By PHYL NEWBECK
This fall, Steve Parren received the GMP-Zetterstrom Environmental Award for his work on behalf of Vermont’s endangered wildlife.
Parren is the Wildlife Diversity Program Manager at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, working out of its Essex Junction office. He was recognized for his work helping to save multiple endangered species, raising funds for wildlife conservation, and volunteering hundreds of hours to help turtles and other amphibians.
The fact that the award is named for Meeri Zetterstrom who was instrumental in bringing ospreys back to Vermont made the honor even more gratifying for Parren. “
I knew and very much enjoyed Meeri,” he said, “as well as Steve Costello, the (Green Mountain Power) employee who created this award 10 years ago and is a force in his own right. I feel very fortunate to be associated with people like that.”
Parren stressed that he is only one of many Vermonters involved in wildlife conservation.
“It’s a team sport,” he said.
Parren left his native Washington State to work in wildlife conservation in Alaska and then headed east to get a master’s degree in natural resource planning with a concentration in wildlife biology at the University of Vermont.
“It’s a tough field to break into,” he said. “It’s overwhelming how much talent is out there.”
Parren moved to Hinesburg in 1986 – technically he lives in Monkton with a Hinesburg postal address – and started work with Fish & Wildlife the following year.
Although he initially entered the field “to play in the woods,” Parren said he soon realized his office work was just as important to the department’s mission. He is proud that during his tenure loons, peregrine falcons and osprey have all made enough of a comeback to no longer be listed as endangered.
Parren is particularly interested in turtles and describes his work with them as avocation, as well as vocation. “I never took a herpetology course,” he said, “but I realized they were an underserved group.”
As a volunteer, Parren used to personally monitor a road crossing in Monkton every spring and over a two-night period he would count over 1,000 animals crushed beneath the wheels of cars. He subsequently launched a program to design and create 10 crossing points below the roadbed, two of which have been built.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife provided some of the funding, but Parren received assistance, as well as volunteers, from the Lewis Creek Association and the Monkton Conservation Commission among others. He credited the Vermont Agency of Transportation for its willingness to assist with this effort.
In 1993, Fish & Wildlife published Parren’s book “Backyard Wildlife Habitat in Vermont” in an effort to help others protect local wildlife.
“It was fun and exhausting,” he said of the project. “I tend to bite off more than I should sometimes, but I felt strongly at the time that if we want people to care about larger environmental issues, we should help them connect with the wildlife that’s close to them.”
Now 65, Parren is hopeful more people are paying attention to that wildlife.
“I like to encourage people to think about how to be mindful of the wonderful things we enjoy in Vermont and how we can share space with wild creatures,” he said. “We all benefit from that.”