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Ness and research partner Gordon


Mac Pherson ’12 estimated the transfer of nitrogen and phosphorous to and from the forest floor over thousands of acres by combining data from foresters’ surveys and published descriptions of leaf chem- istry. Some spring-active plants are thought to limit the transfer of nutrients from soil to water. To test that hypothesis, the group mapped the distribution of nine species of herbaceous plants, collect- ed stream water samples, and compiled the results in the lab. “We were surprised the hypothesis was supported as strongly as it was,” Ness reports. Subsequent analy- sis identified links between Merck’s log- ging history, rare plant communities, and nutrient retention in forest watersheds. The work also inspired the students who took part. “Working at Merck solidi- fied my passion for streams and sparked my curiosity about their processes and the aspects of the watershed that influ- ence them,” Conine says. At the end of the research project, MacPherson presented the findings at a Merck Center symposium. A follow-up study is like- ly, Ness says, adding that the research could help forest man- agers and landscape planners limit the transfer of nutrients from the forest floor into streams by maintaining or planting the right native species.


Similar projects are in the works. Cathy Gibson in environmental studies plans to take her “Watershed Analysis” class to visit a stream in neighboring Washington County that’s suffering as a result of land use in the watershed. In collaboration with the Battenkill Conservancy, the students will assess the health of the stream based on debris, sediment, nutrients, insect life, and habitat, comparing their measures to data the conservancy has already collected. Kyle Nichols in geosciences is even considering an expedition to Aus- tralia to study the effects of soil erosion on sediment deposition in the Great Barrier Reef. His project could include up to a dozen students over a three-year period.


Riverkeepers


“A looming tragedy in land use” has Rik Scarce worried. For the service-learning portion of his course “Environmental Sociology” last fall, he and his students helped the American Farmland Trust prepare four documentaries about upstate acreage that qualified for farmland protection but was still unpaid for, since New York State cut back its program to distribute the funds. With such dis- jointed land management, Scarce says, “If we don’t help pay the farmers to save that land, a developer can easily purchase it for strip malls or office parks.” He’s been told that all the farmland in New York State today is not enough to feed the state’s popula-


14 SCOPE SPRING 2011


RIK SCARCE SCOUTS THE HILLS ABOVE THE HUDSON VALLEY.


tion—”that’s how far development has grown.” On the other hand, Scarce’s inter- views of Hudson Valley policymakers and activists for his next book are buoying his outlook. “I’m seeing such a range of people working together for better land use.” The author of books on salmon fisheries and the reintroduction of wolves into Yel- lowstone, he’s again elucidating how people construct notions of nature, this time focus- ing on the sustainability movement and its sometimes surprising players in the Hudson Valley—in his words, “from the high Adiron - dacks down to sea-level New York City—a 300-mile-long challenge.” In general, Scarce argues, “our society has wanted to be not a part of nature but apart from it.” Take upstate New York’s Conklinville dam. Built in 1932 to stop routine river flood- ing, it inundated a town and other properties to create Sacandaga Lake. “One consequence of flood control is that area farms need more fertilizers, to supply nutrients that used to wash in naturally with river silt. We’ve done


“OUR SOCIETY HAS


WANTED TO BE NOT A PARTOFNATURE


BUT APARTFROMIT.”


this kind of thing again and again throughout history.” What’s distinctive about the Hudson Valley is its growing “green” ethos. A main character in Scarce’s book will be Marirose Blum Bump. A longtime resident of Red Hook, N.Y., she was so opposed to widening State Route 9 through her small town that she ran for office, for the first time in her life, and won a seat on the town’s board of supervi- sors. While some touted increased tourism and economic growth, Scarce reports, “she cited the special assets and charms of the community and asked, ‘Do we want to sell those off?’” Re- minding voters that widened roads tend to attract more cars that soon clog them up again, “she was a uniter who got some important land-use reforms into the books,” he says. Another protagonist is René VanSchaack, a deeply rooted


New Yorker descended from the earliest Dutch settlers. As di- rector of the soil and water district for Greene County, he had “both environmentalist friends and development friends.” When a large retailer built a warehouse, VanSchaack helped negotiate a deal whereby the retailer set aside some areas for wildlife habitat. “The land didn’t fall under EPA or state protec- tion,” Scarce explains, “but the builder was persuaded that con- servation would enhance its reputation as a corporate citizen.” VanSchaack also prevailed on a new-home developer to set aside 16 times more natural land than required by law, marvels Scarce. It took hours of meetings, but VanSchaack showed him that building on a smaller area was cheaper, and with fewer homes he could price them higher and market their green sit- ing. Scarce says, “René is just one of the people investing the time, taking those chances, to stand up for a sustainable quali- ty of life in their community.”


WENDY SCARCE


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