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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - New York, USA

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New York, USA
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hschulm16



Registered: December 2019
City/Town/Province: New York
Posts: 1
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I am Native American and because of this, I live in two communities at once; that of my tribal community and mainstream America. Living in both of these communities I have felt a responsibility to give back to both in whatever way I can. Little did I know that a family project restoring a pond would be one of the ways I give back to both my tribe and local economies. Growing up, my mother had always told me about this community pond where people caught fish, swam, and hung out. Not only was this a focal point for the neighborhood, but animals drank from the pond, wildlife consumed fish in the pond, and it supplied water to the streams that allow cattle in nearby dairy farms to drink during most of the year. The following project has been apart of a multi-year effort in cultural and environmental preservation. After learning about this scholarship I thought this project would be a good way to bring awareness to these crucial environmental issues and cultural relevance.


My family and I started with the basic goal of restoring the pond because storm runoff had filled the pond with silt and trash so we had to dredge the pond. After the dredging was complete a family friend who is a geologist rearranged the glacial till to create a gradient run-off zone between our holding pond and main pond, in turn restoring flow between the main pond and local stream (which was so degraded that the two were no longer connected). After the pond began to fill with water, my grandfather who is an experiential ethnobotanist, had brought up that we would need to restore the old biodiversity to keep the pond healthy. My grandfather said that the first step in restoring biodiversity would be to correct the PH balance of the pond so that it would be appropriate for local flora and fauna. As the pond began to fill my grandfather and I began to search for locally sourced flora and fauna to restock the pond and restore the previous ecosystem.


While working on my membership application for the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association I began to talk with various indigenous artists. I learned that one of the most sustainable and traditional natural materials they use in our culture are cattails. Cattails are essential in the creation of traditional hunting decoys, children's toys, clothing, and also a food source in the Native American diet. I had attended an educational program hosted by a member of my tribe about the threat of invasive species of the riparian zone where cattails grow. Further research into the threats faced by cattails showed that blights and urban encroachment have significantly threatened the cattail populations. Most importantly, I learned of the number of artists in my community who rely on their art as their main source of income and provide for some of their needs. Upon learning this I created a goal to create a restoration ecology and cultural preservation project surrounding cattails. Inspired by my family's own restoration project I realized that our family pond was a good location to grow cattails.


The shallow edge of the pond is the natural habitat of cattails and planting cattails would improve the water quality by filtering out impurities. I realized also that cattails are natural habitat for the fish that began to naturally produce within our pond. Without proper habitat, these fish could potentially die off and ruin the new biodiversity of the pond. With these benefits in mind, I sourced cattail seeds from local farmer who had them growing on their property and after learning about the importance of this plant, they were happy to let me harvest the seeds and plants from their fields. I then planted the seeds alongside shallow portions of the pond. I guided three generations of Abenaki artists through this process in order to work more efficiently.


It was important to me that this material also is used as a way of educating others and documenting the process of growing and processing cattails, so I reached out to our tribal documentarian and collaborated on a preservation project that not only serves to preserve the knowledge but also to promote the artists that I supply and collaborate with. Additionally, I have created a study guide that will be hosted by the Abenaki Artist & Education Center which is an open education resource website. The study guide details Abenaki uses of cattails not only relevant in terms of cultural preservation but also in terms of the environment because of its usage in improving water quality. According to my grandfather one of the local dairy farmers, the pond is surrounded by eight farms, three of which are dairy farms that use interconnected rivers and streams as a water source for cattle. Previously, there used to be seventeen family owned and operated dairy farms in our area, however, they were put out of business by larger, corporate farms or by no longer being able to keep up with expenses. It is important for our town's local economy that the remaining family owned and operated farms remain operational, therefore, I felt it necessary to increase the number of cattails planted to aid in increasing the water quality of farms and neighbors downstream of us.


Pollution is a major issue for our water supply. We have high sulfur levels that could prove to be a problem for our cattle industry in the near future. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when cattle consume large amounts of sulfur regularly as they do in the summer, it can cause cattle a variety of health including Polioencephalomalacia, commonly known as Polio, according to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching School. Sulfur even has a laxative effect on cattle effective their ability to put on weight. With cows consuming between 30 and 50 gallons of water every day according to the University of Kentucky they are at great risk for developing the before mentioned health issues. They also point out that water "the most important nutrient" that cows require.


Although this issue is meditated to a degree in our local area by are already a vast population of filter plants like cattails, these populations are facing decline due to the previously mentioned issues of invasive species and human intervention. With the decline of these plants filtering our these impurities, this could at some time in the future pose a major widespread health risk to cattle in my area and may cause such a prevalent business featured within our community to have financial issues as veterinary bills to stack up. This is why I want to grow this project and share this knowledge with the public to raise awareness about the importance of plants like cattails in keeping our water supply clean.


With this role of purifying water and providing habitats for aquatic life that allow them to thrive also ensure that indigenous wildlife are returning to the area to regulate these populations. In our pond, I have observed that species Great Blue Heron, cranes, and otters have returned to the local area. I am also trying to use to promote youth involvement in my community so they can learn to be better stewards of their environment and pass on these lessons to future generations. I hope next year that I can introduce milkweed plants into this project as it is another important traditional material to Abenaki artists and preserve this federally threatened species that also provides habitats for the monarch butterfly.


After the first harvest of cattails, I gave each of the artists who participated in my project a share of the cattails. They have reported to me that they have used their share of the harvest for making decoy duck toys that were available for purchase by the public in the marketplaces they participated in.
Date: December 31, 2019 Views: 1169 File size: 19.9kb, 5291.9kb : 4000 x 3000
Hours Volunteered: All volunteers worked about 100 hours on this project each
Volunteers: 4, including myself
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 to 84
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): Unknown
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): N/A
Native Trees Planted: 8, in addition to other flora
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