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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

Thorny problem tackled

By Anna Dutke
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 21, 2007

With your help, two large scale sculptures, entitled "The Buckthorn Menace" and designed by artist Jim Proctor '92, will be constructed on two buckthorn infested sites in Northfield.

The first site is located downslope from the new Science Center at St. Olaf College, while the other is in "The Upper Arb" of the Cowling Arboretum on the Carleton College campus. The project pursues a novel alliance between art and environmental restoration by rendering the wood and roots of the invasive plant species buckthorn into forms resembling gargantuan dandelions in full seed.

The project officially begins on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in Room 305 of the Dittmann Center. The actual construction of "The Buckthorn Menace" pieces will follow in a three-week, three-phase process. On Wednesday, Oct. 10, there will be an opening celebration at 3:30 p.m. on the St. Olaf installation site to mark the completion of the project. The installation will then stand for a full year to allow viewing over all four seasons. The project will culminate in October 2008, when the sculptures will be dismantled and the site's landscape restored by the planting of indigenous trees and shrubs.

The construction process, as well as the completed sculpture, is part of a wider community education effort to raise public awareness about the environmental damage caused by buckthorn and other invasive plant species in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says on their website that buckthorn is a danger to ecosystems and wilderness areas because it out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture. It also degrades natural environments and reduces plant diversity.

Many members of the St. Olaf community are very involved in buckthorn removal projects in the area. Dan Hudson of the St. Olaf Bookstore has been working on buckthorn control in Hauberg Woods and Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Charles Umbanhowar, has been working in the Cannon River Wilderness Area. According to Gene Bakko, a Professor of Biology and the Curator of Natural Lands at St. Olaf, St. Olaf College has been doing buckthorn control periodically in the wooded areas of the Natural Lands for the past 15 years.

"In order for this control to have a chance of being successful, it is necessary for the general public to be aware of invasive species, such as buckthorn, so they too can help eradicate seed producing trees on their properties," Bakko said. Bakko hopes that the Buckthorn Menace project will help raise awareness on the problems buckthorn poses to natural areas and teach proper identification and removal techniques in order for the community can continue to control buckthorn populations throughout Northfield in addition to the St. Olaf natural lands and Cowling Arboretum.

The success of the project is largely influenced by the volunteers. Proctor will direct volunteers on the necessary tasks with the assistance of St. Olaf Student Naturalists and natural lands workers. No prior experience with buckthorn is necessary.

More information on the project and status updates can be found at Volunteers can also sign up on the website. While students are asked to sign up in advance, walk-ins are also welcome. Questions regarding the project or volunteering can be emailed to

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