Kat Deely, a graduate student from the University of Vermont, is researching natural communities at Merck Forest.
Three weeks ago, Kat moved into the Lodge for the summer. She has been busy ever since, walking the property in search of various natural community types. Her ecological assessment of MFFC will cover all 3,162 acres of the property. As she stated at the Annual Meeting this past weekend, she is looking for “patterns in the landscape”; the kinds of patterns that Kat is looking for stem from the book Wetland, Woodland and Wildland by Liz Thompson (the link takes you to a full PDF of the book).
Not all of Kat’s work is done on the ground, hiking through the forest; rather, she is also using tools like GIS to find where distinct bedrock types are located and what the soil types are throughout the property. She uses Google Earth to aerially notice similarities in the landscape: where, perhaps, a clear cut was done, or where there might be stands of conifers or hardwoods, indications of different eco-types.
GIS will be the tool she uses to map and document her findings, adding the layers of her work into visual analyses.
Historical research is also a key to understanding how the land was used in the past. Historic landuse affects which natural communities might be present. Old farmsteads with grazed land will grow back differently from land that was once logged, as different vegetation will favor the how the land was left.
The work is important, as Kat stated, because “Merck Forest is part of two different watersheds”. The streams at Merck Forest flow to the Battenkill River which flows to the Hudson; to the Mettowee River, which flows to Lake Champlain.
Kat’s work will also be useful for Merck to understand where it’s important natural communities are located. Having this knowledge will impact our landuse decisions: where it’s appropriate to log in the future, where to put in a new trail or close a trail if it goes through critical habitat, etc.
Kat and her dog, Moose, are a welcome addition to our staff this summer.