Tag Archives: Invasive Species

Does Parks do Invasive Species Work in the Winter?

One might think State Parks’ Invasive Species Staff are sitting around with their feet up, taking a break from the relentless tasks of the summer field season. That’s not at all the case. Winter months are filled to the brim with “To-Do” Lists. The seasonal break in the field season allows for more office related tasks, such as wrapping up the previous field season, checking data for quality control, working with volunteers, and prioritizing, planning, and preparing projects for the upcoming field season. These tasks require significant collaboration with other Park staff, NY Natural Heritage Program (who provides data and advice on protecting rare species and natural communities) and other agencies involved in invasive species management. But putting in the effort and office time early in the season truly pays off to make for a successful field season.

For the summer of 2015, we had two Invasive Species Strike Teams and one Forest Health Specialist Team working on State Park lands. The two strike teams each covered half the state, the Eastern Team covering from Long Island to Lake Champlain. The Western Team covered the State Parks west of the Binghamton-Syracuse line. The Forest Health Specialists also focused on Western NY, coming as far east as the Finger Lakes Region.

Check out what we accomplished this past year!

Western Strike Team
Photo by Alyssa Reid
Eastern Stike Team
Photo by Alyssa Reid
Forest Health
Photo by Alyssa Reid

That is a lot of effort, both on the planning end, and by our hardy crew members! Without the hard work and commitment to excellence of our seasonal staff, the program would accomplish only a tiny fraction of our goals. Their eyes on the ground keep us informed of the details of each treatment area and provide us with feedback on the success or any recommendations for further actions. We listen closely to feedback from the crews and other Parks staff and partners to continue to improve and strengthen the Invasive Species Program each year.

So even though there is snow on the ground and temperatures are cold, we are still working on invasives issues and preparing for what we hope to accomplish in the upcoming field season.

For more information on the State Parks Invasive Species Strike Teams, see this blog post.

For more information on the State Parks Forest Health Specialists, see this blog post.

Post and photos by Alyssa Reid, State Parks Invasive Species Field Project Specialist

FORCES : College Students Support Stewardship in New York State Parks

As the summer months wind down, the FORCES Program staff of the Central and Finger Lakes Regions are busy both reflecting on the last few months and making plans for the next academic year.

FORCES stands for “Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship”, and the FORCES Program specifically focuses on building long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships between local state parks and colleges. Currently this includes one-day volunteer events, FORCES clubs at six colleges, dozens of stewards between the two regions, partnerships with faculty members and college administration, projects in over twenty parks and historic sites, and involvement with fourteen colleges and universities within the Finger Lakes and Central Regions.

This summer has been an exciting one, with the “FORCES family” including 37 stewards and seasonal employees! The FORCES interns and seasonal employees started together in June with the first annual “Trainapalooza,” which was held this year at Robert H. Treman State Park in the Finger Lakes Region. The stewards gathered for a two day training on invasive species identification and removals, iMap Invasives training, an overview of the geologic and human histories of the area, interesting features of some of the parks, and strategies for outreach and interpretation. The group also camped overnight at the park, and got to know each other while playing Frisbee, solving riddles, and enjoying s’mores.

After they were trained, the stewards separated again to begin projects throughout the two regions. Many projects focused on invasive species removal; stewards worked to remove water chestnut, pale swallowwort, slender false brome, and many other species of invasive plants. Other projects included the creation of a video about the FORCES program, historical research, assistance with the ongoing surveys for the Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail at Chittenango Falls State Park, water quality monitoring at Selkirk Shores State Park, and trail blazing at Two Rivers State Park… the list goes on and on!

The upcoming academic year will bring more excitement as FORCES welcomes new and returning stewards and club members. The semester started with the New York State Fair, where FORCES annually engages the public in building bluebird boxes- they assembled 1,250 boxes just this year! To date, FORCES at the State Fair has hosted over 180 students and involved 8 colleges. Plans are also in motion for the first annual FORCES Membership Gathering, which will take place in October and combine trainings with celebrations for club members, stewards, seasonal staff, and ambassadors- all members of the “FORCES family”.

In the spring, FORCES will hold its second annual Leadership Summit, which assembles club officers and FORCES “Ambassadors” from all FORCES schools to plan and strategize for the growth of the FORCES Program. The event was a huge success last April, with the FORCES staff being (again) blown away and inspired by the passion and dedication of the students.

Keep an eye out for FORCES stewards as you visit the parks, and chat with them about the projects they are working on. They’re accomplishing big things!

For more information visit our new web page.

Post by Becky Sibner, FORCES Program Specialist for the Finger Lakes Region.

 

Forest Health Specialists: Climbing in Pursuit of Invasive Insects

Forest Health Specialists are an important part of New York State Park’s Invasive Species Management Team. Their work helps protect native plants, wildlife  and forests that are currently being threatened by two non-native invasive species: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). Although these insects are very different from each other in appearance and behavior, they both cause significant destruction and mortality to their host trees.

What do Forest Health Specialists Actually Do?

The Forest Health Specialists are seasonal employees that travel throughout New York State conducting invasive species surveys and monitoring infestations in various Parks. They have training in field biology, forestry, and tree climbing. The team of two camps at the park of interest while completing their work. Surveys involve lots of hiking and investigating trees that look to be in poor health, taking photos, and recording information on location and observations made at each site.

Although hiking in the woods isn’t a bad way to spend a work day, monitoring infestations of HWA is where the job really gets interesting. Specialists need to collect canopy samples from hemlock trees in order to see if insect numbers are declining or increasing. So, using a giant 8-foot slingshot, a line is shot high into the tree to a branch anywhere between 50 to 90 feet above the ground. Then a climbing rope is attached and pulled into the canopy and the fun begins! The Specialist, equipped with a harness and two ascenders (the name for special clips), climbs the rope upwards into the treetop. Climbing can be highly physical but is always rewarding.

3
A Forest Health Specialist working their way up to the canopy using a climbing harness that is attached to the rope. Climbs typically take about an hour.
4
A bird’s eye view looking down from the top of a hemlock. The tiny speck at in the bottom (in the green shirt and white cap) is the other team member!

So What’s the Goal?

The goal of this program is to get a better grasp of where these invasive species are spreading, assessing their impact on the forests, and ultimately taking action to slow their spread and keep their numbers under control. It also allows biologists and managers to anticipate other impacts to wildlife or rare species; to plan for potential avoidance or removal of hazard trees along trails; and to help others understand changes they see in the forest and landscape around us.

Of course a key component to the program’s success is you! By offering educational programs and volunteer opportunities, Forest Health Specialists also help people all over the state learn about invasive insects. The more people participating in and understanding invasive species in New York; the better chance we have of making a difference in our parks and our communities.

Remember, the best way to stop the spread of Emerald Ash Borer and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is to avoid introducing them in the first place. Don’t move firewood, take caution in moving landscaping debris around, and clean equipment and vehicles if moving from a site with these pests to somewhere else!

For more information go to NYS DEC website:  www.dec.ny.gov/animals/265.html

Post by Kelly Blood (OPRHP). Photos by Kelly Blood and Alyssa Reid (OPRHP).

 

Four-Legged Grounds Crew

One hundred Southdown sheep once mowed the expansive lawn of William Rockefeller’s estate, Rockwood Hall, in North Tarrytown, NY.  A century later sheep and goats are grazing once again, but now the property is part of Rockefeller State Park Preserve (Preserve) in the renamed community of Sleepy Hollow.

sheep1
Sheep grazing at Rockefeller State Park Preserve.

Over recent years, the steep slopes and historic stone foundation overlooking the Hudson River became overrun by the highly invasive akebia vine (Akebia quinata), porcelainberry vine (Ampelopis brevipedunculata) and other invasive species.  To control the vines and manage the grassy hillsides, the Preserve has partnered with Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, a neighboring non-profit working farm and education center, to rotate sheep and goats around the foundation.  Stone Barns gets more grass and forage for their sheep, while public lands get invasive species more under control in an ecofriendly way.

The project was begun in mid-summer of 2014 with 50 sheep augmented by 7 goats over four months.  This year Rockwood Hall will host 10 Boer goats, 30 Tunis sheep and 50 Finn Dorset sheep. They are rotated every 4-6 days through small paddocks enclosed with temporary electric netting and peripheral fencing.   Chris O’Blenness, a farmer employed by Stone Barns Center, is managing the flock and stays on-site at night in a travel trailer.

This is the first joint Rockefeller State Park Preserve-Stone Barns Center experiment aimed at improving landscape health and ecosystem function.  It is also a potential strategy for increasing access to land for beginning farmers.  Chris O’Blenness is representative of beginning farmers and ranchers who are searching for land to work. This type of symbiotic grazing arrangement on public lands is a potential model for other public lands that can offer beginning farmers affordable opportunities for land access—all while performing a vital public service and delighting Preserve visitors.

Envisioned as a multi-year initiative, this on-going land management is needed to make headway against the fast-growing spread of invasive species.   So far grazing is making a difference, but progress would be lost if grazing were stopped.  Although 90 grazing animals sounds like a lot, it’s not on a large landscape.  We have also added weedwacking and mowing to the rotation.  Since the grazing started, one terrace, once engulfed in a 3 foot tangle of thick porcelainberry vine, is now able to be mowed weekly and visitors are able to spread blankets on grass and picnic where no one dared before.

sheep2
Terrace with porcelainberry in the summer of 2014.
sheep3
The same terrace in December of 2014 after grazing and mowing.

As the Preserve and Stone Barns gain experience and increase numbers of animals, we’re hoping to fine-tune the grazing to achieve ecological and foraging goals.  Meanwhile, the baas of the sheep and goat greet visitors, many of whom now stop and look and think about invasive species and land management challenges.

Post and photos by Susan Antenen, Rockefeller State Park Preserve Manager.

On the Front Lines in the Battle Against Invasive Species: Strike Teams!

Invasive Species Strike Teams are an important part of environmental stewardship; they are the protectors and defenders of our native plants and wildlife! Invasive plants are fast spreading and can create ecological changes that crowd out native plants and alter habitats to make them unsuitable for native insects or animals. The goal of the strike teams is to manually remove these plants in areas of significance to protect our native biological diversity. A diverse landscape is healthier and more robust, better able to fend off threats and adapt smoothly to changes, such as climate change.

1

Above: Our 2014 Western Strike Team in Letchworth State Park, showing off all their hard work removing Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Japanese barberry is a commonly planted ornamental which escapes into forest understories and increases incidence of Lyme disease.

What is a Strike Team anyway?

The New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Teams consist of seasonal employees who travel throughout New York State to remove invasive plants from the most valuable areas of our Parks. These teams of four camp near their project areas to accomplish the goals of the Invasive Species Program. All these removals are done with manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes and loppers. Our strike teams are always up for the physical challenge and have made incredible headway against some large opponents.

2

Above: A strike team member from 2012 who proudly showcases the large autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) he removed with hand tools, determination and brute strength. Machinery is used to remove large shrubs, but our strike team got there first in this case!

What are the goals?

Invasive Species Program staff has had many successes in controlling invasive species  by carefully selecting projects geared toward terrestrial invasives, which can be controlled manually and through adaptive management.

3

Above: The 2015 Eastern Strike Team wishing everyone well from Grafton Lakes State Park, outside of Albany. You can see some of our most often used tools in this photo (From L-R: the ax mattock, pick mattock and loppers), as you can see, other essential elements in their toolbox include the hard hat and gloves!

Accomplishments

Starting in 2008, six interns and volunteers assisted with invasive species removals state wide. Since 2010, State Parks has employed 46 seasonal staff to remove invasive species. In the past 5 years over 1100 new observation points were entered into the program iMap Invasives, a national database reflecting new sightings of invasives. On average, strike teams remove 19 different species per year at their project sites. Some of the native species which are protected by the invasive species program include: twinleaf, American Hart’s tongue fern, sky blue aster, cardinal flower, Chittenango ovate amber snail, the Karner blue butterfly, several warbler species, mountain mint, bushy cinquefoil, and slender blazing star.

Above: Two examples of native plants which benefit from strike team controls. On the left, the spring flowering twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). On the right, the stunning late summer red of the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a plant loved by pollinators.

One of the best ways to reduce invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place. Please check what is planted ornamentally in your yard and remove plants or shrubs which are invasive and replace them with natives. Learn more information about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List

For more information regarding Invasive Species Awareness Week (July 12-18) events, check out the New York Invasive Species Information Blog.

Post by Alyssa Reid, Minnewaska State Park Preserve (OPRHP). Photos courtesy of OPRHP.