By Dr. Michael D. Izard-Carroll
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boasts a highly educated staff. In the Buffalo District alone, employees collectively have over 60 different types of certifications, more than 30 master’s degrees, and four doctorate degrees. Buffalo District biologist Kathleen Buckler recently obtained a Master of Science degree in Wetland Ecology from SUNY Brockport and is already using her education on the job.
“Seeing people like Katie furthering their education is wonderful. We take pride in the high caliber of professionals we have in the Buffalo District”, said LTC Adam Czekanski, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District.
As a member of the Environmental Analysis Team, Ms. Buckler’s main responsibility is to provide guidance and input to project teams on environmental design and compliance aspects of Civil Works projects during the planning, construction, and operational phases of projects; this includes public and inter-agency environmental coordination and outreach. She is also responsible for the formulation of measures and alternatives for Civil Works ecosystem restoration projects.
The title of Ms. Buckler’s master’s thesis was “Methods for restoring sedge/grass meadow community in a Typha [cattail]-invaded Lake Ontario drowned-river-mouth wetland”, which was the culmination of a lifelong interest in wetland ecology; her Bachelor’s was in forest ecology.
“I was unaware of the ecology of cattails until early in my college years. When I discovered that the plant has an interesting history, I was drawn to further study. As I continued my education, I began to take keen notice of cattail marshes. Cattail marshes near my parent’s farm had completely switched from one cattail species to another within the span of about 10 years”, said Ms. Buckler.
“As I looked further afield, I noticed large swathes of cattails growing in areas that never before harbored this plant. When I chose my master’s thesis topic, I decided cattails would be a fascinating topic”, she said.
While her thesis focused on cattails in particular, Ms. Buckler’s expertise can be extended to an understanding of many different species of invasive plants. Invasive species management is a main component of ecosystem restoration and adaptive management plans. The Corps of Engineers has set precedence for restoring or enhancing habitats impacted by invasive species. For example, the Aquatic Plant Control Research Program (APCR), authorized by Section 104 of the River and Harbor Act of 1958 allows for the controlled reduction of the invasive “Northeast Hydrilla” (Hydrilla verticillata).
“Cattails are considered invasive in this region because they are rapidly changing the structure and composition of all types of wetlands. This affects all other biological communities including insects, birds, mammals, and amphibians. Also, cattails transpire significant quantities of water, which can be a useful trait for environmental engineers to exploit,” noted Ms. Buckler.
The data collection process in fieldwork is interesting because much of it is based on personal observation. For example, a biologist might start by taking a map of a specific location and drawing lines to segment the larger area of study into smaller parcels. Different vegetation cover types usually delineate the boundaries of these smaller parcels. If the researcher needed to know how many plants of a certain species were in a particular area, he or she may count the plants in the sectioned off area. Because there is typically too much geographical space to cover, a research team chooses sample sites at random. Researchers can also utilize field observation and data furnished by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, which includes extensive data on what species have declined in an area.
“The term ‘invasive species’ is not always a concept people fully understand because they just look at a stand of vegetation and see green, and green must be good, right? To make an analogy, think of a small town that is full of a variety of small businesses such as bookstores, grocery stores, and barbershops, etc. When a large corporation moves in, many of those small stores go out of business because they can’t compete. With invasive species, you are not only wiping out plants—it’s the animals or other biological entities that thrive on those missing plants that no longer have their main source of food or shelter available—an entire ecosystem is jeopardized”, Ms. Buckler explained.
Ms. Buckler conducted her study near Lake Ontario and learned that water level fluctuations have a direct impact on how prevalent an invasive species will become. Human interference with water levels, therefore, is something that environmental scientists must take into consideration as part of their analysis.
“I’m excited to see Katie take what she learned in college and apply it on the job,” said Marty Wargo, Chief of the Environmental Analysis Team and Katie’s direct supervisor. “It really deepens the District’s capabilities and fits in well with the Corps of Engineers’ mission.”
Going out into the field and getting her feet wet (literally) prepared Ms. Buckler to take on exciting challenges with the Buffalo District. As the federal workforce takes on additional educational and professional certification endeavors, the high-quality information agencies provide to the public will be self-evident. The Corps of Engineers is proud to take the lead with securing a well-educated workforce.