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Challenging Boundaries, Building Community: RISCC Symposium Draws Record-Breaking Audience

Friday, March 31, 2023

A record-breaking 400 members of the invasive species community recently participated in the 2023 Northeast Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Management Network Symposium, which took place February 14th and 15th via Zoom. Bringing together resource managers, researchers, and policymakers from 34 states and 12 countries, the event addressed key successes and challenges in navigating the dual threats of invasive species and climate change. Participation in the 2023 symposium nearly doubled the previous record set just last year, marking the fifth consecutive occasion that RISCC has witnessed an attendance increase for its signature annual event. The symposium’s success also extends the significant growth RISCC has experienced over the past eighteen months, a period in which the group’s organizational and conceptual template has been adopted by four other regional climate adaptation centers in the U.S. as well as a consortium in Canada. 

“It was exciting to see such an amazing turnout for our symposium,” said Toni Lyn Morelli, co-founder of the RISCC network and research ecologist for NE CASC. “This high level of participation serves as new evidence that we have established a growing community of scientists, managers, and policymakers committed to addressing the overlapping problems of invasive species and climate change, two of the most significant threats to ecosystems in the Northeast and across the globe. The fact that the symposium attracted so many attendees from states outside our region also illustrates the momentum that the RISCC approach to addressing these issues has gained both nationally and internationally. As the RISCC model has spread across our continent, interest in the Northeast RISCC has also skyrocketed. We are thrilled that our symposium provided an opportunity to bring so many people together because mobilizing a large professional community is essential to achieving our mission.”

Featuring 35 speakers, the symposium addressed a wide array of topics, including early detection tools and techniques, forest invasives and climate change, habitat resiliency, managed relocations, and challenges faced by species of cultural and tribal importance such as black ash. A plenary address on “Climate Change, Invasions, Evasions, and Expansions” was also delivered by Cascade Sorte, a faculty member at the University of California Irvine. 

Perhaps the most notable feature of the symposium was the high level of engagement that attendees exhibited throughout the program. “The enthusiasm for the symposium topics was really gratifying,” said Jenica Allen, a founding member of the RISCC leadership team and lead organizer for the symposium. “Audience members posed a lot of insightful questions to our speakers and carried out numerous lively discussions with one another via the Zoom chat feature, too. A large number of our attendees also participated in our lunchtime virtual networking sessions, which provided audience members with the opportunity to join unstructured discussions in a variety of thematically organized breakout rooms. This symposium was designed in part to strengthen the invasive species community, and our audience played a key role in helping it achieve that goal. It was inspiring to see people participate so energetically from the opening to the closing session.”

A main reason for the enthusiastic audience response was, according to one attendee, the event’s inclusive design. “The symposium was carefully planned to ensure that both researcher and management perspectives were incorporated across the program, something that helped all participants feel welcome and invested in each of the sessions,” said Matthew Brincka, an invasive species biologist for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. “This event was informed by the assumption that managers need to learn from researchers, and researchers need to learn from managers. As a result, there was an emphasis on dialogue, interaction, and active participation rather than passive spectating. It was a great event that helped attendees from a variety of backgrounds broaden their understanding and become more engaged with the issues of climate change and invasive species.”

A final symposium highlight arrived with the presentation of RISCC’s inaugural Community Action Award to Bobbi Wilson, a nine-year-old from New Jersey. At school, Wilson had learned about the threat of the spotted lanternfly, a beautiful but harmful insect that is native to China, India, and Vietnam. As a result, Wilson decided to take part in New Jersey’s “Stomp It Out” campaign, a citizen-science effort to eradicate the pest. After crafting her own insect repellent, she began spraying trees and collecting lanternflies when police were called by a neighbor expressing concerns about “suspicious” activity. The incident attracted widespread media attention due to its racial overtones (Wilson is Black and the call to the police was made by one of Wilson’s White neighbors), but it also brought Wilson widespread praise as an exceptionally curious and engaged elementary school student possessing a passion for science. 

“After learning about Bobbi, the RISCC leadership team felt compelled to honor her with this award because she vividly displayed many qualities that we value in our organization,” Morelli said. “Bobbi’s story involves challenging and transcending established boundaries to advance invasive species management and science more broadly. In a similar vein, this is also what RISCC seeks to accomplish. We are cultivating new ideas and new ways to bring people together across professional and disciplinary boundaries to help move climate adaptation forward. As a result, we felt inspired by Bobbi’s story and wanted to let her know that her inquisitiveness, creativity, dedication, and resilience speak to her enormous potential to contribute to science and society. We are proud to welcome her as a new member of the RISCC community.”