Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fighting Invasive Species: YP Cindy Evans Goes Garlic Mustard Pulling

The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network hosted a volunteer Garlic Mustard Pull event in Traverse City on May 28th from 4-7pm. When I came across the flyer a few weeks back I thought this would be a great event to sign my family up for as a way to be active and enjoy the natural surroundings, but also educational for my son (5) and my daughter (8) to learn about invasive species and why it’s important to care for our natural resources.

Of course, my kids were more excited about the free dinner offered afterwards that was garlic-mustard themed, catered by Oryana. They were both intrigued by the fact we would eat the very plant we would hunt for all day. 

Aside from my family, there were eight other community volunteers who gathered at the Boardman River Nature Center and listened to the quick presentation on where we were going and what we were looking for. Our guide, Chris, showed us how to identify the garlic mustard and how to pull it. Our goal was to pull the garlic mustard plants by the roots and place them in trash bags to be disposed of either in a landfill or used for animal and human consumption in various ways.

At first glance you wouldn’t realize that the garlic mustard doesn't belong: it looks s like any other wild flower you would see in the woods and is very attractive. But as we walked further into the area, it was easy to see how large and established these plants had become. Chris explained that as the garlic mustard grows and reseeds it leaves no room for the trillium or the other native plants to grow on the woodland floor.

He was right. As we came to well-established garlic mustard areas, there were no other plants surviving. Once we pulled the larger plants in a small area the land looked very barren underneath. By pulling them now, before the seeds were developed, we would make a difference in the next year. Each plant alone will develop hundreds of seeds that would be dispersed and cause spreading. My kids made this into a competition to see who could pull the most to fill a trash bag first. It wasn’t long and we had a pile of extra large trash bags full of these pesky plants. They do have a garlic scent to them as you pull and break the leaves, which I think possibly helped keep the mosquitoes at bay.

We spent a solid two hours pulling garlic mustard by the root and bagging it. In the end, we didn’t feel like we had won the battle. Once one spot was cleared there was another one just as large if not larger up ahead. It would have taken many more hours and a larger army of volunteers to have completed the small area we were working on. 

Chris, our guide, assured me that our few hours of effort really did make a difference. He and the Conservancy’s many partners have been out daily for weeks pulling garlic mustard and other invasive species and will continue to be out doing this very tedious job. I can’t imagine doing this for 8+ hours a day, every day: it’s hard work! 

I was not aware that this type of effort and dedication was being put forth in our community to maintain our beautiful natural areas. I have always enjoyed hiking and viewing our trails and woodlands, but ignorant to the efforts that are being taken so that I can enjoy those activities. I have heard about invasive species but didn’t realize what a true threat they could be until I saw it for myself. It would be devastating to no longer see the beautiful trillium on a walk through the woods. 

My 5-year-old son said, "These garlic plants are going to be endangered with me in the woods!” I hope that with this opportunity he has learned not just that garlic mustard is an invasive species, but the importance to care for our land and that even one person can make a difference. He may be small, but he pulled hundreds of plants and enjoyed talking our guide’s ear off about plants and animals.

The dinner we were served when we returned was excellent. The bread, soup, and salad from Oryana were all made with garlic mustard. Katie from the Invasive Species Network spoke to the group about all their efforts and programs and educated us on some facts about invasive species as we all enjoyed dinner. They were very appreciative of the volunteers help and sent us all home with free tee shirts and field guides. 

My son was studying the field guide pictures of the invasive plants on our way home so he could be prepared to identify and pull others in the future. I told him he isn’t allowed to pull plants from other people’s yards and that he should always ask an adult first. I hope that conversation registered with him, if not I can see myself explaining why my son was pulling plants from our neighbors yard and having to replace their flower beds. This could cost me more than I thought! 

Traverse City has so many opportunities to get involved or volunteer that it isn’t hard to find an event to participate in. There are countless organizations that are deserving and no short supply of causes. As a group, the YPs are active and make a difference--one member at a time!

-- Cindy Evans, TCYP Guest Blogger

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