Collaborative, Inter-Agency Effort Making Headway Against Stiltgrass

By Alice Elliot, Stiltgrass Coordinator

Alice Elliot, Stiltgrass Coordinator, ready to battle stiltgrass.

Readers are likely familiar with some well-known invasive species in Michigan, like garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and phragmites. But a new invader is in town, and it’s a nasty one. Stiltgrass is an annual grass that quickly out-competes native species. It grows in both disturbed and undisturbed sites, in sun in shade, and in dry or wet soil. It takes over forests, lawns, gardens, and driveways. Each individual plant can produce up to a thousand seeds– and those seeds are viable in soil for up to ten years. How can our ecosystem hope to stand up to such a tenacious plant? Fortunately, the Stiltgrass Working Group is on the case.

The effort to control stiltgrass began in 2016 when two landowners noticed it in their backyard prairie. By 2018, stiltgrass was found on nearby public and private lands across multiple sections of Scio Township. Both private and public individuals recognized the need for a prompt and intense response, and the Stiltgrass Working Group was formed.

Today, the Stiltgrass Working Group is comprised of members from Wild Ones of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, Legacy Land Conservancy, City of Ann Arbor Natural Area Preservation, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Huron River Watershed Council, Jackson-Lenawee-Washtenaw Cooperative Weed Management Area, Washtenaw Water Resources Office, The Stewardship Network, and individual community members.

When it comes to social and environmental problems, collaboration is critical– not only for sharing resources, but sharing perspectives in a transparent and equitable fashion. Those involved have different values, interests, and ways of understanding information; many have specific missions or constraints associated with their organizations. Collaborative decision-making helps ensure that everyone impacted can understand the problem, come up with solutions, and feel good about the decision.

Japanese stiltgrass – Courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Because stiltgrass poses a diversity of threats, the Working Group employs a diversity of tactics. We engage not only each other, but the local community, as several landowners are part of the working group and are part of the decision-making procedure. An important component of this effort is actually treating the stiltgrass on private property. Many invasive management programs are implemented after the invasive is already well-established– so managers focus more on managing it in natural areas, or preventing it from entering in the first place. But because stiltgrass was discovered so early, we hope to prevent it from spreading too far out of our control.

Time will tell if that is possible: the Working Group has only been in place for two years, and we’re still evaluating our success. But in 2019 alone, we were able to survey 106 properties for a total of 347 acres. 52% of those properties had stiltgrass present. We found a total of 14.5 acres of stiltgrass across all of those properties, and were able to treat 11.5 acres (or about 80%) of it. The landowners either treated the stiltgrass themselves, or gave us permission to treat. We anticipate engaging with even more landowners next year.

If you live in Scio Township, consider reaching out to the Stiltgrass Working Group in the spring to sign up for a stiltgrass survey. You can call 734-210-0267, or email washtenawstiltgrass@gmail.com. For more information on identification, control, and monitoring click here.

Editors Note: Alice Elliot is the Stiltgrass Coordinator and is cooperatively employed by the organizations mentioned above. Legacy Land Conservancy provides office room space, equipment, and guidance by our veteran Land Protection staff to the effort. All of us at Legacy have developed admiration and respect for Alice. We have especially enjoyed her camaraderie and fine sense of humor.

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