On a gorgeous spring Thursday in northern Virginia, Lisa Bright is beaming as she stands in an Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge field displaying a Japanese knotweed root she has just yanked from the ground.
Bright loves ridding the landscape of Japanese knotweed, Japanese honeysuckle and other invasive plants. She loves spreading the word about ecological balance. She loves the interrelationship of species. And she cherishes botanical diversity.
That is why Occoquan Bay Refuge has entered into an agreement whereby Bright and Earth Sanghaa largely volunteer nonprofit organization she and her husband, Chris, cofoundedare attempting to restore the mostly monotypic 12acre refuge field to native meadow.
The refuge views the effort as an experimenta chance to see if Earth Sanghas manual laborintensive, herbicidelight approach to invasive species control and habitat restoration will work. The Refuge System invasive species program, which is funding the venture, sees it as a pilot project to learn more about engaging volunteers in restoring refuge lands.
Some of the techniques they come up with might be useful for other projects here or elsewhere. If they are, Ill consider this project a success, says refuge manager Greg Weiler.
They have the willingness to tackle the job. Lisa and Chris know native plants and have extensive experience doing this kind of thing, says refuge outdoor recreation planner Marty McClevey. Lisa is very purist in what she wants restored into the meadows here. I admire that.
Earth Sangha has 260 members and a network of 800 local volunteers. We work in the spirit of Buddhist practice, its Web site says, but our members and volunteers come from a wide variety of religious and secular backgrounds.
The nonprofit runs a nursery containing 40,000 plants of 220 species, all native to Piedmont or coastal Virginia within a 50mile radius of its Fairfax County base. Earth Sangha means Earth community, and the organizations ethic is not to own land itself but rather to restore public lands.
We want to do ecological work on the ground, not policy, says Lisa Bright. Theres lots of policy. We want to do something.
Fifthgraders, from left, Llewellyn Dortch, Madison Manning and Linnea Sullivan help remove invasive grasses at Occoquan Bay Refuge.
Credit: Bill OBrian/USFWS
At Occoquan Bay Refuge, Earth Sangha has taken on the daunting restoration task because, says Bright, on the East Coast, naturally occurring native meadow is almost nonexistent now.
The fiveyear, $70,000 project is in its second year. Last year, Earth Sangha and its trained volunteers surveyed the field to understand its vegetation and began removing invasives by hand. This year, they continue to remove invasives manually with limited herbicide spraying help from the refuge. They also will plant a small test plot. Next year, wider native planting is plannedsome with golden rod and boneset seeds Earth Sangha will collect by hand at the refuge.
The projects goal is to remove invasives, control nativebutoverlydominant Eastern gamma grass and replant a diverse meadow of native grasses and forbs that will be desirable habitat for songbirds and breeding grassland birds. The current gamma grassdominated field is not attractive to such birds.
Were a different kind of contractor, says Bright. We dont come out one time to do the job. We constantly over time bring volunteers out to do the job.
Bright also brings out students. On this gorgeous Thursday, a dozen or so fifthgraders from private Browne Academy in nearby Alexandria are helping out.
At first, I worried about making sure the kids would be productive for Lisa, says science teacher Mike Sasso, but then I realized that it was all about exposure, exposing them to the restoration process.
We try to maximize education for kids, but its not that they help me that much, she says.
Rather, they see insects, butterflies, birds, varied vegetation, the openness of the refuge. And they say, Could I get a job here? It would be cool if I do this kind of work every day and for the rest of my life.