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Dave Odell gives a presentation at the Frontenac Historical Society & Museum about the history and biological state of the Montezuma Wildlife Complex to an environmentally curious audience.

UNION SPRINGS — Before biologist Dave Odell gave his presentation on the Montezuma Wildlife Complex on Sunday, he told the audience that he wouldn't try to school them on the land's history. He said he's been living in the area for 27 years, so he's still "kind of a newbie."

Odell addressed a curious crowd who came to the Frontenac Historical Society & Museum, at 178 Cayuga St in Union Springs, on Sunday night to learn more about the state of the Montezuma Wildlife Complex's biology and wildlife — particularly the species of birds that use the lands as a stop over during migration.

One aspect of his presentation explained each part of the title "Montezuma Wetlands Complex," which is also referred to simply as a refuge. The name Montezuma, according to legend, came from a well-traveled couple from Wayne County when the wife remarked that the wetlands looked like the ones outside of Mexico City.

The wetlands act like the "kidneys of the landscape," Odell said, by cleansing the water and supporting biodiversity. And it is called a "complex" because of all the agencies involved in maintaining it. He also touched on the history of the place, like how the New York State barge canal drained a large portion of the swamp in the early 1900s, even though Odell was pretty sure the attendees were already well informed.

The refuge, which spans about 10,000 acres, is a pit stop for waterfowl, shorebirds and passerines during their migration. Odell said if the Montezuma refuge wasn't around, they would "probably lose a lot of migratory birds." Ducks were actually on the decline in the area in the 1970s, which was addressed by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to restore waterfall management.

Odell, former Region 8 manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation, also got involved with Montezuma around that time. He supervised the habitat unit in Albany, but helped with an environmental impact statement that was written jointly by biologists at the federal and state level to expand the Montezuma refuge. Odell became on-site manager of the state part of the complex shortly after. 

In his presentation on Sunday, he also said the wildlife complex gets $10,000 to $12,000 every year from the annual bird watching competition called the "Muckrace" that goes toward projects like overlook structures, habitat restoration and some education opportunities. In addition to preserving the wetlands, the DEC also aims to create grasslands for the refuge.

"Restoration is a key. You can buy the land, but a lot of it has had invasive species. It's been mistreated. We get those played out farmlands, where the muck soil is pretty much eroded away," he said. They restore the hydrology by building dams and other structures to allow the productive soil to flourish again. 

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Staff writer Mary Catalfamo can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or mary.catalfamo@lee.net. Find her on Twitter @mrycatalfamo.