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Contact: Bambi Teague, (828) 271 4779 ext 209
(Asheville) Resource managers and plant specialists with the Blue Ridge Parkway are calling on neighboring landowners to help rein in the destructive growth of exotic plants, and they’re inviting the public to comment on a proposed Exotic Plant Management Plan that is open for public input through October 31.
Bambi Teague, chief of resource management and science, said the 469-mile Parkway is home to some 60 invasive plant species that displace native flora, reduce biological diversity, disrupt ecological processes and even mar parkway scenery.
Exotics are a concern all across the National Park system, she said, but control is especially difficult to achieve along a Parkway that has nearly 1,500 miles of boundary and an estimated 5,000 adjoining landowners. “If people who live near the Parkway would landscape with native plants and learn to recognize and control exotics, it would be a tremendous help.”
Nancy Fraley, who supervises the National Park Service’s Southeast Region Exotic Plant Management Team, admits that getting that cooperation may be difficult. Landowners have to educate themselves, and they have to see the need to act.
“Kudzu is one thing,” said Fraley. “Most people can see the damage this fast-growing plant does. It’s harder to make that connection with other exotics. For instance, Wisteria, with its showy purple flowers, and Oriental Bittersweet, with its brilliant orange fruit, can be very attractive, and it’s hard to convince people that these plants can quickly choke trees and be terribly destructive.”
Fraley and her team help the Parkway and 16 other parks in the Southeast by using a variety of control techniques. Sometimes that’s as simple as uprooting target plants. Other times, chemical or biological controls are employed.
Dr. Chris Ulrey, the Parkway’s plant ecologist, noted that all National Park Service areas rely on Integrated Pest Management where several strategies are considered to control exotic plants while reducing risks to human health and the environment. “With exotic plants, one of the main considerations is minimizing impact to ‘non-target’ or native plants. In many cases that means cutting the exotic vine or woody plant near the ground and immediately applying a herbicide to the individual stump.”
He said those same principles are incorporated in the proposed Exotic Plant Management Plan that is now out for public review. (On the Internet at parkplanning.nps.gov. Select Blue Ridge Parkway from the dropdown menu and click on “Plans/documents open for comment.”) “What we’re trying to do is prioritize our actions according to level of threat to the resource and the likelihood of achieving some measure of control.”
Volunteers sometimes assist in control activities. Today, students from Warren Wilson College, the Weaverville Garden Club, and the local Asheville Weed Team joined National Park Service employees to attack Multiflora Rose and Oriental Bittersweet on a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail just north of the Folk Art Center.
For Warren Wilson junior Isadora Albert, the work was familiar. Albert learned about the problems exotics create when she worked for the National Park Service controlling exotic plants in northern Virginia. “I like to hike and I love the Parkway, so it’s personally rewarding.”
Teague said she hopes the Parkway will be able to put on an “Exotic Plants Blitz” next year by inviting the public to join her staff and the Southeast Region EPM Team in attacking non-native plants at multiple locations along the scenic corridor. “You can think of it as a ‘Clean up’ day, but instead of litter, we’ll be going after non-native plants.”
She acknowledged that total control may be impossible. The seeds and fruits from invasive plants can be dispersed by wind, birds, and even automobile tires and hikers’ boots. “Our goal is to do as much as we can to educate the public and to go after these alien species where we know they’re compromising the resource and where we have a chance of making some long-term difference.”
In addition to the Parkway’s proposed Exotic Plant Management Plan that is available on-line, information about exotic species can be found at: https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/index.htm.