Eagle Scout Restores Habitat at Audubon Center
by Finn Shelton
On April 24th, 2021, more than forty people came together at Denver Audubon’s Nature Gardens at Chatfield State Park with a common goal. They had generously volunteered their time to help fight the largest single threat to native plants and animals: the spread of invasive species. The process to get to this day began more than a year earlier and required effort and cooperation between many organizations and volunteers.
Griffin Shelton, the Scout leading the team, designed the project to address the variety of invasive species that prevent native plants and animals from succeeding. Invasive species are organisms that originally come from another area, meaning that native species are often unequipped to handle them. Because of this, invasive species tend to displace native plants, disrupt the local food chain, and impact animal habitats.
Recognizing the existing threats to the Nature Center’s habitat, Shelton worked with Kate Hogan, the Community Outreach Coordinator, to develop a plan to combat the spread of invasive species. Their strategy was to remove invasive plants and reintroduce native plants that had been outcompeted. Shelton worked with Chatfield State Park and received approval for a mix of native forbs and grasses tailored specifically for the local environment. He then contacted Pawnee Buttes Seed, who agreed to produce the seed blend and donate what was required for the project.
In preparation for the big task ahead, Shelton recruited friends and Scouts from several different troops. On the day of the project, Shelton separated his 41 volunteers into several different groups with individual tasks. For example, some groups targeted specific varieties of noxious weeds, while others focused on thinning out the native rabbitbrush plant. At the end of the first day, the group was pleased that they had eliminated all the noxious weeds within the project area. A week later, a smaller group of volunteers removed any new weeds that had grown and spread the seed mix across the project site. The project required nearly 400 hours of volunteers’ time.
During the summer, Ms. Hogan, Shelton, and other volunteers returned to the project site several times to do minor maintenance or remove invasive species before they could get re-established.
In the fall, Shelton and a team of volunteers returned to the site to remove invasive species once again and to distribute more native seed mix. The team wanted to recreate the plants’ natural life cycle. During the winter, the seeds will experience cold, damp conditions. These conditions will break the seeds’ dormancy and allow them to germinate when temperatures increase in the spring.
Another goal of this project was to understand the results of the team’s efforts to displace the non-native, invasive species. Shelton staked out several different plot locations and conducted a survey of plants within 1 square meter areas. The initial surveys were conducted in the spring before any weeding was done and were re-surveyed in the fall. Next spring, Shelton will return to conduct another survey with the hopes that the native plants from his seed mix are thriving. Shelton will share the results of his study with Denver Audubon and the other organizations who participated.
Shelton worked with many organizations to help make this project successful. In addition to the donations of time and resources from volunteers and organizations, The Colorado Parks Foundation provided support for the installation of signs describing the project and the threat of invasive species.
Shelton is often asked why he selected a project of this complexity. His response is that this project is part of an important, larger battle to protect native species and allow them to thrive on our planet. Invasive species are the single most damaging factor responsible for habitat loss globally. If we continue to ignore this issue, we will reach a point from which our planet cannot recover.
Shelton hopes his project will inspire others to take action to prevent the spread of invasive species. Simple things like cleaning your shoes after hiking or washing your boat after removing it from the water help eliminate the spread of invasive species. This, in turn, helps protect ecosystems for others to enjoy.