February 7th, 2022
Dodge emphasizes unique nature of mountain peatlands
Garrett College NRWT program director featured in JCLS presentation
Growing up in eastern Kansas, Kevin Dodge, director of Garrett College's Natural Resources and Wildlife Technology program, dreamed of following springtime migrant warblers – "colorful energetic sprites of the bird world" – north to the conifer forests of Canada and the northern U.S. He ended up doing his graduate work at Michigan Technological University on those same warblers in Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, where he came to love spruce forests and, especially, bogs.
When he moved to the central Appalachians to study at West Virginia University, and then to teach at Garrett College starting in 1987, he was thrilled to discover some of those same bog environments occurred in Garrett County and nearby West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Much of his work with his students the past 34-plus years has been focused on these Appalachian bogs – "mountain peatlands," such as Cranesville Swamp.
Dodge's recent presentation for the Joan Crawford Lecture Series – "Mountain Peatlands: Why I Think They're Cool and You Should, Too" – focused on these unique high elevation wetlands.
As Dodge explained, the basis of mountain peatlands is peat – undecomposed plant matter that accumulates in saturated areas given a specific set of conditions. The driving force behind these wetlands is Sphagnum, or peat moss. Walking on a bog, Dodge said, is like strolling unsteadily on a soggy waterbed.
Plants growing in peatlands must be able to cope with the challenges of wet soil, low oxygen, and minimal nutrients. Many of these plants are the same species as, or very similar to, those found in bogs much further to the north. These species were forced southward during the last glacial period, when the climate here was more like what is now found in Canada and the northern United States. The lower temperatures and higher precipitation levels that occur in Garrett County in general and, specifically, the shorter growing seasons characteristic of the isolated valleys in the county in which these peatlands occur, provide the conditions in which these "northern" species are able to persist.
Dodge went on to highlight some of the more interesting plants and animals that can be found in our local mountain peatlands, including cranberries, insectivorous sundews, tamarack, and his favorite – the northern saw-whet owl.
"The conditions found in these sites are unique and fascinating," he said. "Mountain peatlands are full of rare and distinctive species. But they're far more than simply a collection of interesting species – they're more than the sum of their parts. What makes them so special, so cool, is how they feel – how you feel when you wander through them . . . how they sound, how they smell, how seemingly chaotic they are. They're rich and beautiful and rare and special places."
"I think mountain peatlands are cool," Dodge concluded. "I think you should, too!"