By: Maria Jenness, Stewardship Manager at Maine Island Trail Association
The Maine Island Trail is a series of almost 200 island and mainland sites, stretching the entire coast from the New Hampshire border to the Canadian border. These sites are open for low-impact recreation by small boaters for either day or overnight use. The Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) oversees the stewardship of these special places, which is increasingly including invasive plant management. Recognizing the threats invasive plants pose to both the ecosystems and the recreational value of Maine’s coastal islands, MITA has stepped up its focus on invasives in the past several years.
With only two program staff, and 200 sites spread over 350 plus miles, volunteers are truly MITA’s greatest asset in accomplishing its stewardship work. MITA is fortunate to have numerous corporate, school and other groups who want to do service days with us each year. The good and bad news is we have plenty of work to keep them busy on a few of the islands, particularly in Casco Bay. We also have the ability to transport folks to the islands, though boat capacity is often a more limiting factor than the number of willing volunteers. It is inspiring to see how excited people get about clipping back bittersweet, for instance. Despite the fact that we are beyond eradication and into management on some sites, volunteers still achieve a strong sense of accomplishment after a day’s work.
Looking beyond the intense management on heavily infested islands, however, MITA realized that it needed to take the approach of “early detection, rapid response”. This concept, familiar to anyone who works with invasive plants, is essential in preventing other sites from requiring such an intense level of management. We wanted to take this approach on a trail-wide scale, so in 2012 called on MITA’s roughly 100 island adopters and 30 monitor skippers to keep their eyes out for invasives during their regular island stewardship visits. We selected the “big five” invasive species of concern to target on the MITA islands, and created a crib sheet to assist volunteers in identifying them. These species that we are currently focusing on are Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry, Black Swallowwort, Japanese Knotweed and Bush Honeysuckles.
There was a very positive initial response to this call for action. Many people applauded the efforts and foresight in attempting to identify and eliminate any early infestations. It was also amazing what people already knew but just never thought to alert MITA to. One volunteer said “No doubt you know about the well established barberry” on an island she stewards. In fact we hadn’t been aware of it, but soon after had a work day to remove it, and are now monitoring for any new growth. However, while we certainly inspired some volunteers to be more vigilant in looking for invasives, we realized that many of our regular volunteer monitors are probably not familiar enough with the species to really know what they’re looking for. Looking forward, we would like to send an “invasive plant scout” on our scheduled monitoring trips. This person, or persons, could help identify any infestations, and also note which islands are currently invasive-free.
The following are a few ways you can get involved with MITA’s invasive plant work:
Be an invasive plant scout! Individuals knowledgeable about invasive plants are invited to join MITA’s monitoring trips to document presence or absence of invasives on Trail sites.
Lead a volunteer work day in Casco Bay! MITA can always use more leaders for volunteer groups, especially people with their own mode of transportation to the islands.
Organize your own group volunteer day! MITA will let you know which islands need help and what priorities are for projects. If you don’t have your own transportation, MITA can assist with coordinating rides to and from the island.
There are always more ways to get involved. Anyone interested in helping out can contact Maria Jenness, Stewardship Manager, at stewards.mita.org
Image Description: Volunteer group, Take Action Portland lands on Little Chebeague Island, September 2012
Image Description: MITA volunteer working on Little Chebeague Is