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Alum Restores Mentor Marsh

Imagine seven years of grueling work depending on one day of ideal Northeast Ohio weather. CSU alumnus David Kriska doesn’t have to imagine. He lived it.

Dr. Kriska, who earned a Ph.D. in regulatory biology in 2017, is a restoration ecologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He and the museum’s Natural Areas Division team needed the perfect weather day for the next phase of their Mentor Marsh restoration efforts.

That day came on Friday, March 23, 2018, when a museum-contracted helicopter took to the air to disperse 200 million individual seeds over 40 acres of Mentor Marsh. The project was made possible by funding from foundations, other key partners and private donors.

The museum has owned parcels of land in Mentor Marsh since 1965. Back then, it was a picturesque preserve of swamp forest habitat. But in 1966, a salt mine landfill was created on a still privately owned parcel of the marsh. The surrounding plant life began to die off rapidly and salt-tolerant Phragmites australis – an invasive species of grass — moved in and quickly thrived. Ultimately, it spread throughout the marsh, driving out native plant species and wildlife.

Since 2004, the museum has been working to restore the marsh — using helicopters to disperse greatly diluted batches of herbicide in stages throughout the marsh’s 800 acres, successfully killing the Phragmites and mashing it down to prepare for new growth. After seven years of beating back the invasive species, it was time to use the helicopter for a new means.

Using records from the herbarium in the museum’s botany collection, Dr. Kriska and a team of museum naturalists identified 20 species of plants native to Mentor Marsh to include in a 200-pound seed mix containing some 200 million individual seeds. These included hibiscus, iris, marsh milkweed and a variety of native grasses.

The plan was to use a helicopter to disperse the seed mix into the soil on a select 40-acre plot where the invasive grass had been eradicated. But conditions had to be perfect.

“We needed a spring day with low wind that followed three straight days of dry weather and was projected to be followed by another three straight days of dry weather,” explains Dr. Kriska. At 8 a.m. on March 23, the conditions were right and the chopper took to the skies.

As the seeds were dropped, museum naturalists on the ground used 55-gallon drums to roller-press them into the soil.

“Already in the first season, several species were seen growing. More should arrive after another winter scarifies the seeds some more,” says Dr. Kriska.

Restored native plants can attract native animals and the marsh can return to its former glory. One species in particular – marsh milkweed – could have a profound impact on the iconic monarch butterfly, whose local populations have plummeted.

“We’ve sort of informally been trying to change Mentor Marsh from the largest Phragmites marsh in Ohio to the largest monarch marsh in Ohio,” says Dr. Kriska. “This would be a perfect habitat for a butterfly species that is struggling, so it can be a chain reaction of wins.”

Story and photos courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

This year,

Northeast Ohio marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River igniting.

Cleveland State, with its prime location near the river and Lake Erie, is joining in the celebration.

Through research, conservation and other means, CSU faculty, staff, students and alumni are focusing their energies on this most precious natural resource.

Since 2005, CSU has achieved a 34.6 percent reduction in potable water use per square foot. Nearly all campus toilets have been upgraded to low flush models that use only 1.6 gallons per flush.

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