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Where did all the pesky plants go?

October 2, 2012
Guest essay by BRENDAN QUIRION - Terrestrial Invasive Species Project Coordinator , Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program

Have you noticed something missing in the Adirondacks? Where invasive common reed grass or Japanese knotweed once towered, in many places, they are disappearing. Maybe you noticed a peculiar road work sign that read "Invasive Species Management Crew Ahead," or listened to a news broadcast warning about giant hogweed, a dangerous plant that can burn your skin. If so, welcome to my world, the world of the Terrestrial Invasive Species Project Coordinator for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program.

When I tell someone what I do for a living, I usually get a variety of responses since very few people have any idea as to what my job entails. Even I admit that my job title sounds like something out of Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. Although I may not be taking on the extraterrestrial, the species that I deal with are indeed alien to North America and harmful to the environment, economy and human health.

Luckily, great work is under way to beat back the invasion. In the summer, I can be seen roving roadsides or wading in wetlands surveying, mapping and managing terrestrial invasive plants. I also organize volunteer groups to help with plant pulls, work with partners to treat infestations, offer presentations to interested groups and answer emails and calls from the public about proper identification and management techniques.

Article Photos

The Terrestrial Response Team, DEC’s Invasive Species Intern, and a Student Conservation Association crew pose with bags of garlic mustard they pulled from a Lake George campground.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Rischmiller, IPC)

It's been a busy season; here is a snapshot of highlights:

Thanks to private funding, APIPP sponsored a Terrestrial Response Team for a second year. The four member crew controls high priority infestations across the region. Working in road corridors, forest preserve and wetlands, the crew is eliminating infestations from the Adirondack landscape one patch at a time. In two summers, they managed in excess of 400 sites. The once very noticeable infestations of invasive plants, like common reed, one of the world's worst invasives, are now yellowing and dying, or gone entirely, enabling native plant recovery.

Another strategic attack on invasive plants was launched through the Department of Environmental Conservation's Invasive Species Internship, a position made possible through collaboration with APIPP, DEC and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The intern inventoried and managed invasives at 38 state campgrounds and high use areas in the Park. State campgrounds provide prime habitat for invasive plants, like garlic mustard, since they receive a lot of foot traffic from outdoor enthusiasts from near and far, and maintenance activities can easily spread seeds. Infestations can quickly expand from campsites into nearby forests. Stamping out infestations when they first start helps to protect natural areas from invasion.

APIPP primarily manages infestations on public land, but a real need exists to control invasives on private land, too. To meet this need, APIPP offered a new series of training sessions to instruct landowners on how to identify common invasive plants, such as yellow iris, purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed, and how to perform treatments on species wreaking havoc in their backyards. Eighty people attended sessions held in Saranac Lake, North Creek and Old Forge and are now armed with information. Be on the lookout for trainings next year.

Some of the plants that APIPP manages are dangerous and better left for professionals to control. Giant hogweed is one such plant. If skin is exposed to hogweed's sap, severe blistering and permanent scarring may occur. If sap gets in the eyes, blindness may occur.

Adult giant hogweed plants tower up to 14 feet with leaves up to 5 feet across and large, white flowers that grow up to 2 feet in diameter. In 2011, residents reported four infestations in the towns of Essex and Tupper Lake, which was surprising because until then, only one infestation was known in the Adirondacks in Old Forge. APIPP donned its hazmat suits, goggles and backpack sprayers and sprang into action. When sites were revisited this year, luckily only a few hogweed plants regrew, and only one new sighting was reported, and treated, in Westport.

Through projects like these, and by working with partners and communities, APIPP strives to keep Adirondack woods, wetlands and waters healthy and safe for everyone to enjoy. To get involved or report invasive species, contact APIPP at 518-576-2082.


Stay tuned to the next Eye on Invasives column for a report from APIPP's aquatic invasive species project coordinator, Meghan Johnstone.



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