Issue 5: Fall 2000 page 7

Vegetative SWAT Tem Arrives in Park to Fight Invasive Alien Plant Species
By Leslie N. Winston, Jr. Park Ranger, Protection

You might not have seen them but the invasive exotic plant species Ailanthus altissima knew they were there!

The "Vegetative SWAT Team" met Ailanthus head on.

The Vegetative SWAT Team, composed of four National Park Service employees, travels among eight Virginia parks eradicating numerous exotic species in the vegetative ecosystem. Richmond National Battlefield Park is among the eight parks benefiting from the special SWAT Team, which is funded by a Natural Resources Protection grant for fiscal years 2000 and 2001. The other National Parks are Appomattox Court House, Booker T. Washington, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, George Washington Birthplace, Petersburg, Colonial and Shenandoah.

In Richmond, the SWAT Team worked from September 7 through September 13 battling the Ailanthus. Ailanthus is a fierce competitor, but was no match for their main weapons, sharp-bladed chain saws. In addition to the chain saws the SWAT Team used the hebicide Garlon. Garlon was applied directly to stumps left behind once the Ailanthus trees were cut down.

The common name of Ailanthus is the "Tree of Heaven". This fast growing invasive has been located in just about every unit of the park. Tree of Heaven is typically found along forest, road and field edges. One of the characteristic of an alien exotic is the fact that it can rapidly invade and out-compete other trees and plants for moisture, light and nutrients. Alien exotic plants do this through one or more of the following: high rate of photosynthesis, an ability to withstand high temperatures, a prolific reproduction capacity (meaning they mature quickly, are great producers of seeds, and have extensive root systems), a highly successful seed germination and seed dispersal rate, by producing biological toxins that suppress the growth of other plants, and/or relative freedom from natural controls.

Other exotics on the SWAT Team hit list include Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle), Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stiltgrass), and Ligustrum (Privet).

Dedicated professionals from every division in the park assisted the SWAT Team while they were here. The staff of Richmond National Battlefield Park/ Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site will maintain a constant vigil to keep these exotic species from taking over.

The history, origin, and mandate of the National Park Service can be found in the 1916 Organic Act. The Organic Act states that "the service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments,and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

The words to "preserve and protect" found in the Organic Act can be used to implicate among others, the threat of the alien invasive plant species that menace Richmond's National Park sites. The ecosystem of the parks can be forever changed if these exotic species are not kept in check!

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Last updated: February 26, 2015

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