Invasive plant removal: “Are you ready? Always!” Firefly

IDENTIFICATION of a plant is critical for appropriate treatment and data collection. At the seedling stage, plants look quite alike. After weeks in the field, your eyes get familiar to the appearance for a given plant by its leaves, stem, shape, color, and texture. Also, some have a distinctive smell such as the peppery Coronopus didymus (CORDID, lesser swinecress). You would be amazed how much your brain can register. Memory after the 20-year mark does not decline that much! Of course, some questions come up. Any hesitations are relayed to our field camp leaders who master the plant populations. I cannot stress enough that a 20/20 color vision is a major requirement for this work! Talking about vision, the vegetation often obstructs a plant-from some invasive ground covers like Lobularia maritima (LOBMAR, Sweet Alyssum), to the native Kawelu (Eragrostis variabilis, ERAVAR), and trees with their full attire – branches and leaves. And let us not forget insects that can easily divert your attention-such as spiders, beetles, wasps, and ticks. Nature does not offer you the red carpet, for sure. Some trails were cut to access an RA or others were made from the last visit, but you often end up making your own path. Paths quickly disappear weeks after, filled up by some new growth. Which is good news for us because the new growth offers shade to the ground which slows down invasive plants. You also educate your eyes to look in every single direction, from the right to the left, from the top to the ground, under grasses, leaves, and branches-where invasive plants often hide. After some weeks in the field, you kind of feel where they would find refuge. To fight the enemy, you need to understand its strengths! The wildlife also makes obstacles. Look before you step on the ground if there is an accumulation of branches that could indicate a Wedge-tailed shearwater nest, or look for some Sooty tern eggs that lay bare on the ground. Look for burrows, underground nests made by Bonin petrels which are easily identified by a simple hole in the ground and a pile of fresh sand, which indicates the “entrance”. You should ALWAYS step in front of the hole, or you would inevitably drop into the unseen tunnel that can extend 6 feet long and get as deep as your knee! At head’s height and above, watch for White tern eggs and chicks that live on a branch without any nesting material. If you slightly move it, they can fall! Often, you hear the bird before you come too close to them such as the piercing noise of the Red-tailed tropicbird (even a chick!). You sense the decayed egg-like smell of the Red-footed booby nest covered by their white poop. Look also up in open areas to avoid the Laysan Albatross flying low when the winds are weak. They will not stop for you and you better freeze or squat down fast! You should always keep a wide berth around any bird. Some are more docile than others. All your senses are always on constant alert, everything is somehow unexpected out here where Nature reigns. It teaches you to proceed with tasks slowly to process your surroundings and act accordingly. Before Kure, I was always on the fast line and multi-tasking. I still catch myself walking too fast, but the Albatross reminds me to walk like a bird, slowly but surely!

ORIENTATION is key while working in the field where vegetation can easily obstruct the horizon and your coworkers. Cardinal points and target locations such as the Main House, the Runway, such tree, or birds nest, help to describe where you are located. Forget about right or left, they are meaningless here. Technology comes in very handy in the name of a handheld GPS unit with an integrated GIS software. You better love this new gadget! It has in its memory each RA’s borders and waypoints. These waypoints refer to different events such as invasive plant outbreaks, a bird nest or any unusual wildlife activity recorded in the last seasons and can modify your work. The data uploaded to provide a map distribution of such events. When treating an RA, each person spreads out at an even spacing along one of its borders. The two furthest persons will frame the portion covered, and determines the workflow. The Leader is always at the border of an RA. The Flagger marks the coverage of the treated area with stake flags, only if the RA isnʻt done in one sweep. Otherwise, that person follows the border opposite to the Leader. Parameters such as the shape, size, terrain, dirtiness, number of persons involved, or the weather have an impact in strategizing the coverage of an RA. Each person is responsible for the line that they walk in within these portions and transects, checking each portion of ground, zigzagging between his two side limits. It is recommended that you overlap your neighbor’s line. Typically, we overlook things right where we stand! As a team, we always got each other’s back! In dense vegetation, where you can barely see one another, COMMUNICATION using personal radio plays a crucial role. We are constantly checking on each other. Good news is when you hear: “Roger”, “Copy that”! Your orientation is challenged when everything around you is trees. Your GPS records your track, which helps to go back to the location you stopped or makes sure to not miss any seed bank waypoints or a portion of land. Remember also that your next visit will be more likely in four to six weeks, you do not want to miss an invasive plant that will flower and eventually drop seeds! If the population of an invasive plant is dense or “dirty” and/or the terrain is difficult to maneuver, the spacing between each other will be tighter than wide. When arriving at an RA, we first discussed the treatment strategies and make sure that everyone connects by radio, got its direction and orientation right.

Next, I will explain how we remove invasive plants and how we plan it.

Standby 🙂


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