Fire used to clear out invasive species in the Finger Lakes

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Scientists in the Finger Lakes are using a thousand year old technique to get rid of invasive species. Just two months ago the group did a controlled burn across a field.

“We burned about 22 acres, and this is what we got back,” said Alexis Van Winkle, Supervising conservation steward for the environmental field team in the Finger Lakes region.

A huge field, filled with native plants was the result of the burn. Van Winkle heads a unique state project aimed at wiping out invasive species and restoring local bird populations. “We have really unique grasslands that you cant find anywhere else in New York State,” said Van Winkle.

Unfortunately, many of those native plants are being taken over; a problem all too common according to project coordinator Kyle Webster.”We’ve seen a sort of explosion of invasive species in recent times,” said Webster.

New York is a hot bed for plants that are shipped in, purposely or by accident. “We’re a port state. We have the Great Lakes, we have New York City, and the Erie Canal, and I-90.” Nearly 1 in four plants are invasive across the state.

This technique of burning fields to recover native plants is a technique done for centuries by the Native Americans and took place this year on May 16th. There was a 6-week gap for the burn, and this was near the end of that gap because of such a wet spring. Van Winkle said the burn only took an hour, and after one week you could barely tell there was even a burn at all.

This is the first at New York State Parks and others are taking notice.”Albany is definitely looking as us and being like, we invented the wheel. so hopefully we can implement this,” said Van Winkle.

More testing needs to be done before this technique is moved over to farming, an industry that spends millions each year fighting invasive bugs, animals, and plants. “You’re trying to grow a specific crop and increase your yields and make money to make a living, so when you have these invasive species taking over your crops, it’s a huge concern,” said Webster.

The native plants did recover much quicker than the invasive plants after that controlled burn and the team plans on making this an annual event. In fact, they are considering a burn this upcoming fall to see how the local plants react.

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