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Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

SPEA receives grant to protect native Indiana plant species

SEPT. 27, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. --The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University today (Sept. 27) announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to begin control efforts of non-native plant infestations in the Hoosier National Forest.

SPEA will receive $50,000 for the four-year project, which will cover areas throughout the forest, beginning with the Charles D. Deam Wilderness.

"The problems with non-native invasive species continue to escalate, and conservation biologists realize that if something isn't done, many of our native Indiana plants may be in jeopardy," said Vicky Meretsky, associate professor of public and environmental affairs. "This long-term partnership with the Forest Service will provide learning opportunities for IU students and will help the forest with a major ongoing problem that threatens not only the ecological, but also the economic value of its ecosystems."

Non-native invasive plant species in mid-Indiana include stilt grass, Tree of Heaven and garlic mustard. Stilt grass and garlic mustard can grow in low light conditions, which allow them to survive under the forest canopy, where they can outcompete native wildflowers. Tree of Heaven, an Asian species, grows quickly, spreads rapidly and can replace the canopy trees of our native hardwood forests.

As part of the project, volunteers and students will remove targeted plants by hand or with mechanical means. The objective is to reduce the vigor and size of these invasive plant populations, which will minimize the threat to native plants and wildlife. The program also will continue to monitor the areas for any additional growth of these plants.

"The partnership is an essential step in limiting the further spread of existing populations and controlling newly found infestations," said Kirk Lawson, Hoosier National Forest botanist.

In addition to controlling infestations, the partnership has a conservation education component. Hoosier National Forest and IU's Hilltop Garden and Nature Center staff will educate the local community about invasive plants in Indiana, particularly around Bloomington. A student outreach program, targeting fourth through sixth grades, will teach students about these plants using interactive programs and classroom presentations.

The funding also is being used in a research project by Luke Flory, a SPEA graduate and doctoral student in IU's Department of Biology, who is studying the effects of stilt grass on native plant communities. Because the grass is a new invasive species in Indiana, little is known about how it affects native tree and surrounding natural communities. He also is studying possible options for controlling the species and restoring forests that have been invaded by it.

"This project is a great opportunity for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs to work on issues about invasive plants in the Deam Wilderness, particularly because it's an issue affecting the local community," said SPEA Dean Astrid Merget. "We look forward to participating in many more of these projects with the Hoosier National Forest."

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, located on eight campuses, is committed to teaching, research, and service in areas such as public and nonprofit management, public policy, environmental science, criminal justice, arts administration and health administration. The school maintains continuing relationships with a large number of public agencies at all levels of government; public and private hospitals and health organizations; and nonprofit organizations and corporations in the private sector. SPEA has earned national distinction for innovative educational programs that combine administrative, social, economic, financial and environmental disciplines.