Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Greenways Fight against Destructive Foreign Plants; Volunteers, Officials Try to Remove Exotics That Are Killing Native Species

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Greenways Fight against Destructive Foreign Plants; Volunteers, Officials Try to Remove Exotics That Are Killing Native Species

Article excerpt

Byline: LEE SHEARER

ATHENS - The foreign invaders still are winning - but humans are beginning to fight back in the war against exotic invasive plants.

Mel Cochran, the greenways coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, was training an army of volunteers this past weekend - in a program she dubbed "Invasion of the Forest Snatchers" - to identify and kill plants like privet, English ivy, honeysuckle and bamboo in their own backyards. Cochran hopes some of them will return to the North Oconee Greenway to help rid Athens-area parks and natural areas of such plant pests.

"It's bad. Our floodplain is completely infested with privet everywhere. The whole upland forest is not bad, but we have a problem there with honeysuckle. But along the riverside, biodiversity is just gone," said Heather Alley, a program coordinator at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

"We're just trying to tackle what we can with volunteers," on the greenway and in Athens-Clarke parks, said Cochran, greenways and riverside parks facilities supervisor for the Athens-Clarke Department of Leisure Services.

But damage caused by invasive plants is spreading, not just in areas near cities but remote areas like Georgia's barrier islands, said Atlanta natural resource specialist Connie Gray, who recently taught her own short course on invasive plants at the botanical garden.

"There's an invasive plant problem in just about any ecosystem within our state," said Gray, president of the Georgia Exotic Plant Pest Council.

In hundreds of areas like the riverside trails at the botanical garden, exotics threaten to wipe out native plants, she said.

"When you introduce plants that evolved somewhere else and can out-compete native plants, you have thrown a stable system into disarray," Gray said. "Over time, you will reduce biodiversity. Some native plants will disappear entirely."

Ivy, privet and many other pest plants were introduced as ornamental plants for lawn and gardens - and new ones are arriving, she said. …

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