Heidi Zemach for SCN –
As dandelion seeds wafted through the air, and tiny orange biting insects came after any exposed portions of skin, 10 volunteer staffers, and volunteers working for the Chugach National Forest and Kenai Fjords National Park pulled non-native invasive species from the side of Exit Glacier/Herman Leirer Road during the 11th annual Community Weed Pull June 27th. Wearing florescent orange vests, they knelt by the scenic roadside, surrounded by dandelions, digging up certain other types of troublesome plants, and placing them in green plastic bags.
Pulling non-native invasive weeds on a single afternoon along two small areas of roadside was a small gesture. But after six or seven straight summers of ridding Exit Glacier roadside of less common invasive plants like Alfalfa for instance, they’re making a difference.
“It’s pretty amazing how much smaller the population has gotten,” said Betty Charnon, the Kenai Peninsula Zone Ecologist, holding up an alfalfa plant. “These alfalfa plants are as ubiquitous as the dandelion, so it’s been quite nice to get rid of these where they started occurring here, before they can get established.”
“It’s kind of nice to work on a small patch because you feel like you can actually make a difference. I mean can you imagine trying to control these dandelions? You could work here all summer and feel like you haven’t done anything.”
Although the dandelion’s grey-white umbrellas can fly the seeds over great distances to disperse them, making these invasive flowers more pervasive, they’re actually less threatening to other species, Charnon said: “The nice thing about the dandelions is that it seems that a lot of other plants can grow with them. So even if they’re not native, they may not be ranked as highly invasive as some other species.”
Species targeted for this year’s weed pull also included Oxeye Daisy, Bird vetch, Common Timothy, and some forms of clover, said Christina Kriedeman, Kenai Fjords National Park Service’s Environmental Protection Specialist.
“Basically we try to control things from our parking lot (at mile 6.5 near entrance to Russian River Trail) and in the more remote areas. We try to have no weeds on the trails that are the furthest out into natural areas, and we try to control them in the parking lot, and kind of push back on the road if we have time,” she said.
Invasive weeds establish themselves more readily along roadsides like the road to Exit Glacier, or the road off Seward Highway leading into Girdwood because of the many people driving by and disturbing the area. People and their dogs often import invasive plant species on their clothing, gear, vehicles or fur. Thus, experts advise that people brush off one’s clothing, pets, or gear prior to entering remote areas to avoid hitchhiking seeds. It’s also a good idea to know what one’s own invasive species look like, and eliminate them from one’s property.
Orange Hawkweed is an invasive wildflower-like perennial with colorful orange-red flowers, commonly found along roadsides, forest openings, clear cuts and abandoned fields. It spreads primarily through runners, (4-12 per flowering plant), rhizomes, (underground stems producing new plants) and sporadic root buds and can completely decimate nearby meadow-type systems, easily replacing the native species. “After a number of years you’ll notice that it’s the only plant growing in the area,” Charnon said.It even sends out a chemical that inhibits other plants from pollinating.
Reed Canary grass is another particularly harmful invasive that can clog streams, waterways and ruin habitat for salmon and other wildlife that rely on wet habitat.
Although there weren’t many participants in the weed pull, which occurred in the middle of the summer work week, those who did appeared happy to be helping make a difference.
“It’s satisfying to pull them out,” said Cory Smith, a member of the Student Conservation Association, who has been working with the National Park Service. “You know you’re helping out the park to keep it pure of these plants,” he added. “I’ve seen a lot of invasives in the Lower 48 but it seems like they’re easier to control in Alaska, and it’s not like a lost cause. If you can get to them quick enough, you can tend to them before they take over. Except for dandelions- they’re a little overwhelming.”