Friday, July 18, 2014

Checkin' Out the Trees in Swanton and Northfield

Week 7 marks our last group project! This week we were fortunate to work with the lovely Elise Schadler again completing tree inventories in Swanton and Northfield, VT. On Monday, the LANDS crew headed up to Swanton to meet with the village manager Reg Beliveau and get started on some surveying. Walking the streets in town, we used iPads to record data on all of the trees in the public right-of-way and vacant spots for potential tree plantings. The town was interested in documenting many features of each tree including condition, DBH, decay, root girdling, and whether it needs pruning. At night, we set up “tent city” at a local campground where we cooked burritos, enjoyed a campfire, and slept under a spectacular starry sky. Early the next morning, LANDS set out for a walk on the Discovery Trail at the Missisquoi Wildlife Refuge. A raised boardwalk provided a passage through this wetland habitat where a variety of birds, wildflowers, and abundant dragonflies were spotted. Later that day, we finished up the inventory in pairs and headed back to Burlington as a storm rolled in. 

Swanton Swans!

Mapping the town

Missisquoi adventure

On Wednesday, LANDS met with the Northfield Conservation Commission on the town green and then took on the trees of Northfield. Similar to Swanton, we split into pairs with our iPads and orange vests to conquer the streets and take down some data. This time we also performed a tally of ash trees in preparation for the encroaching Emerald Ash Borer. Ruth Ruttenberg, a member of the Northfield Conservation Commission, generously allowed us to set up camp in her backyard. Hearing rumors of bears, coyotes, and maybe a catamount(!!) in the area, we decided that a night hike was a perfectly frightful way to spend the evening after a round of s’mores. On Thursday, we finished up our inventory and found some time to check out the biggest European Larch in Vermont! Overall, it was a wonderful time traversing these towns and meeting the locals. This week wraps up the projects we’re working on as a whole crew because next week we are tackling Small Team Projects!

The Larch

We found some BIG ones

Looking at ashes

LANDS crew

All the Best,
The LANDS Crew

By: Jessa Mason

Thursday, July 10, 2014

River corridors in the heart of the Green Mountains

This week the crew went camping in the Green Mountain National Forest to work on a project in a small tributary of the Middlebury River called Sparks Brook. We were working with the National Forest service, and they provided us with a brand new, never-before-tested protocol for monitoring vegetation in river corridors. Here's the hitch: the team that developed the protocol is from the West Coast, so they wanted us to give it a test run in the dense and buggy river corridors of New England. When we send back our data and our feedback on the protocol, we'll be helping the team from the Forest Service create a protocol for evaluating and comparing the health of riparian vegetation across the United States.

LANDS arrives on the scene with GEAR

Before we do our thing, LANDS makes PLANS
Travis commandeers the LASER
The crew came to Sparks Brook with a substantial working knowledge of riparian vegetation and fluvial geomorphology from our project in Grafton, so all we had to do was figure out the protocol and get to work.  The protocol turned out to be a long, technical, and slightly disorganized document that came with pictures, diagrams, and a full-page random number table. The crew split into groups to read and make sense of it, and between all of us we came up with a plan. After that, we headed down to Sparks Brook.

The protocol had two parts: an assessment of vegetation near the river and a geomorphic survey. To help carry it out, we brought in a Fish & Wildlife technician from nearby Rochester named Sue Staats. She provided a wealth of experience working in streams, some helpful insight on potential problems in the protocol, and two extremely neat lasers. For the vegetation portion of the survey, we walked along transects to sample the vegetation cover. We used one of Sue's lasers to shoot a vertical beam into the canopy and down to the ground, and recorded the plants that the beam touched. We used the other laser for the geomorphic survey. The laser head mounted on a tripod and spun in a circle, shooting lasers in every direction and scouring the landscape in search of a receiver beacon that we held on a pole. The three-legged survey robot, ostensibly harmless and totally not sentient, was extremely helpful in measuring topography...almost too helpful.

The team sets up a transect
Sue demonstrates how to handle the all-seeing eye

The group stayed the week at Moosalamoo Campground, a cozy plot of woodland nestled into the center of the Green Mountain National Forest. We took the place by storm and occupied not one, nor two, nor even three, but four entire campsites. After long days in the river, we came back and cooked up heaping delicious feasts, including veggy-pineapple-chicken kebabs on our first night. We passed our evenings with sunset hikes to a nearby overlook; jam sessions with the guitar, D'jembe, and ukulele; and borderline-spiritual hacky-sack hacks. By Thursday we had finished our data collection and written up some feedback on the protocol, and we packed up, reluctantly gave back our lasers, and went home.


Grilling pita pizzas on the campfire

Everyone admires their handiwork while waiting for Mountain Pies to be melted and crispy

Just a couple hooligans on the side of the road, jamming under blue skies

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trails of Jericho

This past week the LANDS crew has been busy formulating a plan for and assessing the trails of UVM's Jericho research forest. Armed with the knowledge of a 30 horse "poker ride" passing through in the next month, we pushed through the hot, muggy, ten hour days to finish the project and have a three day holiday weekend!

Planning out routes for trail assessments
The week began with some general information gathering from Ralph Tursini and his intern Glenna Hartman. We gathered a general understanding of what Ralph was looking for from this project and with this began our planning. Planning was a long and sometimes arduous process, as we debated over the best ways to assess the trails and create a user friendly data collection template to be used in further monitoring of the forest. After nearly two days of planning things out and tweaking our data sheet we finally set out to map the features of each segment of the designated trail for the poker ride! Quickly though, we learned what was missing from our data sheet and also that we weren't completely sure where the trail was. So it was back to the drawing board!

Re-route Recon
After some short recon and tweaks to the data sheet we had our final route planned and set out to map in the 90 degree heat that was Wednesday. Of the six segments we divided the main route for the horses into we were able to easily map the features of five. Segment two was all that was left but it needed a reroute as the trail was overly muddy and blocked by quite a lot of debris. After some deliberation we split into three recon teams to assess other possible routes and found a few possibilities to recommend to Ralph and the horse riders.

As Independence day looms in the near future, we are once again back at base camp here in Aiken finishing up the writing and map making. The air conditioning is a nice change of pace but we still have a lot of work to get done as the day winds to end. At the same time we are looking forward to a fun three day weekend and our first real camping trip of the summer to Moosalamoo campground next week, for our work in Green Mountain National Forest.

Happy Independence Day Weekend everyone!

Until Next Time,                                                                               Written By: Travis Hart

Christmas in July!!! Boxes O' Swag
The LANDS crew

That's pretty neat
The original re-route recon team

Cooling off in the river

Old Tales of Grafton

During week 4 we went south to the cute little Town of Grafton, as described by our fellow intern Katherine. Our task was to do a post-hurricane Irene assessment of the Saxtons River, and re-visit some sites assessed by Evan Fitzgerald before the storm. Most of us didn't have much experience in this area so Evan gave us some guidelines on how to conduct a rapid stream assessment and features to look for such as erosion, mass failures, point bars, woody debris, invasive species and other interesting stuff along the river.

We arrived at Grafton on Tuesday and we stayed at Palmer House, a very nice house, lots of rooms and I got to sleep on a real bed! (by the way, I've been camping at Jericho Research Forest since this program started, so I was very excited about it!). We headed down to the river, which is across the street from the house and started walking upstream to get a sense of the landscape, river dynamics, structure and geo-morphology. In the afternoon we divided into groups to go to different sections of the main stem and the southern branch, and collect data on our first cross sections. We had some minor issues regarding how to collect the data, however after a thorough discussion about the terminology and methods, everybody was on the same page. We became familiar with terms like bankfull, thalweg, buffer, floodplain and floodprone areas, incision ratio, entrenchment ratio and width to depth ratio. We were experts at identifying important features such as erosion and we got super excited every time there was a mass failure on the river banks. Tuesday afternoon we met with Beth, the nature center director, and she talked about the stream restoration projects that the kids from the school were working on, and their efforts to eradicate knotweed. It was everywhere!

 Besides working, we planned some awesome themed dinners, fiesta night, italian night and asian sensation night, we also had chocolate cake and ice cream. The food was really good! To entertain ourselves we played frisbee, had a campfire the first night, ate smores and made-up scary stories about the town and our house. On Wednesday, groups went out to finish assessing sections of the river and collecting data. It was challenging because it was raining, the water level had increased and thunders told us to get out of the water, so we did! Thursday morning was our last day, and we finished data collection and got ready for our presentation in the afternoon at the Grafton Inn.

It was our last night at Palmer House, and it was the ideal place to play a game of sardines. We had lots of fun, at least I did! It was a great experience, but it was time to say goodbye to Grafton, goodbye Palmer house, what a lovely place!

Questions, comments, concerns, donations???

Gabo and the LANDS Crew