Over the River and Through the Woods

Tomas and crew

The UNH Office of Woodlands and Natural Areas is tucked on top of a hill with a panoramic view of fields. My first day brought me to a set of red barns looking over a field, a big sign hung over the smallest of the barns with the words KINGMAN FARM.  For the next two weeks I'd be working with Steve Eisenhaure, the Manager of UNH Woodlands and Natural Areas.  Steve, together with his team who have various backgrounds and experiences with wildlife, conservation and forestry, manage the 3500 acres and 30 miles of trails owned by UNH.

Tomas in the field with UNH woodlands office crew
The UNH Woodlands crew in the field with a giant blowdown

My first task was to assist in completing the final Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) plots across Burley-Demeritt and Dudley lot, two of UNH's properties. CFI plots are used to collect information and data on the type, health, and growth of the forest. For the past 10 years Steve and his summer crew have been plotting CFI points across all of UNH's properties to provide data used by students and researchers. This year the final plots were to be installed. Each day, swarmed by mosquitos and armed with the necessary tools, we hiked through the woods setting points and collecting data. At each point we would establish the plot center and mark subplots, 16.5 feet away from the center, in a North, South, East, and West position. At each “subplot” count and record the number of both seedling or sapling woody plants.We would then mark the trees within our plot with a white dash and record the distance from the center of the plot for each tree. Trees within the plot that are taller than the distance to the plot center were marked with an extra white dot, which indicated that we also had to record the height, canopy width and product value for those trees.

For four days we covered both properties through swamps, brambles, ivy, and trees, each day holding onto the iPad, which contained all the data for the plots, with a hard grip as to not let either the data or the iPad go. On the final day, covered in dirt and sweat, plot 867, the last CFI plot, was finished.

By doing CFI plots I was able to use the skills I learned from the Bear-Paw Off Trail Navigation workshop to assist Steve in establishing the plots. In addition, I was able to build upon my knowledge of tree identification as well as herbaceous plants and birds, which would sing throughout the day. I learned a lot about landscape management and gained forestry skills using different equipment. It was great to be part of such a big research study, where future generations can go back and build upon the data collected this summer.

Weed Whacking in the field at UNH
Cutting back vegetation from trails

The following week, looking to do something different, we collected our hard hats and tools and set out to do trail work. As the manager of the UNH properties, one of Steve’s jobs is to maintain trails for public use. This involves anything and everything, from the cutting of brush and weeds, removing fallen trees, to fixing and clearing the trails.  Each trail is finely combed to create the perfect route for the joggers and hikers that take strolls through the woods. 

On one occasion we traveled to Squam lake, where we dug rocks out to form stepping stones to cross running water. In the middle of the heat, muscles burning from exhaustion, we looked at the walkway satisfied with our work, when a hiker with two dogs sprang from the corner.  As if sensing our hard work a grateful smile went across her face saying, “Every Thursday we hike this trail, each time coming to this spot where it is all muddy and wet. Each time they jump in and come out covered in all the mud. Thank you for doing this.”

It takes a lot of work to put things in order to make it look like no one has ever passed through the woods with saws and noisy instruments- for the magic of the woods is in its ability to hide away the noises and traces of human activity, and expose the natural world in all its beauty. To be able to open it up, for people to marvel at this fact, is the work that Steve and his team do, to allow the magic to be seen.

At the end of the two weeks, I had gone through two bottles of mosquito spray, ripped apart old t-shirts and pants, was bitten, cut, bruised, and scratched a number of times over. However, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. The time I spent working in the woods was the time I found myself most involved in learning and experiencing something new, different and exciting.

It was a wonderful two weeks full of laughter and it was a blast working with everyone at Kingman Farm. Although sad to leave them behind, I am excited to move onto my next project working with the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Up next: Bat Banding and tracking!

Dirty hands
Tomás Nocera's hands at the end of a busy day in the field!