NEW YORK STATE -- There is a silent but important battle occurring across the planet. Invasive species are disrupting ecosystems everywhere, and a veritable army of environmental warriors are stepping up the defense on behalf of native life.
Regionally, NY State Parks is one group leading the charge.They're recruiting colleges to take part in a project known as FORCES, or Friends Of Recreation, Conservation And Environmental Stewardship.
Patricia Shulenburg is FORCES Program Specialist.
"FORCES is an intercollegiate program where students complete volunteer opportunities with us, internship hours, or sometimes seasonal employment. We have over twenty two institutions that we're affiliated with, and they are the foreground in the forefront of environmental stewardship projects in New York State parks," she said.
Kathryn Meyer is a FORCES volunteer and Lemoyne College senior.
"We kind of take it for granted a lot, but every single part of it affects us in some way,so we kind of have to think about how we can give back to the environment for all we take away," she said.
One of the projects currently underway is an effort to eradicate Pale Swallow Wort, a European invasive plant that was first introduced to the US in 1864.
Shulenburg explains, "It out competes native vegetation, it can be poisonous and toxic to other animals, and is an expense to control. "
Pale Swallow Wort is particularly deadly to Monarch Butterflies, which is exacerbating an already serious situation for these beautiful migratory insects. The invasive plant is related to Milkweed, a native plant that is essential to the butterflies' survival. The Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on Milkweed .
"Because these plants are similar," says Shulenburg, "they will be tricked into laying their eggs on this plant, however, the Pale Swallow Wort is toxic to the insects, and the eggs and the hatchlings won't survive. "
FORCES volunteers in Syracuse are working hard to remove the invasive plant, but Shulenburg says their work doesn't stop there. They are also collecting Milkweed seeds , which they will eventually replant in the Spring.
"We're taking Milkweed from state parks and we're using it in projects at state parks.The Milkweed that we harvest can be used in the grassland area, in the bird conservation area, it can be used in a pollinator garden, it can be used in a butterfly house, it can be used to stabilize the sand dune up at Sandy Island State Park."
Meyer believes that the work put forth is not only beneficial to the environment, but is helping to mold young stewards of Mother Earth.
"There are actually a lot of groups of young kids that were coming through to look at the park, and I think kind of being able to educate all ages, but especially the upcoming generations and tell them how important this is, I think we can really start making a difference. "
If you would like to learn more about FORCES, click here.