I love learning. Finding out new information or someone teaching me about a subject that I know nothing about is endlessly exciting to me. At camp, there are so, so many opportunities to learn. One of the ways that I think I have learned the most is in the area of sustainability. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that Stewards of the Earth is one of our core values. When I interviewed to work at camp, I admitted that this was the core value that I was the most nervous about being to able to live out, not because I don't think it's important, but because I don't have very much experience with it at all. Before this job, I didn't know what foods are and aren't compost able, I had never taken care of chickens, and I could not tell you which plants on camp were native and which were non-native. Now, I feel comfortable with all of those things, and I like to talk about them. However, since I'm still a sustainability/stewardship novice, I will be linking to several articles throughout this post written by people who know much more than I do about the subject.
I mention sustainability because it's important for what I actually want to talk about: something that I have started to call the de-pineification. Over the last couple months, the camp landscape has changed pretty dramatically. The red pines that surround our amphitheater and the edge of the road leading to our dining hall have all been cut down, leaving a bare, straw-covered meadow where several dozen trees once stood. And I'm going to tell you why that's a good thing (or at least try).
When I first found out that all of the trees were going to be cut down, I was pretty mortified. At a very basic level, my opinion was: cutting trees down = automatically bad choice. What I found out was that these trees were going to fall down anyway at some point. The red pines had fallen victim to something called the pine bark beetle, causing them to die. So not only were these trees sick, but if we left them be, we could not control when or where they would fall. Remember where I said the pines were? It's one of the parts of camp that is the most traversed throughout the year, meaning that a spontaneously fallen tree could be devastating. So it made more sense to get rid of them now, when there are no groups on camp, and keep camp safe for everyone.
Not only that, but the red pines were only visitors anyway. They are the only species of pines on camp that are non-native to Brown County, brought in during the 1960s to stop erosion and play into a fad at the time of planting Christmas tree farms. Of all of the pine trees on camp, the pine bark beetle has only attacked the red pines, which is kind of the best form of poetic justice for our native plants. You might think, "If they are non-native, why didn't you just cut them down earlier." The simplified answer to that is, "because they weren't hurting anything." Red pines are not invasive and did the job that they were intended for, which was to stop erosion. There was no need to cut down healthy trees just because they were non-native.
So, we've cut down all of these trees down; what do we do next? We are incredibly lucky to be involved with groups like the Nature Conservancy who not only help us identify and remove non-native species, but also support and nurture the natives ones. Through working with them, the meadow will eventually become a pollinator field made up of native plants. I'm kind of way too excited about the pollinator field because of one big thing: we get to be beekeepers. Camp is going to be home to a hive of bees, which will get their pollen from a combination of pollinator trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. We have been working with a number of people to help us decide what to plant, and it is just so fun to listen to what they have to say, and it's fun to see just how excited they are, too. We have an awesome opportunity to not only create an awesome teaching experience for our campers and participants, but we are fostering growth for some of our native species in a space that has been taken up by non-native plants for more than 50 years. If that's not stewardship, then I don't know what is.
Articles from people who are smarter than me:
Forest Health Problems Impacting Indiana Forest Resources
Honey Bee Information and Trivia
Indiana DNR Resource Guide of Yellowwood State Park (talks about red pine-to-hardwood conversion in a state forest close to camp)
Indiana Pollinator Guide
Posted by Lauren Owen, Program Staff 2016-2017