ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Diane Husic talked about the work of the past 10 years at a Speakers Series talk. One of the researchers is Marla Bianca who is doing metal analysis on the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge.
Diane Husic, a board of directors member at Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, Slatington, updated the public on many of the things that have been accomplished in the past 10 years.
The land in the Gap was purchased in 2002 and by the following year restoration with warm season grasses was begun.
Eighty years of zinc smelting in Palmerton left the mountain dry, windswept and bare.
Ecological restoration is the intentional process of assisting the recovery of degraded landscape. It enhances biodiversity and attempts to return it back to what it was.
Since one of every four trees in the 1800s was a chestnut, there was no way it could be restored to what it had been with the decline of chestnut trees by the 1940s.
A savanna (grassland) was one of the models used. Plants were needed that could withstand the toxic metals. Experimental plots of various grasses were planted to determine what was most suitable. Eleven types of grass plots were planted and seven are growing.
As a superfund site the Environmental Protection Agency had jurisdiction and community participation was considered part of the restoration program.
Patches of grey birch, which does take up the metal, deposit the metals on the soil surface when the leaves fall. It also grows in such dense clumps that it is shading out the grass. The birch has been tested for metal content and it contains a lot.
Sandwort takes up the metal but is not damaged by it. By following the sandwort growth the edges of contaminated soils can be found. A Moravian College student is mapping those areas.
The plan is to keep the metals in place in the ground while providing 70 percent vegetative cover.
The wooly adelgid is killing hemlocks but not on the refuge. They do not take up the metals so it is unknown why the adelgid is not killing them.
Studies are being done on photosynthetic efficiency - how well a plant changes light energy to chemical energy.
"We do a lot of monitoring," said Husic. "Interns and college students are "monitoring tons of educational material."
People are amazed at the number of people who help monitor the refuge's beautiful flowers and birds.
Deer exclosures were planted with the same plants that were outside. It was expected that the exclosures would protect plants from deer and consequently they would grow much faster. However, there is not much difference between the protected and outside plants.
Sixty students from 11 institutions have contributed to three books of ecological assessments.
There are 23 kinds of mammals which is 40 percent of those known to exist in Carbon County. This is in an area where 10 years ago there was nothing. Even bacteria did not thrive and trees that fell did not decay without them. Fungi help plants exclude metals.
Thirty-one thousand birds of 169 species have been counted. There is breeding data recorded about the birds. The Prairie Warbler and Blue Grosbeak are of special note because they are rare.
Twenty-nine species of reptiles and amphibians have been found. On the northern end of the refuge there are ponds as well as seeps and springs in various locations that make habitat for some of these animals. The 29 are half the number the Entomological Society has found in the county.
Six species of turtles have been marked - with the exception of the Bog turtle, this is all that are in the county.
A good indicator of the health of the food chain is the 85 species of insects.
Forty-six species of butterflies are found on the refuge and a Monarch-tagging program is held every fall as that butterfly migrates to Mexico.
Husic has given presentations at regional and national meetings, and written for national magazines. It draws people in to learn how the refuge attracts so many collaborators.
Violets are being planted and nurtured so they can be planted to make the refuge a habitat for the Regal Fritillary butterfly that needs them for nectar. Presently the only location for them is Indiantown Gap.
A question and answer session followed. Husic was asked how the plants that like zinc take it up. She said a study is planned to determine if the plants recapture and store the metals or are just not damaged by them.
There is little protocol on the uptake of metals because a previous test is 15 years old when hunters provided the livers of deer kill for testing.
Trees that have been planted include various oaks and a chestnut grove. The chestnuts are back-crossed to the point that they will hopefully be blight resistant. The oaks are not doing well, Husic said.
The responsible party for the superfund site has been CBS that Husic described as a great partner in the cleanup project.
A good question was where to find out about volunteer opportunities. Husic is the research coordinator. She said people can send their names to Director Dan Kunkle and they will be informed when volunteer projects open - firstname.lastname@example.org.