August 5, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Kids get lessons to ID invasive plants

Outreach program brings young campers to Presque Isle quarry

Presque Isle— Lafarge North America partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Huron Pines Conservation Group to bring 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Campers to the Presque Isle Quarry to be introduced to identifying invasive species, the issues these plants present and how to map problem areas through first-hand experiences.

The 13- to 15-year-old campers from Camp Chickagami visited the quarry in small groups last week. Heather Rawlings, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, led the group effort in identifying non-native phragmites and other invasive species. Campers used GPS and tape measures to plot out specific areas that will be targeted this fall with herbicide, according to the Alpena News.

“The invasive phragmites creates a massive jungle and pushes the favorable species that would be helpful for the insects, waterfowl and other animals that move through the area,” Ivan Wirgau, quarry chemical quality analyst and environmental control manager, said. “It’s quite prevalent out there and we want to get in and manage it, inventory it and treat it this fall.”

He said that along with the Wildlife Habitat Council this project is a part of their public outreach.

“As a company we want people to know we are doing positive things for the environment because we care about it,” Wirgau said.

The program with the campers is not all Lafarge is participating with.

“To continue to keep this program it is an ongoing thing so you have to continually update it with photographs and monitoring along with partners,” Wirgau said.

He said another project is nesting boxes that are being monitored in conjunction with Cornell University.

Wirgau and Vicki McCoy, who soon will be joining Lafarge as an environment/quality/chemical technician, joined the campers during their learning experience.

“They are getting their hands on. I always like to impress upon the education and work experiences. An all-encompassing experience,” Wirgau said.

Rawlings led a 20-minute warm-up lesson on mapping the phragmites and other invasive species before the campers began.

“Invasive species are aggressive and have some biological advances that allow them to take over an area and colonize rapidly and to really knock out our native species,” Rawlings said.

The coastline is particularly important to target as it is a sensitive environment, she said.

The students interacted with Rawlings during the lesson. “People spread purple loosestrife because it was pretty and it would do well in gardens,” Battle Creek camper Caroline Rorhus said.

Two Ph.D. students from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University accompanied the campers, camp counselors and AmeriCorps volunteers.

Camp counselor and Harrisville High School senior Morgan Stewart said this is her second year involved with the camp but her first year as a counselor.

“I’m having fun but I think I like being a counselor better. I can see what they are getting out of it and I like the new perspective,” Stewart said.

After the lesson last week, the campers divided into three groups and did all of the hands-on work while being observed.

After the two-hour mapping, the campers packed up the equipment with smiles on their faces and headed to camp for a well-earned lunch.

This is the first year that the campers have worked with invasive species, Plant Manager Allan Idalski said.

“We’ve had the 4-H camp from Chickagami on tours and fossil digs from many years. I’ve been doing the tour since I’ve been here since 2005 and I know it was going on before that,” he said. “My vision is to engage and support the community surrounding us in any way, shape or form. At the end of the day these are our neighbors. I live 10 minutes from here and I want to be a good neighbor and so does Lafarge. We look to be that good neighbor and support.”