By Teresa Shipley, ’05, SCA Staff
In the mile-deep chasms and high desert forests of the Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA) in Arizona, a war is being waged.
Insidious visitors are arriving every day and taking hold in the park, from the Colorado River floor up to the rim’s towering tangles of conifers. The culprits? Invasive plants.
Kassy Theobald, three-time SCA alumna and current Crew Leader and Volunteer Coordinator for the park’s vegetation program, says it is a hard battle.
“We’re always finding new populations of things that weren’t here before,” said Theobald, 26, in a phone interview from her office at GRCA. “There are so many visitors, and so many modes of transport for exotic species,” she said, that it’s easy for the plants to take root.
Theobald and three other staff members help run the park’s vegetation program. Next year, they look forward to the addition of three seasonal staff members to help coordinate volunteers and accomplish other important plant management tasks for the 1.2 million-acre park. Because of its small staff size, the vegetation program depends on volunteers to pull weeds, chop down invasives, salvage native plants and maintain the nursery. Lately, those volunteers have dwindled. In 2007, GRCA recorded 13,000 hours of volunteer service. That’s only about half of the volunteer time provided in 2006, which logged about 24,000 hours of park service.
The numbers are down this year, according to Theobald, because the park is recovering from a major funding deficit. That’s one reason why she is looking forward to the SCA Alternative Spring Break experience in 2008.
“Alternative Spring Break will boost our numbers incredibly,” she said. “Not only do we depend solely on volunteers, but I know SCA’s reputation.”
Theobald has good reason to be proud of being an SCA alumna. Her first experience with SCA was as a Conservation Intern at GRCA from 2004 to 2005. She participated in many aspects of the park’s management but gained special experience in the vegetation program. Theobald said her internship definitely helped secure her current position as a full time staff member.
“All the groundwork I did prepared me for this position,” said Theobald, who also served as an SCA project leader for two FIREMON teams and held another internship at the SCA Boise office before moving back to GRCA.
Of the park’s 180 identified exotic species, 72 are targeted as particularly invasive. Of those, 28 have been singled out as high priority for removal and mitigation. They include standard “bad guys” like spotted knapweed, tamarisk, Russian olives and Scotch thistle as well as more debatable plants like mullein.
Theobald says she makes sure to present her volunteers with some of the philosophical and ethical questions that arise from invasive plant removal, such as the definition of a “weed” or an “invasive.”
“I try to bring that up right off the bat,” she said. “That initial presentation is the key to getting [the volunteers] to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
In addition to a thought-provoking presentation by Theobald, SCA Alternative Spring Break crews can expect to hike some of the park’s most beautiful trails while hand-pulling and hand-cutting weedy invaders. Other projects for the week of service include de-winterizing the native plant nursery, native plant salvage and replanting, and graffiti removal from historic cultural sites.
To learn more about SCA’s Alternative Spring Break program, visit http://www.thesca.org/alternative-spring-break/.
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