Before I tell you about what happened on Naked Mountain earlier this week, take a moment and click on Naked Mountain, the Book on the menu bar and read about my new memoir. It’s up on Amazon and you can pre-order it now! You can also book me for an event on my contact page. As soon as it’s released on September 6th, I will be doing a 30 minute talk about the book — how Naked Mountain became Virginia’s 49th natural area preserve and the important lessons I’ve learned about ovarian cancer, grieving, and remaking a life. I will read excerpts, take questions and sign books.
Battling invasive plants and animals is the most important task facing anyone who happens to be fortunate enough to own a natural area preserve in Virginia. I suspect this imperative exists for publicly or privately owned natural area preserves everywhere in the U.S. The nature of the enemy may change from location to location, but the need to engage in the war is essentially the same. Ignoring these threats can easily overwhelm the biodiversity of the property, which is why it was dedicated as a preserve — a place that contains and protects excellent examples of natural communities and usually rare species within those communities.
Fortunately I have help in managing the invasives on Naked Mountain. First and foremost I have assistance from highly educated and trained stewards with the Natural Heritage Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Stewards provide essential management services to the 63 natural area preserves in Virginia. As one of the few on-site landowners, they provide me with advice and consultation on how to identify and manage invasives and come twice- a- year to work alongside me to control them. But their ability to do all of this has been severely challenged by budget limitations. As the number and acres of preserves has more than doubled in Virginia in the past decade and the threat from invasive species grows exponentially, the number of staff at Natural Heritage has actually declined. The Virginia Native Plant Society, a wonderful non-profit organization whose motto is: “conserving wild flowers and wild places,” is spearheading an effort targeted at boosting budget resources for Natural Heritage.
Another important and growing source of help is Virginia’s Master Naturalist program. Master Naturalists are volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards of public lands. The Central Blue Ridge Chapter is located in Nelson County and its leaders have always been my neighbors so I have had good help from this source for the past five years. Our focus has been on pulling up Garlic Mustard, an aggressive woodland and forest invasive that can quickly overwhelm native plants. It is also allelopathic, so its presence poisons the soil so that the seedlings from native trees and plants can’t grow.
I am pleased to report that this spring, in areas of Naked Mountain that used to be infested with Garlic Mustard, we found very little. It has taken ten years of persistent pulling to get to this point. I have been so focused on this task that even while I was being treated with chemotherapy for advanced ovarian cancer in 2008, I pulled up Garlic Mustard for hours and carried ten pound bags of it walking uphill for a mile.
Another important development in the Blue Ridge area of Virginia is the recent establishment of the Blue Ridge PRISM , or Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management. It’s a non-profit, citizen led organization that’s focused on controlling invasive species on private lands. I am coordinating the Dutch Creek Area Stewardship, one of the many local sub-groups that belong to Blue Ridge PRISM. I will write about this group and its work in a future post.
On April 19th, members of the Headwaters Master Naturalist chapter came to Naked Mountain to help me control a relatively new invasive, Multi-flora Rose. This non-native rose has begun infesting several areas along my road, including a small, beautiful seep where over 100 spectacular Cardinal plants (Lobelia cardinalis) bloom in August. Led by the extremely competent Chris Bowlen, her husband Gene and friend Jerry Hopkins we alternately dug up smaller Multi-flora shrubs or cut the canes on larger shrubs and dripped 40% glyphosate on the just cut stems. The latter procedure is not as effective in Spring as it would be in Fall when the plants nutrients are being drawn back down into the root system, but we felt it was worth trying. In the seep we were able to pull up the much smaller shrubs there and so avoided contaminating the flowing spring-fed stream with herbicide.
At the end of 2.5 hours of work, we had pulled or treated every visible multi-flora rose infestation along the mid-section of my 2.5 mile long road, the only area affected, so far. While I will need to constantly monitor for re-growth, I am extremely pleased with our result. Tackling an invasive as early as possible helps keep it from becoming an overwhelming problem.
Oh yes, you want to know why a master naturalist group from the Harrisonburg area of Virginia, which is 60 miles away, would come and work on Naked Mountain when they have their own important local projects? Last month, I gave a talk about the flora, fauna and geology of Naked Mountain to the Headwaters Master Naturalist Chapter. Several members who heard the talk expressed an interest in visiting Naked Mountain and offered to do invasive species field work as their ticket for admission. What a deal!