Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Patagonia to Hustisford

If you are looking for that special winter getaway, Chile might be just the ticket. The Route of Parks trail spans across 1,740 miles from Puerto Montt all the way to Cape Horn.

Sparked by the recent donation of 408,000 hectares of private conservation land by Tompkins Conservation, the Chilean government announced that it will convert 2 million hectares of conservation reserve land into national park land. Combined with the Tomkins donation and existing national park property, the new Patagonian Route of Parks trail stitches together a network of national parks that occupy around 11.5 million hectares.

Douglas and Kristine Tompkins made their fortune in outdoor apparel, founding both North Face and Esprit. They created Tomkins Conservation and began buying up land for conservation in the 1990s. Tomkins Conservation made the donation last year, following the accidental death of Douglas Tomkins kayaking the Patagonia in 2015. 

While I do not usually post about outdoor recreation, this story is different. The Patagonian Route of Parks not only created a trail for hikers and backpackers, but a vital corridor for wildlife.

Meanwhile back in Wisconsin

Fragmentation is second only to habitat loss as threats to rare plants and animals. In Wisconsin, this plays out as small prairie remnants nestled along old town road right-of-ways, railroad corridors and the forgotten corners of early graveyards. Minute micro habitats where a tiny number of native plants, as well as the insects and animals that depend on them, hang onto a tenuous existence.

An increasing number of private landowners are deciding to manage part of all of their land for conservation. Small restored prairies are showing up in areas where once they dominated the landscape. Woodland owners are investing great effort to thin over-mature woodlands and clear invasive shrubs that a generation ago chocked out grasses and wildflowers.

 

Staying connected

While the work and money these landowners are plowing back into their land is vital to conserve and protect Wisconsin, those efforts cannot by themselves same many of the species that are heading for a quite death. These islands of habitat need to be connected.

Take for example the whirled milkweed. This tiny member of the milkweeds, grows barely a foot tall. It spreads through rhizomes into patches thirty feet or more across. However, whirled milkweed does not self-pollinate. That means that pollen from stems in the same clone must be transported to flowers on a different clone in order to pollinate those flowers and produce seed.

As farms and the equipment got bigger, fences were removed. Less productive land was also worked up for cultivation. This reduced that places where the Whirled milkweed could grow.It also isolated the few remaining populations that had been hanging on. These plants can live for thirty years of more. However, without cross pollination, the few remaining plants will eventually die without producing seed for new generations.

The solution to the problem is obvious, we need to connect fragmented islands of habitat. These do not need government to set aside vast expanses of public land to make that happen. As private landowners, we can work together to protect our natural heritage. Working together, neighbor to neighbor, we can make a difference.

Maintaining our outdoor traditions means ensuring we have a strong habitat where wildlife can survive long-term. This is called resilience, which comes from keeping as many pieces of the puzzle as we can.

Better together

So what can you do? None of us are billionaires who can purchase hundreds of thousands of acres. We can, however, walk next door and talk to with the folks who live around us. That marsh stretching a half mile south across the next two properties is more valuable for waterfowl if you work with your neighbors.

Together, we cans share equipment, labor and knowledge to increase the impact our conservation work has. This is especially important when taking on tough invasive species like buckthorn, garlic mustard or phragmites. Increasing waterfowl production will  be much easier if you can get those two neighbors upstream to work with you.

Restoring and maintaining the natural heritage of our state is too big for individual landowners to fix. Government cannot maintain the land it owns, so they can only be very limited partners. Neighbor-to-neighbor, is the only way we get back the quail and ruffed grouse. Working with neighbors is the only way to ensure our woodland remain clear of buckthorn and garlic mustard. A shared vision is the best way to return waterfowl production to that marsh seemingly lost to cattail and phragmites.

It takes time to make these things happen, but there is no time like right now to go for a walk with your neighbor.

Friday, 05 October 2018

Are there biological control success stories for invasive plants?

Yes, the invasive perennial purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) was the scourge of midwestern wetlands for twenty years. Marshlands turned a pinkish purple every summer and fall because virtually all competition was eliminated.

Researchers chose Galerucella beetles because they knew Galerucella feed on loosestrife in Asian and Europe where it grows naturally. Local school children and non-profit organizations set up beetle rearing projects; releasing the natural loosestrife predator to feed and lay eggs on the exotic invader.

Note that biological control is not eradication. Wetlands rebounded because the number of beetles rise and fall with those of the loosestrife. Because of the Galerucella beetle, purple loosestrife is now just another member of the wetland community and no longer the big bad bully pushing everything else out of its way.

The reason why the Galerucella beetle is a rare success story is that biological controls must be thoroughly vetted prior to introduction. Scientists must ensure that the beetles are effective, but even more critical, that they do not cause other unintended consequences. Researchers exposed Galerucella beetles to pretty much every native plant they were likely to encounter in the their new home, but safely in isolated greenhouses. Researchers made sure the beetles would not harm native plants.

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June 2018

Thursday, 28 June 2018

How long does it take for an invasive species to destroy an ecosystem?

The short answer is it depends. It depends on the invasive species; how quickly it reproduces, how many offspring it produces, how many ways it has to spread itself, and what tools it has to overwhelm native species. It also depends the environment it is invading; how large is the ecosystem being invaded, how well suited it is to the invading species, as well as the relative strength of native species defenses. Above all, it depends on how soon the invader is identified and effective counter measures are taken to control the invader.

Invasive species often go undetected for long periods, sometimes decades, until they form monocultures that totally transform a landscape. When this happens eradication becomes impossible and control becomes the only viable strategy.

Even really tough invasive species can be controlled and even eradicated if they detected early and effective steps are quickly taken.

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April 2018

Saturday, 14 April 2018

What are the negative things about Invasive species?

Living things (plants, animals, fungi, etc) evolved in communities. Plants turn sunlight and CO2 into sugars and starches that form the base of the food chain for all the other living things around them. Very slowly, those species that were best adapted to fit into their niche in the community survived and thrived. A type of equilibrium exists that changes slowly as the community itself changes.

Invasive species are really bad because they can seriously disrupt the existing plant and animal communities, often changing the character of their adopted ecosystem. Native species suffer, diversity is lost and the now out of balance community can become subject to damage from soil erosion and other maladies associated with a sick environment.

When species are dropped into a community where they did not evolve, some die off immediately because they cannot survive. Other species fit in more or less nicely, eating and being eaten by others; finding and inhabiting that new niche.

Some species, when introduced, into a new community are able to exploit the new home in ways that their new neighbors cannot. One example well known in the upper Midwest is garlic mustard. This plant sprouts from the ground in late February or March, just as soon as the snow melts. It continues growing through the warm months and into early winter, only going dormant in the deepest of the cold months. It also produces a tremendous amount of viable seed. Finally, its roots put out a chemical that inhibits other seeds from sprouting. Most of the micro organisms, insects and animals that would eat it in its native Europe do not exist here, so it has few natural enemies.

Hope that was helpful. Let me know if you have specific questions or need additional information.

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Can invasive species drive the extinction of indigenous species?

Absolute extinction is not the only danger, serious disruption to an ecosystem occurs much more often than the obliteration of a single species.

When I finished college in 1983, I left Wisconsin and headed out to build a career in other parts of the county. The woodlands were notable for their lovely displays of spring wildflowers like trout lilies, dogtooth violets, jack-in-the-pulpet and lady slipper orchids. Upon my return in 1997, I found that nearly every woodland in southern Wisconsin was ringed by dense stands of honeysuckle bushes, buckthorn and biennial called garlic mustard. These three plants had completely changed the character of the woodland environment across an entire region. Woodlands chocked by these invasive plants saw almost no sunlight getting to the soil. Slopes and small ravines lost tremendous amounts of topsoil, eroded because the native plant community had been replaced by a small number of plants, none of which was good holding or building the soil.

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What is the difference between invasive, alien, and exotic species?

Most alien (plant) species are well behaved. European settlers brought oats, wheat, barley, many varieties of turf grass; your name it they brought it to America. Think of boxwood, lilacs, tulips and apples. These are all alien species and stay put pretty well where they are planted.

Certain native (plant) species can become invasive under the right circumstances. Sumac is a good example. It is native to North America but when it moves into disturbed ground its rhizomes spread quickly and it forms dense thickets. Many of the brambles, like black cap raspberries, push out native prairie grasses and wildflowers if they are not controlled by fire or herbicide.

Soil type, moisture and temperature can influence whether a species (alien or native) is invasive. Japanese knotweed is incredibly invasive in the UK and the Pacific Northwest but be less aggressive in places where cold winters and drier soils limits its rate of spread.

Finally, microbes can limit the reproduction and spread of plants. Native plants evolved with their surroundings and so are eaten by and have some level of defense against predation by the microbes in their neighborhood. Alien plants may be ignored by microbes in their new surroundings and so gain a competitive advantage over native plants.

Now let’s talk animals. All animals need food, water and shelter. Like plants, animals can be alien or native; invasive or well behaved. The success of an animal is limited either by environmental constraints (food, water & shelter) or predation by microbes and other animals. For every animal native to its environment, there are other animals that use it as food. Even top predators have predators.

Alien animals may find that they have few if any animals around them that see them as food. The New Zealand Mud Snail has been found in fresh water streams in southern Wisconsin. It thrives on the nutrient loaded surface water runoff from farm fields. None of the fish in those streams know how to eat the snail or they find it unpalatable. Regardless, with no natural predators, this new arrival is causing havoc in its new home.

The real problem with invasive species is that they upset the natural balance in an ecosystem resulting in lower lower diversity of species, lowering of native populations, and disruption of multiple food chains. It is often these disturbances more than their relative success that cause the most damage to the environment. It can take generations or centuries for their new neighbors to evolve predators and disease organisms that bring the new invader into ecological check.

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Why is it important to define a species as an introduced species?

When a species enters a new environment, it may find there a number of other organisms that keep it in check. There may be sufficient food and water. While there may be competition for those resources, there are enough for the new species to get by within bounds. In that happy case, the new species reaches what is called equalibrium in its new home.

If the existing predators are too successful, competition too fierce, or climate conditions are unbearable, the species will quickly decline and fail in its new environment.

Some species arrive in a new environment; find its climate to their liking with few predators and weak competitors. Assuming plenty of food and water, the sky is the limit. The new species will thrive, pushing out competitors and making itself one of the dominant species in its new home. Those are plants, animal and micro organisms we call invasive.

Invasive species may be either native or alien. Sometimes a native species can become invasive if conditions favor the native plant, such as in soil disturbed by recent fire or construction activity. In those cases, the “pioneer” species will be dominant and appear invasive until conditions return to pre-disturbance and its neighbors regain their place in the environment.

Alien invasive species are much more of a problem because the local environment lacks the predators and competitors that kept it in bounds in its old home. It can take many generations for a new equilibrium to occur. In the mean time many native species can become extinct in their local environment never to return.

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2017

December 2017

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Landowner Help for Common Reed Control

Picture of standing man with common reed towering over him.

Photo by James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Landowners across southeastern Wisconsin know about common reed, an invasive grass that is even tougher than cattails. If this invasive species is on your hit list we have good news for you.

Description

Common reed (Phragmites australis), also called phragmites, invades moist habitats including lake shores, river banks and roadways. It has extensive rhizomes that can quickly spread underground and take over large areas. These rhizomes store energy, as a result, the plant can recover from cutting, burning or grazing. 

Common reed alters hydrology and wildlife habitat, increases fire potential, and shades native species. It can spread through root fragmentation, long runners above ground, and sometimes windblown seeds or cut stem fragments. Phragmites is on the Wisconsin DNR Chapter 40 list of prohibited and restricted species.

According to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Phragmites is the tallest wetland grass in Wisconsin. It grows upwards of 14 feet. Seed heads are visible from August to September, and it has a round stem, long, wide leaves. Its prominent plume-like seed head that is whitish to purplish in color. Be aware, there is a variety of Phragmites native to Wisconsin that forms less dense patches (you can generally see through the stand) and flowers earlier (July to August).

The Midwest Invasive Plant Network (MIPN) is working in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Region 9, to host a series of 3 webinars in January and February featuring case studies of the restoration of sites invaded with exotic pest plants.

Webinar

Illustration of common reed seed head.

The first event will be on Tuesday, January 16th, 11:30 – 12:30 CST. The presentation is titled “Bridging the Gap – New Insights on Technology and on-the-ground Management of Phragmites.” The presentation will be given by Steve Apfelbaum, Founder and Chairman of Applied Ecological Services out of Brodhead, Wisconsin.

For free registration, please visit the MIPN site, and make sure the email address mipn@mortonarb.org is in your approved contacts to receive the webinar link.

October 2017

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Bring in the Hit Squad

Picture of young garlic mustard plants.

Young garlic mustard plants are especially easy to treat in the late fall or early spring when native plants are dormant. [Conservation Media, llc]

Are you struggling with tough invasive like garlic mustard and reed canary grass? This is a great time to put a serious hurt on these super species. It is also among the most economical times to get your revenge.

By now, native plants have gone dormant. The landscape should by and large be brown and tan. For landowners, who are battling any number of exotic weed species, the remaining green is a bitter reminder of their problem.

Fortunately, this green also represents a unique opportunity. Since native plants are safely sleeping beneath the soil, landowners are free to use non-selective herbicides that would otherwise harm beneficial plants. Chief among these is glyphosate, which is cheap and highly effective.

Those living plants that are sprayed now will either be killed outright or severely weakened so that they are unable to survive the stress of winter. By contrast, application made in spring or summer might stress but not kill something like reed canary grass, which could substantially recover before the arrival of winter.

Glyphosate is short lived, breaking down in the soil in just a couple weeks. This means that wildflowers and native grasses that emerge in the spring will be unaffected by fall spraying.

I still avoid broadcast spraying in most situations because it is wasteful. Spot spraying is way easier when your green target weeds stand out so well. This tactic is especially useful in situations where weeds are scattered among more rate native plants I want to protect.

Depending on weather, this window can be short. Snow and hard freezes will force even hearty weeds into dormancy. Herbicides tend to be more readily taken up on warm sunny fall days. 

Herbicide needs to be part of an integrated weed management approach that includes management tools like controlled fire, cover crops and mowing. As always, follow label directions to minimize the amount of chemical used while making sure it will do its job.

Tuesday, 03 October 2017

Forest Weed Grant Applications Due Soon

Are you a private landowner in the Mukwonago river watershed. who wants to remove invasive weeds and brush from your woodlands? The Friends of Mukwonago River has funds available now from a WDNR Forest Weed Management Grant. Application deadline to the Friends is October 23, 2017.

Landowners in the Mukwonago River Watershed have a unique opportunity to receive financial assistance as they learn control techniques for these and other invasive species and perform restoration on their own properties under a Forest Weed Grant through the Friends of the Mukwonago River. Invasive species are the current most critical threat to the health of the watershed.

Interested? The landowner application is here: 2016 FWG Land Owner Application & Rubric, and the FWG Land Management Template. Figure out where and what on your property you want to manage. You will need to submit and follow a management plan that is not difficult.

The WMA-PFGP assists eligible weed management groups (WMG) in addressing invasive plants, both by dealing directly with the invasives and by providing education, information and outreach to others. This is a reimbursement program that covers up to 75% of the eligible costs, 25% match is required.

Questions? Contact Friends at mukwonagoriver.org  Send your completed application to this email address, or our PO Box 21, Eagle WI. 53119   www.mukwonagoriver.org.