Beyond Despair - Strategic Invasive Plant Action
As our awareness of native plants deepen, we also become more aware of the prevalence of invasive plants. 4/5 people live in metropolitan areas that collectively occupy about 3% of the land surface. This 3% of the land is the majority of our perception of the environment at large, and it also often our most invaded portion of our ecosystems. Traveling from metropolitan to metropolitan, you may notice, the further you get away from one metropolitan, the less invaded the habitats are and as soon as you begin approaching the next metropolitan, invasion density often increases. Living in some of the most invaded environments (metropolitans) either normalizes invasive plants for those who are unaware or causes an overwhelming feeling of a battle that seemingly cannot be won, in those that who are aware. Keep in mind that while all of our ecosystems in the Eastern half of the U.S. are disturbed, many regions isolated from population density have minimal invasion. Even though Cincinnati is in one of the largest metropolitans in the U.S., just 3 counties east in Adams county sits some of the highest remnant quality ecosystems of Ohio in the Edge of Appalachia nature preserve; most of which has very little invasive plant invasion but still requires volunteerism to maintain its quality.
Some battles need not be fought, at least in the short-term. Many environments have little salvageable ecological value and require high inputs of energy just to begin restoration. For example, you can invest a volunteer outing removing invasive shrubs in 10 acre forest that has a Tree of Heaven, Siberian Elm, Black locust, Black walnut low quality tree canopy and absent herbaceous layer. Or you can invest the volunteer outing focusing on the highest quality 10 acre sector of a nature preserve or park where there are still native spring ephemerals and understory shrubs/trees to save from invasive shrub invasion in addition to a healthy native tree canopy that will better resist subsequent invasion. Sure, some of the worst quality environments can be rehabilitated, but in the meantime our remnant ecosystems will continue spiraling into further degradation, so prioritizing is a must.
Invasive plant (and invasive animal) issues are complex, international problems. So; prioritize and organize locally and or regionally.
Working in conjunction with non-profits and park districts, effective activism is very much possible. Many parks have botanists, naturalists, or land managers that can help you to understand where invasive plants are currently degrading high quality native plant communities. Envision a core group of 5-7 volunteers, working once a month (10-12x a year) in a couple of high quality local nature preserves. Speaking from experience, this kind of commitment over the course of just 6 workdays, can complete acres of invasive plant removal. When that kind of activism is aimed at our remaining high quality environments, the conservation value of these acts can be incredibly high and impactful.
Our remnant high quality forests, prairies, savannas, and wetlands not only represent the most salvageable of what’s left, but also they serve as the seed sources for sensitive species for future restoration projects. When remnants and high quality 2nd or 3rd growth ecosystems fall to invasive plants, not only do we lose our highest value ecosystems, but we lose that opportunity for wider scale future restoration with the loss of local genetic seed sources.
The umowed fescue field turning into Callery pears, the fence line covered in invasive vines and shrubs, and the burning bush in your neighbor’s yard maybe within one’s circle of concern but these things are out of your control. Focus on expanding your circle of control and influence through forming or joining a local group group. Learn about and choose the highest quality environments remaining in your region so that you can and make an impact where there’s the most left to lose; and most left to save.
1. Empower yourself through strategic regional/localized activism. There are many non-profits and park districts that need your care in the form of volunteerism as conservation and invasive plant control is poorly funded. People with a positive attachment to nature/ecology are the only ones who will act for its conservation and protection, so your passion and awareness are very valuable.
2. If you struggle with feeling overwhelmed about the quantity of invasive plants, remember that 80% of people live in metropolitan landscapes (3% of the land) that are often the most invaded landscapes of the country. And even within these metropolitans, there are often still remnant ecosystems with salvageable value that need your activism and influence.
3. Focus your efforts on larger public or non-profit land that is protected from future development and has moderate to higher quality remnant or 2nd growth - regenerated ecosystems; wetlands, savannas, prairies, and forests.
4. Organize; even if you only have 1 other person to join you. Work together coordinated with the park district and/or nature preserve. You should seek basic professional education on proper tools,, plant identification, invasive plant management tactics, and personal protective equipment/gear. The park district and/or nature preserve will often provide much of this needed education and guidance, and often the proper tools as well.
5. Create maintained or monitored plantings for species at risk of localized extinction from habitat loss and invasive plants. Securing the local genetics of species that are in sharp decline from invasive plants is essential to future restoration of these at risk species. Use our regional native thicket conservation project as an example. Native prairie, savanna, and wetland thicket species are especially at risk of localized extinction from habitat loss and invasive plant spread.
6. Perhaps you don’t have the physical ability or time to volunteer in invasive plant removal. You can still organize to influence government bodies in outlawing the sales of invasive plants, educating/raising awareness, and advocating for invasive plant removal within the higher value, publicly protected remnant ecosystems. In this role, you may act more as an event organizer and informed advocacy agent that helps mobilize groups that could be interested in volunteering.
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