Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Battle Of The Invasives (Plants, That Is) In Bird Park

Debbie Larson, a longtime resident and board member of the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy, had noticed that invasive plants in Bird Park were only getting worse at about the same time Mayfair Drive resident Louanne Baily approached her to ask if there was anything the Conservancy could do about the problem.  The two joined forces as co-chairs of the group's Invasives Task Force and set about assessing where there was the most damage in order to formulate a plan.

The plants deemed to be the most serious offenders were labeled Tier 1 and include Japanese knotweed, bittersweet, English ivy and garlic mustard.  Less problematic but still causing damage are plants in Tier 2, including Tree-of-Heaven, a pesky offender.

While the problem is not new to local parks and green spaces, it has gotten progressively worse in recent years as trees have come down due to storm damage and attendant clearing.  The resultant light filtering into the woods makes for ideal growing conditions for invasive plants.

Today, a casual stroller through Bird Park will find patches of ground covered in English ivy and large swaths of land given over to grapevine and knotweed.  These plantings may look attractive but, in actuality, they choke out the native plants that make for healthy, self-sustaining forestation.

Since June of this year, the Conservancy has organized volunteers who meet in Bird Park monthly to cut back (or pull out) invasive plants.  It's not enough, however, and in the case of knotweed, only spraying to kill the plant will stop the fast-growing species from moving further into the park.

The Conservancy has petitioned the Municipality to spend $15,000 over the next three years on a vegetation management program to stem the tide of invasives, to be handled by a licensed contractor.  If the program is put into place, the group vows to remain vigilant and continue its campaign of cutting and clearing invasive plants.

Larson has spoken to a similar group in Fox Chapel that has been battling invasives for the past ten years and notes that their vegetation management program is showing results.  "They started at the top of a watershed and are still working on it but, finally, native plants are moving back in."

Those interested in volunteering for the Conservancy's monthly meetup in Bird Park can contact Larson at larsondrc at verizon dot net or Baily at lbaily at earthlink dot net.  Alternatively, letters of support can be emailed to the Mt. Lebanon commissioners at commission at mtlebanon dot org.  The next Bird Park event will be held in December, weather permitting, or in Spring 2011.