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!

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