An impenetrable thicket is the goal

This post was written by Lilly Stewart

I have spent a lot of time working on vegetation monitoring this summer. I find it helpful to imagine that I am journeying through the rainforests of South and Central America looking for the legendary city of El Dorado while searching for monitoring plots. Finding a weather beaten stake overgrown in weeds may seem like a lesser treasure but it feels pretty rewarding. Of course, seeing that our planting sites have grown up into an impenetrable thicket is the goal, but it makes identifying individual trees an adventure which sometimes even involves hacking through underbrush with a machete.

Using GPS to locate vegetation monitoring plots

We pamper our little trees when we have them at the plant material center. Our nursery stock arrives in the mail as spindly little bare root seedlings. We plant them in pots in the early spring and cater to their every need for the next few years while they grow. They are grown in idyllic conditions; watered daily, weeded and fertilized. We like to make sure that our little trees get a good start because after they are planted out in the field, it’s every plant for itself.

Searching for monitoring plots amongst the massive amounts of deposited sediment from tropical storm Irene on the Batavia Kill

We typically use 10 meter plots. A wooden stake marks the center point and we measure all vegetation within a ten meter radius around the center stake

Our little trees have to contend with flood, drought, predation from animals and insects, being mowed down by humans or chopped down and turned into a beaver dam. They also have to compete with invasive and native species which grow much faster than trees. It’s important that we monitor our sites so that we can learn how our trees are holding up. We also study which trees grow best in different conditions so that we can make good use of our trees in future plantings.

Monitoring everything we plant would be impossible so we just try to monitor about 10% of a planted area. We randomly select plots to monitor and tag all the trees within a plot. We return once a year for 5 years and measure height, circumference, predation, and level of vigor of each tree. Over the years we track how they grow. Many don’t make it but when the conditions are right they grow like weeds.

Streams need trees. Trees cool the water temperature, provide habitat and food for wildlife, slow water speed during flood events, beautify stream banks, decrease erosion, and stabilize stream banks. We take good care of our trees because we have high hopes for them. We only plant native trees that are grown locally. When a planting is done right, and Mother Nature is kind, they naturally reclaim the stream banks and do their job.

Measuring the height of a young white pine

Using calipers to measure Diameter on a birch tree