Boots on the Ground: Restoration of the Incredible and Endangered Serpentine Ecosystem at Soldiers Delight
It is the surprising secret of Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area and Wildlands in Owings Mills that the type of rock underlying it, climate change, and a long history of Native American fires have made this site globally special. The bedrock lying beneath Soldiers Delight is serpentine, an uncommon rock which originated from the mantle of the Earth during tectonic plate collisions about 200 million years before the Age of Dinosaurs. Soils from this bedrock have an unusual chemistry which is too harsh for most plants and contributes to distinctive and rare vegetation. The serpentine ecosystem developed at least 4,000 years ago, in response to a changing climate, in conjunction with widespread Native American fires. The demise of American Indian tribes marked the beginning of the end for almost all serpentine barrens in the eastern United States. But at Soldiers Delight, the richest biodiversity site on State land, conservationists have been working since 1989 to restore and conserve this special place. Learn about this endangered ecosystem and why conservationists are cautiously optimistic for its survival even amid a changing climate and in the face of other human-related threats such as invasive species, white-tailed deer, and improper visitation.
Guest Presenter: Dr. R. Wayne Tyndall, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.; Maryland DNR & Laura Van Scoyoc, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.
Thursday, May 18th
Dr. Robert Wayne Tyndall (Wayne) joined the Board of Directors of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. in 2021 after retiring from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Wayne joined the Natural Heritage Program of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources in 1987 to begin a career in biodiversity conservation at the grassroots level. He soon learned that his academic training in Plant Ecology (M.S., Old Dominion University; Ph.D., University of Maryland-College Park) could contribute to the restoration of rapidly vanishing “barrens”, savannas, and grasslands of eastern North America.
One especially important restoration effort began in Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. Funneling knowledge of academic scholars and government restoration ecologists, he helped initiate the Serpentine Ecosystem Restoration Program at Soldiers Delight in 1995 after a research phase beginning in 1989. His current role with SDCI is mainly as a scientific advisor, where he hopes to bridge the gap between state-of-the-art conservation science and government decisions affecting Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. Dr. Tyndall’s professional writings, papers and publications appear under the authorship of “R. Wayne Tyndall”.
In 2002, Laura Van Scoyoc had just purchased a home in Woodstock and was interested in seeking out conservation-oriented volunteer opportunities close to her new neighborhood. An online search led her to Single Volunteers of Maryland, an organization dedicated to providing volunteer opportunities in a variety of philanthropic areas. Since ecology and conservation were closest to Laura’s heart, she scanned the options most likely to include saving the planet. There she found a call for volunteers to help eradicate invasive vegetation at a serpentine wilderness in northwest Baltimore County, not too far from her new home. Laura started working with other volunteers on the Serpentine Ecosystem Restoration Project, or SERP, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After helping to remove non-native plant species with the SERP crew at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area for several months, she got to know former Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. board member Lesley Bosley, who invited Laura to attend one of SDCI’s board meetings, held periodically at the Soldiers Delight visitor center. Once Laura saw how committed SDCI members were to conserving and restoring the unique habitat that makes up the serpentine barrens ecosystem, Laura joined the board. Soon, Laura was fully immersed in the noble work of SDCI. She testified before the Baltimore County Council against proposed changes to the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) in Owings Mills, which would have shifted zoning of a prime piece of serpentine barrens into commercially developable land. She educated neighbors of Soldiers Delight about the perils of landscaping their yards with invasive, non-native shrubs and trees. She hosted tables at fairs and festivals throughout the region to educate the public about the beauty and value of the globally rare ecosystem that defines the Soldiers Delight NEA, as well as getting word out about the risks of invasive vegetation to a larger audience.
As president of SDCI since 2007, this longtime software engineer now devotes much of her free time to furthering causes which are fundamental to the success of restoring Soldiers Delight to its original, pristine glory and preserving what is left of the more than 39 species of rare and endangered flora and fauna which call the serpentine barrens home. As part of her duties, Laura serves as community liaison for SDCI, attending public meetings and events wherever Soldiers Delight and its core issues might be a stakeholder. She interfaces with the community at every level, offering her substantial knowledge and unwavering support of the causes in which SDCI is involved, namely educating the public about Soldiers Delight and working to conserve and restore its ecosystem for future generations.
But that’s not all. Besides continuing to volunteer with the SERP project every winter, Laura also actively participates in prescribed burns performed twice per year at the Soldiers Delight habitat, weather permitting, by a professional burn crew from Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. These burns are necessary for sustainment of the serpentine ecosystem. Laura has taken federal wildland firefighting courses and has been trained in wildland fire behavior and sawyer skills, including firefighter chainsaw operation. Laura’s dedication to the conservation and restoration of Soldiers Delight is an inspiration to all who serve with her on the SDCI board of directors. She not only talks the talk; Laura walks the walk as the epitome of what it means to be committed to our planet’s health.