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 plant 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 FNEP masters project work from the 2015 field season:

  • An Island Narrative
    Ben Lemmond spent his summer in a foggy island ghost town in Maine. Hurricane Island, one of the last stops in Penobscot bay before open ocean — head East and you'll hit Portugal — was abandoned suddenly in 1914 by the town of 400-odd quarry workers who cut away the granite remains of an ancient unexploded volcano. You can still find dishes, wine bottles, dolls, shoe leather, and ice skates matted in the roots of toppled spruce. Today, however, the island is home to the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership, a science education organization and NSF-funded research field station. Ben was there to do what Field Naturalists do best: gather clues on the terrestrial ecology and compile them into a natural history narrative.

  • What's in a Name?
    The rolling hills and stunning vistas of New Haven, Vermont, might make this small town a haven, but it's definitely not new. So, what's in a name? For New Haven, more than 10,000 years of human habitation and millions of years of geologic and ecological history have molded the town's land and culture. In collaboration with the New Haven Conservation Commission, Emma Stuhl spent the summer gathering information and planning events to help New Haven residents more deeply understand and celebrate the place they call home. She mapped and explored those rolling hills, interviewed and read about the residents, and organized a community forum. This fall, Emma will share her findings as she works with the elementary school and facilitates a presentation series.

  • Modeling for Wildlife
    Black bear, bobcat, fisher, and other wide-ranging species don’t always tell us where they live and travel. Since habitat connectivity is an important feature of the landscape, Sam Talbot used sophisticated computer modeling to reveal potential wildlife corridors. His study focused on the region surrounding Lake George and southern Lake Champlain – an area rich in rolling forests, prime agricultural soil, and recreational opportunities. Given this landscape’s value for both wildlife and humans, modeling habitat connectivity will guide future land conservation decisions that allow wildlife to move unencumbered by barriers, such as roads and high-density development.

  • Mapping (and Muck)
    The worst part of Shelby Perry's project field work this summer was the day she sunk into the muck behind a beaver dam up to her thighs, and then sustained dozens of grass cuts up each arm while struggling to climb out as her boots slowly filled with foul smelling black ooze. The best part was everything else. For her project, which was sponsored by the Vermont Land Trust, she identified and mapped state significant natural communities and special habitat features on nearly 15,000 acres of forestry land in central Vermont. The information she collected will be used to determine what areas deserve extra protections in easements VLT will be holding on the land.

  • Yoga and Nature
    Sweeping views of the Berkshires and miles of trails await guests at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts, yet surprisingly few visitors venture outside. Jessie Griffen is collaborating with Mass Audubon to transform Kripalu's grounds from a beautiful backdrop viewed through the windows to an essential part of the guest experience. This summer, she conducted an ecological inventory of the 125-acre property and mapped the trails. And she developed and piloted natural history programs, including sunrise birding and a pollinator citizen science project.

Projects from the 2014 Field Season

  • Fall River Stewardship
    Emerging from volcanic bedrock east of Oregon's High Cascades, the Fall River has long been popular among hikers, birders and trout-chasing anglers. Field Naturalist Levi Old collaborated with Trout Unlimited to build a river stewardship organization, fix damaged streambanks for native trout habitat, and piece together the watershed's natural history. Levi facilitated two community-visioning workshops, built partnerships among land management agencies, NGOs and private businesses, and designed a stewardship plan that will chart the watershed's future.

  • BioBlitz and Beyond
    Last July, Mike Blouin convinced 70 strangers to join an expedition. In the shadow of Mt. Washington, scientists and locals gathered to share knowledge, connect to place, and collect biodiversity data in the 3000-acre Green Hills Preserve. Called a Bioblitz, the day-long adventure featured opportunities to spy on birds and poke at coyote scat, to discern grasses from sedges, to sketch vistas and oak leaves, to hear tall tales at twilight. Mike worked with the Nature Conservancy to coordinate two of these Bioblitzes. Now he's using the findings to inform management, build educational resources, and develop new models of inquiry for future explorers.

  • Rivers, Woods and People
    Vermont's wildest river was once a scene of clear-cut forests and disruptive dams. Nikki Bauman and the Vermont River Conservancy are making sure history doesn't repeat itself. Nikki trekked the rugged terrain along the Nulhegan River in the Northeast Kingdom to understand the landscape and its inhabitants. She developed management strategies based on a compilation of stream restoration assessments, surveys for public access opportunities, consultations with local experts, bird watching, and more. Within the largest block of undeveloped land in Vermont, the Nulhegan Basin is remote and biologically diverse. The strategies are tailored to balance conservation, recreation, and utility of the working landscape, all of which are essential to the culture of the Northeast Kingdom.

  • Exhort for the Hort Farm
    UVM's "Hort Farm" is an undiscovered goldmine in South Burlington. Formally known as the Horticultural Research and Education Center, it houses rarely-seen plant collections, presents a dark woodland walk that transports visitors to a deep forest, and provides vegetable shares to CSA members. But it's barely known in the Burlington area. Maddy Morgan spent her summer helping The Friends of the Hort Farm devise ways to change this. She organized service-learning projects, investigated outreach ideas and visited other environmental centers in search of inspiration. Her work will present a model to make the Hort Farm a more engaging and vital part of the Burlington community.

  • Mapping Merck
    Merck Forest tells the story of Vermont through tap scars on the maples and rock walls of yesterday's fields now scattered through hardwood forests. People lived on this land, and altered it drastically for generations. Now the forest is rejuvenating, allowing natural processes to inspire change, with human intervention mimicking these natural forces. Over 3,000 acres of contiguous forested landscape, Merck Forest captures the essence of Vermont's identity. And that's why Kat Deely is here, transecting hillsides on Merck's three mountains, observing, mapping and contemplating the ecological integrity of this landscape. Merck Forest & Farmland Center knows how special this place is, and that's why it is working with the Vermont Land Trust to protect this land through a conservation easement in perpetuity - those lovely words that will give our grandchildren and their grandchildren a place to traverse the hillsides for observation, contemplation, and enjoyment.

  • Trails and Wildlife
    Ski the trees! So rings the battle cry of the eastern skier as white fluff accumulates. The trees hold snow when ice covers the open slopes. Cutting away the understory of the forest to create a ski line is assumed to be benign, yet no data exists on the subject. The Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Trails parcel, under the management of Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, offered a case study opportunity. Bushwhacking around Bolton last summer, Kathryn Wrigley conducted an ecological assessment to help untangle the details of ski trails and ski glades. By exploring how the loss of forest understory affects wildlife habitat, Kathryn's work will inform the state's long-range management plan for the parcel.

Projects from the 2013 Field Season

  • 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 September 16 2015 08:46 PM