In 2003, Nature Center staff entered into a research agreement with the Forest Products Division of the US Forest Service to investigate the removal of heavy metals from highly acidic water draining from abandoned coal mines in the Wayne National Forest. The project involves using lignocellulosic fiber based filters made from waste materials collected from the forest floor to remove heavy metals from a forest stream. The Forest Products Division has renewed support of the project for 2004-2005.
To emphasize the significance and potential impact of this research project, 80% of US fresh water originates in 650 million acres of forestlands that cover 1/3 of the nation. The 192 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands are the largest single source of water in the US. Approximately 3,400 public drinking-water systems are located in national forest watersheds, which supply about 60 million people. There are over 38,000 abandoned mines and hazardous material waste sites on National Forest land which potentially contaminate the watersheds.
Nature Center staff members have entertained visitors from New Mexico, Wisconsin, Montana, and Washington D. C. to witness the operation in consideration of duplicating the process. A paper describing the project was presented at the Applied Research Conference 2003, December 10-11, 2003, at Ohio University- Athens. The conference was sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resource Management. Title of the paper was “Removal of Heavy Metals from Acid Mine Drainage Discharge Using Lignocellulosic Fiber-Based Filters”.
In 2004, the Nature Center was given exclusive access to a private 37-acre wetland in Scioto County, approximately 30 miles from the OUS campus. University biological science faculty are using the wetland for class field studies. Nature Center staff, volunteers, and science students have unanimously expressed a preference to become involved in “wetlands” research.
The owner has zealously protected the wetland from encroachment by neighboring farmers who do not understand the importance of wetland properties to the ecosystem. For his efforts he has received commendation from The Nature Conservancy. The property has been in the owner’s family since the year 1911, thus there is almost 100 years of historical knowledge of the property. A group of botanist from Ohio State University surveyed the plant life in the early 1970’s. Survey by OUS faculty and students, compared to the 1970’s survey, will reveal valuable information about the health of the wetland and it will allow use of the wetland as a baseline for comparison studies of the health of other wetlands in the area.
There are plans to upgrade an area of the owner’s property, adjacent to the wetland, to accommodate large groups of students for field trip instruction on the importance of wetlands to a healthy ecosystem.
In 2005, Nature Center staff entered into a new partnership with the Wayne National Forest to investigate the abundance of non-native invasive plant species (NNIPS). NNIPS are a major threat to the health and productivity of our Nation’s forests. The Wayne National Forest (WNF) in southern Ohio is developing a comprehensive NNIPS management plan to deal with this threat on public and private lands in southern Ohio. The first step to and a major component of developing such a plan is mapping the locations of invasive plant populations. Lake Vesuvius Recreation Area (LVRA) hosts many NNIPS, such as multi-flora rose, autumn olive, honeysuckle, English ivy, garlic mustard and princess tree. Populations of invasive species in LVRA serve as sources of seeds which can disperse into other areas of the forest. Seeds from invasive plants in LVRA have tremendous potential to spread locally and regionally due to the high numbers of visitors who camp, fish, and hike in the recreation area. For this reason, the WNF places a high priority on detecting and treating invasive plant species in this area.
This project will be the first step in addressing the threat of invasive species in LVRA. By recording the extent of NNIPS infestations, WNF will be able to develop and implement a management plan for the treatment and restoration of this area. A proposal has been submitted the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to support two student interns from OUS who will map NNIPS, collect baseline monitoring data and involve the public in these activities at LVRA.
The LVRA (5775 acres) offers boating, camping, horse-back riding and hiking. The Ohio University Southern Nature Center is located in LVRA and offers boat rentals and interpretative events for park visitors. Approximately 375,000 people live within a 1-hour drive of LVRA and 90,000 people visit LVRA annually.
LVRA includes 17 forest types as well as several riparian areas. Many of these areas have been colonized by NNIPS. The WNF has already begun removal of autumn olive and princess trees in LVRA and is committed to addressing the threat of invasive species remaining in this area. Removal of NNIPS and restoration of infested areas in this recreation area is particularly important because several rare plant and animal species are found in LVRA. A database of rare plant localities maintained by the WNF and Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicates that at least 59 populations of state listed and regionally sensitive plant species can be found in LVRA. Rare animals found in or near the recreation area include the cerulean warbler and the Indiana bat. Other species that may be found but have not been documented in LVRA include bald eagle, evening bat, black bear, river otter, bobcat, timber rattlesnake, Olympia marble mussel, round hickory nut mussel, little spectacle case mussel and Salamander mussel. These species depend on native vegetation for food and cover and are negatively impacted when NNIPS displace native plants.
The objectives of this proposed project are:
• to map invasive plants populations in LVRA
• to establish an invasive plant species monitoring program in the LVRA
• to establish a partnership between WNF and Ohio University Southern (OUS) which will address the threat of invasive species in LVRA
• to use the partnership as a starting point for a future coalition of local organizations and government agencies which will develop a comprehensive Weed Management Area Plan for southern Ohio
• to increase awareness among community members and Forest visitors of the threats associated with NNIPS
• to involve community members and Forest visitors in the detection, monitoring and control of invasive plant species in LVRA