The Oneida Lake Association, Inc., the leading non-profit conservation organization advocating for Oneida Lake, has honored Martin S. Lowney of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as its 2010 Conservationist of the Year. Lowney, the New York State Director for USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services, was honored for his leadership of cormorant management in New York State. The honor was presented before more than 200 OLA members at the organization’s 65 th Annual Membership Meeting.
The Conservationist of the Year Award is presented annually to the individual who has done the most to protect Oneida Lake, which is the #1 fishing lake entirely within New York State. Past honorees include New York Senator David Valesky and retired Congressman James Walsh. Lowney has been chosen to join their ranks because of his tireless service to New York stakeholders as OLA and its partners have fought for cormorant management, which was cut from the federal budget during Congress’ negotiations for 2010.
“Martin and his team are the angler’s best friend and the cormorant’s worst nightmare. Their time on the water is a cost-effective form of stimulus because it brings back some of New York’s most important fishing opportunities and protects local jobs,” said Matthew Snyder, OLA president. “Believe it or not, there are some things the federal government does really well. Cormorant management under Martin Lowney’s leadership is a great example.”
Cormorants are non-native, predatory birds that almost completely destroyed Oneida Lake and other upstate fisheries starting in the mid-1980s, massively depleting fish stocks and wreaking havoc on habitat. By broad consensus of stakeholder groups, cormorant management began more than a decade ago. In 2004 USDA was brought in to make sure the program would have sustainable results, and they have established a nationally known model for managing cormorants in multiple locations without creating conflicts with non-anglers or problems in other areas. In 2008 and 2009, no cormorants hatched on Oneida Lake.
According to a study by the National Wildlife Research Center, USDA’s work has led to resurgence in fishing license sales and angling-related jobs. The NWRC’s local economic impact data show that in five years, USDA cormorant management brought back about $50 million in revenue and 1,400 jobs related to fishing. For every $1 in federal spending, $47 is returned to the local economy. In addition to their work on Oneida, Lowney and his crew have supported cormorant management on Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, Onondaga Lake and other waters, keeping the program sustainable by keeping the birds from simply moving to un-managed waters and creating a problem there. Unlike other agencies or volunteers, USDA has the statutory authority, staff expertise, and specialized tools to support effective lethal and non-lethal management on a heavily used lake like Oneida.
At the request of OLA, Lowney has worked since 2008 to unearth economic analysis and insight into USDA’s funding mechanisms. After 64 years as an intensely local grassroots organization, OLA found itself on a steep Washington learning curve when last year’s federal budget proposal eliminated cormorant management programs nationwide. Other Congressional delegations restored their states’ programs and made them an ongoing part of USDA’s budget before the 2010 budget passed. But in spite of several months of work by OLA, New York was the only state to lose its cormorant management program. In a recent sign of progress, New York Congressmen Dan Maffei, Bill Owens, and Michael Arcuri have requested FY 2011 funding for the cormorant program, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s staff have indicated her support for restoring the funding.
“OLA’s always been more about service than politics, but apparently it takes getting into the political game to get cormorant boats back on the water,” said Snyder. “Before anyone else would help, Martin Lowney did the right thing and answered our questions about process. He’s got plenty of other things he could do, but he recognized cormorant management’s value to New Yorkers right away. He’s spent countless hours and helped us make extremely productive connections that will help Congress and USDA work to secure the program’s future.”
Since 2007, Lowney has headed USDA’s efforts to manage conflicts between wildlife and people—everything from beavers, to cormorants, to airport geese, to starlings at dairy farms. Previously, he was state director in Virginia for 16 years and before that held USDA posts in Mississippi and Alabama. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in wildlife management from Mississippi State University.
A lifetime outdoorsman and accomplished angler, Lowney is a member of The Wildlife Society and one of its certified wildlife biologists. He is an active member of the TWS Wildlife Damage Management Working Group and Wildlife Disease Working Group, as well as a wildlife services representative to the USFWS Atlantic Flyway Council.