Invasive Species Strike Team Works At ASP

ALLEGANY STATE PARK – A trip along the trails, paved and not, through the state park at the right time of the year will yield some amazing floral sights, interesting fragrances and even some nice-looking trees.

Many of those species are not native to the area, however, and can create quite a bad situation for native plants. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has enlisted strike teams to take care of such problems.

Allegany State Park, like any other in New York, has its share of invasive species – both insect and plant. A team of four individuals – Camron Zerbian, Brian Siklinski, Katie Bauer and Rick Kenney – all with some level of college biology education, and a desire to pursue conservation, trudge the trails, looking for species that, for the most part, were brought to the United States in the mid to late 1800s as ornamental plants.

One such plant, the Multifloral Rose, according to one of the guides, was brought to the area as a nice barrier plant, offering a level of beauty in its flowers. Since its introduction, the rose bush has taken over large sections of the edges of wooded areas on the park.

“The thorny invasive (species) was distributed for use as a natural fencing and small game habitat and has since overtaken landscape,” according to an informational brochure.

The bushes are difficult to remove, due to depth of the roots, according to guides on the walk. To make sure they get as much as possible, tools like pickaxes, shovels and a root wrench are used.

“When we started this job, after two days of training on how to identify invasives, we would walk through the area and plants were pointed out to us,” Bauer said. “The plants were way out in the woods. I wondered how they could tell. Now, even as I drive down the road, I can pick them out with no problem.”

Another invasive that was intentionally brought to the park for ornamental reasons, planted next to the Administration Building in the Red House area, is the Asiatic Bittersweet. The Bittersweet starts out as a regular-looking vine, growing up various vertical structures, such as trees and other plants.

“They thought the plants would be a nice addition,” Bauer said. “Now, we are working to remove them from all over the park.”

As a display, the team members had recently removed examples of the invasives they are working to remove in the park. One of the examples, about 4 inches thick, was a section of this vine that was removed from around the Administration Building area.

“That vine is about 15 years old,” Bauer said. “It is a very fast-growing plant.”

The Asiatic Bittersweet constricts other trees as it grows and can shade out other vegetation. The plant can be identified by its round or oval-shaped leaves with fine toothed edges and its red berries. The berries are not edible for humans, but the plant is spread as birds and other animals eat them and the seeds are left behind.

One of the plants that has created the need for outside contractors to come into the park to aid in removal, using excavators and bulldozers, is the Japanese Barberry. The plant is known by its spiny thorns. Even after a season of contractor work last year, the strike team has found itself in the same areas, trying to remove the tenacious non-native plant.

These invasives are so-called because of their ability to overtake an entire region, choking off other plants, as well as their nature of being imports to the area. Many came as ornamentals, such as the Multifloral Rose, some even potted varieties that “escaped” the confines, like the Autumn Olive, but all can be destructive if not kept in check.

“Allegany State Park is probably in the best shape of all the parks we work with,” Zerbian said.

That being the case, the park has reached the point where controlling the growth of these invasive species has become the way to treat them, not eradication.

“That point has probably passed,” Bauer said. “We could go out and try to do it, but we would need many more teams to be able to do it.”

Pointing out an area that had been cleaned out of the six major invasives on the park grounds, probably about a quarter-acre in size, Bauer said it took her and the three other members of her team a full day to clear just that area.

“When we clean out an area like that, there is a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “But, we also know that there are sections like that, or bigger, just up the hill, or down the hill.”

Some of the species, like the Garlic Mustard, have seeds that can germinate and grow up to seven years after maturing on the plant. To make sure the plants do not come back, those have to be fully removed, to make sure seeds do not fall onto the soil to create a new crop. Others demand full removal of everything, to include the soil in which they grew, as the rhizomes and the roots are very fertile and will fall into the new soil easily, creating new generations.

The Parks Administration does have a plan in place to slowly bring better control to these species in only planting native species in the parks. The policy has been in place for about 10 years, according to Meg Janis, of the Parks Department. Some of the benefits are a natural deterrent to the invasive plants’ growth.

“We have found that the majority of these invasives really do not like shade,” Bauer said. “It helps if we can get a native canopy over them.”

The team, though facing a monumental task in Allegany State Park, is not only stationed there for the summer. The specialists take their pick axes, shovels and root wrench to parks all over the Department of Conservation’s Region 9, in search of species to rip from the ground, in an effort to protect native plants.