University of Vermont


Masters Projects: Where and How We Work

Field Naturalists and Ecological Planners get outside and find answers. Students bring their skills in science, fieldwork, communications and problem solving to bear on a genuine field project for a sponsoring organization. This constitutes our program's Masters requirement.

Projects take FNEPs far afield: to Puerto Rico to create coummunity-wide ecological assessment, to the High Sierra to track the tree-killing White Pine Blister Rust, to Maine to discover and map remote forests in Baxter State Park, or here in Vermont to develop innovative strategies for controlling invasive plan species. Students work in collaboration with a sponsoring conservation organization – The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, a state agency or a municipal parks department, for example.

The Masters product includes a professional report for the sponsoring organization, written academic reflections, and a journal publication or article in the popular mass media.

Here's an update on current FNEP Masters project work:

  • Inhibiting Invasives
    A conservation organization can protect a natural area from logging or development, but invasive plants routinely hop fences and scoff at legislation. So Clare Crosby is helping The Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Land Trust rethink their approach to managing invasives in and around natural areas. By analyzing distribution of invasives on private lands, Clare is helping to guide future management efforts around TNC natural areas in Vermont’s Champlain Valley. She is also opening lines of communication with landowners about the importance of managing invasives on their land.

  • Woodland Walks
    In the Maine woods salamanders converge on vernal pools for a once-a-year orgy. Gray Jays float like ghosts through forests of spruce and fir. And treasures on any hike range from moose to mushrooms. Kelly Finan walked some of Maine's exquisite paths to produce a suite of "natural heritage trail guides." Working with the Maine Natural Areas Program, Kelly intends to get day-hikers to stop and experience the diversity of life at each and every step.

  • Chasing Calcium
    Calcium is essential to more than just bones. In forests, it promotes diversity, productivity and resilience. But it’s not everywhere. Gus Goodwin hunted calcium in glacial till at sites throughout the Green Mountain National Forest. The hunt began not with a shovel or rock hammer, but with dusty maps and long-forgotten research. Gus built a GIS model that predicts how much of this essential nutrient is in the till and where to find it. With shovel in hand, he is headed out to test these predictions. 

  • Of Birds and Boards
    Heavy timbers, hardwood boards, pulp wood and woodpeckers. In the Adirondack Mountains these are the products of a sustaining forest-based economy. Field Naturalist Matt Pierle is dancing through the slash of a range of forest cuts to evaluate the physical and structural quality of residual stands for a broad suite of forest birds – from those requiring “complex” (old) forest to those thriving in recently disturbed landscapes. As it turns out, forestry and finches can not only coexist, but thrive. Knock on wood.

  • Tracking a Killer
    White Pine Blister Rust has decimated pine forests across the continent. Matt Cahill pursued the disease through the rugged backcountry of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, a besieged holdout from the blight. His research revealed a low severity but high prevalence of rust, like a full-body rash that only slightly itches. Piecing together the evidence, Matt is identifying where the forest succumbs to rust and where, despite the odds, the pines are pulling through.

  • Road Work
    Customary wisdom advises that we run for the hills during high waters. Unpaved roads run the other way, undermining water quality and town budgets. Joanne Garton mines the project archives of the non-profit Better Backroads, assessing how Best Management Practices have reduced road erosion and improved water quality downstream. Her work will help towns and the Vermont Agency of Transportation determine whether to spend more (or less) money on compliance with road and bridge standards. Look for Joanne photographing roadside ditches and plugged culverts, boots covered in sediment intercepted on its rogue journey to Lake Champlain.

  • Learning on the Land
    Though interns are often relegated to coffee brewing and photocopying, Laura Yayac is designing a program to bring them respect as land stewards. Laura spent the summer consulting with the member land trusts of the Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative to understand their stewardship needs. She's developing an internship program for the Collaborative inspired by the Vermont-based LANDS program, in which students gain field and professional skills while inventorying natural resources and crafting management plans. Better conservation, applied student learning, and no coffee errands.

Last modified January 24 2014 02:07 PM