Introduction: Invasive Species Control: a Hands-on Environmental Project

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The best way to learn about nature is by getting your hands dirty.  The best way to learn about the impact of invasive species on our forests is to plan an invasive species control project.  This can be done by a school class, club, a scout troop, or even as a family or community project. 

Note:  The two photos on this page are the "before" and "after" photos for this project.

Educational Objectives:  To Learn about invasive species:  How to identify them, where they come from, what damage they cause to forests, and how to control them.  This is a great for learning about plant biology.

Appropriate ages of participants:  Ages 11 and up.

Inspiration for this Instructable:  Our middle son is contributing this instructable.  He performed an invasive species control project in our New England community.  This project served as his Eagle Scout Leadership Project and also as his Invasive Species Control Project for hisWilliam F. Hornaday Badge. He wants to use this Instructable Guide to educate others about invasive species and show them to how to plan and perform a similar project.  So if a 14-year-old boy can plan, organize, and direct this project, so can you!

Here is the link to a YouTube video that highlights this project:

Step 1: Supplies

- Work gloves for all participants

- 2 or 3 Weed wrenches

Note:  We borrowed weed wrenches from members of our Town's Conservation Committee

Step 2: Determine Common Invasives in Your Community Forests

By going on the web, and searching on “invasive species and your state” you will be able to identify the common invasives in your area.

While looking for a project that would help the environment, I noticed that the undergrowth of many forests in my community are completely overgrown with invasive species.  The most common invasives in my community’s forests are European Buckthorn and Honeysuckle Bush.

Step 3: Identify a Property for Your Project

I suggest that you contact your Town or City planner and talk to them about possible invasive species project sites.

After talking to our Town Planner and looking at several conservation areas in my community, I chose one that  I think that I will be able to provide the most impact toward restoring the forest undergrowth. It was not completely overgrown with invasives, and it would allow for the manual pulling of the invasives.  The invasives primarily covered an approximately 700 square foot area.  This property has a pond.  Often it is difficult to get permission to perform environmental projects near wet lands. However, our Town’s Conservation Committee along with our Town Planner were eager to approve this project.

Step 4: Identifying Invasive Species: Buckthorn

The participants  in your project should become experts with identifying the invasive species on the project property.  Start by looking up pictures and facts online, and match them to the invasives on the project site.

The most common invasives in my community’s forests are European Buckthorn and Bush Honeysuckle.

Buckthorn has white spots on its grey stems.  It has dark berries.  It is one of the last bushes or trees to have its leaves turn in the fall.  These aspects of this bush help it invade forests. The berries do not provide much nutritional value for birds and act as a diuretic for birds—thus the seeds are spread.

Step 5: Identifying Invasive Species: Bush Honeysuckle

Bush Honeysuckle grows so that its stems/branches arch down to the grown, sprout new roots and then grow new bushes.  It is also one of the last bushes or trees to have its leaves turn in the fall.

Step 6: Removing the Invasives From the Property

I visited various properties where invasive control techniques have been performed to gain knowledge as to the best way to tackle this problem.  I researched the best way to control the invasives.  We employed three types of invasive extraction:

1.  Invasives with stems with diameters less than a half an inch
could be pulled by volunteers wearing work gloves.  We made sure that we pulled as much of the roots as we could.

2. Invasives with stems with diameters between a half an inch and 2 inches
needed a weed wrench.  It was not difficult to find volunteers to work the weed wrench.
(See step 9 for instructions on how to use a weed wrench.)

3. Invasives with stems with diameters greater than 2 inches
can be pulled out by tying a chain to the tree and pulling them out with a jeep.  This should only be attempted by adults and only on properties that can be driven on.

Note:  Since it was not prudent to drive on the wetland property that I chose for my project, Invasives with stems with diameters greater than 2 inches were simply marked with surveyors’ tape.  These are going to be cut with a chain saw by an adult.  The Town will then hire a professional to apply State approved herbacide to the stumps.

Step 7: How to Use a Weed Wrench

1.  Push forward on weed wrench handle and open wrench jaws.

2. Close jaws around based of the stem close to the ground.  Pull back on weed wrench and pull invasive out of the ground. If you are pulling from soft ground, place the foot of the weed wrench in the "wooden shoe" so that it will be less likely to sink into the soft soil.

Note:  Sometimes it takes two volunteers to pull out a large or deeply rooted invasive.

Step 8: Invasive Removal Using Herbicides

Since it was not prudent to drive on the wetland property that I chose for my project, I could not use trucks to pull out the invasives.  Instead, invasives with stems with diameters greater than 2 inches were first marked with surveyors’ tape. These large invasives needed to be cut with chain saws and then a professional would be hired to to apply State-approved herbicides to the stumps.  The herbicide will kill the trees and root systems so that the invasives will not regrow .

The Town applied and got the necessary state permit. The tree-like invasives were cut with chain saws by an adults wearing protective gear.  The Town hired a professional who then applied state-approved herbicides to approximately 200 cut stems and stumps This phase took 30 man hours of work.

The first photo shows the professional herbicidist applying a blue-colored state approved herbicide to a stump. 

The second photo shows the stump with the herbicide on it.  Notice that the blue has now turned to green as the herbicide soaks into the sap of the tree.

Step 9: Compost Piles

Once the invasives are extracted from the ground, we simply made large compost piles on various locations on the property that were away from the path and the pond.  These will eventually compost into the ground.

Step 10: Completed Project

Here are the "after pictures."  Notice that the property that was once overgrown with invasives is now a beautifly natural area. The first photo shows the property after the manual extraction of invasives.  The second photo shows the property after the chainsaws and herbicides were applied.

What about regrowth?
Because it is likely that some berries have already been naturally planted, it is necessary to revisit the site yearly to pull any “baby invasives” that may have sprouted.

Step 11: Caution: Poisonous Invasives

I do not recommend that volunteers, especially children, take on poinsonous invasives such as Wild Parsnip.  Any contact to the skin can be very painful.  It is better to leave the removal of such invasives to an expert.

Hands-on Learning Contest

Runner Up in the
Hands-on Learning Contest