The Invasive Approach
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
Invasive species in Virginia have become akin to background noise. Everywhere we walk invasive species are part of the landscape, shaping our perception of our natural environment. This constant presence has caused each lover of the great outdoors to develop different tolerances for these agents of change. The attitudes range from “I will win the battle over invasives sparing no expense” to “let survival of the fittest decide.” This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will delve into my personal stance on invasive species control.
Not all invasive species are created equal. Some species arrive and immediately maim, kill, and completely alter our ecosystem. Chestnut blight, emerald ash borer, feral swine and kudzu are great examples of species that represent a tidal wave of change. The arrival of these species alters not only our ecosystem but our economy. When ecosystem altering species arrive the appropriate response is always quarantine and eradication. Our native species can not compete with these invasive species and will completely change the ecology around it. When these species arrive, immediate action is required, regardless of the cost.
Luckily for us all, most invasive species fall short of the “ecosystem destroyer” label. Despite falling a bit short of being unmitigated disasters, many of the species we are most familiar have dramatic affects on our forests and managed landscapes. Good examples of the second tier of invasive species are Asian stilt grass, garlic mustard and spongy moth (formerly known as gypsy moth). These species are not considered complete ecosystem killers due to our system having some ability to compete or some natural control mechanism. Spongy moth is a good example of a natural control mechanism being found. In 1991, the fungus entomophaga maimaga was found in larvae in Michigan. This fungus acts as a lovely control this once devastating species when the right weather conditions are present. These tier two species are the primary sources of debate on where individuals land in the “I will win the battle over invasives sparing no expense” to “let survival of the fittest decide” categories.
As my wife and three teenage daughters will attest, I am a bit on the cheap side. That eliminates me from the “sparing no expense” category. Where I fall in my view of invasive species control is determined by location. Not all environments are created equal. The sides of roadways are in control of invasives in most places and I do not care to fight them for it. A wetland containing rare plants is a completely different story. The Crawfords Knob Natural Area Preserve is home to a basic seepage swamp containing rare plant species. The management plan for that preserve calls for controlling invasive plants when necessary. The value of that wetland has more value ecologically than the roadsides at Wintergreen and should be treated differently. My overall philosophy on invasive species control is the “you need to pick your battles” category. Put effort into locations that are important ecologically or culturally.
Over the next two months, The Nature Foundation will host a couple invasive species control days. July 19th we will put our muscles into fighting back the wave of invasives in Stoney Creek Park and on August 23rd our efforts will be directed to the Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve. These efforts will not be eradication but just stemming the tide of invasive species in these select locations. We will be laboring from 9-12pm both days and would love to have as many helping hands as possible those days. Direct any questions to email@example.com.