Making a Difference in Your Own Backyard
By ACRES Stewardship Director Evan Hill
This article was originally posted in 2022
Each year, the ACRES stewardship crew conducts invasive species management on more than 260 acres. Most of the year, the field crew consists of two to three experienced staff members. From May to August, during the summer intern season, the field crew doubles. Although we may be most productive during summer, invasive species management is a year-round task at ACRES.
Mid-February through early April is the only time invasive species get a break from us. During the growing season, our crew’s main mode of attack is foliar spraying, a precise application of a carefully measured herbicide mixed with water and sprayed on photosynthesising plant material. In the dormant season, we switch from foliar spraying to cut stem treatments. This method entails cutting invasive brush low to the ground and applying herbicide directly to the cut surface where it will be absorbed and taken to the root system. During early spring, sap flow changes directions and leaf development begins. At this stage there are no leaves yet to spray, and sap flow renders cut stem applications ineffective.
All of this may sound complicated and overwhelming when trying to manage over 7,300 acres. However, it is really quite simple: it only requires good attention to detail, and a strong commitment to improve the health of the land around you. All of this becomes easier if you are managing only a small section of overgrown fencerow, or the 20 acres of woods you own behind your house. In the Midwest, where many states are composed largely of private lands, it is important that owners of all properties, both large and small, are active stewards of the land around them. On the scale that ACRES manages invasives, it is costly. But scaling that back to a fencerow, or even five acres behind your house, is inexpensive. Tackling invasives on a smaller scale is less daunting and can be done with tools you likely have in the garage or can find at the local hardware store.
Many invasive species we encounter in natural areas likely originated in someone’s landscaping. Autumn olive, honeysuckle, multiflora rose, callery pear, burning bush and barberry are some of the more common invasive species you may encounter. You may recognize them from the landscaping around your home and neighborhood. Several native species/landscaping shrubs are great alternatives to these highly invasive landscaping plants. Consider replacing honeysuckle and autumn olive with redbud, flowering dogwood, witch hazel, hazelnut, ninebark, chokeberry or serviceberry. There is even a native alternative to burning bush. Eastern wahoo, our native euonymus species, is even more beautiful than the non-native variety. If you want to make a difference on your own property, native landscaping is a great place to start.
If you’re interested in doing more, there are newly formed groups in your area that provide landowners with both a management plan and the knowledge to accomplish the goals set within the plan, free of charge. Such a group is the Indiana Invasives Initiative, which functions within the State of Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management (SICIM). If your property qualifies, you may be eligible for a cost-share program offered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Within this department, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers a wide variety of programs offering financial incentives for invasive species management. ACRES also occasionally hosts invasive species workshops focusing on identification and appropriate treatment methods.
Stewardship in your own backyard not only improves the health of your own land but also helps limit the spread of invasives to the land around you— including, perhaps, the ACRES preserve down the road.
ACRES Stewardship Director Evan Hill Evan ensures ACRES land is protected and well cared for. Leading the stewardship team, he deploys resources where they are needed across our 27-county service area. From habitat restoration to non-native invasive species management, Evan implements stewardship plans that allow our natural areas to thrive.