WESPEN Online Order Form print this page
US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge native habitat gets a jump-start from the Rhody Native Initiative and a dedicated intern

Region 5, October 2, 2012
Newport third graders and Biological Technician Allison Schiffner plant native wildflowers in front of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center, May 2012
Newport third graders and Biological Technician Allison Schiffner plant native wildflowers in front of the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center, May 2012 - Photo Credit: n/a
Groups of students from Roger Williams University and Native Plant Intern Rachel Steward plant meadowsweet (pictured) and other native shrubs at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, August 2012
Groups of students from Roger Williams University and Native Plant Intern Rachel Steward plant meadowsweet (pictured) and other native shrubs at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, August 2012 - Photo Credit: n/a
Invasive Plant Intern Rachel Steward and Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Lang plant seaside goldenrod (pictured) and other native wildflowers provided by Rhody Native at Ninigret Wildlife Refuge, September 2012
Invasive Plant Intern Rachel Steward and Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Lang plant seaside goldenrod (pictured) and other native wildflowers provided by Rhody Native at Ninigret Wildlife Refuge, September 2012 - Photo Credit: n/a
Biological Technicians and Biology Program Interns restoring habitats and having fun! From left, Mike Buckless, Allison Shiffner, Heather Grybas, Rachel Steward and Ben Gaspar
Biological Technicians and Biology Program Interns restoring habitats and having fun! From left, Mike Buckless, Allison Shiffner, Heather Grybas, Rachel Steward and Ben Gaspar - Photo Credit: n/a

The Rhody Native program is facilitated by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey (RINHS), and represents an effort to increase access to native plants that have been sourced from local populations. Those that work for the initiative target populations of native plants, collect seeds, propagate and care for seedlings and then make the plants available to garden centers and restoration initiatives. Rhody Native collects some of the seeds through a partnership with the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island (RINWR), and in return, they have made some plants available to the refuge for restoration projects. This working relationship has also allowed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the RINWR that are a branch of USFWS to have a presence at several local events where we were able to speak with community members about invasive plant control, native habitat restoration and other conservation projects.

This summer, the RINWR have been able to accomplish many restoration projects in coordination with Rhody Native. For example, the RINHS provided 320 pots of native Little Bluestem grass which was planted at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge in September. The project’s Native Plant Intern collected around 500 shadbush seeds from USFWS property on Block Island in June, when other mainland sources had low seed production. Additionally, many of these projects were opportunities for Fish and Wildlife to educate refuge visitors and volunteers about native wildflower and shrubs, and the importance of restoring and maintaining Rhode Island ecosystems.

The first planting project of the summer field season was held in May at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in collaboration with Save the Bay. For one week in May a different group of students visited the refuge each day, the refuge hosted a total of 130 third grade students from Middletown who helped plant native wildflowers in the fields just west of the visitor center. Over 300 wildflowers were planted, including New England aster, smooth blue aster, wild strawberry, wild garlic, showy goldenrod, cow parsnip, sweet Indian plantain, columbine, wild bergamot, and butterfly weed. Next year these plants should mature and help to bolster habitat for native pollinators. Additionally, we were able to involve many young students in RINWR conservation efforts and in turn, they will continue to feel linked to Sachuest Point NWR.

Shrubland restoration has also been a major focus of the summer, including installment of a native demonstration garden outside the Sachuest Point Visitor Center, and planting large quantities of shrubs at Sachuest Point, Trustom Pond and Ninigret National Wildlife Refuges. Forty native shrubs were added to the garden outside the Sachuest Point Visitor Center to visually enhance the exterior of the visitor’s center, and also to show how native shrubs can be used to landscape in coastal areas. The plantings included semi-evergreens like inkberry and bayberry, as well as nutrient-rich fall and winter fruit producers, such as elderberry and winterberry, and was completed in time for the grand re-opening of the visitor center. At the end of August, we welcomed 80 student volunteers from Providence College and 40 student volunteers from Roger Williams University who joined us to plant a total of 180 native shrubs over the course of two days. The new shrubs were planted in two separate restoration areas, the first in a grassland area northwest of the Sachuest Point parking lot and the second at the south end of a field where mowing is being used to control common tansy. The students were enormously helpful in the planting process, greatly reducing the time and effort needed to get so many plants in the ground; and thereby increasing the survival of the planted shrubs. Later this summer refuge staff and volunteers planted another 140 shrubs at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge with the help of refuge volunteers. We have also produced a pamphlet that will be available at the Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center detailing the benefits of various native shrubs, with the hope that visitors to the refuges will make an effort to restore native habitat in their own gardens and yards.

The Rhody Native project works with local nurseries to propagate and distribute native plants to the local landscape both through sales to individual customers and donations to non-profit organizations like University of Rhode Island and the RI National Wildlife Refuges. One of these nurseries contributed nearly 500 native plants this fall that were planted in restored grassland habitat at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. The plants included Wavy Leaved Aster, Grey Goldenrod, Seaside Goldenrod, Grass leaved Goldenrod, and Mountain Mint. The wildflowers will benefit native pollinators such as butterflies and increase the diversity of native plant species on the refuge. These native species were specifically selected for their drought tolerant properties since they were planted in harsh growing conditions of the restored runways on portions of Ninigret that were previously used as a naval base.
Reflections on a summer of experience:

As the Native Plant Intern this summer, I have been able to act as a liaison with the Natural History Survey, allowing me to participate in events where FWS would not have normally had a presence. The first annual Green Market Festival, held at the local nursery Farmer’s Daughter by the RI Nursery and Landscape Association, was one such event. I joined RINHS and Rhody Native at their tent and was able to speak to people about the NWR system in Rhode Island, invasive plant control efforts we conduct on the refuges and restoration projects we had completed so far. The link with Rhody Native really helped to highlight our focus on maintaining native habitat and encouraging Rhode Islanders to do the same on their property. I also led weekly potting workshops at the University of Rhode Island through the month of September, which gave me a similar opportunity to speak with community members about Fish and Wildlife and the wildlife refuges. This summer’s internship has offered a truly unique opportunity to understand native habitat restoration from multiple perspectives. The funding for this collaboration between RI Natural History Survey and US Fish and Wildlife was provided by an Invasive Species grant from US Fish and Wildlife Service and the work will continue through the 2013 growing season.

 

Rachel Steward
Native Plant Intern 2012

Contact Info: Jennifer Lapis, (413) 253-8303, jennifer_lapis@fws.gov