Audubon Society Uses Saws for a Cause
St. Louis Audubon Society volunteers spent a cool morning clearing brush from Creve Coeur Park as part of an ongoing habitat restoration project.
On Nov. 13, St. Louis Audubon Society volunteers spent a brisk Saturday morning sawing down beautiful bushes. Almost 100 acres of Creve Coeur Park is filled with Asian Honeysuckle. The Audobon Society's 30 volunteers sought to clear out one of the park's four-acre corners in one Saturday morning.
Asian Honeysuckle isn't the familiar backyard vine sprinkled with flowers that have a sweet, edible nectar. Asian Honeysuckle is a tall bush with broad green leaves and attractive clusters of fire-engine-red berries. Their trunks can grow to be between two and four inches across.
Mitch Leachman, executive director of the St. Louis Audubon Society, explained that Asian Honeysuckle is a classic example of a beautiful, useful plant that wrecks havoc when transplanted outside its native habitat.
"There are no natural checks for Honeysuckle. The plants and animals here didn't evolve with it. Native plants can't compete," Leachman said. "On top of that, birds are affected during breeding season. Birds need insects when they're feeding their babies and making eggs. No matter what they eat the rest of the year they have to have protein at breeding season. Native insects don't eat honeysuckle. That means no bugs for the birds to eat."
Like many beautiful 19th century Asian floral imports, it happens to be devastating for the local environment.
"It was brought for ornamental value and for stabilization of soil, to prevent erosion and shore up river banks - and it does all those things very well," Leachman said. "But like many species that were transplanted around the globe - especially in this country's infancy - we just didn't know the repercussions."
Volunteers arrived at that morning bundled in coats and gloves, many of them carrying their own saws.
Christine Hedges said she hadn't realized what she was getting herself into when she volunteered. "I've never cleared brush before," she said.
By 11:00 a.m., the volunteers had already lined up waist-high stacks of cleared brush stretching for nearly half a mile. When asked if she regretted volunteering for such unexpectedly hard work, Hedges laughed. "No, it's a chance to do a good thing! Sure, it's cold out, but it's good exercise and it's a chance to help out."
The portion of the park cleared out by Audubon volunteers was recently farmland. The park service planned originally to plant the area with indigenous vegetation to create a wildlife corridor.
"Unfortunately, the Honeysuckle got in the way," said Denis Hogan of the St. Louis County Park System.
Hogan was impressed with the volunteers, who he said are a big help. "The Audubon society does amazing work. They planted 900 trees this year, now they're here today, and they have great plans for next year," Hogan said.
If people happen to spot Asian Honeysuckle in their yard, the Audubon Society and the Park Service asks them to consider chopping down the invasive bush and treating the stumps with herbicide in order to stop the plant's spread.
The Audubon Society's next park cleanup is scheduled for the end of March. In addition to bird walks and habitat restoration, next year the group is sponsoring a bio blitz, when the group will partner with the St. Louis Academy of Science to bring in experts to survey a park area's natural resources.