Restoring America's Great Outdoors:
Proposed Scouting Merit Badge Brings Reinforcements to the Invasive Species Battle in the Midwest
May 15, 2012
As a part of a wider restoration project, more than 100 scouts spent a morning on private lands near Randall Waterfowl Production Area in west-central Minnesota removing invasive eastern red cedar. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Boy Scouts from across the Midwest tested a pilot invasive species merit badge on Saturday, May 12, 2012, testing themselves in the process. This potential merit badge challenged Boy Scouts to think regionally and globally about the natural world and in the case of this Litchfield Wetland Management District based event, it also gave land managers help on the ground, removing eastern red cedar. Testing their biological knowledge, on a local, as well as global scale, this merit badge aims to immerse scouts in understanding why non-native plants and animals are so damaging to native animals and the habitats that they call home.
Scouts came prepared, with a working knowledge of invasives and a fair amount of research already under their belts before their boots even hit the ground. A young scout by the name of Parker said that he loved the actual work of "lopping and dropping" the eastern red cedar. "I like the hands-on part, getting out and learning outdoors is so much better than in a classroom."
Less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie in Minnesota remains and the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is keenly focused on bringing prairie back. Much of the remaining prairie and its plants and animals are threatened due to loss of habitat, with one of the primary threats being the invasion of aggressive, non-native trees. Boy Scouts involved in this pilot removed thousands of small red cedar trees on two privately owned native prairie sites where the Service has been working with the landowners through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Landowners and Service staff have been working together strategically to restore prairie by removing invading trees, returning fire to the existing grassland and implementing managed grazing where appropriate. The service learning aspect of this pilot merit badge was part of the Districts larger restoration plan, with the Scouts cutting cedar in preparation for planned prescribed burns later this year.
Getting youth outside and learning about restoration work first hand is a personal passion for Litchfield Wetland Management District manager Scott Glup. "This is special for me because my family and I are actively involved in scouting." Glup goes on to explain that, "I'm very youth driven and introducing young conservationists to our newest waterfowl production area is a major goal of mine." The restoration work took place on and around the Randall Waterfowl Production Area, one of the newest waterfowl production areas in the region.
Safety is paramount for all scouting merit badges, but especially true for this merit badge, as the requirements have scouts using restoration tools. Scouts are required to map out the potential hazards they may encounter while they work on these projects, as well as the proper protective equipment and safe precautions needed to lessen the chances of injury for themselves and their fellow scouts working on the project.
Scoutmaster Brian Reiners, of the North Star Council of the Boy Scouts of North America, worked hand in hand with Glup and other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to make this weekend-long event a reality. Reiners said that scouts are the perfect partner because, "Scouting is a conservation organization and we believe in putting the outing in scouting." This proposed merit badge is important because, "while we have other biology merit badges, we don't have anything that highlights the problem of invasive species as a centralized issue."
More than half of Minnesota's remaining tallgrass prairie, grasslands and wetlands are on private lands. To meet the challenge of protecting and preserving these remaining habitats and the trust species that call these places home, it is essential that the Service work with private landowners to protect and manage their lands to benefit native species.