The University of Southern Maine is developing a remotely monitored and publicly accessible research forest on the USM Gorham campus to be used as a resource for students, faculty and the community, as well as various local nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies. USM's project is based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Smart Forest initiative, which seeks to provide real-time access to environmental sensor data online.
The USM Smart Forest Project, led by biologist Dr. Joseph K. Staples, a lecturer in USM's Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP), will repurpose existing land located in the upper reaches of the Tannery Brook Watershed on the USM Gorham campus and develop it into a research forest and park to be used by the university and the surrounding community. The hemlock forest is already an integral part of USM's curriculum and campus life as a hands-on educational resource in ESP and as a location for USM community members to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
"The USM Smart Forest is perfectly timed to take advantage of federal and state initiatives in resource management, along with increased funding opportunities for new technologies in environmental monitoring, public awareness and education in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM)," said Dr. Staples. "We're not just helping USM students by connecting them to real-world, applicable skills and members of the environmental science community, but we are providing a resource to our local community, the Southern Maine region and the entire state of Maine."
The aim of the project is to provide a greater educational opportunity in the STEAM fields to a wide range of learners while also providing better access to environmental data that can be published and easily accessed online. The project will also foster collaboration and research opportunities with regional land trusts, resource managers, local municipalities, and state and federal agencies while serving as a safe and well-maintained park for recreational use by USM students, faculty, staff and members of the local community.
Chelsea Malacara, currently pursuing her Master's in Policy, Planning, and Management in the Muskie School of Public Service, came to USM with a breadth of knowledge and experience in
environmental science after stints with conservation organizations across the United States. She (pictured with USM student Jaren Wiley working on the Smart Forest) has helped drive the project's efforts through community outreach, such as the Fall 2014 clean up on the Smart Forest site.
"The combination of learning in the classroom -- from classes like Natural Resource Policy and
Ecology -- and gaining technical skills in the sciences outside the classroom -- such as analyzing soil and leaf litter samples -- have provided me with a comprehensive and experiential education that is incredibly unique," stated Malacara. "The forest not only provides recreational value to the campus, but a unique opportunity for research across all departments," she added.