Local Governments Combating Invaders

The following article was submitted by Katie Grzesiak, Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network to help inform Nature Change readers about local government efforts to control invasive plants in Northwest Lower Michigan.

Pollinator Garden (Credit: K. Grzesiak)

The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN) does a lot of work with land managers like the Huron-Manistee National Forest and Leelanau Conservancy as well as the public, including garden clubs. Some of this work involves cost-sharing with private landowners  for invasive control treatments. Often overlooked are partnerships with a different kind of organization:  local governments.  Townships especially have stepped up to the plate on invasive species in a variety of inspiring ways.

Several townships are helping ISN communicate with their residents.  Some included an ISN flier in their tax mailings, others shared information on Facebook, and still others, like Crystal Lake Township in Benzie County, share information directly. “Crystal Lake Township is pleased to help ISN spread the word about invasive species,” says Township Supervisor, Amy Ferris.   To keep the burden of questions on ISN and off Township staff, this is achieved “through outreach materials on our website and in our newsletter, and by keeping informative materials supplied in the office.”

Phragmities – before & after treatment (Credit: Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay)

Arguably the most important invasive species work anyone can do is prevention.  When working with townships, ISN suggests they adopt a Planting Guide (or their own version of it) for new developments. This helps developers avoid choosing invasive species that are commonly sold and encourages the use of native alternatives. This is particularly crucial for species that are still legal to purchase but cause a lot of harm, like Japanese barberry. Four townships presently have adopted this guide, and more are considering it; Garfield Township was the first in ISN’s service area to adopt one in 2012, and Leelanau Township the most recent in 2018.

When invasive species are already present, prevention can only stop the spread, and it’s time for control. ISN is sometimes able to procure grants that assists with treating high-priority invasive plants across the region.  Beginning in 2010, this was the case with invasive Phragmites in the Grand Traverse Bay.  To make the treatment process easier, some townships, like Peninsula Township, adopted an ordinance to require Phragmites management unless a landowner opted out.

Filer Township Work Crew (Credit: Fields Ratliff)

Not all invasive species receive grant funding for treatment, however.  Autumn olive is an invader that is widespread across ISN’s service area, but few grants will fund its removal.  In cases like these, ISN works with local governments to loan out tools and share expertise to control invasives on their properties.  “After working with ISN on the control of garlic mustard and Japanese barberry for several years, Filer Township was eager to manage other invasive species,” says Filer Township Supervisor Terry Walker.  “Autumn olive has really spread dramatically in several areas in our 97-acre park and we are now trying to get it under control.  ISN spent a day with us this past fall and we are very grateful for the technical guidance they gave us. With their help, we were able to get a good start on controlling this invasive species.  We value our natural areas, and this is just a portion of what we are doing to keep them in good shape for our residents now and in the future.”

Of course, ISN is not only working with townships on these projects.  Villages (like Honor), cities (like Traverse City), Home Owner Associations (like Harbor Village in Manistee), Lake Associations (like Benzie Long Lake Association), and other groups are also stepping up to work with ISN on invasive species management.  Don’t see your government or group on the list of ISN partners?  Reach out to us!  We’d love to have you involved.

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