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Marshfield High School students Gracie Schlager, left, and Archal Devi slide a mesh screen around a newly planted seedling to ward off hungry wildlife.

Clark Walworth, Special to The World

COOS BAY — On a sunny February afternoon, a group of local high school students is giving nature a helping hand.

Working on swampy ground near the Eastside Boat Ramp, teens are planting trees to promote a native wetland habitat. Others are uprooting invasive Scotch broom.

This is the Coos Watershed Association’s youth stewardship program, an initiative that promotes native plant species while teaching youngsters to advocate for responsible landscape practices. It’s one of 57 organizations and projects receiving grants this week from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.


Drew Payne, a Marshfield High School student, brandishes his trophy: an uprooted Scotch broom.

“Teaching youth about the environment is something that the Coquille Tribe is very passionate about,” said Tribal member Jackie Chambers, who coordinates the Tribal Fund. “Any time we can get our youth outside is a good day to me!”

The program will receive $3,000 from the Tribal Fund, part of more than $290,000 being distributed during this year’s “Grant Week.” A second environmental grant, for $5,000, will help Friends of Coos County Animals pay for neutering cats whose owners can’t afford the service.

Alexa Carleton, the watershed association’s education program director, said the youth stewardship program is six years old. During the school year, the program draws high schoolers from Coos Bay. In the summer, it offers paid internships to teens from throughout the Bay Area.

The teens perform hands-on labor while learning environmental leadership. One project was a gravel area at the Coos History Museum, which the teens turned into a native dunes habitat. Coming soon will be a planter box in downtown Coos Bay, which they likewise will sow with native grasses. Interpretive signs will explain the unconventional landscaping.

Why native plants?

“Native plants are low-maintenance, because they’re used to our climate,” Carleton said. “These are plants that have co-evolved with other things in the area, such as insects and birds.”

Native plants help filter pollution, prevent erosion and provide wildlife habitat. But not everything that grows wild is a native plant. Many are invaders, such as ivy, purple loosestrife, and that thorny juggernaut, Himalayan blackberry. These thrive and spread because species that control them in their home territory are not present in their new surroundings.

Gracie Schlager, a Marshfield High School junior, explained her reasons for taking part in the program:

“Not only are we helping the environment, but we’re helping people in the community, and that’s something everyone should do in their life.”