Conservation club works behind the scenes to protect environment

Anyone who enjoys a walk in the woods, a breath of fresh air, or a day trip to the lakeshore can be part of the team that keeps these places protected so future generations can enjoy them as well. It is as easy as a walk in the park.

Garlic mustard by the bagful—Garlic “pulls” are being conducted all over the country. A pull in Belmont’s Rogue River Park Saturday, May 1, filled many oversized garbage bags, but the woodland still has a carpet of the plant in the park. Once the plant sets seeds, it must be properly disposed of after being pulled or the seeds will still fall and start thousands of new plants.

Members of Rockford’s chapter of the Izaak Walton League of American learned about a program for protecting our outdoors that any resident can help with. It is easy to appreciate Michigan’s great outdoors when spring is in the air and blossoms dominate woods and fields, but Ikes members have the outdoors on their minds all year round.

Early this year, when the predominate landscape color was white, members enjoyed a banquet and silent auction and learned about the Michigan State University Michigan Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN). Speaker Melanie Good, stewardship coordinator of the Michigan Land Conservancy and president of the Grand Rapids Audubon Club, offered information about MISIN and the latest philosophy of fighting invasive species.

Spring is a time when many invasive species are most visible. Starlings crowd birdfeeders, purple loosestrife blooms across wetlands, and the white flowers of garlic mustard blanket many woodland settings. Species such as garlic mustard overcrowd native plants such as our woodland trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger and mayapple.

Invasive species expert Melanie Good speaks at a banquet for the Izaak Walton League.

“How many of you have only noticed invasives when they are out of control?” Good asked the crowd of about 100 people at the annual banquet. She said invasives, unlike other forms of biologic disaster, threaten long-term, even permanent damage. When disasters happen, such as oil spills, time eventually will restore the habitat to its native condition. Invasive species do not allow similar healing.

Good said in some places, invasives such as garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed are so embedded it is likely hopeless to attempt to eradicate them. She advised instead a plan of early detection and rapid response protection. In Rockford a prime property to protect is the Maas Nature Preserve off Summitt Avenue, an oak barrens and habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

“We don’t live in the same world we used to live in,” Good said. Protecting land no longer means purchasing it and letting it alone. “We can no longer let nature take its course.” She said environmental efforts must focus on fighting habitat destruction and invasive species.

Georgia Donovan, current president of the Rockford Ikes club, receives her award for the club’s environmental efforts over the past year.

Good said purple loosestrife is quickly recognized as a problem because it affects water fowl habitat. Hunters and bird lovers have an interest in fighting that threat. “Garlic mustard is by far the worst threat,” she stated. In addition to spreading thickly and quickly in woodlands, the plant kills a soil fungus that is necessary to 75 percent of Michigan’s native plants.

“Two thirds of the plants that are threatened are threatened because of an invasive species,” Good said.

Most were planted with the best of intention, such as garlic mustard, which was brought from Europe as a food plant. Autumn olive was promoted to farmers and landowners, and the federal government encouraged growing the shrub at one time. Now environmentalists recognize its danger to the environment and native plants. Good pointed out that only 17 out of 350 types of bird in Michigan eat the plant’s berry. Only seven types of insect make use of the plant. By comparison, 535 insects rely on our native oaks for survival.

Luckily, people who love the outdoors are in the best position to help eliminate these threats. Good explained that MISIN is a website where the public can learn about and then report sightings of invasive species—information that can then be used to eliminate the threat to our environment.

To find out more about MISIN, visit online at misin.msu.edu/. To find out more about the Ikes, visit Michiganikes.org. Whether you are a jogger, birdwatcher, or simply enjoy a walk through the woods, with MISIN and groups like Ikes, you can take an active—yet easy—part in protecting our parks.

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