Environmental literature students tackle forest restoration
Students in the University of Delaware’s “Introduction to Environmental Literature” class regularly put aside their books and journals and head out of the classroom to a nearby state park.
There, they pick up such non-literary tools as long-handled loppers, clippers, shovels and work gloves and set to work attacking some of the many invasive plants that are damaging the forest.
As they cut, chop and dig to remove stubborn vines and dense shrubs, the undergraduates are experiencing firsthand some of the environmental problems they’ve been reading and writing about in class.
“After many years of having my students wander White Clay Creek State Park and journal about their experiences, I started something new this semester — training them to do forest restoration work,” said McKay Jenkins, the Cornelius A. Tilghman Professor of English and a founder of UD’s environmental humanities program.
In partnership with state park rangers, Jenkins and the students have learned to identify and remove some of the invasive species that can take over wooded areas, choking out native plants and damaging the biodiversity that makes for a healthy environment.
On a recent sunny fall day in the woods off Creek Road, just north of the UD campus, the class literally had its hands full with such invasives as autumn olive, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry and bittersweet.
Students struggled to remove vines that had wrapped so tightly around tree trunks that it was almost impossible to pry and then cut them loose. They worked in teams to chop away at invasive bushes that had become thoroughly entangled with native plants.
The class learned that the problem is widespread across the U.S., with non-native plants threatening the health of woodlands and depriving insects and animals of their native food sources.
“Once you know about this issue, and once you learn to identify some of the invasive species, you start to see that non-native plants are everywhere,” said Katey McCarthy, a senior majoring in communication. “Some of them are beautiful, but knowing about the problem really changes your perception of them.”
Like many of her classmates, McCarthy said she appreciated a class in which she was able to see real examples of what she had been reading about.
Sophomore English major Henry Wolgast signed up for the class because of his interest in exploring different writers’ philosophies about the natural world. The class provides that, he said, but with the added benefit of hands-on experience.
“It’s a great class and a great chance to get more familiar with environmental issues,” he said. “It’s made me want to get more involved with these kinds of efforts.”