Research project gets people documenting plants, trees

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Jeff Grignon, a consultant for the College of Menominee Nation, checks to see if one of the Sustainable Development Institute’s phenology signs is level before dirt is packed in the holes Thursday on the college’s Learning Path in Keshena. Besides the phenology trail, the path also has exercise areas, a frisbee golf course and Glenhenge, an outdoor learning classroom.

Anyone who walks along a nature trail and wonders about how plants and trees grow can now find out for themselves through a project with the College of Menominee Nation’s Sustainable Dependability Institute.

New signs for the college’s Learning Path went up this week showing the phenology for a number of plants and trees in the forest land behind CMN. Phenology is the study of life cycles, and the signs will explain how the plants grow, leaf, flower and more.

“The Learning Path has a lot of things on it,” said Rebecca Edler, the SDI’s sustainability development coordinator. “This is the phenology part of it, where we’re looking at certain plants.”

Among the items being studied are aspens, white baneberries, bunchberries, jack in the pulpits, mayapples, milkweed, white pine and starflowers. While the signs are helpful to anyone walking the trail, they will also serve as markers for community volunteers who track the growth of the plants and trees through a research project funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

Volunteers will be given a sheet with yes or no questions. They’ll document the time and date of the observance and determine whether plants have emerged, started leafing or needling, bearing fruit or undergone other natural changes.

“These are all the phases that people record, and the reason we do it is to see if these times are changing,” Edler said. “If we go out on May 1 and see initial growth, in 10 years will we still see that growth on May 1?”

The Menominee reservation is a unique area for natural studies, according to Jeff Grignon, a consultant with the college. The Menominee people have been unwavering stewards of the land, he said, so the forests do not have the level of damage and decay that other forests exhibit.

“Our forest is so intact that it’s different from other areas off the reservation,” Grignon said. “The diversity is so intact that any kind of measures or studies we can do in this forest can be a baseline for what you want everywhere else when you restore areas.”

Grignon noted that there has been archaeological evidence uncovered that indicates the Menominee were carefully minding the forests of much of northeast Wisconsin about 8,000 years ago.

“It’s that long community tradition — continuing with Menominee Tribal Enterprises and CMN — those principles are brought forward to modern-day situations that give us a step up in the way we think and react to things in the environment,” Grignon said.

New technologies in the modern world are disconnecting people from nature, he noted, especially younger generations. The phenology trail and research project will serve to get people involved with monitoring the natural landscapes again.

“Be it the plants, the soils or the trees, this gives us a chance to reconnect,” Grignon said. “It gets you active. We all have particular plants that jump out at us, plants that we’re more prone to want to get to know. It’s almost like they’re reaching out to us.”

Adam LeMieux, an intern for the project, said he initially enrolled at College of Menominee Nation to pursue a career in wildlife management. However, his time in his natural resources classes got LeMieux interested in the biological side of plants, and when he learned the SDI was doing the phenology research project, he was eager to participate.

“Really, it’s been a blast working here,” LeMieux said. “It’s fun. You get to be outside in the field.”

Volunteering is open to anyone with an interest in studying plants. For information about the project or to participate, contact Edler at 715-799-6226, ext. 3043.