Buckthorn bustin'

November 16, 2012 | 11 a.m.

Creation restoration retakes Bethel's environment by eradicating invasive species 

News | Kaylin Creason 

Buckthorn bustin'

Students spent hours cutting buckthorn at Creation Restoration's fall event. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Colin Veerman

Buckthorn is overtaking Bethel’s campus. Creation Restoration co-president Colin Veerman estimates that over 90 percent of Bethel’s campus contains buckthorn. Creation Restoration is a student-led club committed to preserving Bethel’s environment. “Our goal is to lead Bethel’s faculty, students and staff in a more sustainable direction and to teach and learn more about God’s creation together,” co-president Kirsten Wahlberg said. 

Eradicating buckthorn is one of Creation Restoration’s main goals. Buckthorn is a tree characterized by glossy, oval-shaped green leaves and black, berry-like fruits. It is an invasive species in Minnesota, according to Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. Buckthorn is a problem because it threatens the health of the environment. “It out-competes all the native species,” Veerman said. “In 50 years, when all the taller, older trees die off, there’s nothing to replace them but buckthorn.”

The invasion of buckthorn on campus has a community-wide impact. Because birds eat and excrete buckthorn’s fruit, they spread the seeds throughout the surrounding area. Bethel’s buckthorn may be seeding the surrounding neighborhoods. 

“It’s not just a Bethel issue,” Veerman said. The problem is growing so rapidly that members of the surrounding community have offered to remove Bethel’s buckthorn themselves. A few years ago, they cut down buckthorn from the shoreline of Lake Valentine, but it grew back. 

Buckthorn’s growth is largely uninhibited. Because it is native to Europe, the plant has no natural predators in the United States. “It gets worse and worse every year unless you do something about it,” Creation Restoration member Kayla Westerlund said. 

Last year, Creation Restoration began removing buckthorn from campus. They divided the campus into buckthorn-infested zones to make the project more manageable. This year, they are working on the zone between Seminary Hill and Lake Valentine. 

Creation Restoration led two buckthorn removal events this fall in which members of the group, along with student volunteers, used shrub-clippers, handsaws and chainsaws to cut the pesky trees. After they were cut and removed, Facilities Management chemically treated the stumps to prevent the plant from growing back. So far, they have eliminated buckthorn from half of Seminary Hill. 

Walking on the path by the hill, it may look like everything has been cut down, but that’s a sign of progress. “It does look like we’re just cutting down the woods, but really this is good for it,” Wahlberg said. In the spring, Creation Restoration will begin planting native grasses and other tree species to help rebuild the environment. 

Creation Restoration approaches environmental issues from a Christ-centered perspective. “We were meant to be stewards of God’s creation,” Veerman said. Responsibility is one of the club’s core beliefs. “The way we live has a direct impact on the world, the community and the environment around us, which has a direct impact on our quality of life,” Veerman said. 

On campus, the group is also committed to reducing waste from the Dining Center and maintaining the health of Lake Valentine. Last spring, they adopted Lake Valentine from the DNR. Off campus, they partner with other environmental organizations such as Great River Greening and the Sierra Club to clean the Mississippi River, plant trees and remove buckthorn. They also advocate for environmental issues in the Twin Cities.

For information about how to get involved with buckthorn removal or for more information about Creation Restoration, contact Kirsten Wahlberg at kmw98589@bethel.edu or visit the club’s Facebook page.

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