Environment Erie

Monday Q&A: Battling invasives at Presque Isle with Nate Millet

Apr 27, 2015 | Posted in News

Just a few feet off Old Gas Well Trail at Presque Isle State Park grows a cluster of grayish-brown trees ringed by branches and vines. To the passer-by, the cluster might look like standard-issue flora re-emerging after the snow and ice melted from the peninsula.

To Nate Millet, it looks like a job to be done.

Millet, 30, is the coordinator of Weed Warriors, a volunteer group targeting invasive species of weeds and plants at Presque Isle.

The volunteers aim to find and remove a few types of invasive species that are common on the peninsula: Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), the vining plant already mentioned; garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate), and black swallowwort (Cynanchum louisea).
Millet, an Erie native who also is the environmental education manager at Environment Erie, took over the role of coordinator this year.
Erie Times-News: Tell us a little bit more about these invasive species of weeds.

Nate Millet: There's two main species that we really go after for Weed Warriors.

The first is garlic mustard. It grows to about 3 feet tall at its max but we hope to catch it before then.

It is a ground-dwelling plant, so it does have an effect on a lot of the wildflowers here at the peninsula and a lot of the lower-level shrubbery.

It's very easy to remove. You just bend over and pull it out of the ground.

It got its name, obviously, because it smells like garlic and mustard, and it's actually an edible plant, too. I've eaten it and it's actually pretty good, but it can take over entire forest floors, so we do remove it.

A funny story is that every year we do get garlic mustard pesto from some of the volunteers and we put it on crackers and it's actually really good.

The other species that we really go after is called Oriental bittersweet. Oriental bittersweet is a little more damaging. It is a vine and it grows up any tree or bush that it can get a hold of and it'll choke out a tree eventually or knock it over.

It's really bad this year, but Weed Warriors has actually knocked out quite a bit of it.

To remove Oriental bittersweet, we have to cut it down. It's called a "window technique" that we teach volunteers -- you cut at the top and then again near the root to kill it.

A third, that we haven't seen much of, is black swallowwort. That's also known for its ability to crowd plants out.

ETN: How did they get here?

NM: For the most part, humans brought these species here. We are in most part to blame for this.

But in some cases, there are animals or fish that brought the species here, but I'd say about 99 percent of the time, the species were brought over by humans.

ETN: Why are they so harmful to the park?

NM: With Oriental bittersweet, it is very easy to see how it harms the environment. It kills all kinds of trees, bushes, plants that are meant to actually grow here at Presque Isle, which greatly affects the habitat.

We want to restore the natural habitat and promote plants that are naturally meant to grow here. Without these native plants, it affects the diversity of birds, insects, rodents and other wildlife, as well.

ETN: How can people get involved in Weed Warriors?

NM: We're open to anyone. It's volunteer-based, so you can come once or you can come every week.

We do get a lot of retired folks that come out and help and a lot of people who've lived in Erie all their lives and genuinely have a passion for Presque Isle.

We also have school groups that come out and I'd love to see more school and college groups.

All you have to do is contact me -- e-mail me or call me up -- and we'll get you all signed up and set up.

Contact information for Weed Warriors:

Name: Nate Millet

Number: 814-440-3953

Email address : nmillet@environmenterie.org

You don't need anything to volunteer; we provide gloves, loppers and all your equipment.

We have group leaders who teach volunteers what they're looking for and help them along the way.

ETN: When does the program meet?

NM: Typically, we meet twice a week. Tuesday and Thursday are normally our work days. A work day normally only lasts about an hour and a half to two hours.

We've got a specific schedule of days that we're out, so if someone is interested, we can provide that.

There is normally one Monday a month we'll work and a couple Saturdays every month that people can come out and work.

-- Sarah Stemen