Stewardship Story: Invasive Vine Removal at Otter Creek Preserve

Joshua VanBrakle Monday, 28 August 2017

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Otter Creek Preserve includes 35 acres of woods, coastal waters, and saltmarsh in Mamaroneck, NY on the northern side of Long Island Sound. Owned by the Westchester Land Trust, the preserve features a forested trail where the public can come and hike. More than 100 bird species have been recorded at the site, which makes it popular with birders and nature photographers.

Unfortunately, the preserve is also popular with invasive vines. Porcelainberry and oriental bittersweet were climbing, girdling, smothering, and ultimately killing mature trees on the preserve. “The sheer quantity of vines was ridiculous,” says Tate Bushell, Westchester Land Trust’s Director of Stewardship. At Otter Creek, the damaged trees meant a loss of interior woods that are important for many birds.

Westchester Land Trust wanted to free the preserve’s trees from the grip of these deadly vines. They used loppers and hand shears to cut 10 large patches of vines. They cut away all vine material between 5 feet and the ground to minimize the chances of new vine shoots grabbing hold of the remaining vine material left hanging in the trees.

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Before and after photos of an invasive vine removal at Otter Creek Preserve.

The project wasn’t expensive, but it was time-consuming and involved the help of numerous volunteers. Porcelainberry in particular hangs in wide curtains made up of hundreds of little vines. That makes cutting them all difficult. “We must have cut thousands of vines,” Tate says. In addition, Westchester Land Trust wanted to preserve the native grapevine, so they trained their volunteers how to tell the different vine species apart.

One challenge with vine removal is that many vines resprout. Tate reports that “we will have to follow up with a small application of herbicide to kill the plants.” This is an important step in many invasive plant removal projects. Without this follow-up, all your hard work can go to waste.

Another challenge was working around the multiflora rose, an invasive shrub also common at the preserve. Tate’s crew overcame that by using a brush mower and a weed whacker with a metal blade to mow down the rose and get better access to the vines.

Tate’s biggest piece of advice? “Start small,” he says. Remove vines from a couple trees at first. He also suggests you “take before and after pictures so you can feel a sense of accomplishment.”

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Before and after photos of projects you do on your land can give you a sense of accomplishment by showing the results of your hard work. Here, Westchester Land Trust’s Director of Stewardship, Tate Bushell, shows off the group’s vine removal from a tree at Otter Creek Preserve.

And they have accomplished something at Otter Creek. “Many of the trees will live,” Tate says. “Most of the time the trees start growing unencumbered and resume a vertical posture.” Some trees were too smothered to survive, but at least the vines’ ability to fruit and make more vines was removed.

As a result of this work, Westchester Land Trust has halted the loss of forest interior on the preserve. Otter Creek will continue to be a great site for people and wildlife alike.

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