Land Use

CT Trail Census Update

By Kristina Kelly, Connecticut Trail Census Statewide Coordinator

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

Fall is a busy time for the Connecticut Trail Census team as we are nearing the end of our pilot year. We are so excited to have this important data finalized and ready for release in January 2018 so that our local communities can begin to put the data to use improving their local trail systems.

In September, volunteers and trail enthusiasts performed Intercept Surveys at our 15 participating trail sites. These surveys feature multiple choice and open-ended questions such as the user’s age range, motivation for using the trail, frequency of trail use, and whether they planned on spending money on that trip to the trail (such as stopping at a coffee shop in a community along the way). These questions are intended to collect valuable qualitative data that the Infrared (IR) Counters cannot. So far, we have received over 400 surveys from this fall session and the data is currently being compiled into a database for organization and presentation.

In other news, we are looking forward to presenting at the 2nd Annual CT Trails Symposium on October 19th. In addition to speaking about the current progress and planning for the future of the program, we will be unveiling a preview of how and where the survey data will be available to the public in January. Click here for more information on the Symposium and register to join us!

In the public outreach department, we have released a CT Trail Census Facebook page where we post program updates, connections with statewide trail groups, and useful articles regarding trail use! Check us out on Facebook and be sure to click “like” so our posts show up in your newsfeed.

Finally, at the end of this month, we will be collecting another round of quantitative data from the IR counters that are counting trail uses 24/7 on our trail sites! We will then perform preliminary analysis and continue working on calibrating and correcting this data for our final report release in January.

Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to reach out to me or visit our website if you would like more information or to get involved!

CT Trails Symposium

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

UConn Extension educators Laura Brown, Kristina Kelly, and Emily Wilson are presenting at the CT Trails Symposium on Thursday, October 19th. The CT Greenways Council, in partnership with Goodwin College, encourages you to engage in conversation about why and how to put your local trail systems to work for your community. Speakers and panels will use local examples to illustrate the demand for and benefits of local trails and how your community can sustain a world class trail system. Registration is only $25 and includes lunch. The full agenda is available online.

 

My 2017 Climate Corps Summer Internship

By Nikki Pirtel

Bruce and students
Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.

The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.

Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.

Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.

Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.

Welcome New Trail Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly!

Kristina
Kristina Kelly.

We welcome our new Trail Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly!

Kristina has experience coordinating volunteer data collection programs such as DEEP’s Riffle Bioassessment by Volunteers (RBV), and has developed a passion for citizen science as away to involve the community in environmental education, protection and advocacy.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Geography with a concentration in Sustainability where she enjoys studying environmental protection, community engagement, and natural resources. At home, she enjoys gardening, photography and taking care of animals. She has two cats, a hamster, and maintains bird feeders for all of the neighborhood squirrels.

Stay tuned for trainings as we enter the fall data collection season as an opportunity to say “Hi!” to our new Coordinator, and to stay up-to-date in program goals and expectations.

Can You Hear Me Now? Smartphone Maps (That Work) Off The Beaten Path

By Cary Chadwick

It’s summer. Family vacation time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this all year. We had planned to take the family west for two weeks in the mountains. Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Off the beaten path. Round up the kids, pack up the camping gear (and also…arrange flights, rent an RV, organize logistics, do we have the bug spray?), and let’s go!

The truth is, in the weeks leading up to the trip, work kept me BUSY (see here) and I slacked when it came to researching the fine details of the trip.  I didn’t worry too much, we had made our critical Yellowstone campground reservations months before. We had a place to stay. We could figure the details out when we got there. But as it turns out, I (like many others) had forgotten one minor detail. These rugged places, some of the most beautiful land our country has to offer, is lacking only one thing…cell phone service. What sounds like a bonus feature of being in the mountains (and it was), also made my on-the-fly planning a little more challenging.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but one thing became pretty clear to me on this trip – we live in a world that relies heavily on the tiny computers we carry around in our pocket. Smartphone devices give us driving directions from point A to point B.  They help us find our way to that secret hot spring, stunning vista, or backcountry waterfall. But, many of these maps and apps rely on the technology of the front country – cell service, to calculate driving directions or ask Siri where the closest ranger station is.

maplets on smartphone
The Maplets app in action in Grand Teton National Park.

So, what’s an ill prepared camper to do? Enter Maplets. Maplets is an offline mapping app that allows users to download georeferenced maps (or georeferenced your own maps!) to a smartphone device and use them, along with the GPS in the device, to find your way around the world – even in the middle of nowhere. Once a user adds a map, it is made available to all Maplets users. There are 1000’s of georeferenced maps available in the app. So when I overheard someone mention that the National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center had free wifi, I knew what to do. I scurried over, connected to wifi, downloaded the Maplets app on my iPhone ($2.99 – worth every penny) and did a search for user added maps. Several maps of Tetons and Yellowstone popped up, including the official NPS park map. A quick download to my device and suddenly, I was no longer lost in the woods. That familiar blue “current position” marker was placed perfectly on the park service map, indicating my location at the Visitor Center. For the next two weeks, we used Maplets to find our way through the parks and wild places of the west. Highlights of the trip included hikes to glacial lakes in the Tetons, a visit to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, and sleeps in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. So, Maplets FTW (for the win). Be sure to check it out for your next visit to the backcountry! You’re guaranteed to be tagged as the “geo-geek” of the family (an honor, IMO (in my opinion)), but you might just save the day when you’re all looking for that hidden trailhead.

Tackling Turfgrass

Article by Stacey Stearns

Steve turf talk
Photo: UConn CAHNR

Turfgrass is often overlooked by residents – but is one of the most abundant crops in the state, and an important part of Connecticut’s economic engine. Direct sales from the turfgrass industry are around $2.5 billion, with a total economic impact of $2.9 billion. Lawn care services are the largest turfgrass sector in the state, followed by golf courses, and lawn care retailing[1].

UConn’s turfgrass team includes Vickie Wallace from the Department of Extension and Karl Guillard, Jason Henderson, John Inguagiato, Ana Legrand, Tom Morris, and Steve Rackliffe from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. A multi-faceted approach to current turfgrass issues is part of their overall goal of improving sustainability, reducing inputs, and addressing restrictions.

There is no one size fits all model for turfgrass management. The unique challenges associated with managing athletic fields are very different than managing golf courses or lawns at private homes. Various uses, along with the intense wear turfgrass receives dictate best management practices. Further complicating the situation is the variety of information regarding pesticide-free and/or organic management available to turf managers, much of it anecdotal, and not science-based.

In 2010, the state banned all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered lawn care pesticides on athletic fields at public and private schools with pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students. Connecticut and New York are the only states in the country with the pesticide ban. Research and outreach education done by UConn’s team is critically important, and on a national stage.

“The concern regarding this restrictive legislation goes well beyond aesthetics and can negatively impact playing surface safety,” Associate Professor Jason Henderson mentions. “We need to keep fields safe for use – and to reach that goal, controlling insects and weeds is important. Misinformation also increases risks of nitrogen and phosphorus overuse becoming an environmental issue.”

Educational programming designed by Extension faculty is multifaceted, utilizing research and demonstration to address misinformation, and providing turfgrass managers with science-based solutions and best management practices. The EPA and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are funding field research evaluating several different management regimes over time.

The eight management strategies being tested include organic low, organic high, pesticide-free low, pesticide-free high, integrated pest management (IPM), integrated systems management (ISM), calendar-based, and a mow-only control. These management regimes are being evaluated on a plot area managed as a home lawn as well as an area managed as an athletic field.

“These research plots will help identify strengths and weaknesses for each of the management regimes as well as provide a demonstration area for education, and to correct misinformation turf managers receive,” Jason says. “These results will help improve our current recommendations to keep fields as safe as possible for the end user when managed without the use of pesticides.”

“Looking at management strategies over time will show us differences, and allow a potential cost analysis to be prepared for each management strategy,” says Associate Extension Educator Vickie Wallace. “Heading into the fourth year of the trials, you can see differences in how the plots are managed, and it can translate to landscapes and athletic fields.” A full report will be published after research concludes in April 2018.

A complicating factor to pesticide-free management is the fact that many of the athletic fields that fall under the pesticide ban do not have irrigation. Another project is currently underway to improve overseeding recommendations for non-irrigated sports fields. A new multi-state overseeding project evaluating three species, two cultivars, and multiple overseeding rates began in 2016. The New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation and the New England Sports Turf Managers Association sponsor the project.

Research on these plots is unique in that it’s occurring on actual fields in use and not at a research facility. Three fields were selected at three separate locations based on the high intensity of traffic they receive. Treatments were initiated in September 2016 and overseeding will be repeated in the spring and fall of 2017.

“While certainly different from athletic fields, backyards are also subject to wear and tear, and there may be parallels with care recommendations,” Vickie says.

Another complementary research study led by Henderson and Assistant Professor John Inguagiato is quantifying the amount of dislodgeable foliar pesticide residue remaining following a pesticide application. The study is evaluating four different commonly used active ingredients for weed control on sports fields. The results of this research can help improve recommendations for minimizing potential exposure risks, and help lawmakers make science-based decisions concerning future legislation.

In addition to the field research and demonstrations, a smart phone app is being released later this year for Apple and Android that will help turf managers and homeowners select the correct fertilizer, and purchase the proper amount. Videos in the app demonstrate fertilizer spreader calibration and application techniques.

Extension outreach is an important component of research at a land-grant institution. The biannual Turf Field Day is held in even years at the Research Farm, and draws a crowd of over 300, including 40 commercial exhibitors from all over New England.

In March 2017 the team hosted a sports turf workshop at UConn. Future workshops are being developed as research continues and needs of turfgrass managers evolve. One thing is certain; the UConn Extension team will continue to meet the demands and challenges of the diverse industry.

[1] UConn Extension. Economic Impact of the Turf Industry in Connecticut. (2015). Retrieved January 17, 2017 at http://extension.uconn.edu

Nutrient Management Planning

Article by Richard Meinert

Photo: Rich Meinert

In the simplest form a Nutrient Management Plan is an inventory of the nutrients produced on the farm or needed by crops that are, or will be, produced, and a list of planned applications needed to distribute those nutrients to individual crop fields to support the growth of the desired crop, for all fields on the farm. Historically these plans were pretty simple. A farm would apply manure by spreading it on the fields until they ran out, then they would apply fertilizer where they thought they would need it with little regard for how an individual application would affect the field, the crop or the environment. Today fertilizer is too expensive to waste and excess nutrients in a field are more likely to run off to contaminate ground or surface water. The goal of the Extension Nutrient Management Planning Program is to help famers target their nutrients to the portions of the fields that need them.

The key to accomplish this is knowing what is there already. Remote sensing technology is the tool that can provide that information to farmers for each individual field at a cost they can afford. UConn Extension’s Nutrient Management Planning team is using this technology (aircraft mounted camera-like sensors) to help farmers use manure and fertilizer more effectively. Eleven farms across Connecticut are cooperating in this project to show farmers how remotely sensed imagery could be used to guide future manure and fertilizer applications. Farms agreed to allow UConn faculty access to 35 fields to take soil and crop samples and to allow their fields to be photographed during the growing season. Farms receive copies of all of the sample results during the growing season to make management decisions. During the winter farms come together as a group to see the imagery, discuss the results for their fields and to plan the next year’s manure and/or fertilizer applications using the analysis results and imagery to guide their decisions.

The photo above is an example of the aerial imagery used in this process, in this case an NDVI image. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetative Index. NDVI was originally developed to determine land cover differences in vegetation from space. However by bringing the sensors closer to earth and targeting individual crop fields the technology can pinpoint areas in the field that are stressed and likely to yield less crop. NDVI basically calculates a ratio of the amount of light reflected in various wavelengths. This ratio number is the mathematical value of the “greenness” of the plant. Darker green color is indicative of healthier plants. This ratio is calculated for each pixel present in the images, as shown by the enlarged section of the photo. Each pixel or square visible in the enlarged section represents a 50 X 50 cm (19.6 X 19.6 inch) potion of the field surface. The resulting values are then color coded into ranges so the well fertilized healthy vegetation in the field appears as dark green, the less well fertilized or less healthy regions vary from light green through yellow and the worst vegetation in the field shows as orange. Areas with little or no vegetation appear red. This color-coding makes it easy for the farmer to understand where the best areas of the field are located.

Capturing the imagery and calculating the NDVI is the easy part. Commercial companies provide imagery for millions of acres of farmland across North America each year. The challenging part of this project is answering the question, “So now what?” This is where Extension is focusing its attention. There are 4 labelled locations in the field image. These are the points in the field chosen by Extension faculty to represent the poor, better and best regions in the field. Using hand held GPS devices faculty and students visit each location and mark out a 5 X 10 foot region for detailed sampling and data collection. Plant population is counted, soil samples are taken, and plants are harvested, weighed, ground and analyzed for dry matter and nutrient content.

When all of the laboratory work, and other data is collected and collated we calculate the overall yield information for the various colored regions in each field. Since we have data on the yield and the soil we can make recommendations that give farmers a more accurate estimate of the nutrients that should be applied to the various regions of the field. Having identified areas of the field that don’t need fertilizer as well as those areas that may need more nutrients the farmer can better target the areas that need additional fertilizer and save on areas that need less. Some farms use the information to maximize production per acre so they can farm fewer acres. The point is that having accurate information allows each farm to manage the field in a way that best fits their need without guessing and without over applying nutrients and having them be lost and possibly cause pollution.

Currently this program is effective, but not affordable without grant funds from off-farm sources. There is insufficient demand from farmers in New England, so the cost for imagery is too high for an individual farm to justify. The grant project is paying to obtain the imagery, and introduce the technology to the farms. UConn Extension’s work allows us to understand the various costs and obstacles involved in adapting this process to New England farms, which tend to be much smaller and more widely scattered than Midwest farms. The team has purchased a drone and is working on programming hardware and training a pilot to fly the drone and turn photos into usable images. There is a significant amount of computer processing of imagery needed to create a field map usable for nutrient applications. This will be a large portion of the effort of the team for the 2017 crop season.

Gypsy Moth Update

gypsy moths on tree
Photo: Tom Worthley

Gypsy Moth Update from Extension Educator Tom Worthley: “On Friday, I observed these live adult female gypsy moths laying eggs along Chaffeeville Road in Mansfield. Obviously some caterpillars managed to survive the fungus and other predators and develop to maturity in some spots. If people are so inclined they could kill moths they can reach, (squirting the moths and egg masses with a bit of canola oil or very soapy water would work) but I’m inclined to think that a few adult gypsy moths are the exception rather than the rule.”

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar Update

From Extension Educator Tom Worthley:
dead caterpillars on tree
Photo: Tom Worthley

“The attached photo is of a 26-inch diameter oak near my home with lots of caterpillars on it, and all of the caterpillars are dead. They exhibit symptoms of the fungus that attacks gypsy moth caterpillars, particularly when populations are high. So while I cannot say it with absolute certainty, I am of the opinion that the Entomophaga maimaiga fungus is at work (finally). Dry spring seasons the last couple years had a depressing effect on the fungal activity, leading to the caterpillar outbreaks we are seeing this year, but we’ve had a wetter spring and while the defoliation ‘damage has been done’ in many areas (almost total defoliation in my area, Higganum) we are now seeing increased fugal activity killing off the caterpillars.

Most trees will re-foliate. This requires some drawing upon stored reserves of carbohydrates by the individual tree, in order to send out new leaves and the evidence of gypsy moth activity will likely appear as reduced diameter growth. Some trees that have been stressed by repeated defoliations in multiple years and perhaps by drought or other issues, might not survive. We will know in the next few weeks.
We will also know later this summer whether many gypsy moth caterpillars have survived to maturity. Non-flying, mostly white females will take up positions in sheltered spots on the bark of trees, and males (more tan, or buff-colored) will by flying around seemingly at random.”
Extension Educator Donna Ellis adds: “As the caterpillars decompose, the fungus reproduces inside the cadavers and on the ground around the trees.  Entomophaga will further spread in the area and can persist in the soil for many years. We recommend that property owners leave the caterpillars in place on the trees to allow the fungus to continue to develop and spread naturally. It remains to be seen how successful the fungus will be in reducing future gypsy moth populations, but hopefully it will have an impact.”

Tree Wardens Celebrate 25th Anniversary

tree wardensOn April 28, 2017, the Tree Wardens’ Association of Connecticut, Inc., celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding with a gala event at the Omni Hotel in New Haven.

The organization was founded by Bob Ricard, Senior Extension Educator, as a result of his findings in a statewide needs assessment he conducted in 1991, the year he started working for UConn Extension. The results suggested that tree wardens (each municipality must have a tree warden based on state law passed in 1901) were not organized, received very little educational support, and didn’t know other towns had the position. Bob conducted a field workshop then the first organizational meeting at the Haddam Extension Center March 3, 1992. He was assisted by the late Dr. Dave Schroeder and Fred Borman, CT-DEEP, with the workshop.

Today the organization has around 200 members and an active board (including having recently completing a facilitate strategic plan to map out its next 25 years. Bob conducts the annual Tree Warden School (since 1998) with over 300 tree wardens, deputy tree wardens, and others passing the final exam. The organization hosts two workshops and an annual dinner meeting, advocates concerning laws pertaining to tree wardens, and sponsors tree planting events.

At the gala, Dr. Mike O’Neill, congratulated the organization for its success. Senator Blumenthal did the same and presented Bob with a Certificate of Recognition for founding and facilitation of the organization through its 25 years. At the end of the gala, attendees were talking of the next 25 years and getting together for the 50th anniversary.