Graduate Student Toomey Receives Wilderness Society Scholarship

Lee Toomey stands near the base of a very large tree in a forest.

Lee Toomey (they/their), a master’s degree candidate in the Plant Biology Department Field Naturalist Program, was awarded a prestigious Gloria Barron Wilderness Society scholarship. This scholarship supports future conservation leaders and is highly competitive, usually funding only one student per year.

Lee is the first UVM student since 2010 to win this award. They will be able to apply the $25,000 award to support their final year as a field naturalist student. The award not only funds Lee but also speaks to the importance of their work and the intellectual quality they bring to this project. As the description states, this award serves to “encourage some of our nation’s best conservationists at a crucial point in their careers.”

Lee’s research project is part of a long-term assessment of restoration efforts in the Hohe Garbe, one of the largest remaining floodplain forests in the UNESCO Elbe River Biosphere Reserve in Saxon-Anhalt, Germany. The work is a collaboration between the nonprofit BUND, Friends of the Earth, and the University of Vermont Field Naturalist Program. Vegetation surveys and spatial analysis will be used to quantify the impact of recent management strategies and may lead to new insights in the field of floodplain conservation.

Floodplains are among the most species-rich ecosystems in Central Europe and provide important economic, social, and ecological functions. These forested wetlands help to soak up floodwater and pollutants. However, such riparian areas have been altered for transport, agriculture, and development. In Germany, only one percent of hardwood floodplain forests are left.

The awarding of this scholarship to Lee underscores not only the importance of their research project, but also their deep understanding of the environmental and conservation issues and their skill in writing and presenting the research. The Field Naturalist Program attracts exceptional students like Lee, and the training they receive in the program supports them to not only excel in conservation science, but to also communicate the science to a broad audience. Congratulations to Lee Toomey and to the Field Naturalist Program for this honor.

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