GCS Service Trip

LCI is excited to be co-hosting the Grand Canyon Semester for Fall 2014 with NAU’s Honors Program and Grand Canyon National Park. The GCS students are kindly providing blog updates of their activities this fall so that we can live vicariously through their experiences– hooray!

By Jamie and Monika

Jamie, Emily, Jayleen, RobinLi, Natalie, Tiffany and Monica were part of the River A, Service A group. After an incredible six days on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon and a day of break, we headed out to Mangum Ranch for a service project. We drove up onto the Kaibab Plateau to help Grand Canyon Trust with their Green Strips project. Our project supervisors were Claire Martini, Ana Miller, and Cerissa Hoglander.

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The Green Strips project tested five species of native grasses that we seeded. The project tests different variables including whether the grasses grow better in monocultures or mixed together, and whether coating the seeds with diatomaceous earth would benefit seed growth. Over the course of three days, our group walked to various experimental plots and spread seeds of native grasses.

This project is significant because it will provide the basis of knowledge for land management in the West,specifically with nonnative grasses and fire cycles. Cheatgrass grows quickly, especially after disturbances such as fires. It emerges much faster than most native grass species, and thus “cheats” them in competition. Cheatgrass also spreads widely and creates a blanket monoculture, allowing for wildfires to spread more easily. This positive feedback cycle means that as cheatgrass takes over the landscape, it creates more fire susceptible areas, which in turn cause larger and more frequent wildfires, which then allow cheatgrass to grow back and beat out other native grass species.backbone

As climate change progresses, the Colorado Plateau is at a high risk for loss of biodiversity. Natural processes such as evolution cannot keep up with anthropogenic climate change, and many species are expected to be lost as a result. Invasive species that are aggressive and highly competitive will have a higher success rate, especially as the frequency of disturbances such as wildfires increases on the plateau. As Cerissa explained, loss of biodiversity is a large issue because communities with high biodiversity are more resistant to the negative impacts of climate change.

Our days at Mangum were an interesting contrast to most of the days we normally spend in the field. We spent long days in the field, from seedingabout 8 every morning to 5 at night. We spent our nights inside a canyon, where it was pretty cold every night. We woke up a few mornings to frost on the ground. But our nights were warm in the cozy little house most of us slept in, and the food was DELICIOUS!The Green Strips project tested five species of native grasses that we seeded. The project tests different variables including whether the grasses grow better in monocultures or mixed together, and whether coating the seeds with diatomaceous earth would benefit seed growth. Over the course of three days, our group walked to various experimental plots and spread seeds of native grasses.

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It was also an interesting change in our relationship with the people we worked with. Claire, Ana, and Cerissa repeatedly thanked us for all our help and work and willingness to work. We normally aren’t thanked for our days in the field, we just go at it, because this is our school, our semester. But they didn’t see us as their students for the most part, and I don’t think we really felt them as educators in a way. They all knew a lot more than us, and had a lot of really useful advice and information, but we viewed them more as really successful and knowledgeable friends.

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