U club works to restore wetland

The club will use an $8,800 grant to add plants to the Sarita Wetland.

by Emily Cutts

To those familiar with the Sarita Wetland on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs St. Paul campus, the area has many uses.
In the eyes of a civil engineer, the land serves as a facility for handling storm water.
For an ecology professor, it is a wetland with diverse plants and aquatic animals.
Andrew Carlson, the Sarita officer for the Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Club, sees it as a place to put lecture learning into practice.
âÄúItâÄôs been a way for people to apply what theyâÄôve learned in the classroom to an actual living laboratory on campus,âÄù Carlson said. âÄúItâÄôs a great place to learn about native plants [and] some animal species.âÄù
The area was once a lake but was drained in the early 1900s. It has since been converted into a wetland, but construction has disturbed the land for years.
Large-scale improvements to the area are in the planning stage after FWCB received a grant of nearly $9,000 from the Capitol Region Watershed District.
âÄúOur intent is to enhance the outdoor lab value of this site for teaching and research,âÄù FWCB adviser Peter Jordan said.
Even with the largest grant the club ever received, it still has lots of work ahead of it âÄî the ponds need to be made deeper, more signs need to be installed and access to the wetland needs to be improved. But FWCB believes the wetland can eventually be restored.
âÄúA set of hands down there can actually really make a difference,âÄù Carlson said. âÄúYou can restore ecosystems that way and, more importantly, you can teach people this can be done.âÄù
The group started to take a larger role in the wetlandâÄôs maintenance back in 2005. Members began by removing invasive plant species and larger trees from the area.
The group works to conserve, restore and increase the amount of native regional plants and also performs an annual trash cleanup after the Minnesota State Fair.
As its work expanded beyond cleaning trash, the group began to apply for grants. Initially, it received smaller grants from the Beautiful U Day Committee and the Institute on the Environment, but none of those reached the amount of the current grant.
âÄúThis is an unprecedented opportunity,âÄù Carlson said.
Originally approached by Jordan, assistant biology professor Dave Moeller applied for the grant.
âÄúHe convinced [the Capitol Region Watershed District] of our need,âÄù Jordan said.
Those involved hope the project not only serves as an example but also furthers the UniversityâÄôs mission of creating living, learning laboratories.
Some classes use the wetland in its current condition to teach students about wildlife habitats, forest ecology and water resources.
Moeller said he uses the wetland when he teaches about Minnesota plants.
âÄúItâÄôs an interesting sort of restoration project beyond the education component,âÄù Moeller said. âÄúHopefully this can be an example of how people can undertake these projects on their own shorelines.âÄù
The $8,800 grant will go toward purchasing native plants that will likely be planted sometime during the upcoming planting season.
Carlson said he doesnâÄôt know when planting will happen because heâÄôs still waiting for the snow to melt. If the final melt comes too late in the semester, final exams become an issue because students do most of the planting.=