Restoring the sagebrush ecosystem: Lander Middle School

Restoring the sagebrush ecosystem: Lander Middle School

Dometri Nations, left, and Alandra French from Lander Middle School join scientists to plant sagebrush seedlings for the AML Native Plants Project. (Courtesy)

By Kristine Galloway

Educational outreach at Lander Middle School was the first piece implemented for the Abandoned Mine Lands Native Plants Project through the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Bureau of Land Management.

That project is part of an inter-agency effort to restore the fractured sagebrush steppe ecosystem across the U.S. West.

The Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) also is a partner and firm supporter of the project through Lander Middle School.

Don Newton, an Abandoned Mine Lands project manager for the DEQ, explained that the partnership is part of a BLM mandate for education and outreach, and BLM is funding the project.

Additional funding has been received from the Wyoming Mining Natural Resource Foundation. The Foundation’s mission, made up from the trona mining industry, is to partner in conservation and environmental stewardship.

The partnership, which began in 2017, brings Lander Middle School science students out to AML sites to personally plant sagebrush seedlings.

Gayla Hammer, a sixth-grade science teacher at Lander Middle School, coordinates the effort with Newton and Gina Clingerman, the archeologist and project manager for the BLM’s Abandoned Mine Lands program in Wyoming. Hammer also brought in some seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers.

“They thought this was a wonderful opportunity to do a real science activity with real scientists, instead of a canned lab,” Hammer said.

Those include Clingerman and Newton, a reclamation specialist, as well as rangeland management scientists, wildlife biologists and many other applied scientists.

Hammer selected students who have a strong interest in science to participate that first year, and they had great success. About 95 percent of the sagebrush they planted was still thriving the next year, she explained.

The students love the experience and show great care to the seedlings they plant.

“We had one group of girls that were naming each one and talking to them,” Hammer said.

Newton and Clingerman visit with the students beforehand to prepare them for the project, and representatives from DEQ, BLM, OSMRE and other organizations join the kids during the planting, which allows students a unique experience working on a team with adult scientists.

Hammer said, “(The students) feel, not like someone was looking down upon them – like you’re just a kid – but like an equal in this project. They don’t get the opportunity very often to have that kind of attention.”

She added that this project gives the students some ideas of scientific careers they may never have considered, and it gives them an opportunity to see why science and math are important in the real world, not just in the classroom.

Hammer said the students will head out to plant sagebrush this year during the first week of November.

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