Stewarding the Land: Battling Invasives

Charlie Cole and his grandson check on wood ducks at their easement site.

A conservation easement is a binding legal agreement between landowner and land trust. Wildlands holds over 70 easements with landowners who come to us from all walks of life for a variety of reasons. Take Charlie Cole, a retired Penn State environmental science and engineering professor better known as “Doc Cole,” no stranger to the environmental benefits of a conservation easement, yet when it came to the registered century farm his grandfather purchased in 1898, he felt a personal motivation to honor the legacy in the soil.

Cole, who these days has grandchildren of his own, explains why he was led to pursue a conservation easement on 30 acres with Wildlands in 2004. The special parcel contains an old beaver dam that serves as a haven for a variety of waterfowl.
“I felt that if I let the farm turn into a housing development, I’d be doing a disservice to my ancestors who had worked hard to create the farm for our family.”
As Charlie discovered, development is not the only issue that threatens priority lands. Damage to the ecosystem due to invasive species can be just as destructive.

Over the span of just a few years, phragmites, an invasive grass species, rapidly overtook his treasured property. Charlie was disappointed.

The invasive phragmites that are rapidly overtaking Charlie’s property.

“It’s a big job and had become overwhelming. I recognized the bigger picture and didn’t want to shirk my duty of controlling it. When you have phragmites encroaching on the habitat, it reduces the amount of water and food that’s available to the nesting and transient waterfowl. It’s a serious problem.”

Despite his understanding and sense of responsibility, the scale of work required to remedy this issue was more than he could take on alone.

Carl Martin, Wildlands’ director of property stewardship, offered a solution that doubled as a valuable learning experience for Wildands’ stewardship crew – a seasonal group of college students and recent graduates who are realizing careers in the environmental field. The crew connected with Charlie and soon got underway with the much-needed habitat restoration effort. The presence of many desirable native species called for careful and precise management. First, the tall grass was cut down and mowed mechanically. After being weakened by the mowers, the grass was carefully treated. This summer we will follow Charlie and Carl when they assess what has returned and develop a long-term management plan for this property.

Stay tuned for more on this conservation conversation in our summer newsletter!