March 1, 2004 – V.I. National Park officials do not plan wholesale eradication of invasive non-native plant species, the park's resource management chief, Rafe Boulon, said at a meeting on Monday. Rather, the park will target problem areas.
In sites where non-native species serve traditional purposes, those trees will remain, Sandy Hamilton, a National Park Service representative, said at the meeting, held in the conference room of the park maintenance building.
Since St. John was cleared in the 18th century to grow sugarcane and cotton, the island "has restored itself," Boulon said. "We don't want to lose that."
Native species are defined as those that were in the islands when the European explorers and settlers first arrived.
The V.I. National Park and national park holdings on St. Croix and in South Florida are in the beginning stages of creating a plan to manage invasive non-native species of plants, called "exotic species" in park parlance. The plan is needed because some non-native plants are crowding out the natives, officials say. And many of the invaders have no natural predators, so the park must serve in that role.
Eradication will be done by licensed contractors under park supervision.
The parkland on St. John is home to about 770 species of plants and trees. Dan Clark, a supervisory exotic plant specialist with the NPS, is on a three-year assignment in the Virgin Islands. Although 150 of those species are non-native, he said, "less than 10 percent are aggressively invasive."
One of the aggressive species, guinea grass, was the culprit when the 2002 V.I. Carnival fireworks set fire to Hassel Island. Much of the land on the small island, which sits in the St. Thomas harbor, is part of the V.I. National Park.
Some of the "aggressively invasive" plants will be on the eradication list park officials will develop after hearing what the public has to say.
Although the park placed advertisements in local media to announce the meeting, the public was in short supply for Monday's gathering. Three visiting academics and one St. John resident, Pam Gaffin, showed up.
Gaffin had plenty to say. "I don't trust you guys," she said, charging that park officials ignore the community when they make decisions.
Boulon acknowledged that there have been such problems in the past, but he said a national directive now mandates community input.
Park officials will hold three additional meetings on the non-native plants issue, all involving their impact at park holdings on St. Croix:
– Tuesday, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Christiansted at the park's Old Post Office building.
– Tuesday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the St. Croix Yacht Club.
– Wednesday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. George Village Botanical Garden outside Frederiksted.
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