Leader photo/KATHIE HEMPEL Bob Tatina, former professor emeritus at Dakota Wesleyan University, took attendees on a nature hike through the Dayton Wet Prairies following the presentation on the area by the Niles High School Envirothon Team. Here, he accepts a Dayton Wetlands fridge magnet from Envirothon Team member Kara Smith.

Archived Story

Envirothon team takes on prairie lands

Published 8:01pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Niles High School’s Envirothon Team spent Sunday afternoon informing Curran Road, Buchanan, residents about the natural wonder in their midst. The Dayton Wet Prairies, acquired by the Chikaming Open Lands from the Nature Conservancy, is the focus of the group’s 2012-2013 Michigan Envirothon Outreach Project.

The team, coached by NHS chairwoman Eira McDaniel, will take the knowledge obtained from their research and outreach to the community and put it to the test when they travel to regional and state competitions in the spring. Sunday’s outreach project will be one-seventh of the final score for the team at the state level.

Assisting the team is Beth Denton, whose daughter, Ellie Burck, is also a member of the team. Burck was unable to attend, as she is spending this semester taking special environmental study courses in Wisconsin. She will return for the second semester and the competitions.

Each member of the team presented information on the Dayton Wet Prairies. Jacob Huffman, the newest member of the team, spoke about the variety of vegetation and animals living within the sedge fen. This kind of ecological system is fairly rare, making it important to preserve. The variety of plant life found here rivals that found in rainforests.

Kara Smith spoke about some of the more rare plant life, such as the protected white lady slipper and the spotted touch-me-not (jewelweed), whose seed dispersal mechanism fascinated her. She and team member Mady Martin discovered blue lobelia previously not among the documented species of the ecosystem. Smith has also been reading about birds native to the area, including the northern harrier, Cooper’s hawk and the eastern massasauga snake, all of which are protected.

Mady Martin talked about things that can negatively impact the area. Agricultural ditches, which empty pesticides and herbicides into the sedge fen, carry with them undesirable nutrients that upset the natural balance of the system.

Invasive species such as cattails, reed canary, glossary buckthorn and phragmites also threaten to choke out the more delicate and rare plant species.

Winding up the presentations was Taylor Velez, who spoke of upcoming preservation steps being taken for the Dayton Wet Prairies. Chikaming Open Lands manager Sue LaCroix confirmed one burn was completed last year when the group first acquired the land, and another was planned within the next couple weeks. She and Velez informed those in attendance they were obtaining a permit to restore a ditch within the system, by blocking of a drain, in order to restore its natural hydrology.

Following the presentation by the teens, biologist Bob Tatina, a volunteer with the Chikaming Open Lands, took those interested on a nature walk through the system, pointing out some of the more interesting plant life and sharing his expertise.

He complimented the team on their presentation, offering some pointers for competition.

To support the NHS Envirothon Team and their travels to regional and state competition, contact McDaniels through the school. Donations to Chikaming Open Lands can be made through PayPal; visit chikamingopenlands.org.

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