invasive species interns

State Department of Natural Resources biologist Eamonn Leonard points out an invasive species to Conner Moore, from left, Taia Blizard, and Andrea Shroba at the Coast Guard Station beach parking lot Tuesday.

They’ll show up in your yard uninvited, causing problems for all kinds of other living things. No, not a horde of feral hogs — the latest internet obsession — but invasive plants, which can easily hide in plain sight. From now through November, three Student Conservation Association interns will be working with the state Department of Natural Resources to help private landowners handle these problematic plants.

The three — Taia Blizard (environmental studies, Virginia Commonwealth University), Conner Moore (natural resources management, Auburn University) and Andrea Shroba (biology, University of Louisville) — are by and large new to the Georgia coast and eager to learn about the local ecology.

“Because I just graduated, I was doing research in a lab, based on chemical ecology, and I really wanted to do something with plants more in a natural setting,” Shroba said. “Invasive species plant management, I thought, was a great way to do that.”

The first assignment starts tomorrow.

“Thursday we’re going to meet with a condo manager about Chinese tallow,” said Eamonn Leonard, natural resources biologist with DNR. “We’re trying to work with different condo groups to work together to tackle that one species together instead of one group doing it and their neighbors not — seeing if we can connect them together so we can have a more regional effect. Because if one does it and their neighbor doesn’t, they’re just going to get re-invaded.”

The program is funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is also tied into AmeriCorps. Money from the NFWF goes to the herbicide, tools and paying the interns. This is the sixth year of the program in the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area.

“Part of that funding is to focus on trying to serve private landowners as much as we can, because we can get on state properties or federal properties and work with those partners — that’s not so hard — but it’s harder to get private landowners up to speed…,” Leonard said.

Leonard and the interns were gathered at the Coast Guard Bathhouse at East Beach on St. Simons Island, and he pointed to a nearby camphor tree.

“No one probably knows that it’s not native — it’s just green, so, you kind of have to know what it is, and know its impact on the environment, to really know that maybe we should do something about it,” Leonard said.

For property owners who may like an aspect of an invasive or non-native plant, Leonard suggested there’s a pretty good chance there are native plants that can provide choices that would be better, all things considered. Sometimes invasive plants have toxic leaves or berries, for instance, that are dangerous to native insects and animals, or in general just don’t give back much to the environment around them and effectively act like an artificial creation.

Plants the interns will mostly be concentrating on during their four months locally will be Chinese tallow, common reed, salt cedar, sand pine and water hyacinth.

Private landowners wishing to participate in the program and those with project ideas can email Leonard at eamonn.leonard@dnr.ga.gov.

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