Posted by: Bridgett Hernandez

  • 12/31/2015

ACRES temporarily closes preserve to protect region from spread of Japanese stiltgrass

UPDATE 12/11/2020: This trail system has been retired. ACRES closed this property to the public as part of its comprehensive plan to update visitor amenities at ACRES nature preserves. Learn more at acreslandtrust.org/raisingourstandards

ACRES Land Trust is doing something it has never done in its 55-year history: close a preserve.

Effective immediately, the Little Cedar Creek Wildlife Sanctuary nature preserve in Allen County is temporarily closed.

The preserve’s closure allows the treatment of an infestation of Japanese stiltgrass, a non-native invasive species newly identified in northern Indiana.

“Together with our partners in land management, we feel good about our chances to treat and prevent the spread of Japanese stiltgrass,” said Jason Kissel, executive director of Indiana’s oldest and largest local nonprofit land trust. “If we can contain it and treat it, protecting even more natural areas throughout our region, it’s the right thing to do.”

“ACRES has never closed an open preserve,” said Kissel. “We reviewed all the options, including moving the trail to keep foot-traffic from spreading the seeds. The size and location of this infestation makes trail relocation expensive and ineffective. Temporary preserve closure during treatment is the most effective way to eliminate Japanese stiltgrass and protect our region from its spread.”

The 19-acre preserve within the Cedar Creek Corridor will likely remain closed for only a few years, a temporary span of time for a property that ACRES will protect forever. ACRES offers nearly five miles of trails on nearby preserves and more than 70 miles throughout the region.

Little Cedar Creek, which borders the temporarily closed preserve, is a tributary of Cedar Creek, one of three rivers in the state designated under the 1973 State of Indiana Natural, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act. As the region’s largest natural feature and most contiguously forested corridor, the Cedar Creek Corridor is of unique significance to the region and is a focus of the land trust.

Japanese stiltgrass during the growing season (photo courtesy of The Nature Conservncy)

Japanese stiltgrass can crowd out native plants, creating a monoculture, reducing tree regeneration and slowing the growth of tree seedlings and existing plants. It is an annual, introduced to the United States from Asia in the early 1900s. Ben Hess, regional ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources – Division of Nature Preserves, reported the species, found widely in southern Indiana and the eastern United States, in the ACRES preserve near Huntertown.

Land management professionals regularly monitor nature preserves to understand changes in local ecology. “Early warning is a benefit of land preservation,” said Kissel. “ACRES preserves are closely monitored and indicate what is likely happening on nearby land.”

Multiple land management organizations, including ACRES Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana DNR Division of Nature Preserves, Allen County Highway Department, Fort Wayne Parks, Fort Wayne Trails, and Little River Wetlands are working together to assess the infestation and create a collaborative approach to map, monitor and control it before it spreads.

Land managers subsequently found smaller infestations of the invasive grass at other nearby ACRES properties, including ditches, roadsides within other preserves and on private property. Because of the size and location of these infestations (away from trails), they do not pose as great of a threat of spreading by foot traffic — sticking in boot treads. These preserves will remain open to visitors.

“This is one of many reasons why we require visitors to stay on the trails,” said Casey Jones, director of land management for ACRES. “It’s clear to see how foot traffic has spread stiltgrass seeds outward from the main infestation area.”

Land Management preparing for closure

“In the case of Japanese stiltgrass, we’re fortunate to be able to address it early, before its population density climaxes here,” said Jones. “Other areas in our state and throughout the country have not had the advantage of identifying it at such an early stage. Google it; images of those areas have motivated our working group to act swiftly.”

In late fall and winter, it is hard to identify Japanese stiltgrass because it has died back.  From May to October, its relatively broad, bright green leaves with a faint luminescent line down the mid-section form a shallow ‘v’ as they extend from the stem. Found mostly in dense patches over three feet in diameter, it produces seed in September and October.

During the growing season, if you see a suspected infestation take a picture of the grass and report the infestation on-line through Report IN, a simple invasive plant reporting system found at EDDMapS.org/Indiana.

ACRES interns and DNR staff fight Japanese stiltgrass during a 2016 partner workday

For very small infestations, hand weeding is effective treatment before the plant flowers and sets seeds.  It will be necessary to pull or mow areas again each year until all the seeds are gone from the site.

Together with its members, ACRES Land Trust preserves 5,865 acres of significant natural areas in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. The majority of ACRES preserves offer natural areas for hiking, photography, birding, wellness, family and school visits, reflection, exploration and adventure.