This past semester’s experience in the work program has been one of the more gratifying positions I have held. As a research assistant working with two other students on a number of ecological studies throughout campus, I’ve learned a great deal on team project building and successful implementation. The story of the Invasive Species Task Force (ISTF) begins in the late summer of 2014 as an idea brought to the attention of Dr. Laura Spence (faculty in Ecology) by a graduating student who had conducting an independent study in invasive plant species research on Sterling College’s campus. I was a second-semester third-year transfer student at the time with a passion for plant community ecology and a few experiences in monitoring plots in the Northern White-cedar swamp on campus for vascular and non-vascular plant species richness.
The position that year would include a full scale monitoring plan for the swamp and analysis of species richness of five key invasive plant species dominant in the region which were as follows: Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula), Winged Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus), Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), and Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). Additional outliers were also recorded including: Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), Japanese Barberry (Berberus thunbergii), and Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) to name a few. This foundational monitoring project spanned the entirety of Fall 2014 and in summation included eight 200 meter transects spanning the entirety of the Cedar Swamp with a total of 204 GPS marked points inclusive of species presence, plant community type, coverage, abundance, diameter at breast height (where applicable), structural factors (i.e. tree, shrub, herbaceous), and fruiting status. This study was daunting to say the least and well worth mention in leading up to today’s invasive plant species plan on Sterling College campus as it involved a number of community members in various areas of expertise to complete. By Spring of 2015, the cedar swamp project had earned me the title as invasive plant species expert on campus and was well worth the headaches, the nine page datasheet, the inevitable lost GPS points, the three-a.m. adventures to retrieve meter tapes from a site for the next morning’s class, and the late nights falling asleep in data sheets to earn a place in the community as an undergrad botanist and plant ecologist of some merit.
The following Fall, after a summer full of alpine botanizing and plant community research in the mountains of Southern California and New Hampshire, I was ready to level-up my skills and challenge myself in a new position as a research assistant under the supervision of three ecology faculty and two incredibly bright and passionate colleagues. The plan for this fall was to complete a comprehensive list of invasive parent trees across the remainder of the campus including sites like: the Cedar Cottage/old farm road drainage, new farm road, the Green Trail of the Virginia Russell wood lot, and various property boundaries including the Brown Library and neighboring “Middle House.” These mapping projects included similar variables as the aforementioned Cedar Swamp project with the addition of an implementation factor for removal and eradication.
The subsequent forty-five mapped sites were then compiled into a digital map and utilized in this past All College Work Day as a means to select the most manageable removal projects. The removal and incineration of well over six full pick-up truck loads of invasive plant material gave a gratifying close to the year of work that I had accomplished in the ISTF and with colleagues in the research team. Additionally, in the steps leading up to this day there were a number of interdepartmental projects including the aforementioned Green Trail project which included myself and the rest of the research team working closely with the forestry and trail crews to efficiently cut back and manage the trail and wood lots while mapping sites to which to return for removal.In hindsight, throughout my invasive plant species work here at Sterling College I have struggled and can admit now that I haven’t always felt that great about all the destruction I’ve caused in the plant communities of which I cherish so greatly. To be honest, I spent a lot of nights trapped in internal conflicts with unanswerable “invasive” philosophical questions and ultimately felt more or less indifferent as to if what I accomplished was right or wrong. Were these really “invaders” or simply indigenous species that were separated by political boundaries centuries ago and merely want their home land back? I will never have an answer to that question, but the data I have collected will be useful so long as it is shared collectively with a means to tune into a solution.
I’ve written about legacy in the past few months as a part of my Senior Seminar level-up experience and have always been hesitant to look at the work I’ve done as such. However, I have poured my soul into my work here at Sterling College and, although it was not my intention, I have left a legacy with other students that aspire to dive into to their passions. I often hear myself spoken of highly by faculty and students but never put much thought into using that word. I came to this school with the intentions of reaching personal academic goals and pushing myself to the brink for the purposes of building collective knowledge. My hope is that this collective knowledge is utilized to its full potential in the following years after I’ve passed all my torches and moved on.