LEHMAN TWP. — It was supposed to be all about that shiny metal box standing amid the old-growth trees, wire fingers poking into the creek and sending data to a geostationary satellite. But, you know, this is Lehman Sanctuary. You don’t get to walk into the woods without learning something.
“It’s an orange-spotted newt in the red eft stage,” John Levitsky said after picking up the little critter from the path people were following toward the sanctuary’s new water quality testing equipment. The watershed specialist with the Luzerne Conservation District explained the newt lives a double life, born aquatic, coming onto land to live most of its life, then returning to an aquatic life to lay eggs for another generation.
Levitsky had joined a handful of media people, area conservationists and representatives from Misericordia University to officially show off and turn on the new telemetry equipment. It was purchased with two $3,000 grants, one from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the other from Pennsylvania American Water.
Misericordia Associate Biology Professor Cosima Wiese said the equipment opens up a wide range of educational opportunities. The data is relayed to computer cloud storage and available 24 hours a day, in real time. She is planning to incorporate it into one of her classes, and is working with area school districts to find ways to use it in elementary and high schools.
The data can be used in school lessons, and the students can then take a field trip to the sanctuary to see what they’ve been studying. Chris Miller, whose family owns the land that has become the non-profit sanctuary, noted the data is initially stored in binary form, so it could even be used in computer programming classes with students converting it to other formats.
‘Source of all life’
Before heading down a hill to the heart of the sanctuary’s old growth forest and wetlands, Miller, Wiese and Misericordia President Tom Botzman offered some comments while standing at the edge of a strip of chest-high prairie grass that helps protect the sanctuary from runoff from nearby Jackson Road.
Botzman praised the partnership with the sanctuary that made the project possible. Noting Misericordia is building a new science center, he quipped that “this is our coolest classroom,” and read quotes from students who had visited the place and were stunned by the diversity of plants and wildlife.
Miller noted that “all good works begin with good people,” and thanked those who made the telemetry dream a reality. “This is where young minds connect with water and the ecosystem that are the source of all life,” he said.
Wiese said the unit, powered by an industrial-grade battery expected to last for years, measures acidity, temperature, conductivity, and turbidity, all of which help determine the health of the stream and surrounding wetlands.
Of course, when Levitsky found the newt, she offered one more lesson, pointing out that it serves as a biological monitor of some of those same things. “If it’s here, it means the environment is pretty healthy.”