(October 5, 2000, Gazette)
Luise Hermanutz with the rare braya.
In a lot of places, we dont even know what we have!
Dr. Luise Hermanutz, an assistant professor in Biology, and co-chair
(with Henry Mann of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook)
of the provincial Braya Recovery Team, is very excited about
her latest project.
Longs Braya (Braya longii), and the Fernalds Braya
(Braya fernaldii), are arctic-alpine like plants that have been
found in the limestone barrens on the Great Northern Peninsula;
a habitat that is extremely unusual, and as such is home to several
rare species of plants. Of course, Newfoundlanders often find
it hard to believe that our province could host something so
unique. But if youve ever driven up the Northern Peninsula
and seen this landscape - it looks just like big gravel
pits between a roaring, cold Atlantic ocean and a much-used
paved road - then you would probably doubt no more.
This is the only place that these plants can be found in
the world, said Dr. Hermanutz, a plant ecologist, who with
the help of a recovery team, is working to ensure that these
plants will persist in their natural habitat.
The plants that Dr. Hermanutz has been working with grow only
in these barrens, and because these barrens are so rare and so
much has been lost to quarrying, the plants are few and far between.
In fact, during its three years on the Northern Peninsula the
team has only found three populations of Longs Braya, which
makes the plant an endangered species. The Fernalds Braya
is not quite as scarce, however, it has been listed as threatened
by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada,
the body that classifies wildlife. It classified the Longs
Braya and the Fernalds Braya in 1997.
The Braya Recovery Team was designated by the provincial Forest
Resources and Agrifoods minister to study the plants, and the
habitat, and to make recommendations to ensure that the species
do not become extinct. Members of the team include the chairs,
Dr. Hermanutz, and Henry Mann; Dr. Trevor Bell, a geographer;
Dr. Wilfred Nicholls, director of the Botanical Gardens; and
others that include wildlife specialists, stewardship specialists,
and staff from Parks and Natural Areas. The team began its work
on the Longs Braya and the Fernalds Braya in 1998.
Since then, they meet every summer during the first week of July
on the Northern Peninsula to do further research.
The teams mandate is to produce a recovery plan. This task
includes making recommendations based on the teams work
to ensure that the Braya does persist, and hopefully to downlist
the plant so that it is no longer considered endangered. The
draft recovery plan has recently been submitted and Dr. Hermanutz
is very pleased with that.
We have really been working hard to protect these plants,
said Dr. Hermanutz.
The work is not all about the plant; however, its also
about the people.
Were not just fulfilling our own mandate, were
trying to get the best of both worlds, said Dr. Hermanutz.
There are benefits for the people in the area, and we have
been getting locals in the area involved and interested.
Dr. Hermanutz feels that the preservation of the plant could
be a part of a tourism drive to the area.
You would not believe the people we see. When were
in the field we see people from all over the world; we see Germans,
people from Japan. People come out of their way to see these
plants. They get to see plants that they would otherwise have
to go to the Arctic to see.
The recovery team, with the help of the Green Team this summer,
are spreading the word about the plant and its rarity to locals
in the area. This way, people can work together to secure a long
term land use planning strategy to ensure that people get what
they need, but still ensure that the plant can persist. They
have also created an ex situ conservation strategy for both species
of braya at the Memorial University Botanical Garden. The garden
has growing braya that serve as a failsafe in the event that
something should wipe out the populations that are now growing
in the wild.
Since the beginning of the project Dr. Hermanutz has had several
students involved in the research at both the honours and masters
levels. Presently, Kim Parsons, a graduate student in the biology
department, is studying the breeding system of braya.
If we want to restore the braya to its natural distribution
we know it was further north in the 1920s we have
to know how variable the populations are. The students
work on the breeding system can determine this.
Dr. Hermanutz and the recovery team are excited about their work
to date and are happy with the outcomes. Their recovery plan,
combined with provincial endangered species legislation that
is currently before cabinet, will help ensure that even the littlest
things that make Newfoundland unique are protected.
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