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Let Nature Take Its Course: Helping the Environment Take Care of Itself

This article is from Issue Olympic Winter Games - Vol. 2 No. 2.

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Until the early 1950’s, people mined copper, gold, and silver in the Beartooth mountains in Montana (Figure 1). During mining operations, the soil near the surface was removed before the minerals were taken. This left an area that could not support any plants or animals, and encouraged erosion of the mine spoil into nearby streams. The scientists in this study wanted to find a way to help reestablish the alpine meadow ecosystem to its pre-mining condition.

Welcome to the Olympic Winter Games edition

Note to Educators

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Life Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • Growing and Using Trees and Other Plants (Students)
  • Importance of Forest to People (Students)
  • Protecting Trees and Other Plants (Students)
  • The Value of Forests and Grasslands (Educators)
  • Using Forests (Students)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Rocky Mountain

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Nature sometimes causes rapid changes, as in landslides, fires, and floods. At other times, nature's change is very slow. Change may take tens, hundreds, or thousands of years. Sometimes, natural resource scientists study natural processes that seem to take a long time, at least from a human perspective. In this study, the scientists wanted to discover how to help nature restore native plants to an alpine meadow area that had been damaged by human activities in the 1950's. When damage is done to an alpine area, it takes a long time for the land to repair itself. In the 1970's, the scientists began to help nature repair the damage. They recorded their activities and how much the land responded. Their research lasted almost 20 years! You can see that natural resource scientists sometimes need a lot of time and patience to carry out their research.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Scientific Topics

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
The natural environment can be disturbed by natural and human causes. Natural causes include things like wind, fire, and floods. Humans damage the environment by mining, building roads and buildings, and even from recreational activities. Often, the environment can repair itself over time. When the land is severely damaged by human activity, the environment might need help to become healthy again. When natural resource managers help the environment, they let nature do most of the work. They prefer to let native plants restore the land to a healthy state. When native plants are in an area, the area has a better chance of restoring itself as the same kind of ecosystem that was damaged in the first place. When a natural ecosystem can become reestablished, the environment can resume its own processes and become healthy again.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Ecosystems
  • Human impact on natural resources and other living things

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Populations, resources and environments (F)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure of the earth system (D)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • Habits of Mind: Values and Attitudes
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry
  • The Nature of Science: The Scientific Enterprise
  • The Physical Setting: Processes that Shape the Earth
  • The Physical Setting: The Earth