Cooperative weed management defends biological diversity in Oak Openings region

Oak Openings CWMA

Oak Openings CWMA coordinator and a volunteer record the occurrence of an invasive species at The Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Preserve. Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.

The 130-square-mile Oak Openings region, located in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, is a globally unique, biologically diverse area that is home to many rare plants and animals, such as drummond’s halfchaff sedge (Lipocarpha drummondii), white false indigo (Baptisia lactea), prairie warbler (Dendroica discolor) and sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus).

Yet the Oak Openings region is also critically imperiled by invasive plants that threaten native flora and fauna and negatively impact habitat, water quality and ecological diversity. That’s why the USDA Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant program is supporting a project to assess invasive plants throughout the Oak Openings region and create best management practices to fight them. 

Managing invasive plants to reduce their negative impacts on ecosystems can drain limited budgets. What’s made a difference in the Oak Openings region is a collaborative approach called a Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA), which brings together groups with a shared interest in fighting invasive plants in a defined area. Federal, state and local government agencies, tribes, individuals and other groups share resources and knowledge to increase awareness, provide training and facilitate work on the ground — all with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

The Oak Openings CWMA combines the expertise of the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Toledo Metroparks with other longtime CWMA members and local organizations. For nearly two decades, they have partnered to address the threat posed by invasive plants.

In 2019, The Nature Conservancy received $40,000 from the USDA Forest Service GLRI grant program for a project to quickly survey and map priority areas and emerging invasive plants, assess on-the-ground impacts from invasive plants, develop best management practices (BMPs) and gather data that partners can easily access and use. Volunteers modified the Oak Openings Rapid Assessment Method tool to survey over 2,200 acres owned or managed by project partners, which included 287 in-depth assessments emphasizing early detection of new invasive plants and plant invaders of high concern.

This work resulted in adding 400 new invasive plant location data plots to a mapping application on the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, a statewide partnership that shares easily accessible resources. The partners also developed 10 new BMP fact sheets (in addition to 12 that were previously developed) that outline identifying features, native look-alikes, methods of dispersal and control options.  

The CWMA conducted two virtual workshops and several small, in-person training sessions to ensure partners knew about the resources and how to use them. They also hosted virtual trainings on topics including identification of Oak Openings natural communities, habitat monitoring and a new digital invasive species mapping form. In total, 97 people attended the virtual trainings.

This proactive work gives partners more tools, data and resources to take informed action on invasive plant species — and to help protect the diverse ecosystems of the unique Oak Openings region.