Land Use and Spatial Analysis MOD

Great Mountain Forest

In the Great Mountain Forest (GMF) MOD, we will focus on awareness and navigation of the human and physical landscape as complex, dynamic, and overlapping systems. This includes developing a collective knowledge of where we are in terms of geography, landscape, history, and the intersections of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, power, and privilege.
MODs GMF book
The GMF MOD includes a substantive section on centering equity in a diverse community at F&ES. There will be learning for all of us as we navigate some of those dynamic tensions between the more ecologically and socially-oriented approaches this MOD will offer. We invite you to consider that learning how to creatively and collectively navigate such tensions is an inherent part of your training and practice as environmental professionals.

We do this at Great Mountain Forest – in the bucolic northwestern towns of Norfolk and Canaan, Connecticut. Evidence of human presence in this region reaches back 12,000 years, to when the landscape had just emerged from beneath continental glaciers. We acknowledge the native peoples who lived on, moved through, and managed the landscape. Litchfield County, where Great Mountain Forest is located, comprises some or all of the tribal homelands of the Mahicans, Tunxis, Weantinock, and Pootatuck peoples. From a perspective committed to grappling with the legacy and continued reality of settler colonization, it is vital to acknowledge that these indigenous peoples do not merely exist in the past. Their presence and struggles, both social and political, continue.

 We’ll invite you to hold this point of tension and complexity as we navigate the human and physical landscape at Great Mountain Forest. There are no simple answers.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
— James Baldwin
Dispossession by colonists in the mid-17th century saw a shift in cultural land use patterns from hunting, gathering, and some agriculture to more intensive crop agriculture, livestock rearing, charcoal production, and more. In the late 19th/early 20th century, two members of the Yale College Class of 1891, Frederic Walcott and Starling Childs, began to acquire cutover lands beginning in 1909. They implemented pioneering stewardship as they reforested and stocked the abused land. In time, their heirs created what is now a permanently protected forest under the care of the Great Mountain Forest Corporation. At 6500 acres (2600 hectares), Great Mountain Forest represents a portion of a much larger protected forest landscape. The forest is home to charismatic moose and black bears, and nearly 1000 species of plants.

Practical instruction on the fundamentals of navigation will be provided as a tool to examine the legacy of past land uses on the landscape today. These fundamentals are central to mastering the principles of GIS, remote sensing, and the digital representation of all spatial data. Understanding how maps are made, used, and interpreted is important for all natural resource professionals, from field researchers to policy-makers. Interpreting land use history allows greater insight into both the ecological and social past and present.

 We will use the forest, one of the largest intact northern hardwood forests in the region, as our classroom. Many of the concepts covered during the week are best understood by doing them, so we stress hands-on exercises. Moreover, many of your peers have a good deal of experience with some of this MOD’s material and are often the best tutors we have. Consequently, the exercises emphasize teamwork and student interaction.
If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
— Aboriginal Activists Group (Lila Watson)
After the field navigation exercises, we welcome Center for Whole Communities - whose purpose is to cultivate transformative leadership that weaves together and strengthens movements for justice and the environment - to support us, through facilitated exercises and group dialogue, in individually and collectively navigating the following questions:
How do we work with the conflict and tension that are enduring and healthy parts of being in diverse community? How do we sustain ourselves while engaging with some of the most urgent social and ecological challenges of our time?

Ultimately, all environmental work is place-based. Whether it is research, land management, environmental justice organizing or advocacy, education, policy, or innovative solutions to sustainability challenges, at some point all work for change must be done on the ground and with stakeholders. An essential component of natural resource management and policy is understanding how history influences the people, the landscape, and the lenses with which they are viewed.

Be Prepared for Great Mountain

As far as accommodations go, you will be staying at the Yale Camp, eight acres located in the middle of Great Mountain Forest that was donated to Yale University by the Childs Family in the 1940s. There is a lodge with a dining room, classroom, living room and bunkrooms, sleeping cabins, restrooms, and kitchen, all comfortably rustic. Everyone must bring a sleeping bag – there are beds, but no sheets, pillows or blankets. You are welcome to bring your tent and camp in the adjacent fields. All meals will be provided.


  • Boots – work boots, hiking boots, or sturdy-soled running shoes. This is a necessity – you will be bushwhacking (i.e. walking through the woods off-trail)
  • Poncho/Rain gear – both rain jacket and rain pants – field work will continue even if it rains (within reason)
  • Long pants – you will be bushwhacking through the woods
  • Warm clothing (wool or fleece jacket), long pants, and warm socks – nights can be cold even in the summer months
  • Toiletries
  • Towels – for the shower and swimming
  • Sleeping bag – (we have a few of these that can be borrowed for use during MODs by students who may not have or be able to bring them from home.) Both camps have bunkhouses/cabins with beds, but no sheets, pillows or blankets
  • If want to bring a tent, you are welcome to camp out in the fields at Yale Myers
  • Flashlight or headlamp and spare batteries - essential
  • Insect repellent – insects can make it difficult to carry out assignments. "Cutters" or "Deep Woods Off" are in favor. Please use a cream, pump, or rub-on style rather than aerosol (which should be avoided given inhalation risks by you and nearby students when you apply it)
  • Small backpack, belt pack, or day pack – to carry your lunch, measuring instruments, and other small items, into the field
  • Water bottle (re-useable)
  • Pencils and a good field notebook or a clipboard


In addition to your regular clothing, footwear, personal items, etc. that you will pack, here is a short list
of items you’ll need that you might not have thought about:
  • Bathing suit and towel
  • Shower shoes
  • Pillow
  • Musical instruments, if you play
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Softball mitt (for the annual Great Mountain game)

Items the School Supplies You With

  • Transportation to and from Great Mountain Forest
  • Meals at Great Mountain
  • All field supplies (except notebooks and pencils),
  • Loan of plant identification guides

Hazards to Be Aware Of

Poison ivy, ticks, and yellow jacket stings. If you are allergic prepare with proper medications and let your TAs know! We will do a safety orientation at each MOD, so don’t be concerned if you are not familiar with these local pests. We’ll make sure you are prepared.
MODs GMF cabins
MODs GMF compass
MODs GMF book
MODs GMF map
MODs GMF watermelon
MODs GMF Tobey Pond
MODs GMF softball
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