In the process of testing a pilot invasive species merit badge on a beautiful weekend this spring at Litchfield Wetland Management District in central Minnesota, more than 100 Boy Scouts from across the Midwest also tested themselves and lent a hand to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prairie restoration efforts.
The potential merit badge aims to immerse Scouts in understanding why nonnative plants and animals are so damaging to native animals and their habitats. The badge challenges Scouts to think locally, regionally and globally about the natural world. And, in the case of Litchfield WMD, it gave Service land managers help on the ground, removing nonnative eastern red cedar.
The Scouts came prepared for the weekend, with a working knowledge of invasives and a fair amount of research under their belts. They were at Randall Waterfowl Production Area, one of the most recently acquired WPAs at 35,875acre Litchfield WMD, to test the merit badge for nationally significant relevance and, as important, for the fun factor that Boys Scouts of America expects of all merit badges.
It appears to have passed on the fun count.
One young Scout loved lopping and dropping the eastern red cedar. I like the handson part, he said, Getting out and learning outdoors is so much better than in a classroom.
As for relevance, less than one percent of the original tallgrass prairie in Minnesota remains, and the Services Midwest Region is keenly focused on bringing prairie back. Much of the remaining prairie and its plants and animals are threatened by loss of habitat, with a primary threat being the invasion of aggressive, nonnative trees.
The Scouts involved in this pilot project removed hundreds 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 the Service 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 community service learning aspect of this pilot merit badge is part of Litchfield WMDs larger restoration plan, with the Scouts cutting cedar in preparation for planned prescribed burns later this year.
A Conservation Organization
Getting youth outside and learning about restoration work firsthand is a personal passion for district manager Scott Glup.
This is special for me because my family and I are actively involved in Scouting, he said. Im very youth driven, and introducing young conservationists to our newest waterfowl production area is a major goal of mine.
Scoutmaster Brian Reiners of the North Star Council of Boy Scouts of North America worked hand in hand with Glup and other Service personnel to make the weekend event a reality.
Scouts and the Service are perfect partners, Reiners says: Scouting is a conservation organization, and we believe in putting the outing in Scouting.
He says that the proposed merit badge is important because, while we have other biology merit badges, we dont have anything that highlights the problem of invasive species as a centralized issue.
More than half of Minnesotas remaining tallgrass prairie, grasslands and wetlands are on private land. To preserve this remaining habitat and to protect the trust species that use it, the Service must work with private landowners to manage their lands to benefit native species.
Final approval of the merit badge by a Boy Scouts of America panel will take six months to two years, according to Chris Trosen, a wildlife biologist at St. Croix WMD in Wisconsin who is involved with the project.
Tina Shaw is a public affairs specialist in the Midwest Region office in Bloomington, MN. More information about invasive species is at http://www.fws.gov/invasives/faq.html. More about the proposed merit badge is at http://www.scoutmasterbucky.com.