We were there for the trees
Guest post by Carolyn Cheatham Rhodes
We were there for the trees.
It was supposed to be another day in the woods. Just one more hike to one more tenth acre plot to be sampled to better understand the forest in the Tampa Bay Watershed. But this time, the rainy season was in full swing. The Hillsborough River had swelled over its banks and spread out across the forest.
What should have been an uneventful trek through the woods was now turning in to a nerve-wracking slosh through dark, tannin-stained waters that were getting deeper with every step closer to our destination. Boot-deep quickly transitioned to knee–deep, then all too soon the water was lapping at our thighs. Hidden creek beds swallowed the shortest of our group up to the waist. Bolstering our resolve, we pressed on to our destination. The adversity was making the task an adventure.
The GPS struggled to maintain its satellite connection beneath the thick cover of trees. Eventually, it led us to a spot we had previously measured during a very dry summer some years ago. This time most of our ~74 ft. diameter sampling area was under water save one spot, an island in a blackwater sea, on which stood a singular massive bald cypress.
The stately cypress towered over us as we splashed about, measuring the other trees in the drowned plot. Saving the massive tree for last, we completed our measurements and set off through the mire again to make our way home.
The data collected that day on the number and kinds of trees, their sizes and health were added to a growing database of forest samples through out the Tampa Bay Watershed. Researchers are using the data to better understand the forests of the Tampa Bay watershed, how the forest composition and health impacts the health of Tampa Bay, and to guide sustainable management decisions for the forest and the bay.
The field crew has moved on. Nine different scientists – all women – sampled over 700 plots (500 of them twice) across five counties in the Tampa Bay area over a span of five years. We are now professional foresters, graduate students, ecologists, wives, and mothers. We look back on those days in the field and wax poetic about our trials and tribulations in the woods. We were never daunted. Whether it was muck and mire, dust and heat, or sweat and mosquitoes that awaited us at the end of the trail, we always marveled at the trees… we were there for the trees.