Josephson Earns State Recognition

Dan Josephson, a research fisheries biologist and Falconer Central School alumnus, holds a heritage strain brook trout from Honnedaga Lake in Adirondack Park. Submitted photo

An intent to preserve and research nature has taken a Falconer Central School alumnus a long way.

Daniel Josephson was awarded the designation of 2018 Conservationist of the Year by the Adirondack Council for his efforts as a brook trout and acid rain research scientist. Adirondack Park in New York state is a part of the forest preserve and is safeguarded by its council.

Recognition for Josephson was part of the Forever Wild Day, an annual event celebrating science and conservation.

As a research fisheries biologist, Josephson has worked for Cornell University, his alma mater, for almost four decades. In partnership with the Adirondack Fishery Research Program based in Old Forge, Josephson has made park waters healthier and put himself at the cutting edge of acid rain research for 38 years.

“Josephson’s work with the team of Cornell University’s Adirondack Fishery Research Program has been nothing short of spectacular and the results speak for themselves,” said Diane Fish, deputy director for the Adirondack Council.

Part of Josephson’s work included documenting the damages caused by acid rain dating back to the mid-1980s. The southwestern Adirondacks was hit the worst by acid rain in the nation according to Fish, so Josephson began to research how the pollution phenomenon affected lake health and the survival of native trout and other fish.

Eventually, Josephson’s research helped advocates persuade Congress to restrict the pollution of power plants. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the resulting Acid Rain Program reduced air pollution, allowing for some fish species to make a resurgence.

“Slowing the rate of pollution was the key first step,” Fish said.

“Air pollution is now so much lower than it was in 1990.”

A premier project of Josephson’s was monitoring the health of Honnedaga Lake and its strain of brook trout. Josephson’s research helped save that strain from extinction, and those fish are now flourishing more than they had been during the days of persistent acid rain.

Josephson is a 1975 graduate from Falconer Central School, a 1977 graduate from Jamestown Community College and 1979 graduate from Cornell University with a bachelor’s of science in fishery science. He later received his master’s in fishery science from Virginia Tech.

Tom Erlandson, a biology teacher of Josephson’s from JCC, was excited to see his former student receive honors and said his success was a prime example of the quality education JCC can provide in action, something Josephson himself described as “critical.”

“To me, this is a perfect match of a person and a job and a place,” Erlandson said.

Josephson also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from JCC in 2013. Even after all the notoriety Josephson has earned, Erlandson remembers his student as someone who would go hunting with him and show him pictures of trout he would often catch in local streams.

Erlandson followed his student’s work in discovering trout species that were more resistant to the acid rain in the Adirondacks. Research on the fishes’ comeback piqued Erlandson’s interest and was representative of a rising pH level over the years, which led to better health for aquatic invertebrates and trout.

“The acid rain problem in the Adirondacks has diminished,” Erlandson said.

Josephson said scientists first began to figure out what was happening in the 1950s when sulfuric and nitric acids from power plants began moving west to east and depositing in high-elevation lakes like the ones in the Adirondacks. The resulting low pH levels in the water made heavy metals more soluble, which meant aquatic species became victim to substances like toxic aluminum in the water.

There was a big push to resolve what was going on, which led to policy change. Power plants implemented scrubbers that would decrease the amount of sulfur by 85 percent and nitrogen by 65 percent.

“The big move was to significantly reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions,” Jospehson said.

Josephson said the experience of healing an area and watching species come back one at a time due to their different tolerances was satisfying and also somewhat unexpected. He mentioned that scientific research doesn’t always cause government action or affect policy.

“I just feel lucky and grateful that I was able to be involved,” Josephson said. “We documented all the bad things in the 70s and 80s, and now we’re getting to watch these systems recover and reconnect.”

He said it was his professional dream growing up around Chautauqua Lake to make a difference for the environment. Josephson said he was honored to receive the award but noted the movement to better the health of the Adirondacks region has been a massive team effort over more than half a century.

“(Cornell) has been a great place to work,” Josephson said. “It’s been an opportunity to really apply science to work on issues relating to conservation.”

Josephson’s work over the years has also involved the research of mercury pollution, climate change effects and invasive species in the Adirondacks area.