Last month, twenty-two Buena Vista University science students visited Whiterock Conservancy, a non-profit land trust that oversees a 5,500-acre nature preserve near Coon Rapids., to collect data as part of the site’s ongoing restoration efforts.
Upon arriving at Whiterock, the students – who are all enrolled in an ecology class taught by Dr. Melinda Coogan, professor of biology at BVU – hiked the area and camped overnight after learning about Whiterock’s history and conservation projects with site treasurer, Liz Garst, and site conservation land manager, Rob Davis.
The following day, the students conducted tree, plant and soil assessments at hillside and oak savanna restoration locations, as well as chemical assessments of the Raccoon River to investigate potential land use effects.
“It’s a really special partnership,” said Coogan. “It not only gives our students valuable, hands-on field experience, but it also serves as an opportunity for BVU to share our resources and knowledge with the broader community.”
Every other year, Coogan takes students to Whiterock to conduct ecological assessments as part of the site’s efforts to restore and conserve Iowa’s natural resources. The students then analyze the newly collected samples as part of an assigned project for Coogan’s class, and compare those results with data that have been collected over the past several years. By the end of the semester, the students propose additional methods that may enhance restoration at the site.
Since BVU students began visiting Whiterock in 2011, data have shown increasing levels of diversity and that native plants have become more dominant over the years.
“Our ongoing work with Whiterock allows our science majors and minors-no matter what area of science they are studying-to see the value of being immersed in the natural world,” added Coogan. “They begin to see how we impact the natural world and how the natural world impacts us. This is a valuable perspective to have throughout their lives.”
The next group of BVU students will visit Whiterock in 2019 to continue the data collection, which will be valuable as Whiterock further investigates the effectiveness of current conservation practices.