December 2010

Minutes from the Sunday Supper Club
December 12th, 2010

Five Minute Flash Reports:

Treasurer’s Report- Our current balance is $177.55.  Although we do not have any large expenses due, we will be incurring an additional expense of $15/month for storage space at the Marshall Community Center (MCC).  The planning committee decided it was worth the extra cost to alleviate the need to carry multiple heavy boxes back and forth to the center.

Gift for Meg- John Anderson presented Meg, MCC employee extraordinaire, with a card and a gift certificate to the Marshall IGA, as a small thank you for all she has done to make the MCC a wonderful home for the SSC.

McGhee Foundation- Bridget Chisolm, board member of the McGhee foundation, provided information on this interesting non-profit in Middleburg.  Ambassador George Crews McGhee began the foundation in 2002 as a public 501(c)(3) organization, “chartered to protect and preserve the historical, horticultural, and agricultural heritage” of  his historic country estate, Farmer’s Delight Plantation.  Ambassador McGhee served as the President of the Board until his death in 2005.  Through his will, he bequeathed 90 acres of his estate as well as many treasures collected on his extensive travels.

The McGhee foundation is seeking volunteers to help them identify the artifacts (including tribal masks, glass ware, pottery, books, correspondence …) and also to aid in their horticultural and agricultural operations.

If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating endeavor, please visit or contact Bridget directly at

Guest Speaker

We were so pleased to welcome Dr. Steve Monfort of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) as our final speaker of 2010.  Steve has worked at the Smithsonian for 25 years as a veterinarian, research scientist, and educator.  In 2006, he was named Director of the SCBI, a 3200 acre campus in Front Royal, whose mission is to “conduct research to aid in the survival or recovery of species and their habitats, and to ensure the health and well-being of animals in zoos and in the wild.”

My 2011 resolution needs to be learning shorthand, as I am finding it impossible to take adequate notes on all of our information packed presentations!  In order to flesh out my rapidly scrawled (and, at times, indecipherable) notes, I’ve borrowed liberally from information on the SCBI website.  For even more information on their important work, please visit their web site at: (I do the googling so you don’t have to.  Who knew there was a State Convention of Baptists in Indiana?)

What is the SCBI?

“The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which launched on January 25, 2010, serves as an umbrella for the Smithsonian’s global effort to conserve species and train future generations of conservationists.  The SCBI is headquartered in Front Royal, Virginia, at the facility previously known as the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center (CRC).”

The 3200 acre facility, which is located across the street from Shenandoah National Park, formerly served as an Army remount station and played an important role in the history of the horse in the region.  A historic graveyard for horses still exists on the property.

The Importance of Biodiversity

One of the four main goals of the Smithsonian’s new strategic plan, is to advance “understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet.
Biodiversity is a measure of our planet’s health.
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation costs mankind 2-5 trillion annually.
The concept of biodiversity encompasses genetic variability within a species, diversity of species, and ecosystem landscapes.

Conservation Biology

Conservation biology is “based on the premise that the conservation of biological diversity is important and benefits current and future human societies.”

Conservation requires the melding of science and policy.
Current focuses include: over hunting, over fishing, air pollution, habitat fragmentation and climate change.
Biodiversity loss will accelerate species extinction long before the full impacts of climate change are upon us.

SCBI: Training the next generation of biologists and inspiring the public

Scientific discovery is the base of everything we do; we must know and understand before we can conserve.

The planet is a “managed space.”   We must train the next generation of biologists.

The SCBI is made up of six centers.
Center For Animal Care Sciences- provides for the mental and physical well-being of every animal at the Zoo, many of which are species which have never previously been cared for by veterinarians.
Conservation Ecology Center- focuses on recovering and sustaining at-risk wildlife species and their supporting ecosystems in key marine and terrestrial regions throughout the globe.
Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability- protects the planet’s biodiversity by teaching conservation principles and practices.
Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics- works to understand and conserve biodiversity through genetic research.
Migratory Bird Center- studies Neotropical songbirds and wetland birds, the role of disease in bird population declines, and the environmental challenges facing urban and suburban birds.
Center for Species Survival- researches issues in reproductive physiology, endocrinology, cryobiology, embryo biology, animal behavior, wildlife toxicology and assisted reproduction.

Visit for much more detailed information on these centers.

Smithsonian Projects

Saving Species on the Brink
The SCBI has played a crucial role in saving species from extinction, including black-footed ferrets*, Golden Lion Tamarin, Micronesian Kingfishers, Scimitar Horned Oryx, Prezwalski’s Horses and Panamanian Frogs**
The SCBI participated in the Global Tiger Institute meeting in Russia.  Only 3200 tigers, living in 13 countries, are left in the wild.  The Smithsonian is partnering with 35 organizations, together with many governments, to help to come up with an action plan to save the tigers.  The goal of the GTI is to double the number of tigers in the next 12 years.  Without intervention (including stopping the killing, enabling law enforcement, and establishing practices for conservation training) it is quite possible that tigers could become extinct in the wild in this generation.

*The story of the black-footed ferret demonstrates the importance of linking reproductive sciences to species reintroduction.
In 1985 the black-footed ferret was near extinction.
A small group of ferrets was brought to SCBI where they were able to produce a population of 600 (423 through natural breeding, 167 through an artificial insemination procedure developed at SCBI).
The AI procedure allowed for improved genetic diversity as frozen sperm could be stored and used years later.

** Steve spoke in brief about the frog fungus which has decimated frog populations.
The fungus appears to have become a problem when laboratory frogs (which were previously used for pregnancy testing) were released into the wild.
The frogs had a skin fungus, which they were immune to, but which spread in the wild.  One half of all species that got infected died.
The scientific community is working in Panama to save the frogs, by rescuing wild populations, housing them in temperature controlled rooms and terrariums, developing a cure for the fungus and then returning them to the wild.
The search for a cure is currently focused on collecting a bacterium which appears to give the frogs immunity from the fungus and developing a vaccine.
Amphibian declines are often the “canary in the coal mine,” for the health of the planet.

Gabon Biodiversity Program

“The Smithsonian Institution Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program (SI/MAB) and Shell are working together to increase understanding of biodiversity and energy resource development in Gabon.  This unique partnership between science and industry, which began in 2000, is being funded by the Shell Foundation, Shell Gabon and the Smithsonian Institution.”

A team from the Smithsonian has gone in to do biodiversity assessments, monitoring and conservation.  The goal is to help industry to minimize their effect and to analyze the questions: How are we doing?  What can we do better?
Gabon is working to recruit high school students, train faculty and educate future conservationists.

Forest Studies
Forests are dynamic- certain species die, others take over.
We need data sets that span 100 years in order to predict the future.
Long term monitoring will help to inform good forestry practices.

Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory (SIGEO)
“SIGEO builds on and expands the CTFS (Center for Tropical Forest Science) global network of forest plots, transforming it into a platform for a broader range of scientific investigations. CTFS research on tropical forest dynamics continues, but joins new initiatives to study carbon fluxes, temperate forests, and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and forest function.”
Virginia Working Landscapes
The aim of this project is to “promote sustainable use of Virginia landscapes and grasslands for native biodiversity.”
The SCBI works with farmers to help them convert their pastures to warm weather grasses; this helps farmers keep their land productive while also benefiting native biodiversity and wildlife.
Additionally, SCBI is creating demonstration sites which showcase best practices for different land uses.

Undergraduate Training Opportunities
SCBI and George Mason University have teamed up to offer a residential semester program for undergrads to learn about conservation.
The program is an interdisciplinary experience with a variety of instructors and practicums.
SCBI is about to break ground on new campus facilities, building a dormitory with 120 beds and renovating an old horse barn to accommodate wet and dry labs.

SCBI is unfortunately not open to the public at this time, though they do hold an annual open house in October.  Additionally, they offer a very popular lecture series in April and October.

Their e-newsletter is available at:

Important Points (which I was unsure where to include in my minutes)
In many places, animals are, literally, worth more dead than alive.
In working on wildlife conservation, we must be sensitive to the conflict between wildlife and people.  We must educate people to the economic benefits of biodiversity.
Livelihood development programs are about people as much as animals.

** Scribes Note- There is absolutely no way to capture the global reach and importance of the programs Steve spoke about.  I strongly encourage you to visit the links above and to learn about these incredible and truly life-saving ventures.  We all know that deep budget cuts are inevitable in the coming years; if you are as impressed as I am with the conservation efforts of the SCBI, please contact your Representatives and Senators and encourage them to generously fund the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and the SCBI (Linda has made this easy for you by providing the contact information on our web site at

Many thanks to Steve Monfort for your very informative and thought provoking presentation!

Save the Dates
You won’t want to miss the interesting meetings we have planned!

Jan. 9th- Chief Thomas Billington of Fauquier County Fire and Rescue

Feb.  13th- TBD

March 13th- Warrenton Mayor George Fitch and Councilman Yak Lubowsky

April 10th- Dr. Jonathan Lewis, Fauquier County Superintendent of Schools