Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Tackling non-native invasive species helps protect health of unique island ecosystem

VERMONT – In early August, staff from VHB (a private consulting firm with an office in South Burlington), the Green Mountain National Forest, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Lake Champlain Land Trust joined forces to tackle control of woody non-native invasive shrubs on an island in Lake Champlain where several rare plants are known to occur. 

The need for this work was recognized by Adam Crary (VHB) and Guy Maguire (volunteer) in the summer of 2018. Both visited the island to monitor rare plants as volunteers for the Native Plant Trust’s New England Plant Conservation Program and noted the shrubby invasive species impacting the island habitat. The Lake Champlain Land Trust conserved the island in 1985, and have retained ownership because, though very small in size, the island is home to five plant species that are very rare throughout New England.

Due to the island’s uniqueness, dealing with the invasive shrubs was a priority for management. Since an island offers a more contained ecosystem than most land-bound habitats, it was judged as a site where invasive species control might succeed. Crary and Maguire pitched the idea of significant volunteer resources to Will Durkin, Lake Champlain Land Trust’s newly hired Restoration Coordinator, as well as to botany staff from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Site restoration planning was tricky, because of the need to coordinate schedules of staff from several different organizations and timing needed to avoid rare plant trampling and mature fruit release from the invasive shrubs, but also because the weather needed to be suitable. Flame weeding as a tool against invasive plants is only safe when fire danger is low, and preferably only after rain the day which limits flammability of ground litter. Conversely, accessing the island is only safe when the waves are minimal. A local marina graciously allowed free use of its parking lot and shoreline for access to the island. Getting around on the small island is also challenging due to steep terrain and prevalent poison ivy.  

Despite these challenges, the group made a dent in the dense infestations by using flame-weeding, cutting, and baggies, enjoyed the collaborative process, and hope to return in future years to keep pushing back invasive species from this unique and sensitive ecosystem.

Group photo of volunteers standing in near the shoreline, lake behind, mountains in the far background
Twelve staff (including the photographer from VHB) from four organizations collaborate to control invasive species. Photo courtesy of VHB.