Sunday, June 30, 2013

Week 4: June 24-28

by Jacob Guettler and Sam Smith

This week marked an entire month that our crew has been working together on various land stewardship projects!  It also marked another five days of rain, thunderstorms, and more rain.  We began the week in the office, finishing a report for NRCS about our last project at the Pomainville site in West Rutland.  After breaking for lunch in a brief period of sunshine, we gathered as a group in the Aiken lounge to discuss at length our next project.  This involved completing a very rapid ecological assessment of a privately owned piece of land in order to determine if the land holds ecological value.  This project was quite different from our previous assessments for several reasons.  First and foremost, we had to consider that only one day was allotted to determine ecological value!  How do you even define ecological value?  Fortunately we had an extensive discussion about our plan of action so that we were prepared Tuesday for a full day of field work. 

Arriving at the site early for our swift assessment of the property, we split up into four teams based on topographic features to comb the entire site.  Two groups walked each side of the river, one group inventoried the open fields, and one group tackled the forested section.   We all spent the day sweating profusely in the humid air, swatting at the endless number of mosquitoes and wishing we could swim in the river, which was full of sediment from recent heavy rains.  As each group surveyed their piece of the parcel, they took note of the plant and wildlife species present (or audible), unique topographic features, signs of human use, and soil properties.  Together, these observations were used to extrapolate what natural community types were present on the site.  Natural community classification was used to understand what is on the landscape and to make predictions about future habitat conditionsBy categorizing the landscape in terms of natural communities, we are able to understand species composition and infer distribution within a given area.

Each group had their own tale to tell about the natural and human features of the landscape that they observed. 

                                                     Julie "driving" an old tractor

After our quick work out in the field, it was back to the office to crank out another report of our findings.  We spent the day comparing notes, reading through the various natural community classifications in Wetland, Woodland, Wildland by Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson, creating maps of our findings, and playing jokes on each other in Google Docs (it’s the small things in life after all). 

After quickly finishing our report for the property, we prepared ourselves for a day of service work. Our two tasks: 1. Weed the experimental plots at the US Forest Service Center, 2. Beautify the solarium at the UVM Aiken Center. We have weeded at the US Forest Service before and today wasn’t much different…except some of the weeds were GINORMOUS! It had been a couple weeks since we had last weeded and some of the plots clearly showed that. The trees were also growing and it was fascinating seeing the differences between plots in tree size and weed size.

Finally, we drove back to our home-base at the UVM Aiken Center. In order to give back to the Rubenstein School of Environmental Science and Natural Resources (Aiken Center) we helped beautify the solarium (a relaxing space filled with plants inside the entrance to the building). We divided up into two teams. One group helped fix the wetland display by moving the pools into proper places, so that the water would flow more easily. The second group repotted plants to be hung as a green wall at a later date. We were glad to have been of assistance helping to make the Aiken Center’s solarium an enjoyable place to sit back and relax.

                                  Martine and Rachel repotting plants for the Aiken solarium

                Maria hard at work designing and beautifying plans for a green wall in the solarium

                   Analyzing the water flow situation between the ponds in the wetland display

We met with Ralph Tursini, a forester, at the UVM ropes course to build a bridge. This was a service project for the UVM ropes course, thanking them for giving us a fun time, and bringing us closer together after our first week with each other. Ralph taught us some of the basic proper techniques necessary to fell a tree, in this case a hemlock snag. Ralph helped us out by using a chainsaw to cut down the snag and remove excess branches. We then worked together as a team to cut into the log, using an ax and mallet, in order to create a flat walking surface for the bridge. It was slow going at first, but then we picked up the pace thanks to Ralph and his chainsaw.

At this point, our plan from the previous day came into play. Ralph helped us cut down a tree with the perfect diameter, and smooth bark, for rolling logs. After tying several timber-hitch knots around out newly formed bridge, we began pulling the tree over the rolling logs. It was a wild journey to the stream where the bridge was to be placed. Rolling logs were moving all over the place and the bridge often seemed to have a mind of its own. By the time we were done we had moving a tree down to an art. With some fancy maneuvering and the placement of two base points in the muddy stream bank, our bridge was complete and ready for use. All in all, we made quick work of the tree and had a great time seeing our plan and bridge come to life.

                   Raplh Tursini removing branches from the hemlock tree used for our bridge at the                  UVM ropes course

                                                               Watching the tree fall!

 Definition of teamwork- pulling the log along the trail about 200 yards to its resting point in a small stream

                                                                                         The team on the finished product!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June 17-21
By Liz Bourguet

Our third week included camping for the first time as a LANDS crew and conducting rapid ecological assessments! Rapid ecological assessment is a method of assessing every aspect of a property in a short period of time, including bedrock, geology, topography, hydrology, wildlife assessment, and human use. Using this information, we could determine or predict the natural communities, or the natural assemblage of biota and their interactions with the abiotic environment, of different areas.

Monday- Roche Property

Monday morning we packed every inch of the van (Bianca!) with packs and gear (an art we are just beginning to master) and set out for West Rutland, where we had our first rapid ecological assessment project. There we met Jim Eikenberry, a soil conservationist working for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Barry and Joanna Roche, the owners of the property we spent the day assessing. The 40-acre Roche property is being considered by the NRCS as a site of wetland restoration, which would allow for the property to turn back into the floodplain that it had been before human alteration for agriculture. We divided into teams with specific tasks. The plants and wildlife team inventoried the plants and animals that they encountered and mapped invasive species. Another group searched the land for any signs of human use, including barbed wire fences, duck blinds, and agricultural ditches. Another group covered the soil, topography, and hydrology of the land, using a soil auger to analyze soil properties. The weather did not hold out for us during the day, and thunderstorms caused us to scurry to the van at least twice throughout the day. By the end of the day, our bodies and clothes were thoroughly soaked (which is probably something we should expect when working in a wetland) but the land was thoroughly analyzed (in the time allotted for us). After drying ourselves off as much as we could, we headed to the grocery store to buy our meals for the next two days, and continued on to Branbury State Park to set up camp. After a hearty meal of beans and rice burritos, we explored the waterfront of the beautiful Dunmore Lake and came back to camp to partake in the classic campfire and s’mores routine that made our camping experience for the day complete.

 Martine with Wild Angelica 
Rachel using a soil auger with Emily looking on

Tent city!

Tuesday- Pomainville

Tuesday morning, we woke up early to the sun and hoped that the sky wouldn’t pour on us. We drove to a new site in West Rutland called Pomainville. This 360-acre site has been restored by NRCS to a wetland and is being managed in order to meet their restoration goals, including providing habitat for wildlife, particularly birds, that require wetland habitat. The crew split up into groups in order to cover the area (which was much bigger than the Roche property). Groups covered forested areas, delayed mow fields, and riparian buffers in order to take species inventory and to assess whether NRCS is continuing to meet their goals. We struggled with swarms of mosquitoes, swamped boots, and patches of wild parsnip (a poisonous invasive). Despite the trials of working in a wetland, we ended the day with a lot learned about the land and a determination to finish the project the next day. We went back to the campsite to explore a trail leading to a waterfall and to venture back down to the water front to swim and relax after a long day in the field. We enjoyed a dinner of pasta and vegetable sauce, watched the glow of the sunset across the lake, tried (and failed) to dry our boots. Pretty exhausted, we retired to camp to eat s’mores and tell some ghost (and toast) stories.

 So many mosquitos.

 Hanging at the waterfront

Gathered by the campfire

We returned to the Pomainville site to finish the work that we started the day before. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the sun and the slight breeze that kept the mosquitoes somewhat at bay. Again we set off to bushwhack through the meadow and the forest to inventory species, learn new grass species, and note the features of the landscape. After a full day of work, we returned to the van to do a review of the day. Feeling accomplished, we undertook the sleepy 2-hour journey back to Burlington.
Pomainville site

Cattail Marsh

Blue flag iris

Way out in the field!

After sleeping in a little, we began our two-day quest to write our two reports. We spent most of the day in the computer lab, which was a drastic change in scenery from our campsite. We began by discussing and planning the Roche report, and we used the data and observations we collected to assign and predict natural communities of the Roche property. We assigned a plan of attack, and got to work creating a report using the guidelines set forth by NRCS to create a Wetland Reserve Plan of Operations (WRPO). We created maps of invasive species, soil, geology, and human use on the site, and we wrote recommendations that we think would help with the creation of a wetland on the site.

We met with Steve Libby, who is the executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy and a lecturer at UVM. Steve focused his talk on land trusts and easements and used his work with the river conservancy to explain these important land conservation tools. We learned about balancing different conservation objectives as well as balancing the needs of the public and wildlife. He explained how conservation organizations manage their lands and how they may manage them in the future. He left us with the question: how do you manage lands once they are conserved? Through LANDS, I think we are taking steps to answer this important question. After this talk, we went to the computer lab to finish the Roche WRPO and work on the Pomainville site report, which will be finished on Monday.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer 2013: Week 2

June 10-14
By Michael Storace and Jacob Guettler

This week was awesome, we started our first project! Rick Paradis, Becky Cushing, and Nick Marlene from the environmental program at UVM enlisted our help on the East Woods Natural Area in South Burlington. This area contains the infamously impaired Potash Brook, which most UVM students in Rubenstein visit for one of their very first labs. 
First, however, we needed to complete some training on invasive species. On Monday, Mollie Klepack from The Nature Conservancy came and taught us a TON about invasive and exotic species and their origins. She also taught us how to map these annoying plants using GPS. Invasives compete with native species, are a poor source of food for wildlife, degrade habitats, and significantly alter ecological processes. For these reasons, as conservation stewards, we must take active strategies against mitigating these degrading plants. The most important step in doing this is to map where barberry, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and the others are located in a natural area. Mollie then took us to the LaPlatte River Marsh, where we did some preliminary mapping of an area dominated by honeysuckle. Goodness, these invasive species can so easily dominate an ecosystem with their uniformity.

Japanese Barberry, an invasive species

With some invasive mapping under our belt, we could then move onto our first project with the UVM environmental program. Our job was to map the boundaries, the trails, and the invasive species of East Woods. In order to do this, we split into teams. Tuesday was difficult, because it was our first day at the site and on the job. The three teams developed their preliminary strategies towards approaching their tasks and tried them out in the field. Not to mention, it was down pouring all day. Good thing we brought our raingear.

 We survived the the rain, however, and were able to get a good idea of how long each part of the project would take. The trails crew scouted the existing trails within East Woods, and also examined possible side trails. The area is heavily trafficked by locals walking their dogs, and many of the trail are highly eroded. A great deal of trouble also stems from Potash Brook. The impaired stream bisects the natural area into two distinct areas with no way within the area to cross. Should a bridge across and paths on the northern side be created? There are benefits and disadvantages to both! We included both options in our management plan. 

Potash Brook

Wow the brook sure was raging with all the rain. It looked so radically different from when I studied it in NR1 last year. Back then I could wade across! This time we had to exit the natural area to cross the bridge on Farrell Street and then reenter the woods. The north side was very interesting. We witnessed several different natural communities, a deer path, raccoon prints, leatherwood, pilleated woodpecker holes, and some awesome mushrooms.
Cool Mushrooms

Mushroom Pose

Pilleated Woodpecker Holes

The boundaries team also had their work cut out for them. They had to scout the boundary of the natural area and subsequently blaze and sign it. These markings help to define the natural area and limit outside disturbance, such as private property owners and the electric company (who both love to cut down trees). Signs are fun though, and our handywork with tools has increased exponentially. 

                              Hammer...check.                                          Hatchet...check.

The invasives team also had a hefty task. There are a lot of invasive species in East Woods, ranging from a swarms of buckthorn and honeysuckle to a few patches of dame's rocket and barberry. With so much ground to cover, and so many polygons of invasive species to plot with GPS, things were slow going. Once we input the data onto the computer, however, the final picture began to come together, and invasive mapping becomes much more satisfying.

Jacob strikes a pose. 

Although we had been adding GPS data daily to our computers, Friday was our day for creating the final report. Jam packed into the Geography department's computer lab (thanks Geography department for housing us), we slaved away at ArcGIS maps and a google document that compiled our entire management plan. Our first report took shape, as we made grand steps to complete our first project. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer 2013 Week 1

June 3-7
By Sylvia Kinosian and Juliane Menezes

Our first week off with some introductory presentations by Emily and Laura to the LANDS program. We learned about what types of project we’ll be doing over the summer, what would be expected of us as members of the LANDS crew, and how the SCA and AmeriCorps fit into our program. We had a tour of the eco-machine in the Aiken center that treats all the water in the building. We also got to go up on the roof of Aiken to look at the green roof project going on. The roof is covered with several different patches of plants to study how rainwater drains through the different treatments. After lunch, we headed to Centennial Woods to practice pacing, plant ID, and compass and GPS navigation.

LANDS as part of the Aiken Green Roof

    We started Tuesday off with a visit to a ropes course! To warm up we did some very difficult jumping jacks,talked about knowing and respecting your comfort level during certain situations, and how to remain a team player. We then did some team building activities. For one, we were all blindfolded, handed a long rope, and told to make a star. In another we had to pass the whole team through three different heights of ropes without touching any of them. Our final activity was in pairs, climbing a large suspended ladder. It was really difficult, but by working with their partners, everyone made it about halfway up the ladder; unfortunately this was all we had time for.
Kristian giving Martine a hand up the ladder

    When we got back to campus, Deane talked to us about journaling to help us not only remember, but make sense of what we are going to learn over the summer. Then, Emily and Laura talked to us about wilderness first aid and safety.
    On Wednesday, we spent the whole day on the slope of Camel’s Hump along the Long Trail. In the morning we did some practice with orienteering, using a map and compass to figure out our location – an important field skill for later in the summer if we become lost during a project. We also practiced keying our plants using Newcomb’s Wildflower guide. We saw Indian Cucumber Roots, some trillium, Canada Mayflower, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and False Solomon’s Seal. We also heard many different birds including Red-eyed Vireo, Veery, Black-throated Green and Blue Warblers, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Brown Creeper.

We posed on a bridge over Gleason Brook near where we had lunch. Such a pretty site!

    In the afternoon we met with Liz Thompson to talk about natural communities. She told us about the natural history of Vermont and told us that we were actually on the beach of an ancient lake that once covered this area! We took some soil samples and identified the vegetation around us to figure out what natural community we were in, which turned out to be a Northern Hardwood forest in one spot and and a Rich Northern Hardwood forest in another. Liz also helped us identify some more plant including Sweet Cicely, Virginia Waterleaf, Jewelweed, Wood Nettle, Goldie’s Wood fern, Christmas fern, Lady fern, and Silvery Glade Fern. Besides herb ID, there were some trees and shrubs ID and based on the dominant species, we could classify the landscape as one of the Vermont’s communities described above.

Soil ID with Liz Thompson

    After all the hard work at the Camel’s Hump (great job by the way!), we stopped at the best bakery in Richmond, On the Rise. They had awesome desserts and bagels, including maple cupcakes! Yum!

    In the morning on Thursday, Emily introduced us to some landscape ecology concepts as ecological processes, patterns and pieces. Based on these concepts, we did one activity which we were responsible to increase the biodiversity of an open area dominated by ferns and wildflowers, and then a presentation of which relevant ecological processes/patterns/pieces would lead to it.
    In the afternoon, we met Alicia Daniel at Rock Point, which is next to North Beach. We split up as three teams based on our primary interest: geology, soils, or biota. The geology group looked at an area of Rock Point where a thrust fault had lifted a section of younger rock on top of a section of older rock. This unusual formation has been studied by scientists from all over the world! The soils group took some samples of two completely different locations, measured the soil pH (one was 8.0, which is pretty rare in Vermont!) and described the texture and color. It was interesting to see the differences between soils from a marshy area and then from on top of the cliffs. The wildlife group identified some tree, shrubs, wildflowers, and birds species in the area and then they classified the region as having a Limestone Bluff Cedar-Pine Forest, a Mesic Maple-Ash-Hickory-Oak Forest, as well as an area in between the two. By comparing the finding of all three groups in was interesting to see the how the different aspects of Rock Point’s physical environment tied together and influenced each other.
Here you can see the Dolostone over the Shale as well as some cedars growing off to the side.

    After that, we all got together and Sylvia drew an event map showing major characteristics of Rock Point that everyone had noticed. Even though it had started to rain at that point, the drawing still came out rather nicely!
Sylvia drawing the event map for our time at Rock Point

    Friday was our first day of work! US Forest Service hired us to help them weeding some of their experimental plots. We spent the morning weeding and then in the afternoon we dug up an old experimental plot tank that was buried in the ground and started digging up another. Around 2:00 we headed back to campus for an introduction to GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Emily helped us get familiar with ArcGIS and showed us how to make a map of Vermont. She also taught us about different map projections and which one to use in order to map Vermont look as accurate as possible.

Jacob, Liz, and Mike happily weeding.

Mike and Sylvia digging out a tank. Liz is helping, too by cutting out the weeds. A group effort!

    After our busy week we were all ready for some rest. The time really flew by, though! Hopefully the next eight weeks of LANDS will be just as fun as the first.