Posts Tagged ‘easement’


Day in the Life: Stewardship Monitor

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

There’s nothing before me but a seemingly impenetrable tangle of browns and emeralds, and nothing beneath the soles of my boots but springy mats of verdant sphagnum. No trails exist here, unless of course you count the meandering tracks laid down by generations of hungry white-tailed deer or the occasional rambling moose. The trees here grow thick and wild. Young saplings strain towards what limited light exists in the understory, much of it occurring only in shimmering patches that dance with every sigh of wind. Branches of the highest trees intertwine in a bizarre decades-long fist-fight, each trying to claim a few extra inches of the sky. And above it all tower the supercanopy white pines, far beyond the reach of any prospective competition. Bald eagles perch in the lofty branches of these natural skyscrapers, often choosing to raise their young up here, in eyries so large a grown human could comfortably nap inside. Welcome to the Upper Peninsula.

I’m the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s summer Stewardship Monitor, and my objective when I’m out in the woods is fairly straightforward: conduct annual stewardship monitoring visits to each of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s 65 conservation properties. Stewardship monitoring is a legal requirement for our conservation easements, preserves, and reserves, and requires UPLC staff or volunteers to visit a property and ensure that its stewards (i.e. landowners) are adhering to the terms of the conservation easement or management plan. The practical translation is that I walk the boundaries and through the center of each property, checking for out-of-place disturbances caused by humans (for example ATV use or littering) or natural events (such as trees felled by wind storms).

Lacking wings, my only option for traversing the landscape is good old-fashioned bushwhacking. Even when the U.P. gets (relatively) balmy, I suit up in head-to-toe “northwoods armor”: sturdy boots, long pants tucked fashionably into tall socks, long sleeves to guard my skin from the sharp fingers of spruce, and a helmet of mosquito netting to keep those pesky needle-faced insects at bay. This isn’t exactly the Amazon, but bushwhacking just a quarter mile can take twenty minutes if the undergrowth is thick, and there might be some scrambling and bog-hopping required!

It’s time for a full disclaimer: stewardship monitoring can be a sweaty and unglamorous job. But it is always rewarding, meditative, and freeing. It’s by far one of the favorite work tasks for UPLC staff, because we get to see firsthand how our efforts to protect ecosystems are paying off (not to mention we all jump at any chance to “play in the woods”).

Even though I’m out here to work, my stress levels plummet the second my boot hits the soft undergrowth of an Upper Peninsula forest. The repetition and exertion of cross-country hiking quiet my mind. My gaze drifts among the gentle visual chaos of the forest, where there are no straight lines or right angles anywhere to be found. The gentle crunch of twigs and birdsong drifting down from the branches fill my ears, while my nose drinks in the scent of rich humus. It’s so easy to get distracted when my attention is split between ogling the beauty of the forest, looking for anything that’s out of place, and choosing the most sturdy-looking place for my next footfall. I’m often glad I’m alone in the woods, so no one else can count the number of times I trip over roots or rocks or – let’s be honest – air. (If a Jill falls in the forest and there’s no one around to see it, did it even really happen? Not if I don’t tell anyone.)

Even though I’ve spent endless summers in the Upper Peninsula, I routinely stumble across things I’ve never seen before. Healthy forests often have thick carpets of deadwood lying thick on the ground, and close inspection might reveal dozens of fungi colonies that have gathered for a feast. A fallen aspen might be riddled with the meticulously ordered holes mined by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a native woodpecker whose name sounds like an insult straight out of a Monty Python movie. Snow-white Indian Pipe, a parasitic chlorophyll-free plant, clings to the hillside above a floating bog covered in fuzzy Labrador tea. And the endless march of time brings new discoveries every week: one week I’ll be walking through a carpet of minuscule spring beauties, the next the lady’s slippers orchids will unfurl.

So, yes, I’m out here to work, and to conduct an annual task that is critical to the continued conservation of our protected lands. But that doesn’t mean I can’t thoroughly bask in the beauty of the Upper Peninsula while I’m at it.

If you’re interested in experiencing some of these properties for yourself, check out our Interactive Map. Most of our Reserve and Preserve properties are open to the public for recreational day use including hiking, nature photography, and snowshoeing.

Photos and words by Jill Sekely, 11/06/2018.