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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Watersmeet, Michigan, USA

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Watersmeet, Michigan, USA
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claire101



Registered: September 2020
City/Town/Province: St. Louis Park
Posts: 1
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My stomach dropped. My science teacher turned as white as the miniature bug we were observing.
Whether I was carried into campgrounds on my parent's back or carried our canoe overnight across the Grand Portage, the wilderness has always been my teacher. Freshman year, I researched the impact of fertilizers on invertebrates in the General Mills creek. I fell in love with ecology without knowing what it was. This led me to the Conserve School for Environmental Stewardship in Northern Wisconsin. In the fall semester of 2019, I was immersed in the Sylvania Wilderness just north of campus.
Once it snowed, we began searching for hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive sap-sucking bug. It has infested twenty states, wiping out thousands of hemlock hectares. Sylvania was untouched. The nearest threat was across Lake Michigan, or so we thought.
The sun split through the needles, and wind whistled through the branches near Florence Lake that day. I tripped over hidden logs, tumbled down snowy eskers, and wrestled from frozen bogs. Bushwhacking in oversized snowshoes proved difficult. I had to obey mother nature in all her ruggedness.
My friend from Tennessee grabbed the first branch he saw. The frost bit at his bare fingers, unaccustomed to the cold. We noticed not one woolly adelgid. No biggie. Next tree. We scribbled down a few more zeros. Next tree.
We examined the emerald underside of the branch. We mocked the pale little spot. It was snow. Was it? It began to look like cotton. Woolly, almost.
The teasing stopped, and my heart sunk.
We called over our science teacher. He snickered, "No way." As he observed, his posture shrunk. My outdoor skills teacher came over. Her cheery face now conveyed concern. It didn't quite look like the invasive bug, but what else could it be?
Our guides sunk into the frozen ground. They hugged their knees, contemplating the future of the woods above them. The silence took over. Would these beloved hemlocks become forever altered? I felt like mother nature's kid. Was she sick? She always needs protection, but did she need immediate attention?
The Conserve community was left to ponder about the woods we know and love. After a few stressful days, a Forest Service Entomologist from Ironwood, Michigan, determined it was not the hemlock woolly adelgid. There was a sigh of relief throughout the classroom.
During Conserve, I examined the woods and the community they built around me. They've been working together for millions of years. I was the outsider. Yet we humans often cause the most damage. I will never forget the deep fear I had for the hemlocks, for the wilderness. Invasive species are one of many imbalances humans have created in our ecosystems.
As climate change becomes increasingly devastating, it is taught to younger and younger students. The air is warming, the ice is melting, the earth is hurting. Instilling this fear in children without giving them the resources to bond with the outdoors creates a lasting disconnect from the environment.
Throughout the years, I have found communities of people who are incredibly passionate about the outdoors. Their devotion to protection is rooted in early connections to nature; this ranges from a free afternoon paddle down the Mississippi River, to a 30 day trip in the mountains. The interactions that my peers and I have had are critical to prioritizing environmental sustainability, which is why I feel so strongly that the outdoors needs to be accessible to everyone.
Childhood memories in nature create a sort of environmental empathy, urging youth to protect their surroundings. This pushed me to help teach skiing, orienteering and mountain biking to kids in Minneapolis. In college I hope to study biology/ecology, and embed the natural sciences into public wilderness exploration. The outdoors and its hemlocks have sown the seeds of my learning. Now I want to help scatter the growth.
Date: September 4, 2020 Views: 312 File size: 21.8kb, 3340.2kb : 3024 x 4032
Hours Volunteered: 20
Volunteers: 60
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 15-40 (students and staff)
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