By Eudora Miao ’22 MFS, Assistant Forest Manager
The air was warm and the mosquitos still swarming; the trees still lush green and the breeze a blessing. But the camp stays empty as a new cohort of MF and MFS students are settling into New Haven or figuring out what a remote semester will be like from across the globe. It was the start of the semester but our time at Yale started quietly and remotely. As a first-year student, I have found working and learning at the forest an opportunity to both grow as a forester and reorient myself during this strange time.
The experiences in the forest that bears no (almost no) COVID influence?
Timber cruising – something that foresters have been doing for centuries. Other than the fact that we now have masks on and hand sanitizer in the van, it is still the same DBH tape and tally book, still walks in the forest hugging the trees one by one. In the fall, most of my time in the field has been devoted to finishing up a group selection system that was started in the summer. Selecting trees is not easy, knowing that the tree I choose with my spray of paint will be cut in the next year or so. Having come from experiences of oak woodland restoration where I leave the strongest, tallest, healthiest trees, and fell the short, weak ones, I found crown selections not as straight-forward. Our Forest Manager Jess Lloyd ’20 MF taught us the trick – to look up. Yes, to look up, into the canopy, the spreading branches that determine the future of the forest. I learned the perspective of looking for potential winners of the next few decades and deciding which competing trees we are going to cut to make space in the canopy for them to grow.
The experiences in the forest that feel most characteristic of COVID?
The annual end-of-year Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) auditing. Going virtual for an FSC audit is not an easy task. We received a package of GoPro camera and batteries, which we used to record specific operations and conditions in several sections of the forest that was selected for review. In addition to that, when cell signals allow, our auditor virtually toured around the forest through Skype calls, asking questions for features from water bars to timber sale boundaries. We try to provide as much of a comprehensive view to the auditor as possible, which combined with the stakeholder interviews that he conducts through phone calls, help him to determine Yale Forests’ FSC compliance, and if any improvements need to be made.
Anything in between on the spectrum of COVID experiences?
Although it had been a difficult virtual semester, there had been lots of efforts to create opportunities for forestry students to be at Yale-Myers Forest (YMF). On a dry, bright November day, the budding foresters jointly escaped the Zoom world, drove up to YMF, changed into fire gear, loaded up the drip torch and water tank, and headed to a patch of meadow at the Red Front Trail for a prescribed burn that is the first for several of us. On another crispy morning, the Forest Dynamics class came out for a field trip near the camp. Having Tom Wessel’s Reading the Forested Landscape in our minds, we walked to different sites with lecturer Marlyse Duguid ‘10 MF, ‘16 PhD to see and feel many features of the forest’s past and present – stone walls, old field white pines, decaying stumps, and to our delight and surprise, a couple of freshly chewed young trees, hopefully signaling the return of beavers once again to the camp area. While in this special time we do not have as many opportunities to experience the forest, any time here has definitely become a special memory for us.