Chris Raithel retired in 2018 after forty years as a rare species biologist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. At the DEM, Raithel assessed animal species across Rhode Island and when a species was demonstrably in decline or in immediate danger of extirpation developed and prioritized conservation activities and policies.
The reception commences at 5:30 with a cash bar and hors d’oeurves and the speaking program begins at 6:15 and includes speakers, exhibits, and a silent auction to benefit the Natural History Survey. The public is encouraged to attend: tickets are $25 for Survey members, $35 for non-members, students $15 and are available through the Rhode Island Natural History Survey: register online here or call the office at 401-874-5800.The featured speaker for the evening will be Tim Simmons, a conservation ecologist, recently retired from the Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, and an expert on southern New England’s rare plant communities and wildlife habitats particularly as pine barrens, sand plain grasslands, and coastal plain pond shores. Simmons will talk about regulatory, policy, and management lessons for conservation of these rare species and natural communities learned from his forty-plus years studying and preserving them. For his presentation Simmons will draw on his wealth of experience including with fire dependent communities and beach biodiversity, particularly tiger beetles, among other examples.
Mr. Raithel received bachelors and masters degrees in environmental science from the University of Rhode Island where he studied environmental factors that affect frogs and salamanders. Upon starting at DEM, he helped create the first citizen science project in Rhode Island aimed at amphibians. He recruited and trained volunteers across the state to report localities, breeding success, and other data.
Throughout his career Raithel worked closely with professional herpetologists and curators of systematic collections, particularly the American Museum of Natural History. This enabled him access to historic data and the latest data-gathering and analytical techniques, as well as to find the right places to permanently archive his own data and voucher specimens.
Although he is perhaps most widely known for his work on reptiles and amphibians, Raithel is also known for his expertise in freshwater mussels and he published a paper on the freshwater mussels of Rhode Island in 2006. He also became involved in beetle conservation, inventorying tiger beetles around the state and for years inventorying and monitoring the population of federally endangered American burying beetles on Block Island. He participates in various bird monitoring programs and is also an accomplished field botanist, assisting the New England Wild Flower Society’s Plant Conservation Task Force to conserve rare plants in Rhode Island.
As part of its mission to advance public understanding of natural history and the role of naturalists in environmental conservation, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey instituted its Distinguished Naturalist Award in 1994. It is presented annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to the advancement of the scientific knowledge of Rhode Island’s environment and organisms, is recognized as an outstanding teacher and educator about the natural world, and/or has significantly enhanced public awareness of the importance of understanding Rhode Island’s ecosystems. Since 1994 twenty-two people have been recognized in this way and a further sixteen people have received a posthumous award.
Well known past recipients of the Distinguished Naturalist Award include former Audubon Society of Rhode Island Director Alfred Hawkes, conservationist and bird bander Elise Lapham, rare species biologist and Raithel’s DEM colleague Rick Enser, fisheries ecologist Grace Klein-MacFee, and environmental writers Ken Weber and Peter Lord. Last year’s recipients were botanist Fran Underwood and bird conservation volunteer Steve Reinert. More information on the awards and past winners can be found at rinhs.org/who-we-are-what-we-do/awards/dna.