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Yale School of the Environment Skip over. In an ongoing series of articles, the inaugural group of postdoctoral fellows for the Sri Lanka Program for Forest Conservation share their experiences in tropical forest conservation. Mark Ashton, this year launched a postgraduate fellowship program that provides practical and professional development experience in tropical forest conservation.

The Sri Lanka Program for Forest Conservation is devoted to research, education and extension of tropical forest conservation in southwestern Sri Lanka. It has several endowed programs that enable faculty, doctoral, masters and undergraduate students from the Universities of Sri Jayewardenepura, Peradeniya, Uva Wellassa and Yale to study tropical forest conservation at a field station located in the village of Pitekele and the adjacent Sinharaja MAB World Heritage Forest. Working with villagers and the SLPFC, the fellows learn tropical taxonomy, nursery propagation, and have helped develop a traditional tree garden that provides foods, timbers, medicines, and spices.

The garden is being deed to serve as a living demonstration for university curricula and practitioner extension. In an ongoing series of posts, Rynearson, Sander, and Luttrell share their experiences of learning about — and then developing — a traditional Sri Lankan village tree garden.

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Our First Week in Tropical Paradise. By Laura Luttrell We were treated to a spectacularly easy and comfortable arrival both into the country and to our home site!

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Professor Singhakumara, the director of the NGO and a professor at the University of Sri Jayewardenapura, picked us up at the airport at an unreasonable 1 a. The next day, he brought us around Colombo, helping us get set up for our time in Sri Lanka, then drove us the 4-hour journey to our now home in a comfortable air conditioned van. We had the royal treatment and are so thankful for the easy transition. Our home the field station is very comfortable with everything we need. It is tucked up on a hill at the end of an intermittently paved dirt road also known as Pitakele village amongst the ferns and orchids.

We also had the good fortune of sharing the house for a few days with a Sri Lankan researcher who toured us around the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and helped us understand the culture a little better.

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He speaks English and also helped us get started learning Sinhala the local language. Really though, the natural world is the main attraction here A view of the village of Pitekele and their tree gardens, tea and rice cultivation. The field station is located at the top of the valley adjacent to the rain forest with the village downstream following the river and valley.

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While swinging in a hammock on our sizeable veranda, I daily witness many tropical birds, monkeys, wild jungle fowl, lizards, and of course a gorgeous panorama of tropical trees and plants. While we have had surprisingly less rain than we expected, this is also an excellent place to enjoy the sound and smell of clean water falling from the sky.

The weather and environment is much more comfortable than we expected as well. While it is of course humid, it seems less humid than DC in the summer The evening temperature is perfect for sleeping and the mosquitos are shockingly absent In many tropical places, we would sweat without moving around or doing anything.

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Here, we are lucky that this is not the case; we get sweaty only when we are active. When the current is right, we stand under the waterfall for a massage as well! Beginning a Nursery With him, he brought four prominent Sri Lankan professors of ecology and several students, as well as several local villagers who have been involved in their conservation projects and research over the years.

Our new home bustled with activity and we set out into the forest to learn and get acquainted. We toured home gardens, climbed a few small mountains, and made a rapid descent down an overgrown forest path in a monsoon- like downpour.

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After arriving in Sri Lanka the fellows toured home gardens, and climbed a few small mountains. Professor Ashton also gave us a clearer idea of the project he would like us to work on while we are here Our garden will likely include many of the common fruit trees here like coconut, papaya, guava, avocado, and jack. In order to be successful with this project, we have begun learning Sinhala the local languagewhich if we become proficient, will give us the opportunity to directly get to know and talk to villagers about their lives and gardens.

We will also be hiring a translator to help us gain more specific information, but after Peace Corps, Logan and I have realized that our own language acquisition is really key to integration and understanding the culture. We are happy with our progress, but are also reminded of just how helpless and inept we can feel without common language. This got us started recognizing plants and learning their Sinhala names. Our neighbors in Pitakele have been wonderful hosts and patient teachers of both the Sinahala language and the uses of the plants they cultivate.

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Meanwhile, we established a site for the nursery and have cleared the area. We had some lessons on how to use the local tools for clearing and chopping a sort of hooked-machete and a hoe-like mattock and went to work. For us, the nursery will be one of our primary work sites, a place where we can grow, multiply and nurture along the plants that will come to make up our homegarden, tea fields and any other forestry or agricultural project we undertake.

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Under the guidance of Professors Ashton, Gunatilleke, Singhakumara and our caretaker Somaratne, we selected a site for the nursery near the field station on a flat alluvial terrace next to the stream. In this location we have ready access to water and any construction materials we might need.

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In many ways the proper functioning of a nursery is as much a social consideration as an ecological one — we expect to visit the nursery several times a day to check on and water plants. After a rough delineation of the site, we set about clearing the area.

Somaratne led the way, showing us how to use the local machete-equivalents pehiyas and katas to cut away small trees and ferns. We chopped and raked roots with the idella, a large hoe-like tool used locally for everything from mixing cement to maintaining rice paddies. While crashing around in the bushes we found a small mine, which pretty much consists of a vertical hole in the ground, about 2 meters square.

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This province Sabaragumara is renowned for the gems buried beneath the shallow soils. In terms of light management, we cut a few large branches of adjacent trees that blocked light to the ground where our plants will be located.

Our closest neighbor, Tillekaratne, and his climbing skills came in handy for this. At ground level, we retained most of the seedlings of the late-successional trees mostly Dipterocarps — a subject for a later posting. Ultimately, we ended up with a bymeter clearing that permits at least half of the sunlight to reach our plants. If lankan need to, it will be easy to expand the nursery dating the secondary forest. Next, to build the nursery beds, we needed some wooden boards. The plants in our nursery will be grown in polybags — 4- to 6-inch diameter, 8- to inch long tubes of black plastic sealed at one end with a few drainage holes poked into the bottom.

As a result, our nursery beds simply provide a structure to hold the polybags upright and make it a little easier to organize our inventory. After moving the finished boards to dating nursery we quickly built the beds: two short boards, two long boards, and 10 to 20 handcrafted wooden stakes to hold them in place.

Within a few hours, and after some minor work modifying a nearby hose, we had 10 nursery beds complete with a central water spigot! Constructing the nursery has been a highlight of our time here so far. This modest project represents one of the more tangible pieces of work at this stage in our experience, a welcome ladies from the endless ups and downs of learning Sinhala and adapting to a new culture.

Each day was filled with lessons and laughter from our local teachers, the rise and fall of the sun, evening rain showers, the hooting of our neighborhood monkey troop, and the intermittent excitement of a snake, a gaggle of foraging birds, or the sighting of a wild orchid.

We purchased very few materials, instead relying on the resourcefulness of our local friends and the vast storehouse of natural materials from the land. Most of the work was done with commonplace tools and was of simple, common sense de. Any anxiety we felt was self-imposed: the stresses of industrial society seemed distant and far away lankan no blaring horns or diesel exhaust in Pitikele!

Evenings were spent practicing our language skills or lack of skill with our friends and reading under the spacious veranda. While we are satisfied with the start we have made, our work is only beginning. Thinking ahead, I can imagine several larger efforts and hundreds of smaller tasks to accomplish before we have a functioning, educational home garden. Despite this, we still have many needs for processed lumber, from repairing the stairs that ascend the hill towards the field station to building the planter Oregon and other nursery infrastructure.

In particular, whenever rot- resistant boards are needed for outdoor projects local people use kitulor fishtail palm. Palms are an extremely important group of plants throughout the tropics, and in particular the kitul palm is both economically important and a keystone of Pitikele cultural life more on the uses of kitul palms in a later post. The crew tries to prevent the saw blade from pinching while they cut kitul logs to length. Somaratne and Tillekaratne located several older kitul palms on the Oregon and together we set about felling them.

These trees had already flowered and were in various stages of mortality. The first tree was very ladies and was felled with a two-man cross-cut saw. After releasing this tree from the stump, it fell directly into another large tree and a tangle of vines and branches — not the desired outcome. Our friends, however, were not phased — Tillekaratne promptly grabbed his axe and climbed the tree ours had fallen into.

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At this point, concerned for his Oregon, we tried all manner of communication mostly non-verbal to get him to come down to safety. He and Somaratne expressed a total lack of concern, and we eventually ladies down and let them proceed with their work. Swinging the axe with one arm and hanging on with the other, he deftly freed the kitul palm while managing to stay in the other tree The core of a kitul palm is a wet, sweet-smelling pith: very soft and mushy.

The outer wood, however, is extremely hard and rot resistant. The final step was to chop away the mushy pith with a mattock and Viola! We had twenty finished boards. These boards were hauled through the forest down to the nearby river, bound together by vines, and floated back to our nursery.

Every part of this process was hard work, but our reward was valuable rot-resistant wood and a fascinating cultural learning experience. We turned two more palms into boards over those couple of days with all five of us working and that gave us enough lumber for our nursery beds lankan new stairs to the field dating.

The river was relatively high while the team made boards, so they were able to float the boards back to the nursery in bundles.