: Do people still really hate beavers?
Matt Perry: Yeah. Yeah, but more people like them than used to, I must say. It's like crows, too. Crows in the old days, everybody hated crows, except for me. And now, there's quite a few people that like crows. Members of the crow family are some of the most intelligent.
Mariann Sullivan: Also beavers, too. They're so impressive. They really know what they're doing. They have goals. They modify habitat.
Matt Perry: I just saw her. This was from this morning.
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, sweetheart!
Matt Perry: She's about seven years old, and I've known her for all that time, and she loves sweet potatoes. When I see her, I call her over and give her a sweet potato.
Jasmin Singer: She looks just like my seventeen year old chihuahua.
Matt Perry: She's a beautiful girl.
Jasmin Singer: I think she's related to my seventeen year old chihuahua. She's so cute.
Matt Perry: Anyway, I try to befriend them so they know to stay around here, so they don't go to the neighbor properties. Cause we have three months of deer hunting season around here.
It starts with an archery season on October 1st, and it goes all the way through to a week before Christmas, and then they have a few bonus days now that, that's after Christmas.
Mariann Sullivan: You had mentioned that with posting land, it's not just a matter of posting it, it's a matter of monitoring it. Like, do you have to monitor your own land?
Matt Perry: Yeah, oh yeah. I go around every morning. This is Tippy.
Jasmin Singer: Oh my god!
Matt Perry: She weighs about 70 pounds. Beaver's get very large.
Jasmin Singer: I'm so sad that we're not going to meet her.
Matt Perry: Well, we'll go to the pond, maybe somebody will come out early. I'll call them.
Jasmin Singer: Oh my god, I love her.
Matt Perry: She's a wonderful girl.
Jasmin Singer: Oh Mariann, I can't.
Matt Perry: They're very gentle animals.
Mariann Sullivan: Really?
Matt Perry: Incredibly gentle animals.
Yeah, I'll show you her house.
Mariann Sullivan: How much habitat modification have they done that we don't really see there?
Matt Perry: They have made probably 20 ponds since they've lived here. Not all of them are still ponds. Their ponds will silt up, and they'll abandon it and that will then become incredibly rich area for plants.
Mariann Sullivan: I don't remember a lot, but I remember when I interviewed that guy who wrote Eager. He was talking about habitat.
Jasmin Singer: Didn't I interview him? Or maybe I interviewed a different beaver person.
Mariann Sullivan: Maybe I did the questions. Maybe there was two Beaver people.
Jasmin Singer: There might've been.
Mariann Sullivan: Anyway, one of the things I remember, even though I don't remember who said it was that in the West if they hadn't killed off all the beavers, they would not have any drought, or, they would have drought in the sense that rain didn't fall, but the habitat would survive, and it wouldn't dry out.
Matt Perry: We're learning that now. They've actually got beavers now that they like in the West, and they're not killing them, and the beavers are making oases all over the place along their rivers. So, they're doing a lot of work out west, and they're making fire breaks too, which a beaver pond is naturally a fire break.
Of course they need them out west. They needed beavers. And we needed beavers, too, and, anyway, our beavers, I call it reparations. The fact that we bring our beavers so many things, and we treat them so well here. It's to makeup for the centuries of turning them into hats. But people are still killing beavers, unfortunately. You come across people trapping them out of areas for, they consider them a nuisance because they create flooding.
But we're big proponents of using what are called water flow devices, beaver deceivers, as ways you can protect a culvert and you can stop a beaver pond from getting flooded so high that it floods a road or it floods a yard, and the beavers are fine with it. You put in these devices, they're very inexpensive and easy to install, and then the beavers can live there, and you'll have the wonderful wildlife habitat they create, all the fish and herons and ducks, and you won't have the flooding issues.
I think I told you I'm a board member for a group called Beavers, Wetlands and Wildlife, and we're big proponents of water flow devices.
Jasmin Singer: Where is that organization based?
Matt Perry: It's based in Oppenheim, New York, which is close to Little Falls.
Jasmin Singer: Oh, yeah, I just drove through Little Falls. It was so cute.
Why do you think people become quote unquote beaver people? Especially people who aren't otherwise awakened to animal issues?
Matt Perry: Beavers are called a keystone species. So they're popular in the same way that wolves are, because wolves are also considered a keystone species.
Wherever they are, they change the ecology in such a major way that other animals are dependent on the work they do. So they are habitat creators. It's especially true with beavers, because they're so dramatic in what they do to change habitat. But what's interesting is out west, the story in Yellowstone, and when they reintroduced the wolves, not so much by killing the elk, but by worrying the elk so the elk didn't come out into the open and eat all the seedling aspen trees.
And that made habitat for beavers.
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, that's so interesting. It's that they kept them away.
Matt Perry: They worry them so they wouldn't want to come out into the open and that allowed the beavers to proliferate there. And that allowed the beavers to make ponds and to create duck habitat and heron habitat.
Mariann Sullivan: That's probably a common thought, but I just love this idea that the apex species, the wolves or the predators operate in ways other than just killing everybody, it's not, they don't control populations just because they kill them.
Matt Perry: Yeah, and I think a lot of...
Mariann Sullivan: I mean I just said that, but I just found it so interesting I said it again.
Matt Perry: Wolves are also, they eat other things too. Most canines, they're not strict carnivores. Our coyotes, I know they eat berries, they eat apples, they eat a wide variety of food when it's available, so that's another good reason to make sure you've got habitat that's producing a wide range of fruits and nuts, as that provides these animals with more choices, easier things to, for them to forage on.
That's true with fishers, too. Fishers are big mink like animals, I'm not sure if you know what a fisher is.
Mariann Sullivan: I feel like I've heard that name, but hardly ever.
Matt Perry: They're the weasel family. Their name is a misnomer really, because they don't eat fish. As predators. They go after things like squirrels. But they're opportunists like most predators, so they'll catch all other things. But they also eat grapes, and they eat nuts, and they eat berries. . So they'll eat a wide variety of things. They're not such strict. So why don't we go down to the beaver pond?
Mariann Sullivan: I could never in a million years find my way out of here.
Jasmin Singer: We might make a home here.
Matt Perry: You can make a home here.
Jasmin Singer: It's a wildlife habitat for wild lesbians.
Matt Perry: I'm going to take you down to the beaver pond now and then we'll have our snacks after that.
Jasmin Singer: Aw, that was really so sweet of you.
I like that you throw birdseed everywhere you go.
Matt Perry: I throw birdseed everywhere I go. This is just a small bag that I usually carry in my huge backpack. Which you'll see because I left it down at the beaver pond.
There's one of our beaver ponds. This is the main one. This is actually the beaver lodge.
Mariann Sullivan: Wow.
Matt Perry: This is where Tippy lives. Any beavers here? Beavers! Any beavers?
It's way too early for them to come out, but who knows.
Jasmin Singer: It's really, truly remarkable.
Matt Perry: Isn't it cool? So this was just a sleepy stream here. If you came here three and a half years ago, this was just a stream. You didn't even see the stream, really, because there were, a lot of a lot of goldenrods and asters. And they came and, actually it was Jean Lowe, the patriarch, he made the dam, and he made, he started this lodge, and he tried to convince the rest of the family who was living on a creek that's on the other side of the field.
Over there, he tried to convince them to move here and nobody wanted to go, so He made the food cache.
Jasmin Singer: They're like, I have to switch schools...
Matt Perry: He made the food cache and the food cache are essentially branches that they store in the water. It looks like a brush pile here in the water. That's the beaver's food cache.
That's what they'll feed on through the winter. So it goes all the way under the water. And they draw them under the ice, because this will all freeze, so the beavers don't hibernate, they stay active. They come out of the lodge, under the ice, you wouldn't be able to see them. And they come and they take a branch from their cache and then they go back into the lodge in the dead of winter.
Jasmin Singer: I feel like I see someone, but I think it might be a bird, like right through...
Matt Perry: Yeah, there's a lot of birds. There's also muskrats. Muskrats always live with beavers, so you're going to see little muskrats probably coming out of the side of the lodge. They live in the lodge with the beavers. Beaver lodges become like apartment buildings for other wildlife.
Voles will also live in beaver lodges. Voles are like mice, so sounds a little like mousy guys. They're beautiful. Voles are really cute. They look like mini beavers, unless they're like this big.
Jasmin Singer: Beavers!
Matt Perry: Come on, beavers! Why don't you come out early? I've got stuff for you.
Jasmin Singer: It's me, Jasmin!
Matt Perry: You have to meet Jasmin and Mariann.
Jasmin Singer: I love beavers, just ask anyone I know. Sorry, I had to make the joke once. Oh, see? Is that a... Oh, it's just a bird. Not just a bird. Sorry.
Matt Perry: There's usually a whole bunch of ducks here. I'm not really sure where my ducks are now. It's probably because I'm coming at a weird time. They're used to me coming at a certain time. Because I put seed out for them, for the ducks too.
Mariann Sullivan: I think I see a duck way down...
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I just saw him and I saw a cute little chipmunk too!
Matt Perry: Yeah, this Oh yeah,
yeah, I see him, you were right. There's like a bunch of wood ducks all the way at the back, but this dam goes all the way up there. That's all beaver dam, that's all beaver construction. Oh yeah, it's like hundreds of tons of material, mud and branches and stones. And they even put foundation stones at their...
If you look, you're not able to because it's so brushy in there, but if you stand at the bottom of their dam, it's six feet tall. It's like an immense structure. And it's very wide under the waterline. You don't see it, but dams go like this. So you're just seeing the top of it. So there's all this material.
And beavers don't just... make a water impoundment by making a dam, they also dredge. So they dredge up mud and they put it against the dam. You see where the muddy edge of the dam? And that's all fresh mud that they've dredged. And they dredge channels to help facilitate moving their building materials and their food.
And as I was telling you, they collect food from the fields and the woods, and it's all tree branches. They're complete vegans, beavers, and they store that. And so I was telling you before, the patriarch, Jian Lou, a few years ago, when he made this pond and this lodge, He started the food cache here.
There was no food cache in the pond where they were living. So those beavers that wouldn't move were facing going through a winter without any food. So they eventually had to move up here in time. I think they finally made the move. Tippy finally moved in with her husband in December. At the last possible minute, she moved to the new house.
Mariann Sullivan: Do they mate for life?.
Matt Perry: They will unless something happens and Tippy's on her Let's see. No, it's Jeanne Lowe. Her mate is on his second wife. It's very, they're inbred, so it's complicated. It's actually Tippy and Jeanne Lowe are brother and sister.
Jasmin Singer: Ah, next on Jerry Springer.
Mariann Sullivan: Are they inbred because there's just so little habitat and they don't...
Matt Perry: It's because they don't have a lot of communication with other beaver colonies. Occasionally one comes through, and Tippy and Jenlo's father was actually a foreign beaver that came from someplace else, someplace unknown.
Mariann Sullivan: So even when the young ones move off, they might move to a colony where...
Matt Perry: They'll probably move, it's possible but probably unlikely because beavers are actually fairly common nowadays. They're not allowed to live most places because they get persecuted, but they are around because just about everywhere I go I'll see some beaver sign. I'll see like a chewed branch or I'll see like a partial dam constructed.
So they're pretty common now. They're much more common than they were 20 years ago, that's for sure. There's a lot of movement in here, probably muskrats.
Jasmin Singer: I might need a beaver tattoo and maybe you can choose one.
Matt Perry: Oh my god, I know.
Mariann Sullivan: We don't mind if you're a muskrat. Come out anyway!
Matt Perry: They'll come out. Actually, if we back up a bit, they'll come out. I'll put some seed out and that'll attract them.
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, this is delightful.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, this is amazing.
Matt Perry: It's a really nice, peaceful place to be.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah.
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