“Invasive species often out-compete species native to southwest Michigan, and over time, may create dense thickets where almost nothing else can thrive. Treating invasive species helps improve the quality of natural communities so that they may provide resources to wildlife, produce life-sustaining ecosystem services, and, of course, remain spaces for humans to recreate,” explains Alyssa Lundberg, Ecological Services Manager.
The KNC Ecological Services Crew treats invasive species on KNC and client properties. All of our crew members hold commercial herbicide applicator licenses and are trained in techniques that minimize off-target impacts to protect the health of the habitat overall.
Shaina Alvesteffer, Conservation Technician, explains the importance of this work, “We have a responsibility to repair that which we have damaged. You know that saying “you break it, you buy it”? Every invasive species I know of was introduced by humans, therefore we bear responsibility to at least try and mitigate, or slow the harm, and give the native species a fighting chance.”
The crew treats a variety of invasive species but most commonly multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), non-native honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), invasive phragmites (phragmites australis), and narrow-leaf cattail (Typha angustifolia). Tyler Allyn-White, Research Biologist comments, “Narrow leaf and hybrid cattail might be one of the worst. Before I knew that it was invasive, I never thought anything of it. Now, I see it everywhere I go. Driving down the highway, out for a walk, whatever it may be.” One of the first steps in addressing invasive species is becoming familiar with identification especially reporting high priority species to statewide organizations through resources like the MSU MISIN phone app.
Our treatments are very selective, each stem is treated individually, which can be very time consuming but produces high quality habitats when treatments reoccur to catch resprouts and new infestations. Traditional treatments include (1) foliar spraying, using backpack sprayers to spray leaves of invasive plants, (2) cut and dab, using loppers or brushcutters to cut woody stemmed invasive plants and dabbing the cut stem with a herbicide soaked sponge to kill the root system, (3) swiping stems like invasive phragmites with an herbicide soaked sponge or glove, or (4) hand-pulling species like garlic mustard and dame’s rocket.
“It can be very laborious. Sometimes the amount of invasives can feel overwhelming and it can feel like a losing battle,” Kyle Martin, Senior Ecological Services Manager, describes some of the difficulty of the work.
Shaina expresses a dilemma often shared by our clientele in this type of work, “I dislike that herbicide is used as the predominant way to control invasives. It’s difficult because on one hand I’ve seen how quickly and efficiently herbicides can prevent, slow, or stop the spread of invasives, but on the other hand I worry about accidental harm to other plant/animals as well as within myself from it. I’ve seen how much time, money, and labor it saves, yet I wonder and hope this is something we will discover a better solution for in the future.”
Tyler also expresses the frustration of long-term management, “Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, and there are some instances where the disturbance that you create by doing invasive species treatments can encourage more invasive growth. For instance, last year we cleared huge patches of invasive shrubs and vines (glossy buckthorn, autumn olive and asiatic bittersweet). The next spring, the ground was blanketed with garlic mustard seedlings and new asiatic bittersweet sprouts that were already built up in the seedbank. It required intense follow up work, but native species are slowly starting to re-establish. Seeing things bounce back and knowing that you still have years of follow-up to come after you’ve done the heavy lifting is a little disheartening sometimes.”
However, if you are in it for the long haul, this work can have rewarding results. Our crew members delight in finding rare or native species and increased wildlife returning to these restored areas. Tyler describes one of our recent projects, “The areas along the prairie fen near the Green Heron Trail look completely different than when I started at KNC in 2021. My first year, the crew cleared the layer of invasive shrubs that had built up along the edges of the fen. Before we started, you couldn’t even see the fen from the trail, and wouldn’t know it was back there unless someone told you. Now, you can see the entire thing when you walk through that area, which is pretty much filled with flowers throughout the summer.”
Kyle also expresses similar results, “At [a long-term client’s] property we have continually knocked back woody encroachment with mowing, brush cutting, and spraying. Overtime we have seen more native species return out of the seed bank and the forest is now more aesthetically pleasing.”
Alyssa has also seen improvements from our resent years of work on site made possible by generous donors and grants, “We’ve spent many hours working near the intersection of the Habitat Haven and Ridge Run trails at KNC over the past few years. This area has been treated by cut-stump, foliar spray, basal bark, and prescribed burning. Removing invasive and opportunistic species has encouraged more forbs (wildflowers), grasses, and sunlight to cover the ground. Thinning woody species has also opened up a really nice view from the Gomez memorial bench on Ridge Run overlooking the fen.”
Check out our online photo story map about Prairie Fen Restoration activity at KNC and partner sites in 2020-2023 made possible by the Sustain Our Great Lakes grant and donors like the Gomez family here >
If you are interested in a consultation or additional resources for treating invasives on your own property contact . We also appreciate the support of donors to make this ongoing work possible onsite at KNC.