Master Naturalists Tackle Invasives on Naked Mountain

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. I will post information about where and when I will be doing a book launch event. And check here for media related to the book and other events. At my book launch, I will be doing readings from the book and will explain how  Naked Mountain became Virginia’s 49th natural area preserve.  I will also discuss important lessons I’ve learned about ovarian cancer, grieving, and remaking a life. I hope you will join me.

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Firepink (Silene virginica) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

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.

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Perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

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.

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Headwaters Master Naturalists (from left) Jerry Hopkins, Chris Bowlen, Gene Bowlen working on Naked Mountain

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!

Natural Heritage Stewards Conduct Easement Compliance Visit

I had a very special visit yesterday from two of the Natural Heritage Division’s stewards:  Ryan Klopf, Mountain Region, and Adam Christie, Shenandoah Valley Region. It was an assessment of my compliance with the terms of the deed, held by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), dedicating my property — Naked Mountain — as a Natural Area Preserve. The Natural Heritage Division of DCR manages the state’s system of Natural Area Preserves, now numbering 62.  My property, Naked Mountain, is No. 49.

Here is an excerpt from the DCR monitoring procedures document that describes the overall purpose for the visit I had yesterday:

“The legal instrument that establishes a property as a natural area preserve is called a deed of natural area preserve dedication.  For non-DCR-owned properties this deed serves as a conservation easement, requiring the perpetual protection of the property as habitat for rare species and significant natural communities.  These easements specify compatible and non-compatible uses of the property and grant DCR the right and responsibility of ensuring the terms of the easement are upheld.  Easement monitoring is the process of determining if the terms of the easement are being upheld and documenting changes (or lack of change) to the property.  It also serves as an opportunity to nurture the relationship with the landowner, who is a very important partner in biodiversity protection.  Maintaining accurate records on the condition of the property and on communications with the landowner is essential for consistent enforcement of the terms of the easement and long-term protection of the property’s natural heritage resources.”

The terms of our deed, which my husband and I helped to draft and agreed to, are pretty simple:  leave nature alone!

Of course, the one area where we have never left nature alone is in battling invasive species that don’t belong on Naked Mountain.  Natural Heritage stewards and I do that work together.  And so, the main focus of this first time monitoring visit was to check on our invasive species progress and talk about a developing a management plan for their control going forward.

We walked around the property visiting areas where we continue to pull up Garlic Mustard, have pulled up Wineberry and then spread locally gathered Bottlebrush grass seeds, and where we have done cut stump or hack and squirt treatment on Ailanthus trees.. Adam also marked a two acre area near an old house site that is infested with creeping periwinkle to monitor how quickly it spreads.

Here are some pics:

Natural Heritage Division Stewards Adam Christie on left and Ryan Klopf on right. We are on the summit of Naked Mountain.

Adam Christie filling out DCR monitoring report.

Then I took them to see something they don’t normally encounter during their stewardship duties:  a plane crash.  Their response:  “Cool!”

But, ever the vigilant steward, Adam noted this graffiti on the plane:

Adam notes the date on the plane crash graffiti: 2015!

So… we decided to add another item to the management plan:  clear, painted boundaries and signs around the perimeter of the preserve!

Oh … and the story behind that plane crash?  Working on it.  Have hired a neighbor, Andy Wright, who is an historian.  He’s plowing through 1960’s microfiche of the local newspaper in nearby Amherst County.  That will be an interesting future post; stay tuned.