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Almanac Archive for January 5, 2015

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Quote of the Week
"(Humans are) not an invasive species, though we're certainly doing harm to the world around us."
--the conclusion reached by science writer Sarah Zielinski for Smithsonian.com

Her "verdict" is in regard to the currently popular question of whether humans are Earth's most successful and damaging invasive species. It's an argument that, while interesting, is highly tied up in semantics. Invasiveness itself is defined in terms of relations to humans -- being spread by humans and harmful to human interests.

Whether we're Earth's greatest invasive species or merely the prime mover behind all of the others shouldn't really affect our attitudes toward protecting our natural ecosystems. But the NY Times link above suggests that for many, there is quite a lot of emotional meaning in a little bit of scientific terminology.
Conservation Calendar

Family Education Program: Seaside Saturday
Saturday, Jan. 10, 10:00 am - 2:00 pm, West Tisbury.
Head down to the Long Point Visitor Center for a variety of free educational programs for children and families. Please allow a minimum of one hour; snacks and hot drinks will be provided. Inside the Visitor Center, call (508) 693-7662 for more info; for directions see website.

Winter Walks with our Conservation Colleagues
VCS isn't the only Island conservation organization to host outdoor activities in the darkest days of winter. Fill out your calendar with these offerings from Polly Hill, the Trustees, and the Land Bank.

Saturday, Jan. 10, 10:00 am: Polly Hill Arboretum

Join Arboretum staff on the second Saturday of the month to explore the grounds in the off-season. Tours are free, begin at 10:00 am, and last a little over an hour. More at PHA website

Sunday, Jan. 25, 1:00 pm: The Brickyard

A once-a-year chance to visit the Brickyard in Chilmark. Walk the brickwork ruins with staff from The Trustees of Reservations and learn about a once-prosperous industry. Light to moderate hiking conditions with a brook crossing. The walk is $10 for the public (children $3, members are free) and about two hours. Preregistration is required, call (508) 693-7662 or email.   

Sunday, Feb. 1, 1:00 pm: Toad Rock Preserve

Join Land Bank staff for a 1-2 hour tour of this small preserve in Aquinnah. Toad Rock is currently closed, pending the completion of an ecological inventory. More at MVLB website, for directions call the office at (508) 627-7141.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Local News

VCS Through the Decades: 1970s 
A Winter Walk at Katama Farm

Looking toward South Beach from behind the barn in the late 1970s. The early stages of Katama's suburban-style development can be seen in the distance.

This Sunday, January 11, please join VCS for our third Winter Walk of the season: a visit to Katama Farm, home of the FARM Institute. The walk is expected to include the new interpretive hiking trail that opened last year, and may branch out to other areas of the farm as time allows.
We will be joined by staff from the FARM Institute who will add their knowledge of current farm operations and the surrounding area to our discussion of the conservation history of the property. Although Katama Farm is now quite well-known (largely due to the popularity of the FARM Institute), many of its current visitors are likely unaware of the unusual history of this special place; see the VCS website for a preview of a story that features multiple attempts at subdivision and a 140-year-old railroad.
All VCS Winter Walks are free and open to the public, start at 1:00, and last approximately two hours. The FARM Institute is located on Aero Ave., between the right and left forks of Katama. For more information, contact VCS at (508) 693-9588 or by email.
Effective Alternatives Needed for Control of Phragmites in Squibnocket Pond

Phragmites australis in bloom (click to enlarge). For more photos, see "Go Botany" from the New England Wild Flower Society.

Due to a recent Land Court ruling, the Town of Chilmark’s prohibition of the use of herbicide to control the invasive reed Phragmites australis in Squibnocket Pond will remain in effect. An earlier ruling from the same court had overturned the Town’s ban, finding that it was preempted by the statewide Pesticide Control Act. Since that ruling, though, the Town had successfully sought legislative action on Beacon Hill, resulting in a bill that exempted Chilmark from the state regulations. So, in a legal victory for home rule, the herbicide ban will stand – and so will the Phragmites, at least until another solution is found.
Globally, invasive species are – along with climate change and general loss of habitat – one of the three greatest threats to biodiversity. Locally, at Squibnocket Pond, it seems reasonable to speculate that invasions, in particular Phragmites, represent the second greatest threat. (Climate change must take top honors here because ultimately the pond may be lost, relocated, or radically transformed due to sea level rise.) With herbicide use for Phragmites control now off the table, we hope that the Town will continue to take the invasion seriously and pursue another method of control with an established track record of success.
More broadly, battling invasive species is a complicated issue, and nearly every method has drawbacks. For example, herbicides and other pesticides can harm non-target organisms, physical removal of plants disturbs the soil (creating the exact condition many invasives favor), and biological control techniques (the deliberate release of one species to control another) can have unpredictable consequences. There have never been easy answers to the problem of controlling invasions, but today it increasingly seems the fundamental assumptions of invasion biology are being questioned. An earlier two-part series in the Almanac explored some of those questions: is it worth it to fight invasive species, and what exactly is a native anyway?
Submit your conservation news to: almanac@vineyardconservation.org

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Original content by Jeremy Houser unless otherwise noted.