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Is Restoration a Solution for the Invasive Species Problem?

Posted in Environment on December 15, 2017 by Jessica Arcate Schuler

Jessica A. Schuler is Director of the Thain Family Forest at The New York Botanical Garden.

Invasive plant, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Photo credit: Esin Ütün

The tone surrounding the term “invasive species” is most frequently negative. That’s understandable, considering that invasive species—exotic species that cause harm to the ecosystem they are occupying—are one of the top three threats to biodiversity worldwide, along with climate change and habitat destruction. On Friday, November 3, 2017, NYBG and the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) co-presented Invasive Species Summit: Restoration and Long-term Management, which brought a positive note of restoration to the invasive species discussion (visit the NYBG YouTube Channel for a recording of the full program).

This all-day program started with Paddy Woodworth, award-winning Irish journalist and author of “Our Once and Future Planet”, who introduced the subject of ecological restoration—the process of assisting in the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed—and showcased the example of Working for Water, a large-scale, South African program that has been managing invasive plants since 1995. As a writer, Paddy brings a unique perspective to the topic, warning that the negative words used with conservation are concerning. Ecological restoration provides a positive perspective and an outlet of tangible action items in which everyone can participate, from their own backyards to following the Society for Ecological Restoration  International Standards in larger-scale restoration projects.

Kristy King of the Natural Resources Group of NYC Parks (NRG), provided an overview of how NRG has managed over 10,000 acres of natural areas in New York City for more than 30 years. This program is unique and a potential model as more cities and towns look to restore their natural resources. Reflecting on successes and challenges, she said solutions can be found in monitoring data and in being adaptive in ongoing management strategies. NRG looks to collaborating researchers from the Natural Areas Conservancy to collect and analyze data and provide recommendations for management. The scale of the work is tremendous, and increasing efficiency and improving restoration success is the ultimate goal.

Invasive Species Summit Presenters (left to right): Paddy Woodworth, Kristy King, Art Gover, Tate Bushell, Todd Forrest, and Jessica A. Schuler. Photo credit: Suzanne Clary, LHPRISM.

Building on the discussion of scale, Art Gover, Research Support Associate for the Penn State Wildland Weed Management Program, works in partnership with the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, which currently has no park-level staff dedicated to invasive species management or ecological restoration. This program facilitates invasive species management throughout the state of Pennsylvania, one park at a time, by developing individualized management plans that take into account existing resources, park inventories, staff knowledge of the park, and current scientific literature. The keys to the success of this program are a prioritization database they have developed and educating staff at each park through in-the-field training and Invasive Species QuickSheets.

During the afternoon session, two Lower Hudson PRISM partners spoke about their experiences at NYBG (presented by Jessica A. Schuler) and the Westchester Land Trust (presented by Tate Bushell). The case studies they presented varied in scale and location from urban to suburban. Despite this, common themes arose, and the presentations concluded with lessons learned, outlining tangible action items.

Lesson #1. Plan for the long-term. Invasive species management and restoration projects require multiple years. Plan ahead and build a multiple-year budget. Anticipate that invasive plants replace one another, plant managed sites, and plan follow-up maintenance. Start small and gain momentum. Do your research by networking with experienced land managers, use the resources available from the Society for Ecological Restoration, and review scientific literature. Don’t get discouraged.

Lesson #2. Prevent future invasions. The Lower Hudson region has a high rate of new invasions. Monitor for invasive species on your property and use early detection and rapid response if a new species is found. Lower Hudson PRISM has a species categorization list for the region and provides management support for early detection and rapid response projects.

Lesson #3. Educate your audience. Education is key to help bring invasive species management and ecological restoration to the mainstream. Communicate your project early and often. Host field walks and coffee talks, post invasive species and project information on blogs and social media, and create signage. Be prepared for responses and lots of follow up.

Lesson #4. Collect lots of data. Data-driven management is necessary to track progress and provide guidance for adaptive management. Changing course when a specific technique isn’t working is fine when you have data to back your decision. Quantitative data is helpful, particularly tracking vegetation before and after management, staff time, volunteer time, areas managed, amount of invasive species removed, and number of restoration plants installed. Using a database to track this information is helpful. Consider using iMapInvasives or creating a Google Form. Summarize data annually and enlist citizen scientists to help with data collection.

Lesson #5. Engage volunteers. Volunteers are an excellent opportunity for education and helpful when used efficiently. Develop staff-to-volunteer ratios that optimize time and resources. Predict resource bottlenecks, taking into account the project task, tools, supplies and number of volunteers. Document the events with photographs and provide follow-up training when possible.

Lesson #6. Before and after. Document the restoration process with lots of photographs and data.

Lesson #7. Deer make a difference. In our region, deer abundance needs to be considered during project planning. Consider a deer fence, either permanent or temporary until restoration plants are established. Protect trees from browsing by using tree tubes and research deer-resistant plants for your area.

Lesson #8. Educate the future. Teach children about invasive species and ecological restoration. Make sure to stay positive, provide tangible action items, teach plant identification, and emphasize the importance of citizen science. Through combined classroom and outdoor lessons, we can train the next generation to be aware of conservation issues and what they can do to be part of the solution.

Lesson #9. Cultivate a garden ethic. We now know that gardens have an impact on the surrounding landscape. Every gardener is an observer, and she or he should speak up if a particular plant is spreading. Don’t plant invasive plants and replace invasive plants with non-invasive alternatives. We have the power to drive demand and change the ornamental horticulture market. Speak to nurseries and demand non-invasive alternatives.

Lastly, all are welcome to participate in the Lower Hudson PRISM. It is through coordination and collaboration at the local level that we can all contribute to this tremendous conservation issue globally.

Linda Rohleder, Lower Hudson PRISM coordinator. Photo credit, Maria Perez, NYBG.

The Invasive Species Summit was contracted by the Lower Hudson PRISM using funds from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.