This spring and summer I had the pleasure and great good fortune to work with Chris Arrotti, a recent UConn graduate. As a summer intern with the UConn program Climate Corps, he helped me scientifically and logically sort out a lot of options and directions for our planning for the Hoffman Preserve. He has created a super management proposal that will be reviewed by our stewardship team and added to the Hoffman Management Plan going forward. It will ultimately be available on our website. Enjoy his report. With young adults like Chris, succeeding even during this time of upheaval and change, standing ready to confront the future and whatever challenges it holds, I have hope.
Hi! My name is Chris Arrotti, and I’m a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in biology. When exposed to the different facets within biology, I learned I had an affinity for ecology and conservation, the branch of biology which studies organisms' relationship to one another, their physical surroundings, and preserving these relationships. I think my passion for the subject accrued given the current circumstances on Earth: humans have altered the planet in such substantial ways to the point where there is an environmental crisis. I feel very lucky to be passionate about something that will be arguably one of the most important frontiers in my lifetime. In the past few months, I’ve learned about the difference between school work and employment, both the challenges and freedoms that come with each, and the necessity for resilience in nature and life.
When I had started my project on Avalonia’s Hoffman Preserve, I was a senior during the Spring 2020 semester. Numerous courses painted a bleak picture of the realities of conservation: limited funding, limited resources, and most importantly limited time. We were taught to ponder questions of triage, choosing between species x or species y and how you go about justifying such an answer. Or what makes one environment more of a priority than the next for conservation efforts: productivity, number of species, uniqueness of habitat. There isn’t exactly a clear-cut answer to many of these predicaments, nor is there a very storied history of conservation which can tell us which the best way is to go about addressing these problems. One philosophy that was consistently suggested was adaptive management. Adaptive management is essentially a set of guidelines one uses to make management decisions when faced with uncertainty. This is a process general enough to be repeated when new conflicts arise and specific enough to tailor it to certain circumstances.
Chestnuts have succumbed to blight for over a century, yet regrow from their bases.
|A young hemlock grows in the shelter of an old birch tree.|
During January, I had taken a walk through Hoffman Preserve’s patch cuts. The patch cuts, as a good portion of the preserve in general, were barren: compact dark soil, no vegetation, and silhouettes of sickly grey trees outlining the outskirts. I was told many of the trees were diseased and unhealthy conditions led to these acre-sized vacancies. I started to feel as if I likely wouldn’t have an impact here. I had limited knowledge of forest ecology, and the landscape did not look able-bodied enough to harbor life. However, in the lack of growth I saw an opportunity for something that was unprecedented at Hoffman: assisted migration. Assisted migration is the idea of moving southern native species into northern areas to make the environment more resilient to projected changes in climate. With the vacant areas of the preserve I thought it would be an ideal place to attempt to translocate some southern species.
As I continued to work on the project, I learned about the issues that led Hoffman to where it is now and what the managers planned to do going forward. Hoffman Evergreen Preserve, as the name suggests, was a preserve for evergreen trees. However, early management practices led to an overcrowding of planted evergreens. Ultimately, this created areas of densely populated, unhealthy trees that shaded out any light underneath, disallowing the establishment of any understory. The intense monoculture limited biodiversity and was a mediocre habitat for animals that used it. For that reason, patch cuts were made; trees would be logged and harvested throughout the park. However, removing the trees and transporting them out of the preserve also created large skid trails.
Resilience will have a chance when the sun reaches the forest floor.
|Lush new growth on a hemlock in response to more light.|
|Hope for a warmer future. A southern species of pine.|
Come late March, a pandemic had swept across the world and I was out of school. Among the stresses a pandemic brings alone, the abstractness of online classes was a difficult transition, and I found my management plan was harder to write. I think everybody can attest to the grueling mental grind quarantine put us through worrying if you were sick, the impatience of wanting normalcy, and never having experienced a rapid change such as this one.
But I write this now in August, and it feels like March was a decade ago. And it looks like it, too. Yes, people are still wearing masks, but there’s this palpable plasticity in society where I feel as though normalcy is within reach. For better or worse, I’ve adapted to the house-workplace and feel as though if I were to be under these circumstances again, I’d be better prepared. Moreover, Hoffman’s plants have bounced back with a vibrancy I didn’t think was possible. Three of the five patches are covered in a lush-green. Plants have managed to thrive in one of the driest and hottest summers in Connecticut's history without the help of people. I’ve even gone on to see some of the southern native species I recommended get planted on the site. Sometimes, the future seems unimaginably bleak. But it’s important to recognize the necessity and importance of resilience and your ability to adapt in the face of change.
|A stump sprouting maple is also resilience. |
The next generation steward. Photograph by J. Alexander.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.