Nicole Schielzo Uses Time-Lapse Cameras to Tell the Evolving Story of Forest Management at Stockton

Every day, sunrise to sunset, cameras set up by Nicole Schielzo capture thousands of photos in Stockton’s forest. The 2016 Environmental Science graduate established a time-lapse photography project to tell an important and ongoing story about forest management at Stockton University.
The images, captured as often as every 15 seconds, are documenting the regeneration of a healthy woodland ecosystem and the changes in wildlife composition following a February controlled burn along Delaware Avenue and a variable retention clear cut (where the healthiest trees remain untouched to accelerate recovery), both part of Stockton’s 10-year comprehensive Forest Management Plan. Footage was captured before, during and after the burn and clear cut, and the sped-up visualization illustrates forest growth.

Nicole Schielzo mounts a time-lapse camera to a tree during a controlled burn at Stockton University in February to document the regeneration of the forest ecosystem.

Nicole Schielzo mounts a time-lapse camera to a tree during a controlled burn at Stockton University in February to document the regeneration of the forest ecosystem.

A Rolling Stone headline asked, “Will America’s Worst Wildlife Disaster Happen in New Jersey?” Years of fire suppression in the New Jersey Pinelands has resulted in dense turf on the forest floor, preventing pine seedlings from sprouting and beginning a new generation of trees. Southern pine beetles pose a threat that could wipe out a portion of this generation, and a buildup of forest fuels increase the chances of an uncontrollable fire. Schielzo’s project is visually documenting the effects of the university’s stewardship plan, the state’s first comprehensive forest plan on public land within the Pinelands region, which addresses these threats.

Forest management is a conservation effort that helps to increase forest biodiversity and provides habitat for species that favor young, successional habitat. Schielzo, who has loved wildlife for as long as she can remember, aspires to be a conservation or wildlife biologist and to work overseas with threatened and endangered species.

“Nicole’s time-lapse work will convey the forest’s longer timescale condensed in a way humans can better understand; since as humans we generally have a shortened sense of time that doesn’t apply to how forests and landscapes work which is usually over decades and even centuries,” said George Zimmermann, professor of Environmental Studies. “Nicole has a great work ethic and the work and research she has started will be critical to our education of the public on forest management and fire issues.”

A Board of Trustees Distinguished Student Fellowship supported Schielzo’s time-lapse project, which she conducted with her advisers, Zimmermann and Catherine Tredick, assistant professor of Environmental Studies. “My piece of advice is to work with your professors and take advantage of the opportunities that they can give you. Always keep trying to make yourself better and work toward your career goals while in school,” she said.

Nicole Schielzo, third from the left, listens with her classmates as John Sanford, section fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, gives an overview of the controlled burn at Stockton University.

Nicole Schielzo, third from the left, listens with her classmates as John Sanford, section fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, gives an overview of the controlled burn at Stockton University.

In addition to the time-lapse project, Schielzo also worked with Tredick to capture and tag small mammals in the clear cut to monitor their movement in an effort to map changes in biodiversity.

Schielzo is beginning a fall internship at Green Chimneys Wildlife Center in Brewster, New York in September to work more closely with wildlife in a rehabilitation and rescue facility. Although she’s not in the Stockton forest, her time-lapse project will continue to tell Stockton’s forestry story under student Shannon Keeney.

For the past two summers, Schielzo has shared her love of the outdoors and her knowledge of the natural world with children at Morry’s Camp in Elmsford, New York. Project Morry is a non-profit youth development organization that helps youth from underserved communities surrounding New York City.

As a student, Schielzo diversified her environmental experiences by studying abroad in Costa Rica for four months immersing herself in the culture and ecosystem and simultaneously learning Spanish. The outdoors became her classroom on weekly field trips where she learned to identify tropical foliage and observed species she’s never seen before. As a mobile journalist for the study tour provider, she captured numerous images.

While serving as an intern for the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, she joined a study tour to Poland and Germany in the summer of 2014 where she wrote about the long-term effects of the concentration camps and mass murder sites on the environment. “I have become a global citizen because of the opportunities Stockton has presented to me,” she said.

Schielzo helped to educate the Stockton community about past and present genocides as the event coordinator for S.T.A.N.D. (Stockton Take Action Now Darfur), an advocacy group for victims of genocide and refugees.

“Nicole has the kind of personality that she will be a superstar at whatever she pursues. She is an ambitious go-getter and a hard worker. Too much is never enough. She is a role model for all students,” said Gail Rosenthal, director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center.