Baraboo students are getting firsthand experience in maintaining local wildlife.

Jack Young Middle School Science Club members met with Todd Persche after classes on Thursday to learn about invasive species and the issues they cause for native plants and animals.

“We’re going to go to an oak woods that’s about 200 years old,” Persche told students. “I need you guys to help me cut some stuff out of the bottom of the forest that’s not supposed to be growing there. It keeps the oak trees healthy.”

Persche, director of the Baraboo Range Preservation Association, taught students how to remove buckthorn and other invasive plants in the woods around the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County campus.

Before heading to the site, club advisers gave students a safety lesson on handling loppers, trimmers and other hardware. Once in the woods, the foresters-in-training hacked away at buckthorn, moved fallen trees and tackled a host of other projects.

“You might ask yourself, why is this a problem?” Persche said, pointing to a large swath of buckthorn. “Think about the bush up top — the roots are just as big underground, so they’re taking up all the nutrition from the good trees.”

Buckthorn is an invasive shrub that reproduces rapidly, creating dense shade and preventing regeneration of undergrowth in native forests. It’s also allelopathic, meaning it releases chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of other vegetation.

In addition to learning about the biology behind invasive plant species, Jack Young Middle School science teacher Melissa McDonald said the work was a welcome departure from the students’ normal classroom schedules.

“It’s nice that they can go and do their own thing because that’s so unlike what their day is like,” she said. “It’s all structured, and it’s all looking, listening, reading and sitting. For them to be off and making their own decisions and moving around is awesome.”

Since beginning invasive species control in 2014, Persche said he and other volunteers have made significant progress in the woods around the UW-Baraboo campus. He said he eventually plans to construct an outdoor classroom in the woods.

“You used to not be able to see anything,” he said. “Through four years of working with a bunch of groups — middle school, high school, even some of our BRPA volunteers — we’ve been able to get most of it out.”

Persche said the projects are intended to get kids outside and interested in conservation.

“It’s mostly this — laughter, having fun with your friends out here, being outside and doing something that isn’t screen time,” he said.

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter