Students Help at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

Marching out of the Discovery Center at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on a recent Tuesday, a dozen young people in bright blue shirts set to work shoveling dirt, maneuvering wheelbarrows, unraveling hoses and hefting 5-gallon pots. They were members of the Student Conservation Association, and their efforts were directed toward building a garden to sustain monarch butterflies.

The Facts reports the association is a nonprofit organization based in Houston that connects youth to environmental service projects throughout the region. The butterfly garden was just one project the crew will tackle during the next two weeks they spend at the refuge, helping managers restore habitat for birds and other wildlife.

"Without them, these projects wouldn't get done," said Tom Schneider, the outdoor recreation planner for the refuge. "These are projects that have been outstanding for a long time.

"We have very limited staff, and without their young energy here, we just couldn't do it."

Students who participate in the conservation association program spend six weeks in the summer traveling to different sites and completing environmental conservation projects. The work varies at each site.

For example, they might help maintain or construct trails, or remove invasive species.

At the Brazoria refuge, the crew will help resource managers with tasks ranging from pulling weeds to moving old railroad ties to collecting and removing invasive apple snails. More than doing work to help the environment, the students aim to inspire other youth to get involved outdoors.

"Something else we've really learned is, because it's older people that work at these places, it's hard for them to reach the youth," said Erika Munoz, a student crew leader for the crew working at Brazoria.

"We're a bridge basically between these organizations and the youth, which is really important, because they're the ones that are going to take over eventually."

Marili Perez and Avani Bhakta, both freshman at the University of Houston-Downtown, agreed. They said they felt it was important to take action in light of global climate change.

"It's good for the community, and for the next generation," Bhakta said.

The crews aren't all about work. They also try to have fun, Munoz said.

In addition to the conservation projects, the students take part in educational programs at each of the sites they visit.

Before building the butterfly garden, they listened to a presentation about butterflies and helped feed some butterflies at the refuge. They will also get a chance to kayak in the refuge.

The program also tries to introduce students to new experiences. Earlier in the program, they had all gone to eat at a vegan Indian food restaurant, said Munoz.

"It's not just about getting these projects done, it's also teaching them about things they've never been introduced to," she said. "Some of them had never eaten vegetarian food, or Indian food. They learned so much."

For the refuge, projects like those completed by the student conservation crew will help managers achieve long-term goals for the wildlife, said Schneider.

One goal is bringing back the Attwater prairie chicken.

"These are really important projects," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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