Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Smart Forest Initiative to begin in Hemlock Forest

Nathan Baril

Posted on September 21, 2015 in News, Uncategorized
By USM Free Press

Nathan Baril
Nathan Baril

By Erica Jones / Free Press Staff

A publicly-accessible research forest is being developed on the Gorham campus of USM. Hemlock Forest, which already provides the university and the Gorham community with an area for hands-on learning and beautiful views, will be established as a research forest based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Smart Forest initiative in order to provide live access to environmental sensor data online for climate change research, according to USM’s Office of Public Affairs.

USM’s Smart Forest Initiative is led by Dr. Joseph Staples, a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. Also working on the Smart Forest project is USM graduate student Chelsea Malacara, who is studying  Policy, Planning, and Management.

“I see the forest as this hidden gem that the school has, and the more we do with it and the more students and faculty from all departments get involved, the more of a unique place it will become,” said Malacara.

As stated in the press release about the project written by Malacara, over the next three years USM’s Smart Forest project will receive $39,000 to deploy sensors throughout the forest. The sensors that are currently in place measure the weather conditions of the forest, including wind speed, rainfall, and air temperature, as well as soil temperature.

The data obtained from the sensors will be published online alongside sensor data from other forests in the USDA’s Smart Forest Initiative program.

“We also hope to add sensors and other technology that could monitor changes in canopy cover [or] gasses in the air,” said Malacara of future plans for the sensors.

One project currently underway is monitoring forest regeneration. “We are taking tree core samples, measuring diameter at breast height (DBH), analyzing the forest canopy,” explains Malacara, “and over the year, adding soil testing and analyzing debris and leaf litter.” There have already been four monitored plots set up.

Hemlock Forest was always an important part of the environment in Gorham, and with the Smart Forest Initiative, it will continue to remain an educational resource and community retreat.

Next year, project members hope to install trail signs in the forest and establish the trails on MaineTrailFinder.com. Currently, clean-up events are held intermittently and volunteers are encouraged to join the effort to rejuvenate the forest.

The hope for USM’s Smart Forest is that not only will it provide important environmental data to monitor climate change, but it will provide educational opportunities for students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) fields, according to USM’s Office of Public Affairs.

“The forest has the ability to enhance student research, add to the Gorham community, and national climate change research,” said Malacara. “The USM forest can be a pixel in the grand picture.”

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