2014 Stewardship Report: Learning from the past, looking to the future

As we look forward to our natural areas stewardship goals for 2015, we look back at what we accomplished in 2014. It was an exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2014 Annual Stewardship Report (click the title).

  1. Stewardship Blog: I launched this blog, the Natural Areas Notebook in June 2014 to help inform residents about the cool biota in the township and advertise the many opportunities to help care for our natural areas.
  2. Prescribed Burns: We contracted with Plantwise LLC for prescribed burn work. We completed burns in old fields at Bear Creek Nature Park and Charles Ilsley Park on May 19, 2014. We completed prescribed burns along the Paint Creek Trail at the Art Project, Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, Kamin Easement, and Nicholson Prairie on November 5, 2014. The remaining burns in the contracts (Lost Lake Nature Park, Bear Creek Nature Park forest, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park) were postponed due to early snow and will hopefully be completed in Spring 2015.

    The ignition crew communicate closely with the holding crew to make sure the fire does not burn in areas outside the burn unit.

    Prescribed fire at Bear Creek Nature Park in May 2014

  3. Volunteer Program: Volunteer workdays were held two times per month from July to November. Participation was generally low (ranging from 0 to 7 volunteers per workday), but the workdays provided invaluable experience with scheduling, preparing, and leading volunteer workdays.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

  4. Floristic Surveys: I surveyed Gallagher Creek Park, O’Connor Nature Park, and Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen during summer 2014 to document the plant species growing in each park.
  5. US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grant: Prairie restoration at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lakes Park was jump started by a $15,200 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The stewardship crew worked hard to clear invasive woody shrubs in 18 acres of old fields at Charles Ilsley Park and 20 acres of old field at Draper Twin Lake Park to prepare for planting in 2015.
  6. USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant: work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, which funds habitat restoration along the Paint Creek Trail to benefit native pollinators.
  7. Seasonal Technicians: We had three outstanding technicians in 2014. Matt Peklo returned for his third year, Alex Kriehbel returned for his second year, and Jonah Weeks worked her first year.

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

  8. Natural Areas Stewardship Manager: I started with Oakland Township Parks and Recreation as the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager in April 2014.


Focus on Invasives: Swallow-worts

Here in Oakland Township, the stewardship staff spends a lot of time controlling invasive plant species. Common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, Oriental bittersweet, common privet, autumn olive, and multiflora rose have been around for a while, and are well established in Oakland Township and in our parks.

Once in a while a new invasive species threatens our parks. A few years ago the latest invasives were garlic mustard and Phragmites. Usually by the time we begin to notice them, they are very difficult to eradicate. When plant populations establish, they go through a period known as a “lag phase” where the population grows relatively slowly. Most of the species mentioned above are in phases of rapid population growth or are found nearly everywhere, the “Active” and “Reactive” phases in the figure below (from EddMapS). To limit the impacts to our natural areas and costs of control, we want to catch species when their populations are small, the lag phase.


Population growth of an invasive species. The “proactive” phase corresponds to the lag phase where population growth is relatively slow. When populations of invasives expand quickly, people begin to notice and actively manage populations. When a species becomes ubiquitous, control efforts can usually only focus on reducing impacts in sensitive areas. The image is from EddMapS (http://www.eddmaps.org/about/why_plants_invasive.html).

Two very bad invasive species, black and pale swallow-worts, are becoming established in Michigan and in Oakland Township. These two vining species are in the milkweed family. In New York state and other locations where they have established, these species can form pure beds of swallow-wort, reducing the abundance of native plants, birds, insects, and other wildlife. In particular, monarchs may lay their eggs on swallow-wort, but apparently the young do not survive because swallow-wort does not provide adequate nutrition.


Pale swallow-wort flowers are pink, with narrow petals that are longer than they are wide. The clusters of flowers are attached at the leaf base. Picture taken on June 16, 2014. Click on the picture to view a larger image.


Pale swallow-wort leaves are opposite with smooth margins, 2-5 inches long, and 1-2.5 inches wide. The stems are covered with downy hairs. If stems are broken, they have clear, watery sap.


Swallow-wort has herbaceous, vining stems. If not treated, pale swallow-wort will form dense patches and exclude all other plant species.

So far, we have only encountered swallow-wort in a few parks: Lost Lake Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park, and a few spots along the Paint Creek Trail. We try to practice EDRR, which stands for Early Detection & Rapid Response. If we catch swallow-wort quickly, we have a good chance of treating the plants and eliminating populations before they are well established. To learn more about swallow-worts and how to control them, check out this fact sheet.

If you see swallow-wort in the parks, please use the Monitoring page to let us know!