Breathing life into an ecosystem alliance

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Jill Babski Myatt's student project for Camp Ripley is legendary in environmental circles. After spending a year and a half counting and identifying invasive plant species – commonly known as weeds – on Minnesota's 53,000-acre military training facility, the graduate student has opened doors for future student research and provided the U.S. military with invaluable data for managing its ecosystem.

Babski Myatt, now a wetlands specialist with the Oregon Department of State Lands, received high praise for her efforts and for the thesis she wrote to complete her master's degree in ecology and botany, which paid off handsomely in personal and career satisfaction.

"It was a unique opportunity," she said. "I got good experience in being organized and independent. It was a lot of work and a lot went into it, but I think that's why I chose to apply." She also benefited by having her tuition funded by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

"I was impressed with Camp Ripley," Babski Myatt said. "I went there expecting to see it torn up, but even where there's training it's still in almost pristine condition. It's a neat, neat place."

In a letter to the university following completion of her thesis, Col. Richard Weaver, commander for Camp Ripley, wrote: "I was informed that the data collection, final report, and recommendations prepared by Ms. Babski was one of the most comprehensive and well presented research projects done on behalf of DMA."

Babski Myatt's initial research has launched what Professor Jorge Arriagada, who supervised her master's project, predicts will be several more years of student opportunities in invasive species research at the encampment. "Things are going well," he said, referring to the positive working relationship with Camp Ripley, whose personnel are happy with the return on their investment. "We receive the benefits and they receive the service."

"The word is out," said Arriagada. "Students want to participate." Joe Eisterhold is one of eight undergraduate and graduate students doing follow-up research on Babski Myatt's project on distribution and control of invasive plant species on two Army training sites.

"I'm working on the next step after inventorying the species," Eisterhold said. Already he and Arriagada have produced a report on monitoring and controlling invasive plant species. He has experimented as well with seeding of competitive grasses to see if they will take over the weeds, particularly the poison ivy that poses problems for the soldiers who head to Camp Ripley every year for training.

"Now Joe is making a name for himself and becoming an expert," Arriagada said.

While Babski Myatt determined and mapped the "hot spots" where the pesky weeds were concentrated, Eisterhold has begun to work on a long-term management plan for controlling them.

"It's all about collaboration and interaction," Arriagada said.

- Marsha Shoemaker

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