ERM Student Gets Northern Exposure

Posted: March 31, 2011

Mary Susan Sherman has Alaskan National Park Internship. While in Alaska, Sherman was based in Coal Creek Camp in central Alaska near the Yukon River.
Sherman Rowing

Sherman Rowing

When Penn State senior Mary Susan Sherman applied for several internships through the National Park Service, she never dreamed she soon would co-develop the foundation for an Alaska-based weed-management program.

            Last summer Sherman, an Environmental Resource Management major from Ligonier, Pa., and another student intern were based in Coal Creek Camp in central Alaska near the Yukon River.

            The camp housed researchers ranging from historians to soil surveyors. While stationed there, the two interns focused on exotic-plant management and invasive-species removal. The two eventually generated a report titled, "Invasive and Exotic Species Management for Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve."

            The weed program started by Sherman and the other intern was the National Park Service's first in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The students hiked, camped, travelled in ATVs and even floated in an inflatable canoe around Alaska, conducting plant inventories in highly used areas, such as trails, cabins and river banks. They recorded the locations of infestations using GPS units.

            Among the areas Sherman inventoried was the beautiful and scenic Arctic National Park. Often she and the other intern would simply pull out the weeds. "But in some places, invasive-weed growth was out of control, and we had to record the data and move on," she said. "Among the species recorded were narrowleaf hawksbeard, bird vetch and shepherd's purse."

            According to Sherman, invasive plant species are more controllable in Alaska because of their remote location and the rare human interaction they experience. "Due to Alaska's remoteness, there are limited vectors of invasive-plant spread compared to high-use areas in the lower 48 states," she said. "As a result, the growth in Alaska is still in an early stage, and it is possible to bring it down to a manageable level."

            Every moment in Alaska was an adventure, Sherman recalled. "We had many opportunities to use our free time to explore, encountering moose, caribou, grizzly bears, snowshoe hares and other wild animals," she said. "And we were professionally trained in various disciplines, including safety and survival tactics in the wild, CPR and shooting a shotgun."