Project Investigates Invasive-Plant Presence at Camp Edwards
Camp Edwards, Mass. — A two-year project began this month to determine if exotic invasive plants, which crowd out native habitats, are taking root at Camp Edwards. The survey of non-native vegetation on the Massachusetts Military Reservation’s upper 15,000 acres is being conducted by the Senior Environment Corps, under the direction of the Groundwater Study Program and the Natural Resource Office of the Environmental and Readiness Center (E&RC).
According to Karen Wilson, Natural Resources Specialist for the Groundwater Study Program, the project is part of the National Guard’s commitment to ensuring areas disturbed by the program’s investigation into soil and groundwater contamination from historic training activities are returned to their natural state.
"Making certain that native plants aren’t choked out is especially important at Camp Edwards where their presence is vital to the survival of 37 species of plants and animals listed by the state as threatened or endangered," Wilson explained. "Exotic invasive plants are one of the biggest threats to natural habitat everywhere and are a growing problem on Cape Cod."
Exotic plants are non-native species that originated in other regions, such as Asia, Europe or the southeastern United States. Those labeled as "invasive" tend to take hold and spread rapidly.
"In their natural environment, these plants would have limiting factors – wildlife, insects, competing plants and disease," Wilson said. "When introduced into another ecosystem, nothing keeps them in check. Native plants, which still have all their natural predators and controls, can’t compete."
Most of these species, like Scotch Broom and Japanese Bayberry, were introduced to the region as ornamental garden plants. Unfortunately, Wilson explained, their seeds are spread by birds and other animals, on shoes, on tires and by the wind. When they find a favorable area, they can rapidly take over.
Wilson, who joined the Groundwater Study Program last year to oversee environmental restoration of the investigation sites, was concerned that the program’s work at the base created ideal conditions for an exotic plants invasion. Fill dirt, the large trucks and crews working on the well installations, all can carry in invasive plant seeds. Cleared areas around roads and drill sites provide a perfect area for those seeds to germinate and flourish.
These conditions prompted Wilson to ask the Senior Environment Corps to help determine if non-native vegetation is becoming a problem. Volunteers, who already are working on a Groundwater Study Program project involving habitat restoration, began training last month to identify 15 exotic invasive species that have been found on parts of MMR or the Cape.
According to Arthur Neill, Upper Cape Fieldwork Coordinator for the Senior Environment Corps, he and the 14 volunteers, who are with AmeriCorp or the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, feel this is a critical project. "The Massachusetts Military Reservation is the largest, undeveloped, contiguous property left on the Cape," Neill said. "It’s rewarding to be involved in an effort that is crucial to preserving its natural habitat."
Neill also feels that halting any proliferation of exotic invasive plants at the base will help protect other areas of Cape Cod. "If these plants propagate at Camp Edwards, it creates more opportunities for seeds to spread and for other areas of natural habitat to be destroyed."
The volunteers, who are upper Cape resident, spend approximately 10 hours a week on the job. They will initially check 120 drills sites, then cleared areas and roadsides, for targeted plants. Since identification is easiest when distinguishing leaves and flowers or berries are visible, most of this year’s work will be completed by October.
Work will resume next spring and continue through the fall of 2003. Wilson and staff from the E&RC Natural Resource Office also will assist with the survey, concentrating on the Central Impact Area, the Southeast Ranges and Demolition Area 1, where investigative work by the Groundwater Study Program is ongoing.
Forms, completed for each survey site, will help map the areas inspected and where exotic invasive plants are found. The Senior Environment Corps will continue to monitor infested areas to determine if the plants are spreading.
Data gathered from the Groundwater Study Program sites will be used by the E&RC Natural Resource Office in Camp Edwards’ Integrated Pest Management Plan.
According to Wilson, the Groundwater Study Program also is using improved well-installation techniques to limit the introduction of exotic invasive plants. Instead of being cleared with a bulldozer, vegetation at the 35-by-80-foot well pads is now flush cut. Geo-textile, a construction fabric, is laid under any soil brought in for well pad installation to allow easy removal of this potential seed source following completion. Native plants can then re-sprout from the existing roots and seeds.
"The less we disturb and alter the work sites, the more likely it is that we will save valuable natural habitat from exotic invasive plants or other threats," Wilson said. "The Groundwater Study Program and the E&RC Natural Resource Office are committed to preserving the quality of the ecosystem at Camp Edwards and not allowing our activities to contribute to its degradation. With improved work site procedures and the Senior Environment Corps’ assistance with this proactive survey, we are working together to preserve the rare habitat under our stewardship."
The Groundwater Study Program, led by the National Guard Bureau, has been working on an investigation and cleanup of the upper 15,000 acres at Camp Edwards since 1997. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection oversee the program.
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