Susan Moegenburg: Volunteering her expertise for the common good

Susan Moegenburg of Shelburne with her family this summer.
Susan Moegenburg of Shelburne with her family this summer.

Shelburne ecologist Susan Moegenburg remembers a childhood of capturing water fly larvae and raising them in shoeboxes. “I always had that interest, although I was unique in my family in that regard and they didn’t know what to make of it or how to direct it,” she said.

It only took one college ecology course for a delighted Moegenburg to realize she could have a career doing something she loved. “I knew I’d found my discipline and I never looked back,” she said.

Moegenburg started out as a water ecologist and then shifted her focus to forest ecology. She moved to Shelburne in 2003, but the Wisconsin native’s first introduction to Vermont was when she received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to work with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center looking at the nesting patterns of birds at high elevations. Moegenburg was based in Killington and did research along all the Green Mountain gaps.

Moegenburg has been a lecturer at UVM since 2009, teaching advanced classes on tropical forest ecology and conservation and non-timber forest products. Since her classes are electives, they are small and her students are motivated to learn. “It’s very rewarding,” she said. “We have a lot of interaction and I get to know the students pretty well.”

In addition to teaching, Moegenburg has a consulting business called Sustaining Traditions which provides workshops for a variety of audiences. This fall she was invited to give a presentation at the annual meeting of the Vermont Coverts, an organization which encourages the creation and/or maintenance of wildlife habitat on private, forested land.

Moegenburg is putting the finishing touches on her book, Wild Harvest: The Re-Emerging Practice of Gathering from the Land which analyzes humans’ foraging for wild plants and mushrooms but also takes a broader view of mankind’s connection to the forest. “Our relationship to the woods has been framed by what we’ve harvested, and that reflects a very long history with the forests,” she said.

As an example, Moegenburg notes that sugar maples are more abundant now than when the colonists first arrived because their economic value, both from maple syrup and fall foliage, has resulted in their becoming a more dominant species.

Moegenburg is happy to have found a home in Shelburne with her husband, 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. These days, she is putting her ecological background to good use at the local level, having just become a member of the board of the Lewis Creek Association. She has done water sampling for the group for over a decade but wanted to get more involved.

Moegenburg is also a member of the Shelburne Natural Resources and Conservation Committee which has been focusing on water issues including a recent retreat on the subject, and she hopes she can help Shelburne deal with upcoming stormwater issues. “I think the committee does really important work,” she said. “There are endless opportunities to volunteer and I was thinking about where I wanted to spend my energy and that seemed like a natural place because I can use my expertise.”