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.

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