Story and photos by Emily Lord, Stewardship Outreach Coordinator, UNH Cooperative Extension and Stewardship Network: New England Team Member
I woke up to the call of loons, embarked on early morning nature walks, ate family-style meals and slept in a bunk house, and most importantly, stuffed my noggin with concepts in wildlife and forest ecology, habitat management, land conservation, and effective outreach in the Granite State.
Each year, 25 landowners and conservation-minded New Hampshire residents gather with a team of natural resource professionals at a rustic camp. For 3½ days, participants learn about everything from how to improve woodlots for wildlife habitat to how to engage community volunteers in stewardship action. The NH Coverts Project is co-sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Fish & Game. The workshop trains volunteers, known as “Coverts Cooperators,” who have gone on to collectively contribute thousands of hours of service on behalf of wildlife and stewardship to the state of New Hampshire.
I attended the 2016 workshop both as a new natural resources staff member for UNH Cooperative Extension and as a volunteer. In my spare time, I serve on the board of directors for my local land trust, Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, which works to protect natural resources in our region located in northern Strafford county. We have so many natural, recreational, and especially water resources that will be important to conserve and steward in the coming years. The NH Coverts Workshop offered so many concepts, resources, and connections to help me with this effort going forward!
I have many memorable moments from the workshop, so it’s hard to choose what to share. To give you an idea of what this special volunteer training is like, here are five of my most memorable moments from the NH Coverts Workshop.
1. Early Morning Bird Walk with NH Audubon's Phil Brown
I love birds, but am an amateur birder, so a highlight of the training was birding with NH Audubon’s Phil Brown, who led the Coverts Cooperators a walk through the grounds of the Barbara C. Harris Center in Greenfield where the workshop takes place. Volunteers who brought their binoculars looked up through the clear branches of an early May northern forest. As we walked from field to forest to the edge of a wetland and lake, we talked about how you’ll encounter different bird species as the type of habitat changes. In addition, we learned that early spring is one of the best and most exciting times to go birding, even for beginners. Many bird species are returning from their winter south and beginners can try learning bird songs as new species arrive practically every day. I heard a few new-to-me bird songs with the help of Phil and other experienced birders in our group: northern waterthrush, yellow rumped warbler, and a least flycatcher.
2. Forest Ecology with Bill Leak
Another memorable moment included a lecture by Research Forester Bill Leak, a legend with the US Forest Service Northern Research Station. Bill shared a wealth of fascinating information about forests and wildlife. One interesting tidbit I learned from Bill is that humans aren’t the only influence that cause forests to change. Even small wildlife species can make a big impact! Bill shared some research that showed blue jays (which can travel up to 5 miles) and squirrels can take acorns from oak trees and bury them under pine stands, which is one reason why pine stands tend to alternate with oak.
3. Exploring a Vernal Pool
During another field trip, UNH Cooperative Extension’s Wildlife Outreach Coordinator and NH Coverts Project Coordinator, Haley Andreozzi, led us to the edge of a large, reflective vernal pool. These hubs of amphibian life appear in the woods during spring, where rain and snowmelt collect in depressions along the landscape. Each vernal pool is a little different, but all vernal pools are wetlands with a seasonal cycle of flooding and drying, which is critical to the wildlife that reside there. These unique wetlands are unsuitable for fish, but provide a fish-free-haven for breeding for amphibians whose tadpoles and larvae are vulnerable to predation.
4. Silviculture with UNH Cooperative Extension's Karen Bennett
I enjoyed Karen Bennett's silviculture lecture and subsequent field trip to a timber harvest with consulting foresters Wayne Young (pictured with Karen, above) and Mike Powers from Bay State Forestry. I’d seen completed timber harvests before and had some basic familiarity with forest management, but Karen’s talk helped give me a new perspective and added broader concepts behind why we cut trees in forests. Silviculture is as much of an art as it is a science. Using silviculture concepts, a forester like Karen can look at a forest or woodland with a landowner and ask the right questions to determine how to manage that forest to achieve a diverse mix of goals. Whether a woodlot is private land or town- or community-owned forest, it’s important to consider the landowner’s needs and values related to timber quality improvements, water resources, restoration, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Lesson of the day: even small openings in a forest can help generate understory growth, which is great for wildlife!
5. Getting Deep in the Woods
When a large group hikes in the woods, both the journey and the conversations that you’ll share are deep and rich. Each Coverts training group proves there is so much knowledge to soak in at every pileated woodpecker hole or newly blossomed spring wildflower. The Coverts training is set up to be a mix of indoor lectures and outside field trips and at least for me, being outside always takes the cake, especially when it includes good company. There were many moments where I took away valuable information not just from the professionals that lead us on each field trip, but from my peers in the Coverts cohort. Everyone who joins the program has a unique story to tell and a wealth of experiences to share. Enjoy this special time together in all the in-between moments on your hikes and even your walks from cabin to lodge.
The 2017 NH Coverts Project Workshop will be held May 3-6, 2017 in Greenfield, NH. To apply for the workshop, download and submit an application from nhcoverts.org before March 1.