Community Service - Pulling Invasives?

On Long Island, there are many preserves that are overrun, unmaintained, and have lost many of their native plants. I do not know the laws surrounding removal of introduced species in public spaces(non-State run), and also if this could potentially spread more invasives. For example, a preserve near my house is partially overrun with Lonicera japonica, Phragmites, and Ailanthus altissima. Am I allowed to remove these invasives with the proper methods, or do they just have to continue to spread and be left unchecked?
Finally, is planting native plants in their habitat allowed?


Typically, you should reach out the land managers directly to get involved to help remove them. So look up who manages which preserve and ask if they are having any invasive removal days or if you would be allowed to remove some of the invasives on your own. You might get in trouble tearing out a bunch of plants without permission, even if they are invasive.

You also shouldn’t plant anything without getting permission either.


There’s also a forgiveness/permission issue here. My inclination (speaking only for myself and not anyone else) would be to reach out to whoever manages the preserve and say “I would like to volunteer. Ideally I’d like to help plant natives and remove invasives. In the meantime I’ll go ahead and remove any egregious invasive I am confident I recognize. Please advise how I can best contribute.” Then do what you need to do, prioritizing doing no harm.


Thanks. The preserves are owned by Nassau County, and they don’t usually clean up invasives. I also do not know who to reach out to. Sometimes they will remove water chestnut, but never other invasives.


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Allowed? Probably not unless you have the proper permission (to plant or remove plants). As to the question of whether or not you should do it, it depends on the ecological context as well as your own opinions. I’m partial to guerrilla native planting wherever possible, although I tend to stay away from removing plants without permission. I think that contacting whoever is managing the preserves is the best first step, but, if that doesn’t get you anywhere, a few seed bombs can go a long way to improving a degraded site even if they are competing with invasive plants.

I can’t speak for the park that you’re thinking of, but speaking from the perspective of the groups that I work with, if you pulled and said “I know what garlic mustard is, would it be alright I pulled a lot of it?” most of them would be pretty happy. But they probably would want you on one of their weekly volunteer days to make sure you know what you’re talking about before they let you go pull them solo.

As to planting, this I would strongly encourage you to work with the park to make sure what you’re doing conforms with their management plan. To give two anecdotes: One site that I’m aware of wanted to prepare an area for Karner Blue Butterflies and was going to plant Lupines. They meant to order Broadleaf Lupines, but accidentally ordered Largeleaf Lupines (introduced) nobody caught it until it was too late. In another case, there was a site that was acquired in a very sandy area, the owners were planning to restore it to a sand prairie but were short of money. Another group that owned the adjacent land approached them about tying in the trail systems of the two properties and they would help restore the prairie. First group was thrilled, until they realized that the 2nd group had restored it to be a tall grass prairie, not a sand prairie that was planned. Make 100% sure that the plants you put in fit the action plan for that area.


Please. Don’t.

South Africa managed to retrieve extinct in the wild Erica verticillata from various botanical gardens around the world. Carefully nurtured stock to replant in the wild. Watched the new little plants grow!

And some ‘kind’ person planted silver bullet Portulacaria afra on the good stuff.


This is all good advice.

I just wanted to push back a bit against a general perception that planting is easier than weeding. In my view, it’s usually the other way around. That’s the case when we value wild nature for being wild, and are planting to attempt to restore lost ecological integrity of sites.

It takes some botanical knowledge to know which plants are unwanted weeds, and how best to kill them. It takes a lot more ecological knowledge to know which genetic strains of which native species should be planted in which microhabitats, to replicate natural recruitment processes without causing genetic pollution or inbreeding. Planting also risks the inadvertent introduction of new species, especially if brought in from nurseries some distance away (seeds, fungi, microbes, viruses, invertebrates).

When native species are still present at a site, or nearby, I much prefer a focus on weeding and letting the natives recover on their own. People are impatient. When we give native nature the time and space to be wild, it will do what it needs to do.

When native plant species have been removed from the landscape completely that’s when targeted planting is needed to kick start new populations. That’s best led by expert botanists with volunteer help.

Volunteer weeding of invasive plants is a fantastic way to give native plants a helping hand, and is great fun to do in groups. And, it makes the space for native plants to plant themselves exactly where they’re supposed to be.


I’d like to clarify what I meant by “ecological context”: I think it’s fine to plant native plants in a city park, vacant lot, or any other locations that are overrun with invasive/non-native plants and are heavily influenced by humans. It is never good to plant anything (including native plants) that will disturb an ecosystem more than it has already been disturbed, especially at the expense of any endemic or rare species. I avoid planting in preserves for that reason, because they are most often intended to protect a specific ecosystem that would change if you cause the balance of species to change. For example, there is a preserve that I visit frequently that aims to protect an endemic and endangered butterfly by preserving a habitat that is now rare because of encroachment from houses and golf courses. I would never plant anything in the preserve, even one of the butterfly’s host plants like Acmispon glaber, but I would plant it on the empty shoulder of a road about half-a-mile away. Even then, as @jon_sullivan advises:

I always collect seeds from as close as possible as to where they’re being planted so as not to introduce any genes or diseases that aren’t already present in that ecosystem. I’ve spent several years volunteering at an urban wetland preserve and, while we mostly work on removing invasive plants and allowing the native flora to recover as @jon_sullivan recommends, I’ve participated in several native plantings (with permission). Even when collecting seeds, though it’s important not to disturb the ecosystem. All of the plants we put in are grown on site from seeds collected on site.
In essence, there is a difference between planting native plants in an ecosystem where a native ecosystem still exists (despite the presence of invasives) and planting native plants in an ecosystem where native plants have been eradicated. I have no qualms with planting native plants on a strip of invasive Hordeum sp. and Erodium sp. on the side of a six lane road in the middle of a city (and I have done so), but I would never plant anything in a preserve without explicit permission.


(I edited the title of the topic as it’s not directly related to iNat)

Agree that it’s best to contact whoever manages the land in question and to really think about whether you’d be doing net good (as others have noted, there are often unintended consequences).


To find the right person, start by calling or writing a letter to the right department. Being part of an organization that regularly handles volunteer invasive pulls helps-- here in New England, Appalachian Mountain Club, Mass Audubon, the “Friends of ___ Reservation” is a big help.
You may actually find they do have volunteer programs in place. Organizing one for a specific spot takes a person who wants it to happen-- don’t be deterred. But the landowner has final say, get them on board.
Don’t be too general: specify, controlling garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, or black swallowwort-- choose the specific attack.


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