SJA Field Semester Journal 2018

FSJ Week 9 — Energy and Industry in the Northeast Kingdom

November 5-9, 2018
by Jessica Bakowski

This week we looked at renewable energy in the region. Students approached the difficult question of how Vermont will reach its goal of sourcing 90% of the state’s energy from renewable sources and increased efficiency by the year 2050. We examined the social, environmental, and economic impact of solar, wind, and biomass energy production in the region. Students also visited Weidmann, a local manufacturer for the the energy industry. We examined the solar panels at the Field Campus. We also hiked up Burke Mountain to evaluate their windmill system which supplies 30% of the ski area’s energy. While at Burke, we also got a bird's eye view of how the Lowell and Sheffield wind projects are changing the appearance of our ridgelines.

In working towards the goal of a carbon neutrality on the Field Campus, students conducted an energy audit to assess ways in which we can reduce both our energy use and carbon footprint. We assessed different renewable options for feasibility, cost, and efficiency, and we also discussed carbon sequestration. To further examine this carbon cycle, we conducted a forest inventory to look at rates of carbon sequestration on the Field Campus property.

This week, students tackled the complex question of how to best replace our dependence on fossil fuels without disrupting the social and economic systems in our community. This is a difficult question that local, state, and federal policymakers struggle to answer. While we do not have all of the answers, our students end the week having developed a better understanding of the issues facing us regarding this transition.

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 FSJ Week 8 — Outdoor Recreation in the North Country

October 22-26, 2018
by Jessica Bakowski

During the second week of the recreation unit, we looked at a number of different recreation sectors in the region including fishing, hunting, hiking, and winter sports. As social trends fluctuate, there are far-reaching impacts on the types of recreation offered in our area and the management of those natural resources. This week we talked with to Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Doug Morin, learning that hunting and fishing licenses are one of the primary sources of funding for wildlife management areas (WMA’s) in our state. With a reduced number of hunting and fishing license sales in recent years, funding for these ecologically important areas also declines. Morin told us about the state’s efforts to manage these natural resources on a tight budget.

While exploring the White Mountain National Forest, we learned about a different approach to funding stewardship of our natural areas while also encouraging recreation. Founded in 1876, The Appalachian Mountain Club continues to be an important non-profit in the region that maintains trails, offers educational programs, provides low-impact lodging, and stewardship of the White Mountain Area. This group works in conjunction with the USFS to manage visitors to the region in a sustainable manner.

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 FSJ Week 7 — Recreation: Traces in the Woods

October 15-19, 2018
by Chris Dussault

This week we began our Recreation and Tourism unit at the Field Campus. Much like our previous units on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, we are exploring a central question: “How do we sustainably manage recreation resources to meet our goals?” We are also looking at recreation through the lens of the 3 Pillars of Sustainability: Economic, Social and Environmental.

On Monday morning we discussed how much of the recreation in Vermont is considered to be part of the Vermont’s forest-based economy. While traditional forest products like lumber, paper products, firewood, biomass and Christmas trees represent a significant portion of Vermont's GSP, “forest recreation” supports just as many jobs as all of these forest product-related jobs combined. It also generates more revenue. We also found data from a handful of state and professional sources that spoke to the impact that outdoor recreation has on Vermont’s economy. In short, it quickly became clear how important recreation is to our state.

Our students also talked about how outdoor recreation impacts their lives, describing their love of a number of outdoor activities. The common theme that they kept coming back to related to the social impacts of outdoor recreation. Everyone in class associated what they loved doing outdoors as something that they do with friends and family. The activities are venues in which social contacts are founded and enriched. While we discussed some of the negative social impacts of having so many people visit our state for recreation, all agreed that the social impacts of outdoor recreation are a net positive.

We also briefly discussed ways that different recreation user groups can address and mitigate the environmental issues that arise from so many people using the same recreation resources. While recreation does not impact the environment as negatively as many industries, there are potential impacts to wildlife habitat and water, soil, and air quality. These impacts are real. We discussed how it is the responsibility of user groups and state agencies to minimize this impact. This can be seen in the conservation efforts of Vermont’s hunters; sustainable trail construction by hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry skiers; and proactive wildlife management practices by state agencies.

We look forward to exploring these and other themes over the next two weeks.

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FSJ Week 6 — The Northern Forest: New Approaches to Traditional Uses

October 8-11, 2018
by Jessica Bakowski

During the second week of our Natural Resource Management unit, students continued to explore the expansive forest resources of northern Vermont. Students learned to not only identify the trees around them, but also to understand the silvics, or growth characteristics, that enable these species to survive the harsh climate of the Northeast. Students met with professional foresters from the Vermont Land Trust and Agency of Natural Resources to discuss wildlife management, preservation of habitat for songbirds, and adaptive management for the Emerald Ash Borer, a detrimental non-native forest pest.

On a broader scale, we explored the impact of changing industries in the northeast by examining large tracts of land once owned by timber companies that have been converted to conservation areas, privately owned properties, and state forests. Students explored the social, economic, and environmental impact of this changing landscape and also looked at the future of forest management in the region. Visiting Lake Umbagog and Victory Basin, students looked at carbon sequestration in large, undisturbed tracts of Northern forests and examined ways in which this type of land management has both a local and global impact. In an ongoing, semester-long project, students began to take this information and apply it to our Field Campus to measure and manage for carbon sequestration on our own campus.

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FSJ Week 5 — Colors of the Northern Forest

October 1-5, 2018
James Bentley

It’s color season in northern Vermont!  Very fitting as this was the first week of our Natural Resource Management unit in the Field Semester, and what an exciting week it was! In this unit our guiding question is:

How do we utilize forest resources while maintaining maintaining forest health?

In order to address this question, we are reading The Northern Forest by David Dobbs and Richard Ober, which explores the relationships between human communities and the forested landscape in New England. The book contains chapters specific to Vermont and New Hampshire, where we travelled extensively in the past week to see the northern forest for ourselves and meet the people who make their livelihoods there.

On Tuesday, we visited Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area, one of the largest contiguous forested areas left in Vermont. There we met with Conservation Forester Paul Swedo and Recreational Trail Specialist Luke O’Brien, both employees of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.  From them we learned about the global problem of forest fragmentation and the importance of Victory as a corridor where migrating animals can move freely without encountering roads or towns. Even though the Victory Basin is now one of the wildest places in Vermont, it has a rich logging history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the basin hosted large scale logging operations served by trains that hauled timber to regional markets. Though the state now manages the area primarily for recreation and wildlife, sustainable timber harvesting plays a crucial role in the economic viability of Vermont’s state forests. After a rainy outdoor lesson, we cut brush on a former railroad bed which the state is now developing as a winter recreational trail; then we saw a bull moose on the road on our way back to school! This was incredibly lucky, as the Vermont moose population is decline due to winter ticks among other causes.

On Wednesday, Field Semester travelled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a visit to the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, home of the oldest forest ecosystem data set in the United States. Field Analyst Heather Vollmer toured us around the facility, and we hiked to several data collection stations located on weirs that measure the volume of water flowing out of each watershed in this 3,000 acre “forest laboratory.” We learned about Hubbard Brook’s role in first discovering and measuring the effects of acid rain, which eventually led to the passage of the federal Clean Air Act in 1970. Long-term data sets, like the ones collected at Hubbard Brook, are essential in making decisions regarding natural resource management, as we must be sure that we understand how ecosystems function over time before drawing conclusions about a given environmental issue.  

Finally, on Thursday we visited Moffatt’s Christmas Tree Farm in Craftsbury, Vermont. This multigenerational farm plays a prominent role in our text, The Northern Forest, and we got to meet Jim Moffatt and his son, Steve Moffatt, who now runs the Christmas Tree Farm and logging operations on the family’s large woodlot. There, Jim told the us about the events described in Dobbs’s and Ober’s book, including how he transitioned the family farm in the 1960’s from dairy to forest products as a result of falling milk prices. He also educated us about changes in the town of Craftsbury over his 81 years, such as the decline of agriculture, the subsequent rise of outdoor recreation, the globalization of the forest products industry, and the transition to zoning restrictions and town planning. His son, Steve Moffatt, toured us around the family’s impressive Christmas tree farm and shared his wealth of knowledge about silviculture and the Christmas tree industry. It’s not everyday that you get to meet the people you read about it books, not to mention enjoying fresh apple cider with lunch on the Moffatt’s front porch!

We are taking what we are learning about natural resource management to the stewardship of St. Johnsbury Academy’s shared use properties, such as the Field Campus and the Rankin Property, but also to an ongoing project on a forested lot owned by Northern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH). This project is in partnership with a local recreational non-profit, the Caledonia Trail Collaborative (CTC), and we visited this parcel for the first time on Thursday to orient the students to the management issues specific to this site, namely soil erosion, water quality, and beating back the spread of Glossy Buckthorn, an invasive species that has spread in the St. Johnsbury area.

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