Perpich News

Environmental Stewardship of Perpich Campus by Science Students

Derek Debrauske, Science Instructor, with some of the students involved in the project

May 10, 2024

On Friday, May 10th, Derek Debrauske’s science classes (Biology and Environment & Sustainability) practiced environmental stewardship of our Perpich campus. The groups planted four white pine seedlings on the hill on the east side of campus, between the Main building and Gaia. The seedlings were an Earth Day donation from a local business. Debrauske and Aaron Culey, Plant Maintenance Engineer, scouted a location on campus that would suit the growing habits of the trees and be accessible to the students to observe them as they mature.

They also crawled around in the weeds and brush to remove all of the garlic mustard from our pond. Garlic mustard is a persistent, invasive species that spreads easily and can take over critical habitats. The students performed this stewardship in hopes to not only make our campus more enjoyable to walk through, but also more functional as an ecosystem.

“By learning these practical skills, I hope my students will all carry environmental stewardship with them home throughout the state,” said Debrauske.

Ian Garrido-Lavender (Musical Theater 2025) said, “I think the nature we have on campus is totally a highlight in attending Perpich. It’s really encouraged to go outside. Deciding to take care of this gift properly is encouraging and I feel like we are doing our part to make Perpich a better place in the long term. I hope future students also find delight in the practice of nurturing the land we reside on.”

“White pines once covered our state and a bit of hiking is needed to even see the oldest specimens,” said Culey. “Thanks to Derek and his class, the future students of Perpich can admire a new generation of forested growth!”

Aaron Culey offered a deeper look into the process. “Before planting the saplings, students removed sod around the area which is important to cut down on the competition for nutrients and improves the penetration of rainwater during lighter rainfalls. Sod root systems can act as a spongy, impermeable layer that soaks up rainwater before it can reach lower soils and recharge groundwater and aquifers. In the removal of the sod layer, students were also shown how the shallow roots of lawn grasses cause browning in the summer as they cannot source water more than three inches down in the ground. Trees and native plants, on the other hand, have deep taproots that can mine subsoils and clay layers to access groundwater all year round. The sod was not wasted as there are many low points and compacted areas in our turf that do not support seed or rhizomatic reproduction of grasses and other ground covers. This is because most life requires oxygen and when soils compact or are submerged in water for extended periods they become anaerobic, killing beneficial soil microbes and macrofauna and also choking out root systems. These anaerobic soils were broken up and sod was transplanted to fill their voids. White pines thrive in acidic soils so before planting the pines, each class mixed in pine needles (harvested from under the existing mature white pines around the pond) into the soil to kickstart a natural self-mulching process that all trees use to fertilize themselves and to choke out their competition. It is rare to find grass growing in established woods because leaf litter keeps lower growing plants at bay. Healthy forests instead have floors covered in shrubs and wildflowers.”