Ellen is from Wisconsin, and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in botany from the University of Wisconsin. She has worked in Indiana’s natural areas since 1987, first coming to Indiana to work with the DNR – Division of Nature Preserves to do rare plant inventory and mapping of rare species in the state. She then worked for Holcomb Research Institute (then at Butler University in Indianapolis) doing acid rain research and population biology of rare prairie plants among other environmental research projects. She became the first botanist for the Wayne-Hoosier National Forest in 1991 and spent several years working for the Forest Service in natural resource management.
As part of her current position, Ellen works on invasive species issues at the state level. She is the Invasives Committee chair for the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, the chair of the Invasive Plant Species Assessment Working Group in Indiana, and a member of the Indiana Invasive Species Task Force that led to the formation of the Indiana Invasive Species Council in the 2009 legislative session. She currently leads the Invasive Plant Advisory Committee which reports to the Invasive Species Council.
We asked Ellen to provide some insight into her work, particularly as it relates to invasive species.
Q What is your role with The Nature Conservancy?
EJ I direct management of Conservancy lands in northern Indiana, and I work on invasive species issues across the state.
Q What is a typical day for you?
EJ Hmm, I don’t really have typical days. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 am to pick up a bumblebee expert and take her to a meeting of the Indiana Pesticide Review Board (on which I serve) in Lafayette so she could be part of the discussion on how to better protect our pollinators from pesticides. I got back to the office at 3 pm, and walked through our native landscaping in preparation for a garden walk I’m giving here next week, and realized I need to pick up litter before then so will need to strong arm some volunteers into helping me. Got into the office and dealt with paying a contractor who just cleaned up a house site for us in Steuben County, and getting a new contract in place fix some erosion in restored wetlands in the same county. Prepared for a meeting the next day in which I’d be meeting with Hamilton County road engineers to work out how a bridge project on 106th Street can be done without impacting our adjacent Bitternut Woods Nature Preserve. Went home at 4 pm. Every day is different, which I like a lot.
Q What are a few of your favorite Conservancy preserves in Indiana, and are they impacted by invasive species?
EJ So many favorite preserves, and the reality is they are all affected by invasive species. I was at Douglas Woods Nature Preserve much of last week in Steuben and Dekalb Counties. Hundreds of dead ash trees can be seen in the preserve, all killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle. Garlic mustard is scattered through the understory of the forest, and I’m concerned that the light gaps from the dead ash trees may cause an increase in the amount of garlic mustard. Another favorite - Houghton Lake Nature Preserve in Marshall County. A gorgeous undeveloped lake surrounded by crop land that we have restored to native plants. We spend a lot of time controlling species like poison hemlock and Canada thistle which are trying to establish in our native plantings.
Q Why does The Nature Conservancy devote so much time and resources to stopping the spread of invasive species?
EJ We are committed to protecting the habitats that plants and animals need to survive, and invasive species can significantly decrease the available habitat. We can’t reach our goal by simply acquiring and setting aside land; it takes active management to provide healthy habitats.
Q Indiana unfortunately is plagued by so many invasive species. Can you name your two least favorites and why?
EJ Callery pear is my least favorite invasive species. Also known as flowering pear, it has many cultivars, including Bradford pear, Chanticleer, Cleveland Select, and others. It has invaded thousands of forested acres in Indiana and is actually outcompeting oak trees in areas that have been harvested. And yet it is still for sale in Indiana, and is perhaps the most popular planted tree in the state. It’s a terrible choice for landscaping and should not be planted. Another least favorite is purple wintercreeper. This Asian vine has been widely planted as a groundcover, but it does not stay where it is planted. The berries get spread by birds and the vine takes over forests. More info you can cut and paste at http://mc-iris.org/wintercreeper-control-assistance.html
Q Is there any good news in the fight against invasive species?
EJ There is a draft rule that the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources will be moving forward this summer, and it will take highly invasive plants out of trade. That rule could eliminate from sale both callery pear and purple wintercreeper, as well as a host of other invasive horticultural plants. Stay tuned for information on that rule when it moves forward, and how you can comment on it.