“I know it sounds like a cliché,” says Scott McDaniel, 34, “but the idea for the Susquehannock Wildlife Society really did happen around a campfire.”
The lifelong nature lover, self-employed filmmaker and network security account manager became the new organization’s president.
The wildlife society’s goal is to protect the natural world in the Susquehanna River regions of Harford and Cecil counties as well as Pennsylvania’s York and Lancaster counties. The organization established an animal rescue program, set up a trail camera survey that monitors animal activity, fortified local habitats for the declining Baltimore checkerspot butterfly and sponsored educational programs.
Now the group is developing the Susquehannock Wildlife Center on a 20-acre Darlington property, and McDaniel is executive director of the center, which is eyeing a public opening at the end of next year.
Talk about this land and its future.
You’ve heard the expression that Maryland is “America in Miniature?” We think this 20 acres is almost Harford County in miniature. It contains wetlands, forests, meadowland and various elevations. The Hopkins Branch of Deer Creek flows right through it.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources saw its potential and agreed to purchase it if we maintained it and developed wildlife programs.
We’ll preserve all of the natural environment and turn the existing former residence into a research, education and community outreach center. It will have museum-quality displays, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories, meeting space and a library.
We already built an outdoor amphitheater for nighttime nature movies. We are also raising funds for a wildlife observation and stargazing platform.
What sparked your interest in wildlife?
I got started very early. My mom was a big pet person, so she had parakeets and turtles. My dad was more of an outdoorsman and took us fishing, crabbing and on a lot of hikes. We’d try to get lost and find our way out.
When I wasn’t outside, I begged my mom to take me to the library. I’d come out with huge stacks of books about wildlife and then annoy the heck out of every adult in my life, telling them the facts that I learned.
What kind of wildlife do you see on the Susquehannock Wildlife Center site?
We have heard and seen coyotes, red fox, raccoon, nice groups of wild turkeys and many different songbirds. We actually had a golden eagle sighting above the hill, which is pretty rare for this area.
We have a lot of bald eagles; I see them almost daily. We know there are snapping and box turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs and salamanders. A little of everything, really.
One of our focal species for this property is the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, Maryland’s state insect. It is declining because it relies on the white turtlehead plant that has been decimated by deer. We have found native white turtleheads here. It was a big deal, and we planted more. We have a wetland that has the conditions that they need to breed naturally.
Do you have a favorite animal?
I am a turtle man through and through. I was always catching turtles as a kid, caring about them, learning about them. Turtles are the epicenter of my wildlife interests.
Honestly, they are probably the most threatened local species in Harford County. The wood turtle, bog turtle, northern map turtle and the spotted turtle are either rare or threatened here. They live a long time and have so many threats against them, including raccoons, roads and habitat destruction. Diseases like the ranavirus* are killing them on top of all of that.
What do you need to help the Susquehannock Wildlife Center come to life?
We have the skeleton. We are fundraising and also need local businesses to invest and sponsor us. We need building materials and donations of time from carpenters, dry wall experts, electricians and plumbers. Right now, we also need handicap accessibility to make sure that all people can enjoy this place. We’d also like to have help from artists and museum display experts.