Volunteer Leads Loon Recovery at Lake Dunmore
LEICESTER, Vt. – Mike Korkuc, a longtime volunteer who has helped protect and expand loon populations at Lake Dunmore and surrounding lakes for 15 years, has been named the winner of the 2022 GMP-Zetterstrom Environmental Award.
The prestigious award is named for former Milton resident Meeri Zetterstrom, who inspired recovery efforts that led to ospreys’ removal from Vermont’s endangered species list. The award is given annually to one person, business, group, or nonprofit that has made a significant contribution to Vermont’s environment. The feather-shaped award is accompanied by a $2,500 donation to support the winner’s ongoing efforts.
Korkuc, in collaboration with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, has saved several loons at Lake Dunmore, Silver Lake, and Sugar Hill Reservoir and has taught hundreds of people about loons and how to protect them. He has volunteered countless hours protecting loons and their Lake Dunmore nesting site and monitors four surrounding lakes.
“Mike is by far the most active of my 300 loon volunteers statewide,” said Eric Hanson, a previous GMP-Zetterstrom Award winner, who coordinates loon recovery efforts across Vermont. “He always goes above and beyond. In his patient and dutiful way, he has made people care about the natural world.”
“No one reminds me more of Meeri Zetterstrom than Mike,” said nominator Joan Gamble. “He volunteers his time freely and passionately to keep the loons safe! Every year he makes, installs, and maintains loon nesting sign-buoys around the island on Lake Dunmore – essentially taking it upon himself to protect them. He is regularly out in his pontoon boat, The Loonatic, where he firmly and respectfully educates boaters about keeping away from the nest, loons, and their chicks.”
Korkuc, who knew nothing about loons when he first saw one on Lake Dunmore years ago, quickly became their advocate after he saw a loon family, including a chick, endangered by boat traffic. Thanks to his vision and efforts, loons have successfully hatched and fledged young at the lake for over a decade, a total of 16 offspring.
“My photographs of that first chick sparked my new hobby,” Korkuc said. “I’ve since captured over 40,000 photos, most of loons,” he said. “I am so honored by this recognition from GMP, and it inspires me to continue to protect and educate people about loons.”
Korkuc, as Meeri Zetterstrom did with osprey photos, used his pictures to create public interest in the loons and protect them. Over time, he’s developed an email group of more than 450 people he provides with photos and regular updates on the birds’ progress.
Zetterstrom was known as “Grandma Osprey.” She began her efforts to restore ospreys at Milton’s Lake Arrowhead in the late 1980s. Her vision, collaboration and leadership helped ospreys rebound, and they were removed from the endangered species list in 2005. The award was created shortly before Zetterstrom died in 2010.
“Mike’s determination and use of photography to build support for the birds is reminiscent of Meeri,” said GMP Vice President Steve Costello, who worked on osprey recovery with Zetterstrom for years. “He’s created broad support and public understanding of the birds and helped give them the space and quiet they need around their nest site, which is on a very active lake. They wouldn’t be nearly as successful if not for Mike.”
Past GMP-Zetterstrom Award recipients include Sally Laughlin, whose work was instrumental in restoring three species of endangered birds; Michael Smith, founder of Rutland’s Pine Hill Park; Margaret Fowle, who led Vermont’s peregrine falcon restoration program; the Lake Champlain Committee, which works to protect and improve Lake Champlain; Kelly Stettner, who founded the Black River Action Team; Roy Pilcher, founder of the Rutland County Chapter of Audubon; Lake Champlain International, a nonprofit working to protect, restore and revitalize Lake Champlain and its communities; Marty Illick of the Lewis Creek Association; Steve Parren, a biologist for the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife; Hanson, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies; Brian Lowe of Randolph, who helped fledge hundreds of kestrels in central Vermont; and Angella Gibbons, founder of EarthWalk Vermont.
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Kristin Carlson, Green Mountain Power
He volunteers his time freely and passionately to keep the loons safe! Every year he makes, installs, and maintains loon nesting sign-buoys around the island on Lake Dunmore – essentially taking it upon himself to protect them.Joan Gamble, Zetterstrom Award nominator