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Elachee gets $30,000 grant to rid Chicopee Woods of invasive plants

POSTED: July 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Dalton Hooper pulls a patch of weeds Thursday at Elachee Nature Science Center during Think Green Week. Pulling the aggressive weeds helped the campers learn about non-native invasive plants.

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If you’re a gardener, you know that pulling weeds is a never-ending task.

That’s why getting rid of invasive plants in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is going to be time-consuming and expensive.

But more help is on the way. Elachee Nature Science Center, which manages the 1,500-acre preserve south of Gainesville, has received a $30,000 grant from the Southern Co. to continue eradicating invasive species along its streams.

"We will match that grant with $48,000, partly from the (Chicopee Woods) park commission and partly through in-kind services such as volunteer work," said Cynthia Taylor, natural resources coordinator at Elachee.

This is the second year the center has received a grant from Southern Co., the parent corporation of Georgia Power. In 2007, Elachee received $10,000 for the same program, which was matched by about $36,000 locally.

The grants are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Five Star Restoration Program, but the EPA does not contribute any money.

"We did not fund any projects in Georgia this year," said Laura Niles, spokeswoman for the EPA’s Region 4 in Atlanta. "We only provide support, such as technical assistance and information on wetlands."

Instead, the program works through a complex series of public-private partnerships. Elachee’s grant is one of 10 that were funded by the Southern Co. and administered through the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

Southern Co. is spending $246,000 this year on wetlands restorations grants in its utility service area, which encompasses Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

Valerie Holpp, spokeswoman for the company, said these grants have nothing to do with mitigation. In other words, the company is not being required to restore wetlands in exchange for destroying wetlands during its own construction projects. "This is part of our volunteer stewardship," Holpp said.

Elachee’s effort is aimed at eliminating invasive exotic plants such as kudzu, privet, and Nepal grass, which grow aggressively and can crowd out native species. Elachee qualified for the grant because these noxious plants tend to grow in riparian areas, near streams and rivers.

"Ninety percent of our invasive problems are along streams," said Taylor. "Once you get an infestation near a stream, everything downstream will be affected."

Taylor said the eradication work is taking place not just within the preserve but also in other areas of Chicopee Woods, such as the golf course.

She said Elachee is in the second year of a project that’s expected to last at least five years, and possibly as long as a decade.

"We have made a lot of progress," she said. "We’ve spent close to $200,000 already."

Taylor said the center used two different grants last year to eradicate invasives on about 40 acres.

"This year we’re re-treating some areas that have come back (regrown), and adding some new acreage," she said. "You expect at least 10 percent to come back."

Taylor said most of the work is being done by a contractor, but if the bulk of invasive growth can be removed, the small areas that remain can be kept in check by volunteers.

She said Elachee will receive the $30,000 in two installments, one in the fall and the other in the winter.

"We have several other outstanding grants (from other sources) that we’re waiting to hear from," she said. "It’s a tapestry of different funding mechanisms to try to get a very large project done."

Taylor said fighting invasive species is a continual struggle, but it’s the only way to ensure survival of the rare native species that make the preserve’s ecosystem unique.

"It is overwhelming, but it is definitely within our grasp," she said. "It’s something we have to address. We don’t have a choice."


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