Puget SoundCorps uproots invasive species to safeguard waterways, native plants

The restoration effort involved a collaboration between several state agencies

A Puget SoundCorps team poses for a photo last month during a project on the Washington state Capitol Campus in which they removed invasive plants, such as English ivy and butterfly bush, and replaced them with native trees. (Photo courtesy Department of Enterprise Services)

It’s easy to spot while driving on Interstate 5 through Olympia and elsewhere in the state: English ivy, covering concrete walls and climbing up trees.

It’s more than an issue of aesthetics. The ivy is a nonnative species in the Pacific Northwest with the potential to cover and kill native plants, including trees. Those native plants play a vital role in protecting the quality of Washington’s waterways, yet the plants themselves need protection, too.

That’s where the Puget SoundCorps — which employs veterans and young adults to restore native habitat and protect the Puget Sound — comes in.

Last month, in a partnership among the departments of Enterprise Services, Natural Resources and Ecology, a crew of five Corps members worked on the Capitol Campus, where they cleared native trees of English ivy and other nonnative plants such as English holly, English laurel and butterfly bush. The work took place behind the John L. O’Brien and the Joel M. Pritchard buildings, in the southwest corner of the campus, where a partial landslide occurred years ago. The slide wiped out the native plants on the slope, creating an opportunity for invasive species to repopulate the exposed hillside before the native plants could.

“They’re very opportunistic,” Enterprise Services horticulturist Brent Chapman said of noxious weeds.

Left: A Puget SoundCorps employee readies western red cedar and western hemlock saplings for planting last month on the Washington state Capitol Campus. Right: The thick vines of invasive English ivy are visible on a tree on the Capitol Campus. (Photos Courtesy Department of Enterprise Services)

On the Capitol Campus, English ivy is enemy #1, he said. Although it is kept in check by the ecosystem in its native Europe, in the Pacific Northwest, the creeping vine has the upper hand. Its stems can grow inches thick, sometimes putting so much weight on a tree that it topples.

After Corps members uprooted the invasive plants on the hillside last month, they planted 50 western hemlocks — Washington’s official state tree — and 50 western red cedars on the slope. As the saplings grow, they create habitat for native underbrush, which will strengthen the soil and prevent slides as well as improve water quality.

“There’s nothing better than our native plant ecosystem to filter water before it goes into Capitol Lake and the Puget Sound,” Chapman said.

Part of a larger effort

Puget SoundCorps is a part of Washington Conservation Corps (or WCC), a program housed in Ecology and affiliated with the federal AmeriCorps program. WCC crews participate in a variety of tasks, including trail maintenance, urban forestry and salmon recovery to improve habitat and water quality around Washington.

Joshua Williams, a forestry technician with the Washington Conservation Corps, supervised the work at the Capitol Campus. Williams, a 27-year-old Washington native who resides in Tacoma, joined the Corps about five years ago as a crew member, then became a supervisor.

Washington Conservation Corps member Ian Pierce helps remove invasive plants from Maury Island in 2012. (Photo courtesy Jennifer McFadden)

He said that young adults join the Corps either to test out an interest in environmental sciences before going to college, or after college, often to gain field experience.

Crews from the WCC also are dispatched around the country to help with debris cleanup and other tasks after natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

“Our program takes pride in disaster response,” Williams said. “We’re normally the first AmeriCorps that’s called out to do these disaster responses.”

Washington Conservation Corps is recruiting new members. Those ages 18 to 25, as well as veterans of any age, can learn about joining the Corps by visiting www.ecy.wa.gov/wcc.

Departments collaborate

This is the third year that Puget SoundCorps worked at the Capitol Campus.

In past years, noxious weeds were removed from Heritage Park, Centennial Park and the grounds around the Executive Residence. Through those efforts, Chapman said, ivy at Centennial Park is about 95 percent contained, but the Heritage Park effort still has a ways to go — ivy there is about 10 percent contained, he said.

Chapman noted that the Puget SoundCorps represents a successful collaboration among state agencies.

Ecology administers the grant-funded Washington Conservation Corps program. The Department of Natural Resources’ Urban Forestry Restoration Project assigned the Puget SoundCorps members to their Capitol Campus tasks. And Enterprise Services provided logistical support on the grounds and purchased the trees and supplies.

The feds pitched in, too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service donated 100 mesh, tree-protection tubes, which will protect the western hemlocks and western red cedars from deer.

“Sometimes we hear about state government being siloed,” Chapman said, but in the case of Puget SoundCorps, “it seems like a really unique partnership that has been really effective.”

Gov. Jay Inslee’s Washington Invasive Species Awareness Week proclamation (PDF)

Gov. Jay Inslee also has issued a proclamation declaring the week of Feb. 26 through March 4 Washington Invasive Species Awareness Week. Invasive species cost the country an estimated $137 billion annually, including damage to crops, fisheries, forests and other resources, according to the proclamation.

Inslee’s proclamation encourages Washingtonians to “be vigilant in looking for invasive species and noxious weeds, to report sightings to the Washington Invasive Species Council, and to play an active role in protecting our state’s resources by remembering to clean, drain and dry watercraft and other equipment, not release unwanted pets into the wild and clean boots and equipment before enjoying the outdoors.”

To report invasive species online, visit www.invasivespecies.wa.gov/report.shtml.