Kate and Nicole conduct forest health monitoring studies for the Northeast Temperate Network (NETN), an organization that encompasses parks and national historic sites of the Northeast as well as the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. NETN’s forest health monitoring program is a very in-depth initiative that is designed to assess the condition of the forests in the NETN territory. I already had a vague concept of the program from writing my first research brief about tree regeneration, but I was about to find out how exactly the researchers went about amassing their data.
Kate and Nicole are slated to monitor many sites in Acadia NP, but conveniently for me, they were doing one on Schoodic that day. We arrived at our entry point to the woods around 9 A.M. and began to hike inwards to the site, guided by a compass and GPS unit. It had been quite awhile since I had just struck off into the woods without a path, and it was a nice feeling at first. However, following a compass means that you know where to go, but not necessarily what lies between you and your destination. In this case it was water. Lots of water. Rarely did it exceed ankle/midcalf in depth, but in a ridiculously short amount of time, my hiking boots were soaked clean through. And we still had quite a ways to hike.
We reached our site at last, much wetter but still in possession of our limbs and wits. After a break to wring out socks, it was time to set up the monitoring plot. Plots used for this study are 15 by 15 meters.
Our goals were straightforward: tag trees, identify them, and assess their health, size, coarse woody debris, and tree regeneration. We would also set up microplots to tally seedlings, shrubs, observe forest floor diversity, and deer impact. Finally, we would take a few soil samples to send away for analysis of nitrogen deposition and ph.
Trees were measured at breast heighth…interestingly, breast heighth is a specific measurement that dates back to the forestry practices of the late 1800’s, when forestry was dominated by men. Breast heighth became an average that is still used today, although men in that time period were slightly shorter than most modern men. Still the measurement is used, easily found by use of a particular pole of the correct height. If the tree is of a sufficient diameter at that point (more than 10 cm), it is marked with a stainless steel tag. These tags are numbered. We counted over 20 trees in our plot. Most were pine or spruce, with a couple of cedars here and there.
The trees also have to be mapped. As it was explained to me, sometimes the markers researchers leave on trees are removed by other humans, and so we map to make sure we can relocate the trees we are monitoring.
Coarse woody debris was inventoried, and then we took a few soil samples in the center of a two meter radii circle. We made sure to assess the depth of litter (organic matter such as pine needles that were not decomposed). The soil in the area we were in was very shallow, barely a few inches over the bedrock.
Other components of our research included establishing stand information (different types of cover, such as soil, plant, bare, rock) by percentage groups. Stand structure was determined- in this case the area we were in was classified as Woodland. Two witness trees were mapped so we could relocate the plot center if need be. And we established stand height by averaging the height of three co-dominant trees. Finally Kate conducted a species richness search, and then we were ready to pack camp.
By this time it was past four in the afternoon, and we were all tired, damp, and more than fed up with mosquitoes. So we consulted the GPS, set our compass, and struck out to the west. It was no drier on the way out. In fact, I’m not sure if my hiking boots are ever going to be dry again. As for my rain pants…well, I bid them farewell before the day was even half over. Field work takes a lot out of your gear sometimes.
I was drenched, exhausted, and smelled like swamp water by the time I got back to the apartment. But it was a very happy kind of weariness, because I may have spent the day in the cold and wet and buggy outdoors, but…bottom line I spent the entire day outdoors, learning something new, contributing to science, and now I get to bring word of that science to whoever may care to read it.
What a day. But what a job! I can’t wait for next week’s fieldwork. And now to settle down to some serious program brief writing…