Darren Schibler: A Summer in LANDS
Undergraduate student internship
- By Darren Schibler
Halfway through my undergraduate studies in natural resource ecology, my internship with the LAND Stewardship program (LANDS) afforded me the opportunity to put my knowledge to the test in real-world land conservation work. Not only did I get to work with a whole crew of fellow interns on a number of monitoring, mapping, and consulting projects for Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) and a host of other local conservation organizations, but I also got to spend my summer hiking and camping all over Vermont—what a deal!
We spent the majority of our time surveying roads and trails for non-native invasive plant species (NNIS) in GMNF. With our handy GPS units, we documented the location, size, and severity of infestations by species as we hiked along, then returned to Burlington to compile all of the data into GIS maps. As we completed the projects, we perfected our plant identification and data collection skills, providing crucial information for the Forest Service to effectively monitor and manage the spread of NNIS. During most of this time, we camped at Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore, but for one week we got to backpack on the Long Trail through the Glastenbury Wilderness, a challenging but rewarding trip.
Later in the summer, we crossed over to the other side of Route 9 to map all of the wetlands in an Integrated Resource Project Area, allowing the Forest Service to protect and preserve these vital communities while allowing for a mix of logging and recreational uses. This required expert navigational skills and a fair amount of bushwhacking, since many of the wetlands were far from any trail access or landmarks. Although I already had a good background in wetlands classification and GPS mapping, I had to learn how to use Arc-GIS on the job, but luckily I could turn to other, more experienced interns for help.
Toward the end of the internship, I worked with the Town of Johnson to design a completely new set of hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing trails around the site of an old talc mine, drawing on my experience as a veteran trail builder to allow greatest access to the steep hillside property while keeping the trails to a manageable grade. In the end, we laid out about 2 miles of new trails and presented the Johnson Conservation Commission with an updated GIS map of the property’s amenities, with the hope that residents and visitors will use the site to learn about the history of the mine, for casual recreation, and as a gateway to the nearby Long Trail and Lamoille County Rail Trail.
Looking back, I realized that I learned quite a lot this summer, not simply mapping and classification skills, but also about how the field of land conservation works and how different agencies operate. Because of this, and because of the chance to explore Vermont while learning from and working with a great crew of budding conservation professionals, I highly recommend this internship to anybody remotely interested in land conservation.