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Vandals Wreck 25 Years of Tree Research

July 31, 2008 — Twenty-five years of research on V.I. National Park trees went down the tubes when someone stole small aluminum identification tags off the trees.
"We're looking at forest dynamics — how forests are changing over time and the impact of storms or droughts," said Rafe Boulon, the park's chief of resource management.
Key to the research is following the growth rate and mortality of individual trees.
"You've got to know which trees are which," Boulon said.
Vandals stole the tags off hundreds of trees in three of the 10 research plots. Boulon declined to identify the location of plots to deter other would-be vandals, but said the three were located back in the woods near a major hiking trail. The trees were not near any homes, he said.
The tags could have been stolen anytime in the last five years because a researcher from the U.S. Forest Service comes to evaluate the trees only at five-year intervals.
"The trees grow slow," Boulon explained.
This particular project involved the National Park Service, the Forest Service's Institute for Tropical Forestry and universities.
The National Park and V.I. Coral Reef National Monument have many research projects that involve park staff as well as researchers from universities and other federal agencies, according to a park news release. These research projects are intended to help better understand marine and terrestrial ecosystems and enable the National Park Service to better manage the parks' natural resources.
Many of these research projects involve marking study sites or individual organisms, whether they are plants in the forests or creatures on the reefs. Researchers try to use markers that are as inconspicuous as possible. When markers are deliberately removed or changed in any way, vast amounts of important data, time and money are irretrievably lost.
Boulon requested that people not remove tags or signs indicating trail or road locations, construction work, renovation of any type, safety warnings, educational information and more. People have removed heavy surf warning signs almost as soon as they went up, he said.
Anyone who sees missing aluminum tags or other signs should call Boulon at 340-693-8950, ext. 224. To report vandalism, call 776-6201 and ask for an enforcement ranger.
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