Appalachian Trail and Invasive Species

September 12, 2006 at 11:57 pm 4 comments

This evening I got a letter from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy naming six threats to the Appalachian Trail.  A number of the items were items I had heard or read about before (particularly in editorials in the AT Journeys magazine)– new Wind Farms in Maine, expanding surburban sprawl in Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the ongoing misuse of motorized vehicles near the trail.  There was one item that did stick out to me though– Threat #4 was “Invasive Species.”  They had an interesting quote:

Invasive species are the single greatest cause of loss of biodiversity in the US…

Now, the invasive species is something my relatives and I are definitely aware of, having had frustrating run-ins with them.  (Oddly enough, all three of these annoying plants were once recommended by the U.S. Government.  These are problems the meddlings of our own government brought on us!)

  • Crown Vetch (Me)
    For years now, I’ve battled crown vetch in my backyard.  I may have the Virginia Department of Transportation to thank for my woes.  Many highway departments, including Virginia, started planting crown vetch along the sides of highways and new roads.  It grew fast so it was intended for erosion control.  Alas, it grows quickly, chokes out the other plants (such as my poor periwinkle in my backyard) and it is tough to kill.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says, “prescribed burning in late spring can be an effective control” and they go on to say, “Burns may need to be repeated for several years to achieve adequate control.”  Great.  Good one, highway departments.
  • Multiflora Rose (Great Uncle Chuck)
    Everytime I visit his farm, my Great Uncle Chuck points to all these thick thorny bushes taking over his farmland and gripes about it.  When he first started his farm, the government encouraged (and paid) him to use this plant from Japan as a “living fence”.  He complied and got his nice little subsidy.  Then as the National Park Service so aptly describes, “Its tenacious and unstoppable growth habit was eventually recognized as a problem on pastures and unplowed lands, where it disrupted cattle grazing.”  This poses a problem for my Great Uncle as he runs a beef farm.  As a summary, my Great Uncle got a small subsidy right after WWII and years later, he is still paying the price!  He can’t kill his “living fence”– it’s been a half century and it is still plaguing him.
  • Kudzu (Carolyn and Clint)
    My sister and brother-in-law are encountering this one.  It took over their entire backyard within a week this past summer.  (Clint’s pictures on Flickr).  Kudzu originated from Japan and in the 1930’s the U.S. Government promoted it for, just like crown vetch, erosion control!  Just like my Great Uncle was with multiflora rose, farmers were paid incentives to plant it during the 1940’s.  Now, according to The Amazing Story of Kudzu, it “covers over seven million acres of the deep South” and “there are a lot of people working hard to get rid of it.”

Even though, I’m very familiar with the downsides of invasive species, I guess never thought about them threatening the AT. 

That said, the biodiversity we have on the Appalachian Trail is one of the things I really embrace.  I love seeing all the variety of trees, fungi and plants.  In fact, I specifically felt (and wrote about) the abscence of diversity when hiking in Northern Minnesota and in Colorado.  Those hikes were fun and invigorating in their own right– but they just didn’t have the same spirit and the same feel as my beloved Appalachian Mountains. 

Sadly, if the multiflora roses, oriental bittersweets, mimosas, tree of heavens, privets, Japanese honeysuckles, English ivys and the coltsfoots of the world have their way, that spirit and feel won’t quite be the same.  Especially if the rhododendrons, mountain laurel, ferns, Virginia creeper and trillians are choked out.

….I’ll probably still hike it though. 🙂

P.S.  If you feel so inclined, I’m sure the Appalachian Trail Conservacy will be happy to take your donation to help with their trail maintenance and invasive species fights.

Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Carolyn L, Clint L, Great Uncle Chuck, Hiking.

Journal Except: September 11th A Different Kind of Tailgate– Hawk Observatory Tower

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tgaw  |  September 13, 2006 at 12:02 am

    To be fair– here is a link to a Discover Magazine article from May 2005 where they discuss how invasive species can be good:


  • 2. Clint  |  September 14, 2006 at 9:09 am

    Man, I always called it “kudzu”, but wasn’t really sure it was… Now I’m pretty damn sure that’s EXACTLY what it is!

    You can EAT it?! Crazy. I wonder if I could be saving money by eating my weeds. I didn’t find the recipies themselves, other than the tea which sounded like a pain in the ass.

    I have used weed-whackers on it. Problem is, sometimes you have to take 30 seconds to cut through a thick vine. A hatchet works better. The astroturf works well, but must be constantly repeated and of course — is ugly/ghetto by many standards (see my pictures in link above).

    I added a link on all 4 of my kudzu pics back to this post 🙂

  • 3. Fall Ode to Virginia Creeper « TGAW  |  October 1, 2006 at 10:23 am

    […] My Great Uncle is not alone.  There are those who find Virginia Creeper to be a pest, those who have allergic reactions to it like poison ivy and those who would consider it to be an invasive species.   Perhaps I should as well.  But, honestly, I’m too smitten with the leaves! […]

  • […] supposed to go extinct. Life is a battle. Like it or not, man is a part of nature. We’re an invasive species. Like kudzu. It is our nature to cause an imbalance. Most species create an imbalance if you […]


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