East Lansing’s Environmental Stewardship Program works to weed out invasive species 

It is a brisk March day, and Azaadiika park is finally waking up for spring – birds are flitting through the trees, joggers and dog-walkers are making their way through the winding trails, and a myriad of plant life is starting its journey towards blooming for the season. But there is something there that doesn’t quite belong – a pervasive and ever-growing army of buckthorn trees, an invasive species that has long been a disruptive force in the park’s ecosystem. 

“The tree itself takes a few years to grow, but it sends little seeds, and then it sprouts little trees, and those little trees can completely cover a landscape,” says Heather Majano. “So much so, that you could actually take a weed whipper out and just weed whip tiny little buckthorn trees and not have to worry about removing any other plant because that’s all there is.” 

Three large piles of buckthorn branches line a trail in East Lansing’s Azaadiika Park on Saturday, March 9. The branch piles, which have been cut down and placed there by Stewardship Program volunteers, will serve as habitats for some of the park’s smaller animal inhabitants. Majano, who graduated from MSU with her master’s degree in forestry in 2015, has spent the majority of the past 12 years working as the coordinator for East Lansing’s Environmental Stewardship Program, an initiative focused on reducing the negative impact that invasive species have on East Lansing’s natural environments.  

The program, initially founded in 2009 by former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike Vasievich, devotes most of its energy towards on-the-ground conservation efforts, inviting community volunteers to meet at designated locations on the second Saturday of every month –both to learn more about the impacts of invasive species, and to help remove or repurpose as many invasive plants as possible. 

“I’ve talked to some people who are not as familiar with plant identification, and when they look out in the woods or in a field, they see green, [and think] green is beautiful.

Restorative Justice is on The Rise in Michigan Schools

When it comes to school discipline in the United States, punishments such as detention, suspension and even expulsion are nothing new – but in recent years, proponents of restorative justice have become hopeful that for the most part, they may soon be left in the past. Restorative practices – which Michigan schools have been required to consider as disciplinary alternatives since the signing of Gov. Rick Snyder’s restorative justice law in 2016 – focus primarily on overall harm reduction, and encourage schools to consider the full context of a situation when deciding on disciplinary measures. “It’s an approach to addressing conflict and misconduct that focuses on healing the harm rather than punishment, and that values accountability over exclusion,” said MacDonald Middle School Assistant Principal John Atkinson, who spoke about his school’s use of restorative justice at an East Lansing School Board meeting on Jan 22. “Rather than relying on just punishment, restorative justice expects those who cause injuries to make things right.”

Source: MacDonal Middle School

However, when it comes to how these amends can be brought about, schools have found that there is no one right answer. “It looks different everywhere, and I think that’s because a lot of schools have been shifting more towards restorative practices in general,” said Adam Brandt, an assistant principal at Eaton Rapids Middle School.