Wetland Excursion

This is a paper I wrote for my environmental management class.  It tells a little of what I’ve learned and how I’m trying to pass that knowledge on.

Enjoy!

Chris

(Intro Omitted)

A Walk in the Park

As we climbed out of our car, I noticed what appeared to be Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) draped across the outer ring of trees.  We stopped momentarily while I explained some of the problems caused by the invasive plant and then quickly moved to the park entrance.  We walked down a short, wooded path to a clearing where we became worried that we might not make it into the park.  The park entrance acts as a natural moat where a shallow creek is bifurcated by a soft, muddy slough.  Fortunately, previous flooding had scattered debris throughout the area.  A few cautious steps proved the debris would keep us out of the mire, so we gingerly made our way onto the island.  After crossing the stream on a makeshift bridge to the island, I looked back at the slough and considered its place in the local water cycle.  The park is part of a larger riparian zone, which plays an important role in the local water cycle by acting as a natural filter for water entering the river.  The creek draws water from runoff from the surrounding hills, which act as a nonpoint source for surface water pollution.  The hills are filled with homes and commercial buildings, many of which have replaced farmland in the past few years.  The area’s growth has likely changed the chemical content of runoff while altering the flows of rain water, but recently added retention ponds and bioswales (Hogan 2010) should be lowering the levels of toxins which are making it to the stream and therefore into the river.  By decreasing the release of water from the hills to the stream, the stream has a greater opportunity to capture and process the chemicals that pass through.  This greatly reduces the chances of cultural eutrophication in the river.  I saw numerous minnows, but very little algae in the slow-moving stream, which seemed a crude indicator in favor of this hypothesis.  Its ability to retain water and store chemicals is probably the highest order natural service function performed by this wetland.  Unfortunately, the balance of nature may be tipped by the construction of a new apartment complex on the hill above the park, which is replacing the area’s largest remaining undeveloped space.  The plans for the property show the main drive going straight uphill from head end of the park’s stream.  The change from an unbroken grassy field to one primarily featuring impervious surfaces will create a makeshift funnel for storm runoff for the new development bringing greater volumes of water and additional types and greater intensity of toxins.

Big Muddy Island

Upon entering the island, we came to a “T” in the path and decided to go to the right, as that was the longest route on the park map.  I saw some tracks in the mud there and asked Antonio if he could identify them.  He responded, “Deer,” much to my surprise.  He then asked me if we might see one and I responded that we might while thinking that it was unlikely.

Bangert Island

We started making our way down the trail and discussed the things that caught our attention.  I was struck with how I was suddenly viewing nature through a new lens.  Having grown up in the area, I have spent countless hours hiking, fishing and formerly hunting through similar environments, but never before had I looked at them the way in which I now did.  Previously, I had seen nature primarily from an aesthetic perspective.  That filter remained, but it was joined by a systems perspective that considers the cyclical stocks and flows of resources in the environment.  This added to the enjoyment of the experience as my appreciation of the beauty of nature was heightened by my fledgling understanding of the balance of competition and coexistence of the numerous species in the environment.  It was also nice to have this knowledge to share with Antonio.

I found it interesting to try to piece together the factors that fostered differing types and densities of plant life.  In general, the park is dominated by densely packed, old growth deciduous trees.  In areas where little sunlight reaches the ground, the sparse undergrowth stood in stark contrast to the lush canopy above.  Areas with greater sunlight showed a wider range of biodiversity.  Interestingly, two separate fields that appeared to be distinct monocultures proved on closer inspection to be filled with the same plant.  The conditions in one field held the plants to a height of about two feet, while those in the other were nearly twice as tall.  Another interesting observation was the difference in plant variety between the relative lowlands, which are likely inundated multiple times throughout the year, and the sections which are elevated enough to avoid all but the likes of the flood of 1993.  The lower areas featured sparse vegetation.  The squatty plants there showed limited biodiversity.  The view above either side of these flatlands stood in stark contrast to the land below.  The soft, rolling hills up top were loaded with diverse vegetation as well as greater numbers and variety of animals.

We eventually ran into a submerged portion of trail after we had hiked for a couple of hours, so we made the decision to head back towards the car.  Having taken in much of the section of trail on the way in, we made quick work of the return trip stopping only for things that availed themselves due to the change in perspective. As we were nearing the slough, we were pleasantly surprised by the appearance of a female whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The fully grown doe bounded gracefully across the path just twenty yards in front of us before quickly disappearing in the brush.  Watching Antonio’s face light up, I knew it was the highlight of his day.

Fungus Among Us

The things that seemed to garner the bulk our attention were the park’s broad variety of mushrooms.  Foraging for wild mushroom is an activity that I have been interested in for some time, as the concept has always seemed like a treasure hunt of sorts.  I came across a couple of interesting websites, which helped me gain a better understanding of the species.  I came across an interesting website, rogersmushrooms.com, which helped me gain a basic understanding of the species.  The site has two useful keys to use for mushroom identification.  The Visual Key helped me start to distinguish between the various families and the Easy Key assisted with identifications.

The first species I tried to identify (Figure 2) appears to have been an Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus).  To me, these were some of the park’s most aesthetically pleasing varieties.

Oyster Mushrooms

Another fungus I attempted to identify (Figure 3) most closely resembled the Ox Tongue (Rogers Plants Ltd 2009) or Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)displayed on the Roger’s Mushrooms website.  The site states that these are edible, but I don’t think I trust my novice identification abilities enough to toss this one into a sauté pan.

Ox Tongue?

Environmental Management

The most obvious issue the park has to contend with is the presence of Kudzu.  It does not appear that any remediation efforts are currently being made to eradicate this invasive species.  While the plant has not yet gotten a large foothold in the park, it is likely to do so if it continues to grow unabated.  A website put forth by Clemson University’s extension school (Kudzu Eradication 2003) appears to suggest that eradicating the species in an environmentally responsible manner may prove difficult in this area, as the most effective herbicides are not recommended for use near waterways.

An additional option that park management may wish to consider is to create a walkway into the park.  The current entrance is dependent on reasonably dry weather to allow passage onto the island.  The wetter the conditions, the more likely visitors would be to damage plant life, or to choose not to enter the park at all.  A simple elevated walkway would minimize the impact to the slough area, while making the park accessible a greater percentage of the time.

Appendix

  1. A. Natural Service Functions Provided by the Wetland

Chapter 21 of the Botkin & Keller text lists eight natural service functions of wetlands.  Bangert Island provides all of these functions with the slight modification to number six which the text references as a buffer provided by a coastland.

  1. 1. Natural Sponge for Water
  2. 2. Water Discharge
  3. 3. Nursery grounds for plants and animals
  4. 4. Natural filter to purify water; Plants trap sediments and toxins
  5. 5. Cycling of nutrients (Fallen trees teaming with life)
  6. 6. Buffer for floods from the Missouri River
  7. 7. Storage site for organic carbon, stored in living plants, animals and rich soils
  8. 8. Aesthetically pleasing

B. Non-Cited Resources

In researching this paper I came across a wealth of information from several websites that were generally useful, but not specifically cited in the paper.  These sites will help me as I work to learn more about the local environment and the important functions that it provides.

The following resources were instrumental in helping me gain a general understanding of the wetland I visited, but were not directly cited in the paper.

  • · St. Charles County Parks & Recreation – parks.sccmo.org
  • · Midwest Invasive Plant Network – MIPN.org
  • · Illinois Natural History Survey – INHS.UIUC.edu
  • · Missouri Wildflower Guide – missouriwildflowerguide.com

Works Cited

Bassett, Barbara. Missouri Department of Conservation. April 27, 2010. http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/outdoor-recreation/how/mushrooms/safe-mushroom-hunting (accessed October 09, 2010).

Hogan, C Michael. The Encyclopedia of Earth – Bioswales. April 28, 2010. http://www.eoearth.org/article/Bioswale (accessed October 10, 2010).

Kudzu Eradication. April 2003. http://www.clemson.edu/extfor/publications/ec656/ (accessed October 10, 2010).

Odocoileus virginianus. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/pictures/Odocoileus_virginianus.html (accessed October 06, 2010).

Pueraria lobata. http://www.missouriplants.com/Bluealt/Pueraria_lobata_page.html (accessed October 10, 2010).

Rogers Plants Ltd. Fistulina hepatica. September 12, 2009. http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/gallery/DisplayBlock~bid~5925.asp (accessed October 11, 2010).

—. Pleurotus ostreatus. November 2008. http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/gallery/DisplayBlock~bid~6651~source~gallerychooserresult.asp (accessed October 11, 2010).