On October 9th, 2010, I participated in a flood plain naturalization project at the Burr Oak Bend to help provide a buffer for the river and to protect the native plant settlements. This was an ongoing Service Learning Project founded by the Central Indiana Land Trust. Our participation in the learning project involved removing invasive non-native plant species such as the Bush Honeysuckle. The goal is to preserve the native plants’ natural growth and protecting the natural wildlife’s native habitat. This project also prevents unnecessary erosion of the rive bank; helps control service containments and sediment pollutions; and maintain and improves the water quality of this river. I was particularly interested in helping remove the invasive plant species because I wanted to see how they affect our environment and what balance must be struck to adequately preserve and conserve our local environment.
Our project area is located just south of 206th street in Hamilton County near the Center for Earth and Environmental Science of IUPUI. As a group we walked through some of the native brushes to get to the worksite. The walk to the worksite was actually more difficult than what I imagined. There was a small “path” and I was surprised how difficult it was to actually maneuver through the brushes. Once we arrived at our worksite at the riverbank, Cliff, our guide, showed us what Bush Honeysuckle actually looks like and how to remove it from the environment. There was Bush Honeysuckle everywhere.
I was surprised how abundant it was. We were to cut down the Bush Honeysuckle with either a small saw or with pruning shears, depending on what size the Bush Honeysuckle was; the sizes varied greatly. Some were the size of small trees and others that were small enough to not even be noticed. Our guide directed us to cut the Honeysuckle down and then to drag it to large piles that had already been established from previous service projects. The process, started by the Central Indiana Land Trust, was to cut down the larger Honeysuckle, let it decompose for six months in the large piles and then to come in with herbicide and kill the small saplings that were left. This is a very tedious project and according to Bob Barr of the Land Trust, it is one that has been ongoing for about six or seven years.
Cliff explained to us that Bush Honeysuckle was originally brought to America from Asia in the early 1900’s. Travelers who brought the plant to American thought that it would provide solid shelter for small animals such as birds. It was also intended to provide a source of food for birds and other wildlife from its small red berries. It was not until a few decades ago, with the development of new technology, that researchers were able to break down the sugars of this berry and realized that it does not contain complex sugars, but simple sugars. This meant that birds that ate these berries were not getting the right amount of carbohydrates, which leads to lack of energy and prevents the birds from being able to fly long distances. With Indiana being in the center of many migratory paths, Bush Honeysuckle is detrimental in migration to many different bird species. (There was a study done in 1999 in the tri-state area regarding birds and Bush Honeysuckle. Researchers followed 600 birds that built nests in Bush Honeysuckle for the purpose of laying their eggs; when hatching time arrived none of the 600 nests had a single hatchling survive.)
Bush Honeysuckle is such a dense brush and it is so prevalent in the area, it has prevented ground animals’ ability to move through it. This is detrimental to the local deer’s migration patterns and caused an over abundance of deer in the area. In the early 1900’s, it was thought that deer would eat the berries provided by these Bush Honeysuckle, but through rigorous research it was discovered that they do not. Because deer do not eat the Bush Honeysuckle berries, they are forced to survive on other native local plants. This puts a strain on the ecosystem and the available food resources for the area.
Through the Central Indiana Land Trust’s service learning project, hopes of removing Bush Honeysuckle are quite high. The process is very unique as well as time consuming. It has taken six or seven years to begin to see improvement in this small Indiana area. But through the dedication of the Central Indiana Land Trust as well as volunteers, researchers think that Bush Honeysuckle will be completely removed and native plants will begin to grow again. By adding native Indiana vegetation, soil erosion will decrease, allowing other native plants to grow. A native vegetation canopy will decrease soil erosion and thus increase the water quality in the White River. With all the dedication and time that people spent doing this project as well as other projects around central Indiana, the Central Indiana Land Trust in cooperation with IUPUI has protected almost 4,000 acres and 15 nature preserves in the state of Indiana.
Because of this project I have learned how important native plants are to our local environment; they provide warm shelter to small animal species, food for many different species, and also maintains the entirety of the local ecosystem. Native plants help control erosion, which in turn help with the quality of water in the White River and ultimately in our state. In class we have discussed the negative effects that erosion can have on water and on soil quality. Sediment pollution is also an environmental issue that we have discussed in class. By removing invasive plants and establishing native plants near rivers and other waterways, volunteers can prevent sediment pollution. Prevention of sediment pollution in one area of a river can affect the quality of water through the entire river and also help control flooding. Through this learning project and through class lectures, I have learned how one small plant can affect the state as a whole. The ecosystems located here in Indiana , as well as the global ecosystem, are so beautifully balanced it is amazing how much it has endured through the decades with human population and consumption at an all time high. In the course of this project, combined with class I have learned so much about the balance of the Earth and what we need to do to help sustain it.