Monday, June 21, 2010

Week Three

Week 3 started with a two-hour ride in Gazelle down to Bomoseen State Park, just South of Rutland. Upon arrival, we set up camp and made a new friend, "Cheeks" the chipmunk. Deanna enjoyed feeding him trail mix, which was later found by Kyle, with nuts and raisins stashed away in his sleeping bag and pillowcase. Soon after camp was set up, we began to survey the park, finding mostly honeysuckle and the usual suspects, along with a few less familiar invasive plants such as Black Swallow Wart and Amur Maple. A downpour of rain made the process a bit slower, but we finished the park before the end of the day, leaving time to survey some surrounding nature trails. The day went quite smoothly, and ended with a relaxing camp fire.

Reed, Ben & Deanna hard at work

On Tuesday the weather was beautiful and everyone was in high spirits. In the morning we all hopped into Gazelle and made our way to Emerald Lake State Park, which was a gem of a place. Here, we teamed off to survey campsites and nature trails, finding mostly honeysuckle and garlic mustard, and luckily no invasive insects. We had a nice lunch break on the beach, where we got to bask in the sun. Those of us who were lucky enough to have our bathing suits got to cool off in the lake, making our way to an island in the middle where we found more honeysuckle. When it was time to take off for the day, we stopped in Rutland for dinner veggies that had been unfortunately left behind in Burlington. We ended our day with a feast of delicious veggies, pasta and kielbasa.

Our fearless leaders Sam & Zach (and Dan skipping rocks)

On Wednesday we were expecting the worst after a forecast of heavy rain all day long. Fortunately, we still had hopes for the best, and the timing was perfect! We had a long day of surveying three different campgrounds, and were lucky enough to have it rain only when we were driving in Gazelle from location to location. We began the day at Lake Saint Catherine, surveying 60 sites in about 2 hours. After quickly completing the survey, and finding the usual invasive plant species such as honeysuckle and garlic mustard, we hopped in Gazelle and headed towards Branch Pond, eating our lunches of PB & J and gold fish on the way. Branch Pond was a beautiful, remote, and quite undeveloped site. The landscape was very different than previous sites, with tree species such as Fir and Spruce, and rare plant species such as the flowering pitcher plant and the lady slipper. Although we didn't finish here until about 5pm, the crew decided to make the day even longer and survey one last area called Old Job in the Tabor Mountain area of the U.S. Forest. This was mostly a road survey, with a few campsites along the way. We surveyed through dusk, finishing up just as it was getting dark. After the rainy two hour ride back to our campsite at Bomoseen, we cooked burritos at 10pm, having a short fire before we were all too tired to stay awake any longer. It was a long, fun, and very successful day of surveying.

A Flowering Pitcher Plant: Branch Pond, VT

Because of our long day on Wednesday, we were able to cut the day in half on Thursday, surveying Half Moon State Park. Working until 1pm, we finished all the campsites, and even got to explore a huge field in search for more invasives. Here we found mostly honeysuckle and buckthorn, along with a car door, microwave and golf club. We then proceeded to drive back to our home base in Burlington, where we unpacked and headed home for the night.

Ben & Zach getting familiar with the park

Friday was a day of logistics in the office, finishing up some necessary last minute duties. This third week was good for everyone, as the weather was enjoyable and the days flew by. The crew worked smoothly as a team and continued to learn a lot while enjoying the diverse and beautiful landscape of Vermont.

Sam & his beloved mushrooms

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Week Two

Week two of the LANDS program started bright and early, with a trip to Camp Plymouth State Park for a day of training. We hit the road ~5:30 AM, and didn't return until around 7. At the park, we were educated on the history, biology, and impact of non native plants and insects on Vermont ecosystems from a variety of speakers. Absorbing such a vast amount of information was a little daunting, especially since we were so tired, but we were pleasantly surprised by a cookout for lunch.

On Tuesday morning, we departed for our first week of camping. Nimble but spacious, Gazelle was able to fit most of our supplies and ourselves comfortably, and Lydia's car held the rest.

Dan, Toral, and Kyle load supplies into Gazelle

Setting up camp was rendered much easier by the two lean-to's we found at our campsites. Most of us ended up sleeping in these, so we didn't need as many tents. After camp was setup, we hiked to Silver Lake to begin our first day of surveys at the campsites there. The process was a little chaotic at first, but each site we surveyed took half as long as the one prior, and by the end of the day we knew we'd be experts in no time.

Confusion ensues, followed by gradual understanding

On Wednesday our team split up, with Sam's group finishing up at Silver Lake, and Lydia and Zac's groups going to Moosalamoo Campground. Moosalamoo turned into an easy, encouraging survey – most of the campsites didn't have a single invasive plant, and fortunately, no invasive insects. They worst invasions did find were hard to miss – they were labeled, in a “wildlife garden” intended to teach campers the sorts of things they can plant in their backyards to attract desirable animals. Many of these intentional invasives had clearly spread into the surrounding woods. There wasn't much we could do but laugh, but the experience served as a stark example of the extent to which our mindset needs to change.

Zac and Reed take on an particularily egregious honeysuckle at Moosalamo, while Dan observes

Our goal for Thursday was Branbury State Park itself, but by now we had become so adept at our protocol that we finished before lunch. Opting to take advantage of the extra time, we packed up camp and migrated to D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) State Park.

D.A.R. was a reality check for everyone, especially after the relatively pristine ecosystems around Silver Lake and Mooselamoo. At. D.A.R. we found woods with understories completely dominated by buckthorn and honeysuckle. Natural tree regeneration was nearly absent, and the abundant diversity of a healthy understory was totally stifled. Ultimately, D.A.R. may be a lost cause, but it was a powerful reminder of why our work this summer is so important.

Unfortunately, Thursday afternoon was also the time when the rain which had been threatening all day finally arrived. It didn't last long though, and the entire crew was able to enjoy a particularly relaxing final evening.

Since we had almost entirely finished D.A.R. the day before, we were able to complete another additional park Friday afternoon before heading to Burlington. We stopped at Mt. Philo State Park, an isolated peak with spectacular views of Lake Champlain and New York state beyond. It only took a few hours though, and we got home with time to collect ourselves and reflect on the week before heading home.

View from Mt. Philo, looking west to Lake Champlain

Friday afternoon, home sweet home

This first week of camping has made clear both the rewards and the challenges the rest of the summer will hold. None of us expected we would be away from our homes and friends so long, so it will take some time to adjust to the circumstances. This is a learning process for everybody, and hopefully as time goes on many of the uncertainties and bugs will be worked out. On the other hand, as someone who has never been to Vermont before, I am extremely grateful for the chance to experience so much of this amazing state. On top of that, there is the satisfaction of ending every day knowing we are contributing to the conservation of the awe inspiring landscapes and ecosystems around us.

The LANDS crew + the FEHC crew

Monday, June 7, 2010

Welcome to LANDS 2010! This will be our weekly blog chronicling our adventures over the nine weeks of the program.

Our program kicked off on Tuesday. The day was filled with orientation not only to the group and mission of LANDS but also the beginnings of field time. After spending the morning in the GreenHouse Residential Learning Community getting to know one another, we headed out to Lone Rock Point to investigate some landscape history as well as begin to identify shrubs and trees using different resources. Despite the rain and relentless mosquitoes our intrepid crew persevered and bonded.

(Dan and Jessie working on Tree ID)

Wednesday was spent in Centennial Woods with some fellow students from the Forest Ecosystem Health Crew, orienting ourselves (no pun intended) with our GPS devices and compass skills. I'm happy to report that no one was lost. After our orienteering course, we got the run down on the procedures for our invasive plant and insect surveys and practiced a few techniques for spotting pests and intruders.

(Ben, Toral, Kyle and Jon figuring it out...kind of)

On Thursday we really got down to business in a conserved floodplain managed by The Nature Conservancy in Richmond. Emily Seifert, Invasives Coordinator with the The Nature Conservancy, instructed us on the proper way to treat Japanese Knotweed: chop it all down! We spent the morning annihilating vast swaths of the invasive plant clearing large patches in the forest. Looking back at our handiwork it was easy to see the damage that this plant could do. There was almost nothing growing under the thickets of Knotweed; after it is eradicated (with more cutting back and a light herbicide application) hopefully the native ostrich ferns will return to this beautiful floodplain ecosystem. (Reed with the Knotweed) (A nest we found in the thicket)

After lunch, we walked along a short piece of the Long Trail to talk about soil patterns and composition and how they affect the localized landscape ecology. We practiced taking soil samples and testing for pH then extrapolating what we could about the preferences of different types of ecological communities.

Friday morning we took turns briefing the rest of the team on several invasive plants to keep our eyes peeled for throughout the season. After a few presentations we jumped in our trusty automobile, Gazelle (pronounced “Gizelle”) and zipped over to the State Forest Department's offices on Spear St. to clean up some overgrown study plots. It was an intense afternoon of clipping, sawing and hauling grapevines, brush and small trees that were not needed and taking some data on the study being performed there. Once again the LANDS crew rose to the challenge of and otherwise daunting task. We finished the day back at our GreenHouse HQ for a few more invasive species presentations and then a bit of planning for next week's work and camping in the Green Mountain National Forest!

(Deanna showing some grape vines who's Boss)

(Ben with a bundle o' brush)

Despite the huge amount of new information to absorb and long days in variable work conditions, we can't help but be psyched for the weeks to come. Personally, I now can't stop spotting invasive plants like Japanese Knotweed and Phragmites everywhere and looking for the new trees I've learned to identify.

Thanks for reading and be sure to stay tuned for more thrilling accounts of the exciting summer ahead of us!

- The LANDS Crew