On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, East Georgia State College students, along with students from the Swainsboro Middle School SciFries Club, helped the Department of Natural Resources transplant endangered species at the McLeod Bridge Tract of the Ohoopee Dunes Wildlife Management Area. Both EGSC and the DNR are members of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA), a non-profit organization made up of universities, plant societies, museums, botanical gardens and state and federal agencies with the goal of preserving endangered plants.
EGSC Bachelor of Biology students participating included Joleishia Cooper, Johnathan Davis and Alicia Winfrey, along with their professor, Dr. David Chevalier, Interim Biology Chair. Their participation was part of their Plant Biology class. SciFries students included Samuel White, Serenity Foots and Christian Givens. They were joined by their teacher and advisor Deanna Ryan. DNR members were John Thrift, Private Lands Program Biologist with Georgia DNR Game Management, and Rebecca Byrd, Rare Plant Survey and Safeguarding Technician with Georgia DNR Non-Game Conservation.
“I learned there are lots of endangered plants and the depression pond helps them grow,” said student Serenity Foots of the experience.
Students helped plant Pond Spice and Pondberry plants around one of the ponds in the Ohoopee Dunes. These two plants are species threatened with extinction, especially the latter. Their plant family, the Laurel family, is being devastated by a disease caused by an exotic pathogen spread by an exotic insect. Atlantic Coastal Red Bay trees are now virtually non-existent in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and sassafras trees are being affected as far west as the Mississippi River—even commercial avocados are at risk from this pathogen.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to take a trip to the Ohoopee Sand Dunes and learn about the endangered plants there,” said student Samuel White. “Mr. Thrift and Ms. Byrd showed us how to spot and plant Pondberries. I also enjoyed talking to Biology students from EGSC who were helping with the project. I hope to visit the dunes again soon.”
The plants were grown by Henning von Schmeling of the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, Pandra Williams and Jeff Killingsworth (and staff) at Beech Hollow Farms in Lexington, and Heather Alley at the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia in Athens. The project would not have been possible without the help of Alan Isler and the staff of Region 5 DNR Game Management.
“Creating safeguarding populations of Pondberry and Pond Spice, as is being done here at the Ohoopee Dunes WMA, is an important tool in the conservation of these species,” said Dr. Mincy Moffett, Botanist with Georgia DNR Non-Game Conservation.