Final Thoughts

I cannot believe it’s already time to reflect on the last several weeks of assignments and blog posts. I think the biggest change I’ve seen in myself since the beginning of the semester is the way I now take in the biodiversity around me.

I had a good chance during quarantine in the spring to sit in my backyard and watch the birds and insects, but I’ve taken it further. As I’ve gone on weekend hikes in Western North Carolina, especially within the national forests, I’ve paused to stare at the ants, the pollinators, the bark on the trees. And then I think about how lucky I am to live in such a richly diverse area!

Sometimes I work weekends, but on those weekends off, I’ve made a point for my husband and I to walk through the woods, take a long hike and breathe in the mountain air.

I also find myself sounding more and more like my dad. My dad went to school in Western N.C. for forestry and was always showing me the trees at our house growing up. He still remembers the Latin names for most of the common ones. During the tree presentation I put together, I channeled my inner Jeff and that voice never quite left. We just became members at the N.C. Arboretum (within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest section of the Pisgah National Forest) and I’m thrilled to continue this newfound enjoyment with simply knowing things about trees.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about traveling and seeing the really cool stuff outside of my backyard (we even went on a three month road trip across America to see it) and now I can safely say I live in one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the country. But perhaps I’m biased.

Mountain True

Since moving to Western North Carolina a few months ago, Mountain True has been on my radar. I was so excited to go to events- til COVID-19 happened. I have been attending virtual events and lectures, though, and they’ve been great. I’m even more excited now for the time we can actually get back together in real life.

This non-profit helps to protect, well, these mountains that I love, including forest protection and conservation strategies for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. Enjoy the slides for more info.

More info at MountainTrue.org

Wild Bee ID Review

This is my first time using a Bee ID app. I do have some background knowledge on identifying stinging insects. I participate in Pollinator Popcorn quizzes with Hilary from Girl Next Door Honey (she’s super interactive on social media and I’ve learned a lot). I also have her book The Little Book of Bees, another really useful educational tool. Lastly, I just finished Justin Schmidt’s The Sting of the Wild, a thrilling and wonderful book about his work with stinging insects.

All that to say, I’m not a beginner when it comes to identifying bees. So how did the app work for me?

Pros:

Goes beyond identification. So even if you already know what a particular bee looks like, there is still more to learn.

Lots of information about bees, plants and action items

The site shares information about types of bees, their appearance and habits and their threats. If you click on a specific bee, there will also be a list of plants attractive to that bee in case you would like to plant it. That’s a neat feature!

The plants section gives details of natural habitat, appearance and planting tips. Then, like the reverse of the bee section, the site lists the bees that would be attracted to this particular plant. It also lists other animals that may be benefitted from the plant.

There are links to articles like “Why Should We Care About Native Bees?,” ecology information, planting a garden for wild bees and more. Excellent educational resource.

Cons:

The app is less of an app and more of a direct link to the website for the Center For Food Safety. Which is fine and, again, it’s user friendly and a good mobile site, but the app doesn’t feel necessary in this case. I’m not sure if this is due to my phone being an Android, so I’m curious if the Apple version is different. That being said, it’s got great information and I like how easily accessible it is. Going through the website to get to the bee and plant information might be more of a hassle.

I don’t understand how to use the app for a quick ID. The way it appears on my phone is just a list of bees with pictures to look through. It asked for permission to use my camera, so I assumed I could take a photo and submit it, but again, my phone will not allow this. If anyone with an Apple product gives this app a try, please let me know if it’s different!

Virginia Tech Tree ID Review

I used VT’s Tree ID app for the first time this spring in an attempt to identify a tree in my front yard and a few in the back. I successfully found that I had a river birch, yet my front yard tree still remains a mystery. Here are my thoughts on using the app:

Pros:

This app has a ton of information!

You can use it offline if you need to- just download the species you think you might need.

You can use your location to tailor the available tree species to your area of study.

You can scroll through a list of trees or take a quiz to identify one in particular. You can get as advanced as you need. More about this in cons, but they do warn you the advanced section may have tree characteristics unfamiliar to some.

There is a section to submit a photo of your tree if you can’t figure it out from the app alone.

Cons:

You need to know a little about tree identification for an accurate result. As an example, the river birch was easy to identify for me because of its bark. The tree in my front yard? No clue. The bark looks like every other tree to me. I suppose I do not have an eye for bark detail. The advanced quiz asks a lot of questions about the leaf makeup that I also wasn’t exactly sure of. In addition, with leaves changing between spring, summer and fall (and totally disappearing in winter), using the leaves to ID on the quiz was difficult! I had no idea if I was putting in correct information. Of course, this is all user error. I think the app would benefit from an educational aspect as well for beginners like me.

Web Soil Survey

Today I played around with the Web Soil Survey (found here!). I’m new to this- never even heard of it before, so I had a lot to learn.

First, I started to narrow my area of interest. I attempted to draw my own shape, but kept getting an error that my area was too large. But! I then realized I could actually narrow it down by sections managed by the Forest Service. That’s an awesome feature. You’ll find the Pisgah & Nantahala National Forests in green below.

For sake of exploration, I am going to study the soil map for the Pisgah section centered around the Linville Gorge Wilderness. This included areas from multiple countries, where it was broken down by soil type on the Soil Map tab.

The soil data explorer tab gets into the details. An example of the drop down under Land Management is below.

If you’re not sure what a particular detail means, you can click View Description and get an answer. That’s another really great feature. On the next tab (also pictured below), you can find soil properties and qualities, with detailed descriptions of the chemical makeup or things like water storage, organic matter, erosion factors, even soil slippage potential. You can even figure out if your area of interest could be a suitable vineyard!

It’s great to see all of this information is online and accessible for anyone who knows about it. Plus, the option to gather your information and download it as a report is helpful too, in case you need it for your work in land management or whatever else. Again, this is my first time using something like this and I don’t currently have a job that would require its use, but anything with detailed information and reports like this is a win. I’d be really interested to use this at work and figure out exactly what you may need from it as a conservationist or land manager.

The Intro to Soils tab is a really helpful educational tool, especially when trying to consider which features of the WSS are relevant to plant or animal life study. Of course, everything is connected, so technically everything is relevant. But for sake of the assignment goal, I selected a couple points as examples.

Some concluding thoughts after my first run around with the WSS is that it’s awesome. There’s so much information at your fingertips from this site from local soil chemical makeup to defining aspects of land use. You could truly spend hours clicking through each tab. For any new beginners, I would recommend just playing around and doing that very thing- click away! There’s so much to learn.

Climate & Weather

Climate and weather are exciting topics to learn about in a study area. As a reminder, weather is a short-term change in atmospheric condition, while climate describes weather patterns over a long period of time. For more detailed information and to see where I got my definitions, visit this source from NOAA.

Resources for Weather information:

Radar, centralized in Asheville, but you can see weather information over the forest sections too. I like using Accuweather because it typically seems most accurate for me. I also have an app on my phone called “My Radar” that I check often.

A very local resource my dad insists is the best is Ray’s Weather. There are regional weather forecasts and tracked climate patterns on the site, including frost, freezes, and snow. You can also see archived weather information.

Resources for Climate information:

A map of the regional climate areas in the United States This map will show which climate center is most local to you. In the case of Pisgah National Forest, we would look at the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

National Weather Service areas This shows the nearest observed climate and weather site. In our case, we have one right here in Asheville (city nearest/most central to Pisgah National Forest).

I am personally interested in the assessment on the Southeast region from the Fourth National Climate Assessment that was released late 2018. A notable observation (and quick one sentence summary) from the report: “While some climate change impacts, such as sea level rise and extreme downpours, are being acutely felt now, others, like increasing exposure to dangerous high temperatures, humidity, and new local diseases, are expected to become more significant in the coming decades.” The Ecosystem Impacts section is particularly of note for this class and well worth a read.

Mapping the Forest

You’ll find here a simple map using Google’s MyMaps program. This was my first time using any sort of mapping tool, so there was definitely a learning curve, but it was generally easy for beginners.

I think the most difficult part for mapping the Pisgah Forest was trying to draw the borders of the forest with the line tool. I ended up trashing that idea and marking the places I have already been within the forest (in red) and then places on my list (in blue). This forest is used greatly for recreation and I think it is neat to be able to use this tool as bit of a checklist.

You’ll also notice the map is in Terrain style- I wanted to highlight the mountains and elevation changes within the area.

The other section “Sections of Forest” was just to show that the Pisgah Forest is divided… I put a marker in the 3 main centers of forest sections- you’ll see those in green. Click here to see the strange shape of the forest and the guide I went by for this layer.

The images used* were pulled from the Google image search tool. Most of my photos are on my phone, so I have nothing to upload from my computer and had some trouble trying to edit the map with my phone. This is user error, for sure, so I think I could do it with some more practice.

*All images used are reproduced here for educational purposes only.

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