Colby-Sawyer Students Help Conservation Planning
by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Laura Alexander
Colby-Sawyer College students in this year's Community-Based Research Project class are working with The Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust and members of the Ausbon Sargent Lands Committee to develop a region-wide conservation plan. The year-long class partners third and fourth year Environmental Studies and Environmental Science majors with a community organization to gather data that can answer a question or guide future action. Recent past projects have included completing the N.H. Department of Environmental Service's Comprehensive Lake Inventory for Lake Sunapee, Pleasant and Blaisdell Lakes, and completing a Natural Resources Inventory and identifying conservation priorities for the town of New London.
In 2004-2005 students worked with ASLPT on a project similar to this year's, and repeating that work five years later made sense for a few reasons. First, the previous project was completed just as our Land Protection Specialists Beth McGuinn, and later Andy Deegan, joined the Ausbon Sargent staff. Both Beth and Andy successfully addressed many pending projects, and they and the Lands Committee felt an updated version of the previous work would help them prioritize future projects. Board members recognized in the organizations newly adopted strategic plan that Ausbon Sargent is at a critical juncture where it must consider carefully how to support expansion in the number of conserved lands and meet current and future stewardship obligations. So the opportunity to partner with Colby-Sawyer students to do this work again was appealing. The students do the bulk of the legwork and data analysis with the assistance of their faculty, seeking the advice of Ausbon Sargent staff and committee members as necessary. Additionally, access to improved spatial data created during the last five years greatly improves the accuracy and usability of the project documents.
During the fall semester this group of eleven students familiarized themselves with each of the 12 towns served by Ausbon Sargent, learning about the history of land conservation as well as why and how lands are conserved. They gathered data on population and development in each of the towns, learned where lands are already conserved and what level of protection exists on those lands, compiled data on which towns have completed natural resources inventories and identified conservation priorities, and made note of when they updated their master plans. They also prepared maps for each of the towns that identified important conservation criteria such as unfragmented lands, agricultural lands, working forests, drinking water resources, and ecologically important lands. Using the research data developed this past fall, during the spring semester the students will create co-occurrence maps that show where these conservation criteria overlap, which can help to highlight areas where Ausbon Sargent might focus conservation efforts. Finally, they will determine what has changed with respect to conservation in the region since the 2004-2005 report.
The results of this work will be shared in the form of a public presentation in April 2011 at the College, and as presentations to interested town boards by ASLPT staff and Colby-Sawyer faculty member (and Ausbon Sargent Trustee) Laura Alexander. The project documents will be posted on the Colby-Sawyer College website. Previous student projects, including the 2004-2005 report can be accessed here.
This article originally appeared in the ASLPT newsletter Chatter.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Laura Alexander is an active member of the Ausbon Sargent Board of Trustees, a member and chair of the Lands Committee, and the chair of the Outreach Committee.