Any day, from now until the snow flies, you might be driving down one of the many Adirondack roads and pass a car going very slowly along the roadside with its blinkers on. The person, or people, in the car may be staring at the roadside vegetation as they creep slowly along. Are they lost? Looking for a trailhead? Trying to find a dearly departed hubcap? No, the odds are, especially if they are wearing neon green t-shirts, these folks are volunteers for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), out scanning the Park’s roadsides for undesirable vegetation.
Last week the APIPP staff held a training session for about thirty such volunteers. People from all walks of life were in attendance: Lake George Water Stewards, students from the Adirondack Ecological Center, retirees, wildlife rehabilitators, and other assorted outdoor enthusiasts. What we all had in common was a desire to learn more about the Park’s invasive plants and how to play a role in their eradication.
This summer APIPP is conducting a Rapid Assessment of the Park’s roadways and backcountry, reconstructing a similar survey conducted in the 1990s. Each time a specimen was spotted during the original survey, its location was recorded on a map. The current survey will follow the same routes, looking to determine if the original patches of invasives are still there and if they have spread.
I signed up for this program because I, like many of my fellow volunteers, want to learn more about these aliens that are elbowing out our native vegetation. What surprised me was the sheer number of species this encompassed. I expected to hear about garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, phragmites, honeysuckle, burning bush, barberry, cup plant and Norway maple, but the list of targeted species went on to include a total of thirty plants! Some of these were entirely new to me, like cherry silverberry, false spiraea, wall-lettuce, and flowering rush; many are horticultural favorites that have escaped and gone wild.
As APIPP volunteers, we are helping conduct this rapid assessment for infestations; it is not our job to remove these plants. In fact, to do so, especially on state land, is technically illegal. One might think that yanking out a clump of garlic mustard while hiking up Big Slide would be considered a public service, but in truth, one needs special permits from state agencies to do so. The staff at APIPP have all the necessary permits and will follow up our surveys with hard-hitting actions wherever possible. Sometimes this requires back-breaking labor digging up plants, while other times applications of herbicides are in order.
What you can do as a member of the public is be aware of the vegetation around you and the vegetation you bring into the Park. If you are landscaping your home, you are best advised to seek out native plants. Not only have they evolved to survive our short growing seasons and harsh winters, but they have a centuries-old relationship with the local wildlife. Instead of planting burning bush for its stunning fall colors, plant red chokeberry (the birds will love you). Are you passionate about irises? Don’t plant the highly invasive yellow irises – plant native blue flag instead. Do you simply adore purple loosestrife? You can enjoy the same tall spires in Liatris.