Research at the NJ School of Conservation
SOC'S RESEARCH AGENDA
Since it’s designation as a school under the auspices of what was then Montclair State College in 1949, the confluence of scientific research and environmental education has always been a defining character of the New Jersey School of Conservation (SOC). As the Friends of the School of Conservation (Friends) begin to define SOC under their leadership, the intent is to maintain scientific research as a foundational element of the program and this is reflected in the 2023-26 Strategic Plan. The scientific research program will not only foster deeper understandings of the land, but also provide real time information that can provide material for experiential learning activities at the site.
A PARTNERSHIP WITH RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY
Towards this end the Friends have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rutgers The State University, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (Rutgers). The purpose of the MOU is to promote scholarly exchange of information between the Friends, Rutgers and the scientific community at large, in addition to allowing for the continuation of existing research initiatives and to provide an organizational framework for the development of research programs. Past research initiatives at the school can be divided into two main categories:
- those which targeted both the abiotic and biotic components of the environment, as well as the natural processes
- and those which targeted the discipline of environmental education.
In short, both the land and the students who came there.
The geology and soils have been elucidated in several studies. Ecological studies have included work in collaboration with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife on threatened and endangered species such as the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) or the bobcat (Lynx rufus). In much of this type of work SOC and the surrounding lands of Stokes State Forest have been considered suitable habit that presented what could be considered “natural conditions” or a control site. These data provide invaluable information that enable longitudinal studies at the site.
In addition, the Office of New Jersey State Climatologist, also Rutgers faculty, has maintained a weather station at the site since 2018. It helps the Office collect and archive climate data, maintain an active research program pertaining to New Jersey climate and, through various outreach programs, provide climate education and information to the citizens of New Jersey.
We must acknowledge however that the environmental and social context is continuously changing. Today the premise that rural or less disturbed environments represent a typology that can serve as a stable control for the measurement of change in like but disturbed areas is less accepted. What is more important in the Anthropocene is the rate of change that is now occurring in all environments. Listed below are a series of questions that give direction to the research program at the School of Conservation.
Potential Targets for Ecological Research
- Regional survival geologic mapping has been completed for Stokes State Forest and the surrounding area. Bedrock outcrops are a common occurrence within the forest and particularly at the SOC (Pope et al. 2009). What role does the geologic and associated soils play in carbon sequestration and storage?
- A sediment core sample was recovered from Lake Wapalanne in 2010 (Pope et al. 2010). The core has the potential to determine vegetation cover typology since the recession of the glacial recession. What does the legacy of vegetation cover tell us about the relationship between vegetation cover and climate?
- The existing climax hardwood forest cover has reached an age where the rates of decay may be approaching the rate of growth. In such cases carbon sequestration and storage declines, Early dendrochronology work with Red Pine (Pinus Resinosa) (Gallagher, 2021), appears to indicate slower recent growth work in this species. A clear understanding of carbon flux within the system would provide the data needed for forest management that ensures positive carbon sequestration and storage. Forest health inventories are of critical importance to understanding Climate Change and should be undertaken.
- The distribution of Species of Special Concern as well as resident and migrant species within the site has always been a priority area of research as mentioned above. Such species distribution studies are critical to understanding the impacts of climate change on the system and should be continued. In addition, phenological and vegetation distribution mapping would add to our understanding of current conditions.
Potential Targets for Educational Research
- As demographics of NJ change, it is critical that our educational efforts are culturally responsive to our population. The multidisciplinary curricula at the NJSOC should evolve and be designed to communicate complex concepts with all students. How do we design curricula that reflect what society needs versus what the standards dictate we should teach?
- Decades of practice in the environmental education field have resulted in a nearly homogeneous white work force (Taylor, 2014). How can white-led conservation and environmental education organizations transform the field to a new way of being that is rooted in equity and justice? How do we recruit, support and retain BIPOC in the EE workforce? How do we integrate indigenous curricula into our educational model?
- New Jersey is the first state in the nation to integrate climate change education in K-12 classrooms. How do we develop teaching tools that are culturally, emotionally and scientifically appropriate in an informal educational setting?
- The impact of COVID on student wellness has been devastating. An increased emphasis has been placed on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in traditional classroom settings. Field lessons at the NJSOC have integrated the concepts of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills found in the New Jersey’s Core Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies for decades. How are these skills transferred from the field to the classroom?
- Assessing learning outcomes in residential environmental education centers has a unique suite of challenges due to the intense yet short term exposure. How do we develop contemporary tools for student assessment that are reflective of our work?
Gallagher 2021, unpublished data.
Pope, Gregory A. (2010) Rock Weathering. (encyclopedia entry). In Warf, Barney, (ed.), Encyclopedia of Geography, pp. 2477-2484. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. [invited and edited submission]
Pope, Gregory A., Andrew J. Temples, Sean I. McLearie, Joanne C. Kornoelje, and Thomas J. Glynn. (2010) The nature of boulder-rich deposits in the upper Big Flat Brook drainage, Sussex County, New Jersey. The Middle States Geographer, v. 42, p. 33-43.
Taylor, D. (2014). The state of diversity in environmental organizations: Mainstream NGOs, foundations, and government agencies. Washington, D.C.: Green 2.0.Retrieved from: www.diversegreen.org/thechallenge