By Chris Murray, Land Manager & Educator
One of the most common mistakes when managing a significant invasive plant infestation is to underestimate the tenacity of the species you are attempting to eradicate. They are invasive for many reasons that include being pre-adapted to the soil conditions, having no significant predators or disease, and prolific seed production. Their seeds persist in the seed bank for many years and are difficult to kill, even with judicial use of herbicide. As a result, giving up too early is fairly common. At Travis Audubon, we are committed to seeing our restoration work through.
In 2008, the Blair Woods Team was formed with the express purpose of reclaiming Blair Woods from the invasive plants which had taken over the majority of the property. While an impressive array of invasive plants could be found at Blair, by far the most abundant was Small-leaf Privet, which formed acres of a near monoculture, shading out any native plants. Work days were scheduled, volunteers recruited, and nine years later, the battle continues. Progress can be maddeningly slow as an area is cleared and then the seed bank erupts with new invasives, which are then cleared out only to be replaced by weedy, native invasive plants such as Stickleaf and Ragweed. However, the only way to proceed is to not lose faith. With consistent effort, the battle against invasives can be won.
From January 2016 through June of 2017, twelve work days were held at Blair Woods for a total of 115 participants and 420 volunteer hours. Approximately 60 cubic yards of invasive plants (mostly small-leaf privet) were removed from Blair, chipped and spread on the trails. In addition to the invasive plant removal effort, we expanded and improved the parking lot, upgraded the entry gate and fence, cleared and widened trails, installed a variety of native plants near the Chimney Swift tower, constructed new steps near the parking lot and tower, and installed three new bridges now gracing creek crossings. Blair Woods also benefited from its first Eagle Scout project. Paul Sennyey and his troop cleared about ¾ an acre of invasive plants, chipping and spreading the remains. None of this would have been possible without the help of volunteers, many thanks once again.
With all the effort to reclaim the landscape from the invasive plants sometimes we forget to take a step back and remember why the work is so important. East Austin is a very urbanized section of the city and Blair Woods is one of only a few parcels left undeveloped in the area of any significant size. At ten acres, Blair Woods is home to native plants and animals that are being squeezed out everywhere else. As the habitat is slowly converted to a more natural state it will better be able to support a greater diversity of wildlife and provide a green oasis for those willing to explore.