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Weed Warriors

Waging a fight against Japanese stiltgrass

Anne Arundel County forester Earl ‘Bud’ Reaves and Natasha Shangold, volunteer coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Forestry Board, stand near a swath of Japanese stiltgrass, an invasive species that is outcompeting natives, diminishing biodiversity and weakening the overall health of the environment.
    Microstegium vimineum. It’s a mouthful to say. A more common name for this uninvited guest to the Bay region’s forest floors is Japanese stiltgrass. On the first day of November, a cool crisp fall day, three nature-lovers — including myself — inspected a local infestation of the grass in the Severn Run Natural Environmental Area in Gambrills.
     We stood in a forest clearing among the stiltgrass — which had already died off and gone to seed — and wondered what could be done about it. Earl ‘Bud’ Reaves, an Anne Arundel County forester; Natasha Shangold, volunteer coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Forestry Board; and I — the guy who started a Facebook group for the Severn Run NEA.
     Many of our county’s wild places have been co-opted by invasive species. They are outcompeting natives, diminishing biodiversity and weakening the overall health of the environment. The program Weed Resistance was created as a barrier to these conquering invaders. Every little action, every little step toward returning the ecology to a natural balance, can make a difference.
     Weed Resistance knows this. The program, started by Reaves three years ago, is offered by the Anne Arundel County Forestry Board in partnership with the county’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, South River Federation (now part of the Arundel Rivers Federation), Watershed Stewards Academy, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Scenic Rivers Land Trust. Weed Resistance provides training and technical advice, tool caches and logistical support for projects to remove invasives.
      Anne Arundel’s Weed Warrior email list numbers 90, according to Shangold, but a smaller number are probably active.
     “Recruiting more volunteers would be great,” she said. “Very enthusiastic volunteers can become a squad leader and make their own work days. My job is to give them lots of support, give them the tools that they need. I mostly work in the public spaces.”
     As for the stiltgrass, the common forest invasive is thought to have come to America in the early 1900s as packing material in shipments of porcelain. The descendants flourished, challenging the native flora. Possible remediation has not been decided on. Eliminating just the small area inspected this month could take a few years because of the grasses’ success at sowing its seeds. 
     Native wild animals have evolved with native vegetation, which offer food.
     “It helps them survive,” Shangold said. “With the invasives, the animals can’t survive as well. Their populations suffer from it. As climate change increases these natives are being outcompeted by invasives because the invasives have a longer growing period.”
     Learn more at www.anne-arundel-weed-resistance.org. The Facebook group Friends of Severn Run Natural Environmental Area welcomes new members.