Monday, July 23, 2012

A creative solution to invasive plants problem at a Delaware park

Two new recruits are spending their summer at Brandywine Creek State Park tackling invasive plants by doing what they do best – eating.

Two river water buffalo, named Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, are chowing down on invasive plants at a rate of 20 pounds per day as part of the park’s prescribed grazing project. By both eating the plants and crushing the root mat with their weight, the water buffalo are proving very effective for controlling invasive plants like canary reed grass.

Julie Slacum stands with one of the water buffalo. Credit: USFWS

Invasive plants have become a big problem on the refuge because they form monocultures, which are large stands connected by a strong root mat, and overcrowd native plants. These non-native plants cannot serve as a viable habitat or food source for native animal species.

“These invasive species are taking over our wetland habitats,” said Julie Slacum, one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists working on the prescribed grazing project. “We are dealing with a lot of rare species here and it is important to try to maintain healthy wetlands for them.”

The project is a partnership among the Delaware Divisions of Parks and Recreation, which owns the land and manages the preserve, the Delaware Natural Heritage program, which will help monitor vegetation changes at the site, and the Service, which provided the funding to build the fence and lease the water buffalo.

Prescribed grazing is a preferable alternative to herbicide use because the chemicals in herbicides can adversely affect native plant and animal species. The buffalo will do minimal damage to native plants because the ones that they eat will easily grow back, but if enough damage is done to the invasive root mat, those plants will not be able to recur.

Oscar and Dodger have been grazing through the wetland since the end of June and will continue through August. If everything goes well this year, plans are for the buffalo to be used for seven to eight weeks during spring and summer months for the next few years. 

The pair has already been a huge help to biologists trying to control the spread of invasive species by eating their way to a healthier wetland.

NPR story 
Delaware Online
Delmarva Now 
Mariner Chesapeake
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Submitted by Maddie List

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