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The Division of Natural Resources provides opportunities for schools, scout troops, and other organized youth groups to participate in community service projects benefiting local biodiversity and natural areas. These experiences combine an actual work project with educational activities and lessons. Service learning experiences are working projects, actively involving all participants - they are not field trips.
Our newest opportunity, Weed Warriors Service Learning Program, is designed to allow students to learn first-hand about one of the most pressing problems for our natural communities today – exotic invasive plants. Exotic invasive plants, or Green Invaders, are alien plants that grow out of control, spread rapidly, and damage the environment. An alien, or exotic, plant is a plant that has been introduced either intentionally or accidentally into an area that is not part of its native range. Not all alien plants become destructive. In fact, most plants that come here from other countries never escape into the wild and form free-living communities. Of those that do escape and become naturalized, only about one percent become Green Invaders. However, these Green Invaders become a HUGE problem for our native ecosystems because they reproduce and spread rapidly, overwhelming and displacing native plants, destroying native habitats and reducing biodiversity by creating one-species stands of the alien plant.
Green Invaders clog waterways, take over wetland areas and fields, and attack crops. They invade beautiful natural areas and crowd out the native plants, making the area uninhabitable to the insects and animals that had lived there. Green Invaders cost our country billions of dollars each year as governments and businesses try to control their growth and stop the destruction of crops and other valuable resources.
While the monetary cost of controlling Green Invaders is huge, the damage invasive plants can do to the environment is immeasurable. When Green Invaders overwhelm an ecosystem and reduce the diversity of plants and animals in the area, they inhibit the ability of the ecosystem to function as it should. Green Invaders are considered by many leading scientists to be one of the top two causes of environmental damage.
Mecklenburg County has several nature preserves, greenways, and other natural areas that are in danger of being overtaken by Green Invaders. Students involved in the Weed Warriors program will have the opportunity to learn about Invaders specific to our area in their classrooms, schoolyards and nature preserves around the county. They will then help remove Green Invaders from specific areas in Mecklenburg County's nature preserves or greenways that are in trouble.
For more information on the Weed Warriors program or to schedule an experience for your group, contact the nature center nearest you (see right column of page). Or download a Weed Warriors overview (83kb PDF).
Piedmont Open Middle School students prepare to clear the bottomland forest at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve of invasive Japanese Stilt Grass.
Piedmont Open Middle School students after their project. In total, the students removed 627 lbs of Japanese Stilt Grass.