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UP CLOSE: Scientist rooted in the outdoors

January 13, 2014
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Working for about 25 years as the chief zoologist for The Nature Conservancy and later NatureServe, Larry Master spent his career protecting wildlife.

He oversaw the development of TNC's and NatureServe's central zoological databases, and served on the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.

In addition, he conceived and co-authored "Rivers of Life: Critical Watersheds for Protecting Freshwater Biodiversity" and has also written numerous other publications and chapters in several books such as "Precious Heritage" and "Our Living Resources."

Article Photos

Larry Master with a new friend — a recently weaned elephant seal pup looking for love (milk) — on South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean, with king penguins in the background.
(Photo courtesy of Larry Master)

An avid and talented wildlife photographer, Master lived in Michigan and then the Boston area with his wife, Nancy, who owned a toy and gift store. After Larry retired, they moved to Lake Placid, where both of their families had strong ties dating back to the late 1800s. Both had visited Lake Placid their entire lives before moving here full time about seven years ago.

"My great-grandparents built my grandparents' camp on Lake Placid in 1903 as a wedding present," Larry said. "It was in the family until 1968, when it was sold out of the family."

The Masters still have a house on Lake Placid from Nancy's family.

When the Masters moved here, Larry wasn't content to idly retire. He wanted to give something back to society and the conservation field and to continue working to protect the environment.

"I feel like I had such a wonderful life and have a wonderful life now with kids and grandkids," he said. "I feel like I have a giant debt to pay back to society."

Master serves on numerous boards, including those for NatureServe, The Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Northern New York Audubon, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Explorer, AuSable River Association and the Northern Forest Atlas Foundation. He's also on advisory boards for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Saranac Lake, Biodiversity Research Institute, Living with Wolves, Vermont Center for Ecostudies Science and the Mirror Lake Watershed Association.

The Masters have created a 135-acre nature preserve on the West Branch of the AuSable River in Lake Placid. The property is protected by a conservation easement, and they allow scientists and students to use it.

The property is maintained in the spirit of Larry's ideals.

After purchasing the property several years ago, the Masters had a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum house built on the property that looks out onto the river in the foreground and Sentinel Range behind that. LEED-certificated buildings conserve energy, water and other resources.

"My whole life has been devoted to conservation and biological diversity, and the main threat to that now is climate change, so I didn't want to build a house that in any way would contribute to climate change," Larry said.

The house is connected to the power grid, but over the course of a year it gives back as much electricity as it uses. The Masters generate power using solar panels. In the longer, warmer days from April through October, the Masters give more energy to the grid more than they use. However, when the days get shorter and there's less sunlight, they need to draw power from the grid, even though their solar panels are more efficient in colder weather.

The house is heated by a geothermal well, and the warmth is maintained by having 12-inch thick, super-insulated walls.

The house was made using mostly local materials (within 500 miles), including lots of recycled ones. Many of the doors were from the old Lake Placid Club. Rainwater is collected in cisterns that feed the Masters' gardens.

The Masters have dubbed the property Intervale Lowlands, and they use the lands to host fundraisers for local nonprofit organizations and for scientific studies, which are done by Larry and others.

A biological inventory on the property has documented more than 1,000 species, including about 165 birds.

Scientists such as ecologist Jerry Jenkins and entomologist Ezra Schwartzberg use the property for their studies. One of them is to monitor individual plants to determine when they bud and how that's affecting their interactions with pollinators.

"What's happening in some places is that the plants are flowering or budding out earlier than they did previously, but the insects aren't matched to it anymore, the pollinating insects," Larry said. "So you get discontinuity and what could happen is the plants won't be pollinated anymore or the insects won't survive or both."

Larry also hosts science-based gatherings on his property. He's hosted bioblitz for scientists and several school events. Paul Smith's College has used the property for ornithology and done fish sampling, and Lake Placid public schools have visited several times.

"I've been trying to encourage local schools to bring their students out here, their biology students out here, just because this is such a great laboratory," he said. "We have vernal pools with amphibians, we have tons of birds, just lots of wildlife to witness. Lots of projects one could do."

Larry finds that using the property in this manner is satisfying for him. It allows him to give back to the scientific community and to get back to his roots of being a field zoologist.

"This is wonderful as far as I'm concerned," Larry said. "I just love seeing this property used to its potential to help educate people. One of the things I'm interested in is helping to connect kids again with nature, instead of being so buried in their iPads and their iPhones and computers, and to get out. This property is a great vehicle, it seems, for me to be able to do that."



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