Students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have nearly completed their very first health analysis of Schmeeckle Reserve this semester.
Partaking in a forest entomology class for the analysis, the students employed modern approaches that could prove useful in future studies, said Holly Petrillo, associate professor in the College of Natural Resource’s forestry department.
One such approach was the use of established “plots,” allowing students to cover the entire reserve as efficiently as possible. Jeff Heil, alumnus and former forestry major, created the plots by arranging Schmeeckle’s territory into 220 manageable pieces last year.
To cover as many plots as possible, students broke into small groups, and members worked together tackling one plot at a time using standard forestry tools such as DBH tape to measure the diameter of trees.
Students also used the ArcGIS app, Esri Software, on iPads and smartphones to quickly locate plots and input data. The app then automatically uploaded the data to the cloud in real time, allowing students immediate access to classmates’ data.
“It makes the data collection a lot more efficient and quick because you’re not having to scribble things down,” said Anastasia Wolf-Flasch, senior forestry ecosystem restoration major. “It’s all digital, so you can easily read it and access it.”
Conner Amburn, senior forestry management and urban forestry majors, said the app also specified the inputs students needed to focus on, keeping them on track and reducing errors.
Petrillo, who led the analysis, noted how the app’s real-time collection of data sped up the process.
“There’s no compilation of data. I don’t have to collect different spreadsheets from different crews and put them all together,” she said. “They can see if someone else has measured the plot that they’re at. As soon as they get to a plot they can click on it and see if there’s other information that’s been entered, so there’s no guessing if they’re doubling up on it or not.”
The speed offered by the plot system and the new app enabled students to completely analyze all but five plots. The data gathered on the 215 plots will be enough to provide a baseline for future analyses, allowing students and researchers to measure changes in the forest’s health over time.
Petrillo said this offers many exciting opportunities for students interested in studying Schmeeckle. Updating the approach to this analysis reflects what students can expect from employers, and also offers them real, meaningful field experience.
The analysis has the potential to benefit other students and members of the community as well.
A regularly updated health analysis can help identify threats to the forest early, avoiding problems such as the oak wilt discovered in the reserve last year.
“It’s about being more proactive in catching issues,” Petrillo said. “So many people utilize Schmeeckle for hiking and biking and bird watching, and having a bunch of dead trees around isn’t going to be favorable to people.”
Petrillo said she plans to continue working with classes to update the health analysis using these approaches in the future and is confident the work will continue to benefit the reserve.
Some students share her optimism.
“I think it’s great that we’re able to use this technology and use it on a resource so close to campus,” said Nathan Braatz, senior forestry management and urban forestry major.