Summer at the Wells Reserve: An Office in the Marsh and Forest
I’m Chloe March from Hampden, Maine. I’m majoring in environmental studies and Holocaust and genocide studies at Keene State College where I’ll be a junior this fall. During my internship with the stewardship program at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve through Maine Coast Heritage Trust, I spent my time leading a volunteer team removing invasive species, developing a species inventory, researching potential invasive insects of concern, and assisting in research and data collection.
The Wells Reserve is located on two estuaries, the Little River and the Webhannet River Salt Marshes. These habitats are vital in maintaining biodiversity, providing shelter for wildlife and aquatic organisms, capturing and storing atmospheric carbon, and enhancing coastal resilience through flood and erosion control and prevention.
The experiences I’ve been the most grateful for are the ones that took place outside. I’ve learned I can soak up knowledge as well as the marsh soaks up water.
With my tall rubber boots, I squished my way onto the Little River Marsh to assist in an invasive green crab distribution study. As I knelt over to measure the width of a green crab carapace, I considered the bigger picture. A hundred yards away, ocean waves crashed into the beach. Beneath me is not just dirt and mud but layers and layers of soil, peat, detritus, and nutrients that support the myriad of marsh species.
When I’m out there, I’m regularly reminded of the interconnectedness of nature. Even the forests of the great north Maine woods are connected to these marshes. The watersheds that feed into the ocean carry everything they encountered along the way.
I’ve grown familiar with many upland regions of the Wells Reserve. Every week I leadvolunteers to sites selected for cultural and ecological value so we can remove invasive plants such as Asiatic Bittersweet, Barberry, and Honeysuckle. Over the summer, I created a field guide to identifying and removing some of the most common invasive plants on the Wells Reserve. Removing invasive plants by hand is tough work physically and mentally.
The prolific nature of invasive species is frustrating. It feels like when one bittersweet vine is pulled from the ground, bright orange roots in tow, another three show up. Once invasive plants have colonized an area, eradication becomes less and less feasible and management is the only option.
I’ve learned that preventative action is most effective when it comes to mechanical or hand removal. Any actions to remove invasive plants are better than nothing, especially when removal is targeted to areas with the highest possibility of success.
I worked with dedicated volunteers along priority areas of the trails at the reserve where colonization’s of invasive plants were just beginning to take root or spread to other areas and control is still feasible.
Each week, donned with work gloves, mosquito nets, and layers to prevent the brush from scratching us, we uprooted many invasive plants. One of these sites was home to hybrid American/Japanese Chestnut trees. These chestnuts were planted to increase the population of blight resistant chestnut trees. Unfortunately, the chestnuts were threatened by swarms of Asiatic Bittersweet. Slowly but surely, we have made measurable progress in not only uncovering the blight resistant chestnuts, but also removing these invasive plants. This is just the first step in a new effort to address the spread of invasive plants as part of updates to the Reserve Natural Resource Management Plan.
I am looking forward to making even more progress in removing invasive plants, assisting in field work, and being a part of the Wells Reserve team for the next half of the summer.
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