The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








Fighting glossy buckthorn
Landowners can help with invasive plant management

By Ryan Lessard

 A new research project being conducted by the University of New Hampshire is examining how to get diverse landowners with different interests invested in controlling invasive plant species.

According to UNH researcher Shadi Atallah, the study will focus on the invasive plant known as glossy buckthorn, a shrub that grows red berries that are often eaten by birds that spread the seed. 
Glossy buckthorn’s spreading behavior can be mapped out across the white pine forests of New Hampshire and Maine based on the ecology of the land, and with some additional research into landowner decision-making through a survey.
“We are dealing with invasive plants that affect the health of the forests,” Atallah said.
The shrub affects the ability of people to enjoy and recreate in the forest, it impacts the ability to extract timber and it affects biodiversity by limiting wildlife habitat. 
Primarily, it affects trees’ ability to regenerate by covering seedlings from much-needed sunlight.
Based on its spreading mechanism and the way it affects tree regeneration, the results from this study will be applicable for other similar invasive plant species such as Japanese barberry, amur honeysuckle and burning bush, according to Atallah.
The study is unique in the way it combines ecological data with economic information detailing how landowners would likely deal with the invasive plants. 
Right now, part of the problem is that landowners don’t have enough information upon which to base a cost-benefit analysis.
“You are uncertain about the costs of intervening, you are uncertain about the damages that will occur, you are uncertain about the benefits of controlling them,” Atallah said.
So they may end up doing nothing. The first part of the study will help fill those holes by demonstrating the risks and costs involved with the spread of the plant.
The other complication, which is especially pronounced in the Northeast, is the fragmentation of the land into a lot of small parcels owned by various landowners, some of whom have very different incentives and values. That can make it hard to get them all united against the pesky shrub.
“We are not in a situation like most of the western U.S. where forests are federally owned and one decision-maker makes the optimal decision and they implement it,” Atallah said. “It’s very hard to engage with these owners and even have public policy that is one-size-fits-all.”
Using existing data sets, researchers are already about 40 percent complete in creating the ecological risk map, Atallah said. 
The whole project is for three years, with an optional one-year extension.
Pretty soon they’ll be completing the survey. It will go through focus groups of local landowners in the spring and be sent out shortly afterward.
When they get the responses, they’ll combine them with the data they already have, to get a better sense of what the challenges are in convincing landowners to manage the invasive plant. 
Atallah said some will manage it regardless of costs, others may want to but find they can’t afford to and others still won’t be inclined to do it either way.
Knowing how these groups are parsed out will go a long way toward crafting policies that incentivize landowners. 
For instance, Atallah said, certain existing grants could be redesigned to target only those who won’t do it without the grant, which would save tax dollars. 
Additional grants might be needed to help relieve the cost burden. 
Or it may be a simple matter of making information on the costs and benefits more available so landowners can make an informed decision.

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