a woman with a clipboard looks up in the forest

Backed by the resources of the University of Vermont, our graduate students can help your organization accomplish its mission — in the field, in the office, in our communities. We are now accepting proposals for Field Naturalist partnerships during the 2024-2025 academic year.

Field Naturalists offer a broad skill set, ranging from forest inventory and spatial analysis to community engagement and landscape restoration. We will pair you with a student whose research will form the core of a master’s project that meets your needs. A statement of interest is requested by Nov. 1 and a full proposal by Nov. 15, emailed to our program director, Walter Poleman.

Winning proposals call for a $6,000 partner contribution to support the student. Your partnership includes:

  • more than a year of collaboration, beginning as soon as early 2024;
  • literature review and other academic research to support your project;
  • field work season during summer 2024;
  • continued collaboration culminating in a draft by December and a final report by spring of 2025.

Questions? Reach out to Walter Poleman.


A Sample of Recent Sponsored Projects

a green salt marsh stretching to the horizon

Understanding Maine's Dwindling Salt Marshes

Maine’s salt marshes have been marching inland for thousands of years, their platforms of peat growing taller to keep pace with slowly rising seas. But with seas rising faster under climate change, salt marshes are now in danger of drowning. Sponsored by the Maine Natural Areas Program, Grace Glynn developed a rapid assessment methodology in 2019 to measure the integrity of these imperiled coastal wetlands, with the goal of creating a statewide reference catalogue of salt marsh condition as a conservation tool. She put her new assessment method into practice at two dozen sites along the Maine coast, piloting new soils-based metrics in order to quantify physical degradation of peat. These metrics will continue to be used to identify marsh-restoration and management needs into the future, as coastal ecologists work to help salt marshes keep their peat platforms above the rising waters. Grace is now a Wetlands Scientist at the engineering consulting firm Dubois & King.

chestnut flowers on a tree against a blue sky

Restoring Chestnut Trees to Tribal Reserve in North Carolina

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is mounting an effort to restore the American chestnut to their forests—a once-common eastern tree decimated by the chestnut blight of the early 1900s. Jaime Van Leuven spent the summer of 2021 trekking through Tribal Reserve in southwest North Carolina, looking for mature chestnuts. Jaime's report for the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department documents the history of the project, community outreach efforts, the layout and composition of their new American chestnut orchard, and the locations of the flowering trees she found. These trees may be used for cross-pollination to help breed offspring with blight resistance or to indicate places within Tribal Reserve where American chestnut seedlings may thrive as part of restoration efforts. Jaime is continuing her work with EBCI on American chestnut through an ORISE Fellowship with the U.S. Forest Service.

a Clark's nutcracker perched on a branch

Citizen Science in Wyoming's Wind River Range

The raucous squawks of the Clark's nutcracker may not be musical, but they can call adventurers to action. In 2016, Anya Tyson launched a citizen-science partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to investigate the habitat preferences of this seed-dispersing bird in Wyoming's western mountains. With user-friendly materials, face-to-face trainings, and accordion performances, she taught wilderness instructors about the crucial link between Clark's nutcrackers and the imperiled whitebark pine. The lesson came with a mission: each of us can contribute to conservation through our observations. Using the summer's successes and pitfalls as landmarks, Anya crafted a series of best practices to guide the field of citizen science deeper into the backcountry. Her article appeared in the journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. Anya is now the Sage-steppe Conservation Specialist with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon.

a tree in a meadow

Landscape Restoration in Vermont's Champlain Valley

Long ago the Champlain Valley was blanketed by trees — vast, dynamic jungles of southern hardwoods and hemlocks, rooted in thick lakebottom clay. From this rich clay, Vermont's agricultural tradition also flourished, but the Valley Clayplain Forest today covers less than 10 percent of its pre-settlement range. In 2018, Chris Schorn, working with The Nature Conservancy, analyzed the success of Vermont's first clayplain forest restoration project at the Hubbardton River Clayplain Forest Preserve in West Haven. In a landscape with a 350-year heritage of agricultural use, planted seedlings struggle with depleted soils, competitive non-native haygrasses, and root-girdling rodents. Overcoming these barriers means redoubling efforts, recrafting strategies, and redefining restoration. Chris is now the Director of Land Conservation and Ecology at the Midcoast Conservancy in Maine.

a trout in hand

Fostering Stewardship of Oregon's Fall River

Emerging from volcanic bedrock east of Oregon's High Cascades, the Fall River has long been popular among hikers, birders and trout-chasing anglers. In 2014, 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. He 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. Levi is now the Northeast Oregon Restoration Director for Trout Unlimited.

a notebook, camera, and GPS lie on a picnic table with a beautiful vista beyond

Engaging Hikers in Maine

Because of space limitations, most guidebooks and trail narratives are bland, matter-of-fact directions. Any mention of nature is limited to “the trail enters the trees” or “the trail leaves the trees.” Thanks to the internet, however, trail narratives can now expand to include natural history tidbits. They can be read on a mobile device or printed beforehand and carried on the trail. In 2013, Kelly Finan forged through the fogs, bogs, and biting insects of Maine, studying 15 of the state’s most scattered and spectacular trails and transforming her findings into an engaging, interactive guide. Her project, sponsored by the Maine Natural Areas Program, helped connect hikers to Maine’s public lands. The fruits of her labor can be found on the Maine Trail Finder website. Kelly is now a scientific illustrator and graphic designer — www.kellyfinan.com.

a river running through a marsh

Protecting Forest in Vermont's Atlas Timberlands

In 2016, Vermont's second largest timber holding was for sale. Flanking the remote summits of the northern Green Mountains, the Atlas Timberlands comprise nearly 26,000 acres of forest which, for 25 years, had been owned by The Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Land Trust. After more than a century of sporadic harvest and regrowth, these forests are being sold as individual parcels to a new generation of land stewards. But while the land will change hands, the ecologically uncommon sites will remain protected by conservation easements. Hannah Phillips spent her summer traversing the Atlas lands in search of these sites — recording bear-marked beech and bog orchids, creeping Chrysosplenium, and forest seeps. She emerged with an appreciation for the role our "common" hardwood forest plays in sustaining Vermont's tradition of working lands and with a fondness for black ash. Hannah is now the State Lands Administration Program Manager at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

blister rust on a tree trunk

Tracking an Invasive Fungus in California's Sierra Nevada

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the largest trees and highest peaks in the lower 48 — as well as an invasive forest pathogen: white pine blister rust. This Asian fungus has ravaged North American white pine for a century. Despite prior research predicting blister rust could not thrive in California’s arid climate, the fungus now heavily infects pines at low elevations, and concerns are high that it could spread upward. In 2013, Matt Cahill documented changes in blister rust distribution in the parks by trekking through the remote backcountry to resurvey 50 permanent plots established in the '90s. Blister rust is more severe than it was 20 years ago, he found, but higher elevations remain relatively free of the fungus. His analysis showed strong correlations of rust with elevation, geography, temperature, and precipitation, findings that will help ecologists accurately track the disease in years to come. Matt is now the Sagebrush Steppe Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon.

sun shining through a forest of pines

Bird Conservation Research in New Hampshire's Pine Barrens

Over the past decade, The Nature Conservancy has used prescribed burns to maintain 3,000 acres of pitch pine-scrub oak woodland in the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve in northern New Hampshire. A globally rare community, pine barrens provide refuge for threatened and endangered wildlife, including common nighthawks and eastern whip-poor-wills, two rapidly declining aerial insectivores. Partnering with TNC and New Hampshire Audubon in 2018, Jason Mazurowski surveyed nighthawks, whip-poor-wills and a suite of shrubland-obligate songbirds. His observations of nighthawk nesting behavior in the pine barrens has contributed to a better understanding of their statewide population and distribution. Combining this information with updated vegetation measurements, he examined the role of fire in each species' habitat preferences, informing future management decisions and burn regimes. Jason is now a consulting pollinator ecologist for UVM's Gund Institute for the Environment.

railroad bridge running over a river

Community-Based Conservation in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom

The intersection of a river and a retired railroad in Greensboro Bend represents an ideal of conservation, where people and ecology are equally considered. Underserved populations are not uncommon in Vermont. Statewide, 44 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. How can we integrate marginalized populations into Vermont's progressive conservation agenda? In 2018, Lauren Sopher did so by applying the pillars of just conservation: work that is ethical and effective. Working with the Greensboro Conservation Commission, she paired community meetings, one-on-one interviews, and town-wide events with a landscape analysis. As a result, conservation recommendations were published in the Greensboro Town Plan. The best practice for conservation work is a partnership that includes a community. Lauren is now the Lake Champlain Basin Program Grants Manager for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

ginseng plants

Stopping Poachers in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains

Most police departments don't have a resident botanist. But at Shenandoah National Park, where poaching threatens populations of American ginseng, plant protection is a top law-enforcement priority. Prized in traditional Asian medicine, ginseng is now globally endangered due to centuries of habitat loss and overharvest. In 2017, Maria Dunlavey helped prevent Shenandoah's ginseng from going the same route. She resurveyed ginseng populations, mapped the history of ginseng poaching in the park, and prepared a comprehensive ginseng field guide as a resource for rangers. Through it all, she enjoyed grappling with the practicalities of backcountry law enforcement, along with the cultural and ecological history of a plant that's been knitting hemispheres together for more than three centuries. Maria is now a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service at Nantahala National Forest.

a remote camera photo of a coyote about to pass thru a culvert

Wildlife Road Crossings in Western Massachusetts

In western Mass, three road crossings and one cramped culvert might stand between a bobcat and its next meal. Working with The Nature Conservancy and MassDOT in 2017, Andy Wood collected data to pinpoint places for wildlife-friendly road upgrades. He camera-trapped mammals, measured culverts, and scoured the asphalt for roadkill — all the while tweaking survey methods for future citizen scientists. The upshot? Smart infrastructure linking the Green Mountains of Vermont to the Hudson Highlands of New York. Andy is now a Habitat Protection Scientist at the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

a backcountry skier in the trees

Reconciling Recreation and Wildlife in Vermont's Green Mountains

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 the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, offered a case study opportunity. Bushwhacking around Bolton in 2014, 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, her work informed the state's long-range management plan for the parcel. Kathryn is now a Forest Recreation Specialist for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

close-up of Florida Torreya needles

Saving the Endangered Florida Torreya

Only a handful of Florida Torreya — a spiky Christmas-tree-like cousin to the yews — have reproduced successfully in the wild since the 1960s, and their extinction is likely without human intervention. A new conservation seed orchard, managed by the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in central North Carolina, aims to help. Katherine Hale traveled to wild and cultivated Torreya populations in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to learn what the trees would need to be fruitful and multiply in a landscape a thousand miles north of their historical range. Armed with field observations and GIS data, she found the best possible location for the orchard and designed a plan for its construction and upkeep. Although it will take at least a decade for the orchard to mature, the next generation of Florida Torreya was planted out in 2017. Katherine now works for the Marketing & Communications department at the Duke Gardens.