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WVHS students begin research project at wildlife refuge

on December 14, 2015

Last month, Warwick Valley High School Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science students visited the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex County, NJ.

While students in Mr. Touw’s AP Environmental Science classes have been visiting the refuge for years, this year’s trip focused on the issues of habitat management and invasive species at the refuge.

Mr. Touw’s students repeated a lab first conducted by Groundwork-Hudson Valley from Yonkers in 2012. This was a habitat survey of a refuge field that had become dominated by the invasive species autumn oil and tree-of-heaven, and by eastern redcedar.

The students surveyed 12-meter square grids selected at random, recording the density of each species within the plot. The Yonkers students evaluated the data and discovered that autumn olive density decreased as the field dropped down toward the river, and theorized that either a) WRNWR staff had already done invasive removal in the riparian zone, or b) that olive doesn’t like damp feet. They concluded more testing was needed. Groundwork students returned to aid staff with autumn olive control in the field; refuge staff then hydro-axed the area in winter 2012-13; and a controlled burn was conducted in 2014, all to help restore grassland habitat quality to the site.

When the Warwick students visited the site in November, in cooperation with refuge staff and their partner Groundwork, they repeated the sampling effort exactly as it had been conducted in 2012 and collected soil samples to evaluate back in the lab. These results will help answer the questions generated by the Yonkers students.

WVHS AP Environmental Science students begin research at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex County, NJ

WVHS AP Environmental Science students at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in Sussex Co., NJ

Wildlife biologist Marilyn Kitchell and Wildlife Refuge Specialist Chelsea DiAntonio spoke to the students about the refuge system and habitat management and invasive species control.

The day was a big success and the refuge is already working in cooperation with Mr. Touw to bring the students back for a follow-up field study or work day in the spring, perhaps in cooperation with AP Environmental students from High Point High School in New Jersey.

Tying environmental education, outreach and urban and rural schools together in cooperative research is an exciting initiative, and could lead to more such efforts in the future.

To view a photo gallery of the field trip, visit the district’s public Facebook page. (You can view this photo gallery even if you don’t have a Facebook account!)

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