Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest Article - Clifftop

Illinois is full of dedicated people and innovative ideas for addressing invasive species.  From time to time, this blog is going to host guest articles in which the stories about some of these people, projects, or ideas are told.  The next article in this series comes from Pen and Carl Daubach from the Clifftop group.  All of the guest articles can be viewed HERE.

Clifftop - Conserving Lands in Farm, Forest, Talus or Prairie
by Pen and Carl Daubach

Clifftop--Conserving Lands in Farm, Forest, Talus or Prairie--was founded in 2006 to preserve and protect Mississippi River bluff lands and wildlife habitat in Monroe, St. Clair and Randolph Counties. The goal was straightforward: work together to improve natural area conservation in the region.
            The Illinois Wildlife Action Plan (IWAP), released in 2005, framed a pretty good general blueprint for what needed to be done, and earmarked our region, the Hill Prairie and Karst Sinkhole Plain Conservation Opportunity Areas (COA), as important natural areas worthy of redoubled conservation efforts.
            The 40-mile long, 5-mile wide COA corridor contains 130,000 acres; 38,000 acres are designated Illinois Natural Area Inventory (INAI) sites, due to their ecological features and importance. The corridor is host to 48 listed threatened or endangered species. Nearly half of Illinois' remaining loess hill prairie acreage and one third of the state's remaining rare limestone glade habitats can be found in the COA. Five thousand acres in the COA are permanently protected; the state owns 2100 acres; the other acreage is privately held, but protected with conservation easements, largely registered with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC).   
            In 2007, Clifftop facilitated bringing all the active conservation players in the COA (IDNR, INPC, NRCS, U of I Extension, HeartLands Conservancy, the Salt Lick Point Stewardship Committee, and the Friends of Stemler Nature Preserves) together and we developed our own iteration of IWAP, the Southwestern Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, to set definitive goals and lay out divisions of labor to implement IWAP. Clifftop serves as the administrative agent for the SWIWAP Partnership.
            Battling Non Native Invasive Species (NNIS) is central to the SWIWAP partnership's goals.  Bush honeysuckle and mimosa are problematic in the hill prairies; bush and Japanese honeysuckles, Tree-of-Heaven and garlic mustard, in various degrees, are well established in our upland forests and along the talus slope of our bluffs. Native, but invasive, sugar maples, particularly along shady and moister north faces, are seriously thwarting oak and hickory recruitment throughout the COA corridor’s forests.
            The SWIWAP Partnership set to work in 2008 looking for programmatic funding to incentivize private landowners to take on their invasives, and to augment IDNR efforts to tackle NNIS on state-owned lands.
            We have been very fortunate in cobbling together funds from several directions. IDNR orchestrated a large USF&WS State Wildlife Grant for hill prairie restoration work on registered reserves and preserves. In addition, IDNR reprogrammed internal funding to address NNIS on several state-owned sites. Taken together, since 2009, IDNR has committed almost $200,000 for conservation contractors to take on NNIS and to do additional prairie restoration work on about 2000 acres.
            In 2008, the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), a USFS initiative administered by IDNR, became available as cost-share monies for private landowners in our COA. Clifftop recruited six landowners during the three-year life of the program, and $200,000 was contracted toward NNIS eradication and timber stand improvement on 450 privately held acres.
            In late 2008, in a first-ever-in-Illinois program, Clifftop and NRCS signed a Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative agreement to muster additional USDA Farm Bill conservation funding for the COA, through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, to provide cost-share monies for landowners to address NNIS and conduct additional beneficial practices. To date, $600,000 for 60 landowners on 3000 acres has been contracted.
            In total, since 2009, the partnership has brought slightly over one million dollars to the COA for work on nearly 5500 acres. The lion's share of the funding has enabled work on dedicated / registered Nature Preserves, Land & Water Reserves, and INAI sites. Nearly half of those monies went to NNIS control.
            But 5500 acres is a drop in the bucket for a 130,000-acre COA. And, given the vicissitudes of federal allocations for conservation practices and the vagaries and life expectancies of the alphabet soup of federal conservation programs, the burden and responsibility for NNIS control ultimately rests with private landowners working on their own time and money.
            We developed public information and outreach programs that have gained landowner interest. A local newspaper – the Monroe County Independent -- features our monthly newspaper article series on the natural history of the corridor.  Our goal is not simply to demonize NNIS – though we regularly do that – but to also feature the benefits of a healthy landscape that retains native plants and natural biodiversity. When we do attack NNIS in print we use a 100% solution of verbal venom and offer practical advice on recognizing and controlling pest plant species. Our website reflects the same dual message: the benefits of natural native biodiversity and the role of NNIS in altering, diminishing and eliminating our native ecological systems.

"How not to kill bush honeysuckle" 
Innovative advertising (click to expand) 

            We also have instituted two hands-on practical workshops each year -- one at the Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve and one at Stemler Cave Woods Nature Preserve -- to show people how to identify and treat NNIS in our corridor.  Our “hook” for these annual events is a gentle tease and parody of a cherished local autumn tradition: competitive target-shooting contests called “meat shoots.” Our “Suckle Shoots” advertisements show people How Not to Kill Bush Honeysuckle, but promise attendees lessons in “tracking, spotting and killing this non-native invasive plant.”
            Our annual suckle shoots are well attended by volunteers and significant numbers of bush honeysuckle indeed “get gone” by the end of each event. An equally important side benefit also has occurred – because “the natives” enjoyed our parody of their meat shoots and laugh at the very thought of aiming gun or bow at a shrub, our digital and paper fliers get distributed into very wide circulation, increasing the reach of our message about the evils of non-native invasive plants.
            Incentivizing landowners – whether through cost-share programs or just with a laugh – continues to help Clifftop make war on non-native invasive plant species.

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