Friday, December 5, 2014

LANDS Forever

Wednesday marked the final day of the inaugural LANDS Field Semester.  The end is bittersweet.  We (Laura and Emily) are sad for our tight crew to disperse and for our adventures to be over.  The lair will be a quiet place without the 15 voices of the crew members and the constant accompaniment of conversation and laughter. On the other hand, we're basking in the glow of a successful program. It's been incredible to watch our students learn and grow throughout this semester; we're excited to send them off into their next chapters with new knowledge and skills, and in many cases with more refined professional goals. 

Rachel and Michelle making their way through their evaluation forms

The week consisted of a variety of closing activities: lengthy written evaluation forms (the students weren't thrilled about the number of questions, but their feedback will be immensely helpful for next year's planning!), an informal discussion with Nancy Mathews, the Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources, and a focus group with educational researcher Karen Nordstrom to assess the program's learning outcomes.

The students share their experiences with RSENR Dean Nancy Mathews


Not sure what this is about.  Typical antics in the lair.
The highlight of the week was the final presentation, which the crew ROCKED!  The room was packed -- all 55 seats were filled, with standing room only well into the hallway.  The presentation was engaging, informative, and polished (the result of multiple practice rounds, with feedback and revisions), and the students were confident and articulate.  Clearly, their tree presentations and discussions about public speaking skills prepared them well. We even got some press:

Brainstorming the qualities of good and bad presentations through some "chalk talk"

James and Flore rocking the final presentation (and apparently having a great time!) (Photo Credit: Joshua Brown)

The program culminated with a potluck lunch at Emily's humble abode, where the students got to spend some time with a member of their favorite species (as we learned during the tree inventories): Felis domesticus.
LANDS crew members and Chaplin the cat express their mutual appreciation

The crew enjoys one last meal together.  Back in September, they were afraid to sit in adjacent chairs, and now five of them voluntarily squeeze onto a couch.

As per usual, our sentiments are expressed on the nearest available chalkboard
We are so grateful to the 15 LANDS students for being the pioneers, and helping us make this program possible.  We hope you've enjoyed following our adventures via the blog this semester.  What a great experience it's been.  Here's to many more!

Signing out until June,

Emily and Laura

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Week 12: A Mixed Bag

This week we began wrapping up the various projects that we have been working on over the course of the semester. Our first project of the semester was conducting urban tree inventories in Bristol, Middlebury, and Vergennes. Quick recap of the tree inventory project: we documented the size, species and condition of trees in the public right-of-way and compiled management and inventory reports for the towns to use for future planning. This project was done in collaboration with the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program. This week we concluded these projects with a presentation to the respective boards of the communities.
Bristol crew sending it in their presentation!

 Middlebury coming through with the help of Eric on the Q & A at the end.
Vergennes....calm, cool, and collected.
We finished the evening by buying amazing sandwiches and discussing our week (it's Small Team Project time so we have been oh-so-lonely since we haven't been meeting as a group). We also had one last hurrah packing into the LANDS vans before saying goodbye to those lovely beasts for good.
The day following our urban tree presentation was the last day the small teams were allotted time to work on mapping, management plan writing and editing, and finalizing the deliverables for each project sponsor. There were only a few tears to be shed as last minute issues with our backup drive arose.  
This carried us into the next couple of days which consisted of lots of office scenery, complete with soft computer screen rays, labyrinth of Ethernet cables, and sporadic events of madness, as we were reviewing and fixing all of the reports we have created so far, while simultaneously attempting to finalize our STPs.

We also helped with a climate change experiment happening in the back yard of the Forest Service Building. In preparation for winter, we surrounded the study plots with plastic to help protect the trees from the harsh weather that is to come.
And under the instruction of Carl Waite, we successfully made a dent in the installation process. Although no snow, we do have the cold. 

There has been a lot on our to-do list, but we have been able to divide and conquer in order to complete the various tasks at hand.
Check in next week to get caught up on the last full week of the first LANDS semester program!
Until then, Cheers! Brian and Zoe

Week 11: Mapping Invasives and Canoeing in Blizzards

After spending the first half of the week editing reports from our projects earlier this semester, the LANDS crew split up into five smaller groups of three to begin our Small Team Projects (STPs). From November 12th to the 18th, the LANDS interns worked with various community partners on small projects, where we were able to go out on our own and put our skills from the semester into use. Our projects varied from inventorying invasive species to identifying and assessing recreational river opportunities. Each group wrote a proposal for their focus project earlier in the semester. This week, the groups went out in the field to collect data and begin composing deliverables for associated community partners. Here's what everyone was been up to:

Lamoille Paddlers' Trail Inventory
Courtney, Chris and Michelle spent the beginning of the week working alongside Noah Pollock of the Vermont River Conservancy to identify and assess existing and potential access points, portage trails and campsites along the Lamoille River. The project was focused on the area of the Lamoille River east from Cambridge to its drainage point into Northern Lake Champlain. The project was working to identify locations for potential campsites along the Lamoille River with the goal of establishing a trail for paddlers with areas to camp along the way. The reconnaissance covered roughly 33 miles and was conducted over a three-day period, during which time the group paddled down the river in canoes. We encountered weather ranging from sunny skies to rain and snow! 

Courtney and Chris paddling in the snow.

Dog River Invasive Species Inventory
The Dog River Invasive Species STP group inventoried invasive species and mapped the their extent along the riparian area of Northfield, VT's town well field (the left bank in the picture). There was a lot of knotweed, some honeysuckle, and even some garlic mustard. The project is to help offer strategies for successfully implementing a healthy riparian buffer, and invasives are a major impediment to reaching that goal.

View of the Dog River

Lamoille River Invasive Species Mapping in Johnson, Vermont
Nick, Zoe and Grant worked in Johnson, Vermont along the Lamoille River documenting occurrences of invasive species, specifically Japanese knotweed and bush honeysuckle along the banks. We began Wednesday by paddling down the Lamoille in a canoe and kayak, using GPSs to take waypoints of where these invasive species were found.

We were the talk of the town with our hotrod Scion xB. 

On Thursday we went back to finish the section. However, we had a slight mishap with the canoe and a rock that didn't budge, and Nick and Grant took a tumble into the icy water resulting in 2 really cold people, a lost clipboard, and a short work day. Thankfully, nobody got hurt. So we returned Sunday to finish collecting data.

All in all, it was a great project, and we got to paddle on a beautiful part of the Lamoille River. 

Mad River Riparian Buffer Assessment
Bonnie, Jules and Sarah completed their STP with the Friends of the Mad River doing a riparian buffer assessment project. We started work early on Wednesday morning and continued field work on Thursday. Bonnie and Sarah took the bus to Richmond to meet Jules, and we all started off to Waitsfield to begin assessing riparian buffers. We travelled to eight different sites along the Mad River in Waitsfield, Warren, and Moretown. Six of the sites had been previously planted by the FMR and two were perspective planting areas. At each site, we evaluated the quality of the buffer and the survival of planted trees, if possible. We made recommendations for future tree plantings and maintenance at each site.

Our time on the Mad River provided us with amazing views, great weather, and the opportunity to brush up on our tree identification skills.

Northfield Natural Resource Inventory of the Dog River
Olivia, Flore, and Rachel spent the first day of the project in the library gathering resources, doing research, and creating maps of the area of study. On the second and third day, they set out into the field and met with their project sponsor, Christine Barnes of the Northfield Conservation Commission. In the field, the group walked along and through a three-mile stretch of the Dog River, from Northfield Falls to Norwich University. The natural resources that they inventoried along the river corridor to assess the river's health include soils, geology, hydrology, wildlife, and riparian buffers. The team had a lot of fun wading through the river and fighting their way through an upsetting amount of Japanese knotweed. This fun included Rachel giving Olivia a piggy back ride across the river in a section that was too deep for Olivia's boots. On the last day of the project, Olivia, Flore, and Rachel spent the full day summarizing their findings into an inventory report with recommendations, and creating maps of photo points they collected.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Week 10: Walking in a River Wonderland


We quickly hopped in the vans and headed over to Jericho Research Forest to meet with Ralph Tursini, Jericho's caretaker and forester.  We sat down next to the heated wood stove, and discussed the land use history of the research forest. 

Laura through the eyes of a ham sandwich.
Wetland explanation from our fearless leader.
The goal of this week's project was to assess the wetland and stream ecosystems surrounding Mill Brook on the northeast border of the research forest land.  Emily and Laura then discussed the definition of a wetland and what we may or may not see when we reach the project site.  We learned the wetland 3-H's Rule!  Hydrology! Hydrophytes! And Hydric Soils! Woohoo!  We were excited to get outside and get muddy so we hopped in the vans again and headed towards Mill Brook.  After a super short hike down to the brook edge, we worked on determining where the floodplain began and ended.  We spent the rest of the examining soils and plant species in certain areas throughout the floodplain to determine if it was in fact a wetland.


Tuesday we headed back to Mill Brook to continue our study of the brook and surrounding ecosystems.  Our goal for the day was to better understand the stream geomorphology through a stream geomorphic assessment and general observation.  Two groups split up and headed in opposite direction, sloshing through the brook to get to a specific area to conduct some research. 
Chris forgot his muck-boots.  He made it work anyways.
Lunch break on the sand (cobble) bar.

Suns came out for a second to make for a glorious moment!

Each section sampled was vastly different; one was in a steep, rocky canyon while the other was in a flat, wooded and grassy floodplain.  After measuring the width of the bank-full, and depths at certain intervals, we determined a cross-section of the river corridor.  We also took a samples of stream sediment to determine composition and comparative percentages of certain sizes of various sediment, giving us an idea on the stability of the stream.  After a day of wet feet and tired legs, we headed back to Burlington. 


Wednesday morning started with finishing GIS maps and other report deliverables from last week's work with the Vermont River Conservancy.  After lunch, we headed to the 40th anniversary of the UVM Natural Areas program at the Davis Center.  The day was filled with presentations from the programs partners, research scientists, middle school/ graduate students, and us!

Rubenstein Dean speaks to everyone.  LANDS is up soon!

 LANDS presented about who are and what we do, and how we play a part in the UVM Natural Areas.  We also got to show some of our work we conducted at the Carse Property. 


Shannon summoning her inner beaver.
Walking across beaver dams.
Today we started with compiling data from the stream geomorphic assessments and compared data between the two groups.   We then got to do some independent exploring and observation on the ecosystem connectivity, wildlife habitat, river geomorphology, invasive species, natural communities, and plantations around Mill Brook.  The day was spent trooping around through the river and looking for clues all around the stream. 

Next Monday, the findings of each group will be presented to the entire team. 

LANDS 4eva... Until next week, James and Nick

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week 9: Dogs and Babies: A Story of Conservation in the Northeast Kingdom

On Monday, we met with Steve Libby, executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy, who gave us background on the Nulhegan Basin and this week's conservation project. We packed up the vans, stopped for groceries in Waterbury, and after playing a quick game of van tetris, we departed for the Northeast Kingdom.

Steve Libby from the Vermont River Conservancy introduces us to Nulhegan Basin.
In order to thank the Green Mountain Club for allowing us to use their cabins at Wheeler Pond, we completed a service project of stacking fire wood for the winter. We worked in teams to load wood into wheelbarrows, transport it (sometimes unsuccessfully) downhill to the woodshed, and stack it. After an afternoon of backbreaking labor, we prepared tacos for dinner, heard Laura's life story, and enjoyed down time around the fire and wood stoves. 
Wood stacking at GMC's Wheeler Cabins.
Grant and James chilling in the wheelbarrows.
 On Tuesday, we ate a quick breakfast and finished the wood stacking project before packing lunch and heading out for a day in the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. We met with Refuge Manager Mark Maghini, who told us about landscape-level conservation and its context to the refuge and surrounding lands. Mark also shared his educational and professional background with us. We went on a short walk to preview the Nulhegan River upstream from our field work site for the next day. Our afternoon consisted of meeting with Doug Morin, Wildlife Biologist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife, and Silas, his adorable dog. Doug took us to Moose Bog, a site many of us visited 2-3 years ago in our NR1 labs during our freshman years in Rubenstein. After discussing the bog's importance to the greater landscape (specifically habitat) and social aspects of land use, we visited a mixed hardwood forest to compare and contrast natural communities. We ended the day with pizza bagels created on the wood stove at camp, and headed to bed in preparation for an early morning.

Our adventures at the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
We took a walk from the Silvio O. Conte NWR's visitor center to the Nulhegan River.

Doug Morin from VT Fish and Wildlife gives us context on Nulhegan Basin.

Wednesday morning, we woke at 5:30 am, and rallied as a team to prepare for our field work day and leave on camp on time--what a struggle :'(. Despite the severe lack of light and caffeine, we somehow managed to pull ourselves together and drive to Vermont River Conservancy's Merck Property along the mighty Nulhegan. We met with VRC's Assistant Director Lydia Menendez and her adorable baby Oly. Flore and Oly instantly formed a connection, and adoption agreements were discussed and quickly shut down. We learned how to conduct inventories to complete a Baseline Documentation Report, and divided into four teams to assess various parts of the property. After gathering photo points and other necessary data, we reconvened and shared our findings. On the table for discussion included a debate on returning to Burlington that night. However, it was decided that we would stay the third night in order to safely trek back home in the morning.

Chris, Zoe, and Flore in the field at the Vermont River Conservancy's Merck Property.

Yeah, LANDS rocks. 

 After a long day in the field, we made an appearance in Barton to fill up water and assimilate with the locals at the Circle K gas station. Back at camp, we enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled cheese and homemade vegetable-noodle soup: YUM! We talked about morning plans and enjoyed one another's company around the fire pit and wood stoves.
Spending the day at the Merck Property. Bottom photo: Moose Bog explorations.

Lake Willoughby

We passed Bonnie View Farm near Lake Willoughby.
Thursday we prepared a full breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon to celebrate our last LANDS camping trip ever. Emily's van headed out early to visit to VRC's offices in Montpelier, while Laura's van stayed at the cabins to clean and pack up. We reunited at the Forest Service building in Burlington, and spent the rest of Thursday writing our baseline documentation report and completing community jobs. We're looking forward to Halloween festivities and a chance to unwind before starting our next project at Jericho Research Forest next week.

Manually adding photopoints in ArcGIS after computer troubles. This is what Thursdays in the lair look like, folks.

Words and photos with love by Chris and Bonnie. 

Week 8: Finishing Touches Or Recalibration

Weather of the week: Grey with 100% chance of rain

To kickstart the week, the crew had its NR 207 Retreat Part Deux (Two). 

Starting the day on a good note *smiles*

To continue the fashion of self-reflection, we sat in the Lair had had a group discussion about where we are and where we want to go as a team and individuals. Right after we jumped back to Carse Realm!!!

Cold weather, grey sky with a hint of drizzle is no match for our valiant team as we made our way to down the to-do list with the most crucial being flagging and marking our journey on the GPS.

Grant and Brian are ready for the day!

Nick really enjoyed the rain! 

Preliminary flagging of the trails. 

When we called it a day in the field, that was not the end for us. 

Shannon and Nick taking in the view and making executive decisions about the trail.

The next thing on the menu was reservation Chez Deane Wang with the esteemed guest, Nancy Bell, who have conserved hundred of thousands acres of land (some would whisper half of a million). 

Nom, nom, nom. Lasagna with mushroom and kale and freshly baked bread. (Thank you, Becky)

Deane telling us our beverage options, decaf coffee or tea.

Early but not so bright, we were graced with the presence of Nathan Reigner, a post-doctorate at the UVM Parks and Recreation Department and he dropped some knowledge of the ways on natural resources and human interactions and how the administrations (referring to OUR CREW at the time) can help retain the integrity of a place. This led to a revolutionary change in thought and out to the field AGAIN half of the team went for more exploration and assessment to see how our newly acquired knowledge can make for a better trial. The rest continue working on the deliverables for our sponsor, Rick Paradis!

The next day, with few to go until our deadline, the other half of the team ventured out to give it their final stamp of approval. 

Laura approves!? Or really love Musclewood Trees? Either way we'll take it!

Bonnie Definitely approves!

Until next week folks...