Alumni Spotlight: Jenna Gersie
From Vermont to Down Under
Story and Photos from Jenna Gersie, VHCB AmeriCorps Alum When I finished serving with Vermont Housing & Conservation Board AmeriCorps at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, it was a whirlwind to complete my Wilderness First Responder training and pack my bags for a year down under. I am currently working for the School of Field Studies as a Student Affairs Manager at the Centre for Rainforest Studies in Yungaburra, Queensland. I live at a field station with twenty-nine American college students and provide program support, help organize trips, events, and community service, and make sure the students are happy and healthy.
Of course, I missed my feathered friends as soon as I left Vermont, so I took the first opportunity I had and joined an ornithologist friend to do a raptor survey on the Atherton Tablelands. We drove around, counting Blake Kites, Whistling Kites, Australian Kestrels, Brown Falcons, Spotted Harriers, and other birds of prey and taking notes on the types of habitat the were utilizing. While not quite as thrilling as flying a Harris's Hawk or training an American Kestrel at VINS, it was exciting to see some of Australia's avian wildlife.
Through my new position, I have been able to explore Australia's rainforest flora and fauna as well as get to know the Atherton Tablelands community. Part of SFS's mission is to "contribute to sustainable solutions in the places where we live and work," so every Friday, our group chips in and does community service. After two years serving in AmeriCorps, I couldn't have asked for a better position to incorporate service into our weekly schedule!
Most of the community service that we do is related to reforestation. Much of northern Queensland's rainforests were cleared to make room for farmland, and many organizations are working together to create rainforest corridors for wildlife and to maintain tree plantings. In addition to sorting seedlings to prepare them for planting, watering and weeding seedlings, and monitoring tracts of reforested area, we have also done some work to remove invasive species. My time in Vermont spent pulling Japanese knotweed, honeysuckle, and purple loosestrife certainly prepared me for this! We spent one morning surveying a tract of Mabi rainforest in search of the invasive Turbina (making sure to avoid the painful stinging trees found in the forest), and another morning pulling grasses out of Peterson Creek in Yungaburra to create more habitat space for animals like platypus.
While my new position is vastly different from my position as an environmental educator at VINS, it is easy to see the connections between the two. Because my service at VINS only made my love of birds grow, this month, I will be helping students with a Directed Research project, surveying bird species that are utilizing a tract of land. Researchers are experimenting with natural reforestation methods, so instead of planting trees, they have installed bird perches and water troughs to attract birds to the area, hoping they will do the seed-spreading and reforest the area themselves. It's okay if the birds are unsuccessful, though- we have a tree planting scheduled at the Centre later this month, and this time, community members will be joining us to help with the planting.