Feb. 23, 2004 – The National Park Service wants to know what V.I. residents think about its plans to get rid of non-native plant species at its locations in the territory.
With that goal in mind, it will make presentations at public meetings next week on St. John and then on St. Croix. The schedule is as follows:
March 1 – from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the V.I. National Park maintenance facility located near Mongoose Junction. There will be two presentations, at 5 p.m. and at 7 p.m.
March 2 – from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Christiansted at the Old Post Office Building on Church Street.
March 2 – from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the St. Croix Yacht Club, located in Teague Bay, with the presentation set for 6 p.m.
March 3 – from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. George Village Botanical Garden, outside Frederiksted, with the presentation set for 6 p.m.
These meetings are part of efforts at national parks across the country to get rid of non-native plant species. The park properties at issue in the Virgin Islands are the V.I. National Park on St. John, Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix, the Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve.
Zandy Hillis-Starr, the park's chief of environmental resources on St. Croix, said that while work has been ongoing, the parks are now developing 10-year plans for their plant elimination projects.
Non-native species often cause irreparable damage to natural resources by destroying the ecological balance among plants, animals, soil and water. These so-called "exotic" plants are often aggressive and competitive, and in newly invaded areas they may have no predators to control them.
Treatment methods could include biological, chemical, mechanical or physical controls. The most suitable approach would depend on the exotic species involved, the nature of the invasion with regard to environmental conditions, and the management objective for the area in question. In some instances, several control methods may be combined.
The National Park Service is in the initial stages of developing its plan to get rid of these invaders. After it hears from the public, it will develop an environmental impact statement before making final decisions.
"Lots of people believe that everything green is good, but I'm hoping people have open minds," Dan Clark of the NPS said. Clark is a supervisory exotic plant specialist now on a three-year assignment in the Virgin Islands.
Hillis-Starr said the park has worked on Buck Island for decades to get rid of non-native mongooses and rats. With those populations eradicated , she said, it now will tackle the plant species.
She said work has already begun on efforts to reintroduce lignum vitae, a small native hardwood tree that was crowded out by non-native species. So far, 40 seedlings are growing on Buck Island.
"They're very small," she said, noting the species' slow growth rate.
St. John has 150 non-native plant species, and many of them make their homes within park boundaries, Clark said. However, some of those, including frangipani and flambouyants, pose no threat to other species and will not be eradicated.
Tan tan, genip and limeberry are the biggest non-native culprits, and "Tan tan is the worst one," he said. Ground orchids and the territorial flower, the ginger Thomas, are also non-native species that crowd out the natives.
Clark also said that nearly the entire understory at Cinnamon Bay is limeberry. The plant has red berries and is often found around historic structures and at beach areas.
On Buck Island, 19 out of the 228 documented plant species are non-native — including eight that had not been documented until a recent inventory was conducted.
The park has hired a contractor, Earth Balance Inc., to use herbicides to get rid of tan tan, guinea grass and wild pineapple on Buck Island. However, several historic tan tan trees on the north and west sides of the island will be protected. Ginger Thomas, boerhavia and aloe also are major concerns.
The National Park Service is concurrently addressing the same issue at national park locations in Florida.
On St. John, the NPS already has taken steps to rid or reduce the numbers of non-native animal species living within the V.I. National Park boundaries. They include rats, cats, mongooses, goats and sheep.
For more information about when and where the public meetings will be held, see "Exotic plants are invading our national parks".
Those wishing to have input who cannot attend any of the meetings may e-mail comments to the National Park Service or mail them to any of the following:
– Rafe Boulon, 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John VI 00830.
– Zandy Hillis-Starr, Danish Customs House, Kings Wharf, 2100 Church Street No. 100, Christiansted, St. Croix 00820-4611.
– Sandra Hamilton, National Park Service Environmental Quality Division, Academy Place, PO Box 25287, Denver CO 80225.
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