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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Tolt River, Carnation, Washington, USA

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Tolt River, Carnation, Washington, USA
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Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: Bellingham
Posts: 1
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Invasive species are plants or animals that adversely affect the habitats that they invade. This happens through disruption of particular biospheres by out-competing native species, therefore decreasing biodiversity and leading to the loss of natural controls. Some common examples of such organisms in North America are bullfrogs, European starling, salt marsh cord grass, and English Ivy. It is a well established and growing concern that English Ivy (Hedera Helix), an invasive evergreen plant native to Europe, is threatening the balance of many native ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, and indeed much of the United States. For my Apprentice Ecologist Project, I chose to improve the ecological health of a specific area through ivy removal, while informing members of my community of the wide-ranged benefits of such efforts. Thus, this project provided me with hands on experience relating to my field of study, environmental geology, while improving the health of local ecology and making for a fun and educational group activity.
My Apprentice Ecologist project took place in a small wetland area near the North Fork Tolt River outside of my hometown of Carnation, Washington. It is a beautiful area within the Snoqualmie Valley that may be described as riparian wetland. This is my grandmother’s property where she has lived since the 1970s, and where I have spent much of my time learning to respect and becoming familiar with living organisms while growing up. Consequently, the importance of my project stretched beyond both environmental awareness and academics. The swath of area that my team and I were working within consisted of about a 100 square meters, in which there were several fairly young conifers, one large cottonwood tree, a big leaf maple, and very little undergrowth like sword ferns and the common salmonberry and snowberry shrubs. The presence of the ivy dominated over any other visible plant species in the area, including the maple in this case, which was enveloped from base to top with English ivy. Almost every inch of ground was blanketed in a thick layer of ivy that penetrated the soil to a depth of up to .5 meters.
English Ivy is a ferocious plant that will take hold wherever it can climb towards the sun. This makes it extremely difficult to eradicate it completely from an area, and certain measures must be taken to prevent the ivy from simply coming back within several years of removal. For the trees, our method of removal consisted of severing all vines connecting from the ground to the trunk, then pulling the ivy from as far up the trunk as we could, but at least two meters from the base of the tree. In addition, vines on the base are cut and pulled and the ground surrounding the tree is cleared to a radius of at least one meter. On the maple tree, we removed a vine that was 6 inches in diameter (seen being held by several people in my chosen project photo), below which was connected a massive ivy cluster that had probably been growing since the tree was very young! A large root cluster that seemed to be the hub of ivy growth was connected to this vine and our best attempts were made to dismember and move it. In clearing the ground surrounding the tree, many vines had to be pulled up with pitchforks, taking as much care as possible to minimize soil disturbance. As seen roughly in my photo, it was almost impossible to remove every last vine in this sensitive area, but I later raked the area of most vines to a radius of about 6.5 meters around the maple tree.
Now that we were finished with the initial stages of ivy removal, it was time to assess the possible follow up procedures for this project and ideas for ongoing restoration in the area. Of course, intense ivy-removal sessions will continue in surrounding areas in the future to ensure that the plant does not simply re-encroach upon our site of work in several years. In addition, the adjacent stream leading into the wetlands can overflow during times of heavy precipitation and being several feet from our main area of work, measures must be taken to minimize erosion of the now bare soil until undergrowth can return. An easy and effective way to do this is to pile a moderate layer of loose straw on the soil to act as an erosion control barrier. This will prevent direct contact with falling rain and the nearby stream to provide a buffer zone for the soil.
Another idea for the future is to conduct a visual survey of the vicinity, noting specific areas that are more suitable than others for certain native plant species. Then when the time comes, I will plant and transplant native species to replace the invasive ivy, in turn encouraging native ecology. As a relation to my field of study, being environmental geology, I could sample the various soil horizons present and match the species I plant to their most suitable area of soil. It is important to replace the ivy with only native plant species. This is because native species co-evolve together over time, creating very specific ecological niches that are unique to that region. These relationships provide even more niches for native faunal and fungal species, as well as innumerable microorganisms, creating a complex web of biodiversity. As an invasive foreign species moves into an environment, it will shadow a niche that may have previously been occupied by several species. Consequently, a more uniform habitat is created by the invasion and diversity is choked out, making room only for more noxious species to move in.
These unfortunate cycles of invasion have been continuous in the Northwest for over 200 years, since the times of heavy westward expansion. Indeed, most habitats of the world by now have had to endure rapid invasion of foreign species brought with human encroachment. In an evolutionary sense, the invading species is simply being opportunistic, naturally taking hold wherever possible. However, when this process limits the number of species competing within a habitat, the effect is sometimes irreversibly negative, in the case of extinction. It is for this reason that the responsibility to counteract the effects of displacement lies entirely with the humans who brought the species. For my project, I feel that we exemplified this effort by focusing our work on the environment that harbors our existence-- our own home. By having my grandmother’s property be the site of the project, I showed my friends and family that positive change can be readily brought to one’s own backyard, and that the potential to do so is great even among a small group of people who have the right intent. It is this individual mentality that must be adopted if large scale conservation is to be effective, and people must realize that care for the environment is not going to be carried out by government officials or the passing of laws, but rather through community efforts. I also showed them that these efforts need not be considered a struggle, and that they are in fact fun to carry out as a team of like minded individuals. By sharing my experience with my community, we were provided with hands on application of local conservation, setting a positive example of what is easily possible everywhere in the world. In the future, I know that the intents of my Apprentice Ecologist project will be carried on through my friends who helped me make it a reality, and so we are all apprentice ecologists.
Date: December 27, 2010 Views: 7713 File size: 22.3kb, 2403.9kb : 3264 x 1840
Hours Volunteered: 30
Volunteers: 10
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 16 to 68
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 0.6
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 50
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