What a day! We have completed our first “work” day on Yap. The students (and faculty) were divided up into three teams. Two teams consisting of 5 students and 1 faculty member each set out with Yap agriculture officials to map the invasive grass Imperata cylindrica otherwise known as “Cogon Grass”. Most of this grass is found near the old runway (used by the Japanese during World War II) on Yap. The third team, consisting of 3 students (Alvaro, Kelsey and Kat) and 1 faculty member (myself), set out to map fire access roads (by location and type of road) and the location of a recent wild fire with Collin Heise, a Lieutenant with the Yap State Police-Fire-Rescue. We were lucky in that most of the mapping we would be doing would involve sitting in the back of a pick-up truck while operating a GPS unit to collect data. In comparison, the Imperata groups would have to walk through fields and forests (with the GPS unit) in some cases clearing them with a machete.
For our work we divided up the responsibilities. Kelsey operated the GPS unit. Kat used the field book to take notes and physically draw what we were seeing and mapping. This information is basically the “back-up” to the GPS data we collect. In some cases there could be “holes” in the collected GPS data, for example, we could lose our connection to the satellites used to identify our location for a few minutes. The notes taken by Kat would be invaluable when processing this data. Our third student, Alvaro, was our navigator. His job was to keep track of where we were on a map and note where we have been (which is REALLY tough considering this is his sixth day on Yap). Additionally, some of the information he collected backed-up the information Kat collected. As you can see, we had some redundancy in our data collection (which is good). The three students sat in the back of the pick-up truck (which as quite bumpy) as we mapped the roads. I was fortunate in that I had a soft seat in the front with Colin. The students really did all the work. All I did was teach them how to use the GPS units and instructed them on the information needed to process the data. I also provided some support and assistance when we had some problems with the GPS unit.
Our day started at about 9:30 in the morning. Right away we knew this would be an interesting day as we were driving into and through various villages. See, ALL of the land on Yap is owned by someone. Although the state does own some land, everything NOT owned by the state is private property. If you walk onto someone’s property, or in some cases into a village, unannounced or uninvited you could find yourself in serious trouble! In fact, we were told that the #1 fear of local authorities is being attacked with a machete (often used as a weapon against trespassers). Additionally, although we were in a marked Yap Police vehicle (and Colin had his badge and ID) there is an interesting dichotomy between cultural law and state law. In some cases, cultural law supersedes state law. For example, in cases of domestic violence it is not uncommon for a village chief to meet the authorities at the village line and deny them access. When these circumstances the village handles dispute internally and the police are sent back to the station. In our case though, we were told since we were doing official work we could pretty much go where we needed (and for the most part we were staying on main roads and paths) to go. Additionally, we stayed mostly around Colonia (the urban hub of Yap) where you can travel a little more liberally without hassle.
We spent the entire morning driving in and around Colonia mapping roads and identifying them as a type A,B and C. The tanker trucks and other fire trucks can drive on type A and B roads. C roads require 4 wheel drive and/or may not be drivable (note….some of the roads they have to travel to fight fires are almost impossible……). After a lengthy lunch (there is no such thing as a short lunch on Yap) we headed out to map the site of a recent wild fire (about 2 months ago) near Maabuuq. We had to hike to the site since there were no roads and it was quite a hike. As we were hiking up the path to the site I asked Colin how were they able to fight the fire. He explained that they were able to get their tanker truck about 100 yards from the base of the hill/slope and then ran hose as far as they could. At that point, they filled up their water packs and the men (in full gear & a full water pack) hiked up to the site. I can only imagine the heat, exhaustion and fatigue that would come in this situation.
Once we reached the top (which gave us a phenomenal view of Yap) we could easily pick out the burn area. Even though there were still signs of a fire, it was obvious that the plants and trees were coming back quickly. Kelsey and Kat, who were operating the GPS unit and taking notes, followed Collin around the edge of the burn area. The hike was quite extensive (with steep terrain) but Kelsey and Kat kept up with Colin with little trouble.
After mapping the burn area we mapped the road leading up to Mt. Madeqdeq (otherwise known as Communication Mountain). Mt. Madeqdeq is one of the highest points on Yap. So again, we were greeted with a phenomenal view of Yap and the Pacific. At this point (around 4:30) we called it a day and head back home. The plan for tomorrow is to again map fire access roads but in the morning I will be joining Margie Falanruw (a legendary ecologist and botanist) to consult at another recent burn site. They are interested in using biochar to improve the fertility and overall soil quality of the area and possibly make the site an experimental “Terra Preta” site.