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. 

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