Wetlands work earns Nebraska high school students EPA award

April 18, 2012
Students from Niobrara High School in Niobrara, Neb., are being recognized with EPA Region 7's 2011 President's Environmental Youth Award for their work on a wetlands conservation project...

KANSAS CITY, KS, Apr. 18, 2012 -- Students from Niobrara High School in Niobrara, Neb., are being recognized with EPA Region 7's 2011 President's Environmental Youth Award for their work on a wetlands conservation project. The Purple Loosestrife Project focused on controlling purple loosestrife, an aggressively invasive plant species, around the town of Niobrara.

The project developed six years ago as a plan for the high school biology class to get out of the building and become directly involved in wetland conservation. Students dig thousands of loosestrife roots out of the wetland areas and use the plants to raise Galerucella beetles in captivity. A host-specific biological control method, the beetles are propagated to maintain biodiversity in the wetlands by eating only purple loosestrife plants. The project, which meets state and local science standards, gives students the opportunity to do real science work while engaging them in problem-based learning.

The Purple Loosestrife Project, which started out as a one-day-a-year community service project, has grown into a year-long intensive conservation program and a legacy project that passes from one biology class to the next. During the past year, biology students collaborated with various state and federal agencies, including Nebraska Game and Parks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lower Niobrara Natural Resource District, Missouri National Recreational River and County Invasive Species boards, to raise Galerucella beetles to be distributed on public lands. Thousands of beetles were raised at Niobrara High School in a constructed pond in an under-used playground area. The effect the beetles had on purple loosestrife infestations has been documented using GPS and population counts. The result has been an increase in diversity in wetlands that were completely infested with the "purple plague."

"This project has given students an opportunity to become more involved in their community and helps them understand we must help maintain and protect the environment," said EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks. "It is an outstanding student-led project, and the students are commended for their efforts as environmental stewards."

The President's Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) have been presented annually since 1971 to honor students in kindergarten through 12th grade who develop projects that help protect their environment and promote environmental awareness in their communities.

To be considered for the 2012 PEYA competition in Region 7, applications must be submitted no later than December 31, 2012. For applications, contact Denise Morrison, Office of Public Affairs, EPA Region 7. Mrs. Morrison can be reached at 913-551-7402, or toll-free at 1-800-223-0425, or by email at [email protected].


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