Today’s post written by Laura Greenleaf, Virginia Master Naturalist
Before there was a Task Force, Richmond Tree Stewards had launched on Belle Isle what would become a feature project of the invasive management and habitat restoration initiative. In 2014, just a year after completing the rigorous Tree Steward training program, Catherine Farmer proposed a Tree Walk on the popular downtown park destination. The exploratory process that fall of identifying and labeling trees led to a reckoning when fellow Steward Suzette Lyon pointed out that with autumn leaves on the ground, everything still green was invasive.
A Tree Walk clearly fell within the Stewards core mission, but what about invasive species removal? The volunteer service organization recognized the clear threat invasive trees and other plants posed to the survival of diverse native tree species and green-lighted Farmer’s proposal with the understanding that getting results depended on targeted work, not tackling the entire island. She led the first invasive removal event in January 2015, one month before Tree Stewards met with Riverine Virginia Master Naturalists to discuss forming the Invasive Task Force.
Corporate and nonprofit grants, lots of volunteers, and support from park system staff, the city’s Department of Urban Forestry, and True Timber have made possible dramatic improvements along Belle Isle’s perimeter trail. Richmond Tree Stewards lead projects every Thursday morning and Farmer typically is on the island several times a week. Tree Stewards pioneered the crucial restoration phase of invasive management, planting regionally native understory trees and shrubs suitable to Belle Isle’s habitat such as Strawberry Bush, Eldeberry, and Button Bush to replace the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus), privet and other invasives that have become dominant. When asked what motivates her to continue this work that never ends Catherine Farmer replied, “We see progress all over the island and that keeps us going . . . every tree I free from invasive vines or prune to encourage healthy growth rewards me. That’s the payback.”