The Core of Conservation

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Published on: Jun. 1, 2010

They spent the first few weeks setting fires.

“Our house smelled like we were a bunch of chimney smokers,” Americorps team leader Angela Young says. “We had to keep our clothes outside. But that’s over now. Now we just have ticks.”

Young is one of 12 volunteers with the Americorps National Civilian Community Corps program that spent the spring at the Whetstone Creek Conservation Area near Williamsburg. The group worked under the supervision of the Missouri Department of Conservation to carry out projects geared towards prairie restoration.

Young says they spent the first three or four weeks conducting controlled burns, then removed miles of fence and invasive plant species such as honeysuckle, garlic mustard, and autumn olive—a shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall.

“I think it’s kind of pretty, but it’s invasive so we cut it down,” Young says.

The volunteers hail from all over the country, and all but one are between the ages of 22 and 24. Most of the young men and women recently graduated from college. They moved into a bunkhouse on the 5,147-acre conservation area in mid-March and were scheduled to leave in early May.

John George is a natural history biologist with the Department of Conservation in Columbia and has supervised Americorps NCCC groups for five of the last six years that they’ve worked for the Department. George says their contribution is invaluable.

“Their focused labor helps us get more done than what we could do,” he says. “MDC employees have several areas of responsibility. With the volunteers, a lot of effort can be focused on specific tasks.”

The volunteers earn a living allowance of approximately $4,000 for the 10 months of service, and the host project usually provides room and board. George says that’s a bargain.

“It probably cost us $3,000–$5,000,” he says. “If I had to contract for the types of things they’re doing for us, I’d be looking at $20,000–$30,000 plus to do the kinds of work they’re doing.”

The property that is now Whetstone Creek Conservation Area was used as a cattle ranch before 1976, when the Department of Conservation bought it. Historically, the area was home to tallgrass prairie, savanna and woodlands. The absence of naturally occurring wildfires in recent years has made it a haven for invasive species that keep native vegetation from thriving, and much of the volunteers’ work has been aimed at restoring the property to its natural

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