A refuge volunteer helps fill a truck bed with invasive water chestnuts pulled earlier this summer from the Sudbury River at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts.
|Credit: Alan Bragg|
The People vs. Invasives
Sudbury River in eastern Massachusetts is one of the state's natural jewels. Volunteers for the National Wildlife Refuge System, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are toiling this summer to keep it that way. Volunteers with Assabet, Great Meadows and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuges will fan out on foot and by canoe to find, map and pull as many invasive plants as possible during the growing season.
The ground campaigns are part of the Refuge System's ongoing war against invasives; a war that carried an $18.4 million price tag in fiscal 2009, according to Jenny Ericson, acting invasive species coordinator for the Service. Some experts blame invasives for more than $100 billion a year in ecological damage, nationwide.
Water chestnuts — rooted aquatic plants that can grow as long as 16 feet — are a big threat to the Sudbury River. Left untended, these Eurasian exotics (not the same as the water chestnuts used in Asian cooking) crowd out native plants and clog the river, making boating and fishing difficult.
Refuge System biologist Amber Carr, who is leading the Sudbury effort, says when she led her first assault last year, water chestnuts had spread like a mat on the river. Now, with so many of the invasives destroyed, "the difference this year is just amazing," she says. "You can see native plants!"
Farther south, along the Virginia coast, refuge volunteers are fighting another invasive: an Asian vine called beach vitex. The plant, brought into the U.S. several years ago for dune stabilization, is reported to grow up to 60 feet a year, says Ericson, and it's not protecting the dunes, it's smothering them and preventing endangered and threatened sea turtles from nesting.
Refuge System volunteers are engaged in all aspects of invasive management on refuges. Since 2005, some 5,600 volunteers contributed 86,800 hours to invasive species management activities, including treatment, inventory and restoration activities on over 415,000 public acres.http://www.fws.gov/northeast/oxbow/