Michigan middle school gets national recognition for invasive education effort

Eighth grade students from Houghton Middle School formed a team which is hoping to heighten their region’s awareness of the threat to local ecosystems by newer unwanted invasive species.

The team worked with experts to evaluate the effectiveness of various treatments to Japanese Knotweed. Photo credit: Invasive Species Awareness in the U.P. website
The team worked with experts to evaluate the effectiveness of various treatments to Japanese Knotweed. Photo credit: Invasive Species Awareness in the U.P. website

The community of Houghton is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula surrounded by Lake Superior in the northern most part of Michigan. Serving as a gateway to pristine Isle Royale National Park, the area’s natural resources have long been considered as a valued asset.

Michigan State University Extension suggests that invasive species are a significant threat to Michigan’s native biodiversity with wide-ranging negative impacts. They are aggressive competitors, which can dominate and replace native diversity. More information on this important topic can be found in A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities. Hard copies of this publication are available through the Michigan Natural Features Inventory as well as through many county conservation district offices.

As a response to this invasive threat, a team of eighth grade students from Houghton Middle School worked on a project to educate themselves and the public about the threat to local ecosystems and personal property from invasive species. Meeting weekly over their lunch period and outside of school under the guidance of their science teacher Sarah Geborkoff, they developed a plan of action.

The students have visited a research plot near their school to study impact from invasive Japanese Knotweed. On this plot they helped measure and assess control efforts implemented earlier as part of a Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area project. The group has made presentations to other classes from their school and provided native tree seedlings and seed mixes. In addition, they have made presentations to the local school board and other area organizations. They developed a website to help spread the word about threats from invasive plants.

As a result of these projects, the group has been identified as one of eight middle school Lexus Scholastic Eco Challenge teams to move on to the second round of a national challenge. As a reward for their efforts and advancement to the next round, the school was awarded $10,000 in the name of their Middle School Eco Challenge team.

The team is now eagerly engaged in round two challenge efforts, and can earn up to $30,000 in additional funds. They are expanding their educational project by making a broader Lake States regional effort. They hope to accomplish this by further developing their website and through presentations to civic, resource and governmental organizations.

Current winter conditions limit any hands-on kind of field efforts but they are hoping to be able to be able to dig into some local projects once the warmer spring growing season gets under way to augment their current educational outreach efforts.

The team states their mission is to educate ourselves and our community about the importance of native plants in the Upper Peninsula. Through these efforts they are hoping to be one of four middle-school Eco Challenge teams to be recognized in round 2 of the Lexus Scholastic Eco Challenge and win up to $30,000 more in funds for their team and school.

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