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Science Class Helps Restore Living Laboratory

by Teresa Fernandez

At this year's Ashland Earth Day Fair, while hosting The Nature Conservancy’s booth, I met Haven Combs, an environmental science teacher at Crater High School in Central Point. Baby in hand, Haven's enthusiasm grabbed my attention. She was interested in the Conservancy's work and ways to engage her students in field opportunities.

I knew right away we could certainly help with that.

Within a couple weeks, I coordinated a volunteer work party for her junior science class at Whetstone Savanna Preserve. Located outside Medford, the 150-acre site is home to groves of Oregon white oak together with prairie and vernal pool grasslands.

Their assignment was clear: help remove curly dock (Rumex crispus), an invasive plant, from the preserve’s vernal pools. Awash each spring in native wildflowers as spring rains clear, vernal pools are small seasonal wetlands.

In the Weeds

The day kicked off the students' weeklong invasive species curriculum. But that’s not all. Unbeknownst to them, it was also Oregon's Invasive Species Awareness Week and National Wildflower Week. Perfect timing.

Invasive species are essentially things that don't belong in an ecosystem, and they often damage native species and habitats. Removing curly dock, an aggressive European flower with seeds that float and stick, helps restore sensitive habitats like those found at Whetstone Savanna.

Together, Combs and her students removed over an acre of the invasive plant that day. It was impressive! And while the site’s rare plants and animals will definitely benefit, they’re not the only ones. The students took away new lessons learned about local ecology and the environmental issues that affect them, too.

It was a great day for all involved, as is every day spent alongside local students working on ecologically important projects. Everyone at the Conservancy is grateful for the time and enthusiasm so generously shared by these Crater Lake High School students (and their teacher). Go, Comets!


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