2015 Invasive Species Interns' Open Letter to The Community

The following letter from Brigid Reina and Rebecca Flesh appeared in the end-of-summer issue of the Madeline Island Gazette.

It gives a wonderful description of their work over the summer.

Pictured left to right: Brigid Reina holding largest honeysuckle stump (found on Chief Buffalo Ln), Bonnie Matuseski holding second largest buckthorn stump (found on Mission Hill), Rebecca Flesh holding half of largest buckthorn stump (found near Grant’s Point)

Pictured left to right: Brigid Reina holding largest honeysuckle stump (found on Chief Buffalo Ln), Bonnie Matuseski holding second largest buckthorn stump (found on Mission Hill), Rebecca Flesh holding half of largest buckthorn stump (found near Grant’s Point)

To the wonderful people of Madeline Island,

As you probably have heard by now, the Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve and the Town of La Pointe teamed up a couple years ago to start a multi-year invasive species removal internship.  The primary goal of the internship is to remove Common and Glossy Buckthorn, Japanese Barberry, and Exotic Honeysuckle from the island.  These species are extremely voracious and if left unchecked could likely turn the beautiful forests of the island into a thorny jungle.  These species have the ability to change the composition of the soil, making it difficult for native plants to grow.  This allows them to act as embezzlers of sunlight and moisture, shading out all other seedlings.  Because these invasive species aren’t originally from North America, they have no natural predators here, allowing them to out compete most native trees and shrubs.  Not only is this an eyesore, but most animals are unable to use these species for food or habitat.  One exception to this is ticks, who very much enjoy Japanese Barberry as it creates a high humidity environment for them to breed, hunt, and feed in.  In this way, Japanese Barberry has been proven to increase the prevalence of Lyme’s disease.           

Japanese Barberry, Common and Glossy Buckthorn, and Exotic Honeysuckle were all planted here on the island when no one was yet aware of the problems they create.  Since then they have spread vigorously throughout the south end of the island.  In places such as St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Chicago many land managers have been forced to give up the fight against these species as there is no end in sight.  Luckily, here on Madeline Island there is a light at the end of tunnel!  Being an island, the water creates a natural barrier against seed dispersal.  Birds only consume buckthorn fruit when they are starving as the berries are cathartic to them.  This means that the berries induce diarrhea and are quickly expelled so it is impossible for them to carry its seeds all the way over from the mainland.  So, we believe that with a combination of public awareness and proper treatment, these tenacious invaders can be successfully eliminated from this wondrous rock so many call home.  That being said, it won’t be a quick or easy process.  Japanese Barberry and Buckthorn seeds can lay dormant in the soil for 7 years before sprouting!  This means that for these invasive species to be successfully removed from an area, persistence is key.  We can’t stress enough the importance of getting the whole community involved and that this must be a team process for there to be success. Unfortunately, plants don’t understand or respect boundaries determined by humans, so they grow wherever’s convenient.  If one has invasive species removed from their property but the species remain on a neighbor’s property, the problem will quickly return.     

This is where our duty comes in as invasive plant slayers!  The treatment process starts with an outreach letter, informational brochure, participation agreement, and consent form mailed to landowners whose properties are likely to contain invasive species.  After consent forms are returned back by landowners, we set up a time to come visit the property for an identification walk through.  After determining whether a property has invasive species and which ones are present, we design a plan of attack.  Then, we gear up and revisit the property for the physical treatment process.  We only treat the invasive plants once the landowner has been made fully aware of the exact date/time we will be treating.  The treatment starts by cutting down and stump treating all larger buckthorn and exotic honeysuckle trees, either with loppers or a chainsaw.  Stump treating means that we use a hand spray bottle (similar to one you’d use to water spray naughty cats on the kitchen table) to apply a small amount of herbicide to the stump.  After this, we foliar spray all barberry and smaller (below waist height) buckthorn and exotic honeysuckle.  Foliar spraying is done using a backpack sprayer (think ghostbusters) full of herbicide attached to a hose with a spray nozzle.    

The herbicide mixture we use is a cocktail of Garlon (either 3A or 4), water, dye, and surfactant.  As long as these herbicides are used responsibly they do not pose a risk to either the environment or humans.  This means that personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn whenever handling herbicide, which includes long pants, a long sleeved shirt, safety glasses, socks, close toed shoes, and chemical resistant gloves.  Garlon 3A and 4 are both broad leaf formulas, meaning they don’t affect grasses or needled plants in any way.  Both forms of Garlon contain the same active ingredient, triclopyr, but 3A is an aquatic formula that is safe to use in damp environments.  An environment is deemed “damp” if it fails the sock test.  Failing the sock test is when ones socks become even slightly moistened after walking around without shoes on.  Because, Garlon 4 isn’t an aquatic formula it can be harmful to wildlife if used in standing water.  That being said, it is more effective than Garlon 3A at successfully eliminating invasive species.  So, when initially visiting properties, we decide which areas will be treated with Garlon 3A and which will be treated with Garlon 4.  Garlon 3A is used on all areas with damp soil, depressed topography, shorelines, and drainages.  We never spray either herbicide if there is any chance of rain within 2 hours or if the wind speed if faster than 8 miles per hour.

After the treatment process is complete, we contact the landowner by phone or email to remind them not to go walking through foliar sprayed areas for two days after the treatment occurs and to keep a close eye on children and pets.  The blue dye in the herbicide makes it extremely obvious which plants have been sprayed.  It is the landowner’s responsibility to properly dispose of brush piles and recommend businesses to haul the brush for them.  The entire treatment process is totally free to property owners, but they are urged to pay a minimal to either Wellspring Landscapes or Voice of Nature Tree Care for brush pile removal.  It is important to realize that just because a property has been treated once, doesn’t mean the problem is taken care of.  Because, the seeds of these species are able to stay dormant for so long, follow-up is extremely important.  This is why the total elimination of invasive species from Madeline Island is contingent upon the continuation of the MIWP invasive species internship program over the course of multiple years.  

Our work this summer has been a major success.  We treated a total of 32 properties and identified 12 properties require no treatment as they are invasive free.  In addition to this we have identified 11 more properties to be tackled by next year’s interns.  We received positive responses from the vast majority of landowners who received treatment on their property.  This year was the first of the three years that landowners started contacting us asking to be treated, rather than us having to start the communication process.  Just about every week at least one community member would contact us, which is very encouraging.  This means that the community is becoming increasingly aware of the need to eliminate invasive species from the island.

We would like to give a shout out of thanks to the arsenal of wonderful people whose help was especially pivotal in the success of this program.  First and foremost, Bonnie Matuseski has got to be the hardest working and most passionate volunteer the world has ever seen.  This program is her brainchild and we would never be here without her.  Thank you Bonnie, for everything including breakfasts on the porch and for always being in contact with us despite working a full time job.  You truly are a super woman and the best of role models.  Thank you Kristian Larsen for ordering/locating all necessary supplies and tools, connecting us with all sorts of people, and always answering our constant stream of (often stupid) questions.  Thank you Waggy and Barb Nelson for the scanner use, laminated paper, envelopes, stamps, processing all of our paperwork, and for your perpetually positive and joyful attitudes.  Thank you Evan Erickson for always being willing to drop everything and help us out.  From slaying a gigantic buckthorn mother tree to fixing my broken boots, we couldn’t have done it without you.  Thank you Adam Hage for creating the van/truck we lovingly call Frank Lloyd Wright and for often dropping everything to fix oil leaks, flat tires, and sticky back doors.  Thank you Gingie Humphrey for starting an invasive species removal revolution, for refueling us with lemonade on the hottest of days, and for the constant positive energy.  Thank you Bill Green for helping us reach out to the community and helping us to understand wonky property boundaries.  Thank you Connie Ross and the rest of the library staff for printer use and after/before hour library use.  Thank you Robin Russell for the ability to travel to NWMCA meetings in Ashland, which taught us so much about invasive species treatment.  Last but certainly not least, thank you Victoria Erhart for allowing us to stay at a reduced rate on the most beautiful property in the world.  Also for your hilarious yet educational parade float creation.  We didn’t realize spreading invasive species awareness could be such a blast.                          

We are so very grateful that you, the community members of Madeline Island, were so quick to accept and welcome us with open arms.  Many times a day people stopped to chat about the work we were doing.  Not only were we educating others, but with most conversations we learned something new about this unique and historical area.  Just about every day someone invited us to jump off their dock and swim in the lake.  Simply having permission to visit such beautiful pieces of Earth we would have never even known existed, was an amazing experience in and of itself.  We could not be more thankful to be working with such a supportive, generous, amicable community.  By the time you read this we will likely be gone from the island, but feel free to email miwpinvasives@gmail.net with any opinions on the continuation of this program, questions, comments, or requests for next year’s interns.   

Sincerely,

Eternally grateful invasive species interns of 2015
Brigid Reina and Rebecca Flesh