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NEWBURYPORT — A group of "weed warriors" will take a bow Thursday night when they gather at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate efforts over the past 12 years to eradicate the invasive pepperweed plant from the Great Marsh.

Pepperweed, an aggressive plant that can crowd out native saltmarsh and upland species, spreads when the seeds float in and land after a high tide.

The refuge and Massachusetts Audubon are hosting the celebration from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Refuge Visitor Center, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, to thank volunteers who have helped with the Great Marsh Perennial Pepperweed Project since it began in 2006. Since then the "weed warriors" have put in more than 12,500 hours on the project, including mapping locations of pepperweed for the entire Great Marsh, an area of more than 30,000 acres, stretching from Gloucester to Salisbury, according to a press release.

In 2017, the Great Marsh pepperweed team treated more than 2,000 sites, with volunteers working to hand pull the invasive plants at more than half those sites. There are at least 10 sites in Essex, where the plant has been contained to a small patch at the end of Conomo Point for the last 10 years by the Great Marsh Eradication Project, but a new area of growth was discovered last year on Long Island, just north of Choate Island and south of Crane Beach.

Perennial pepperweed is an invasive plant that is relatively new to the East Coast, although it thrives in agricultural areas out west, where the seeds can be spread through field irrigation.

Liz Duff, the education coordinator with Mass Audubon's Saltmarsh Science Project, said pepperweed is "particularly a challenge in that the seeds spread in the tide. We find it growing in the upper edge of saltmarshes" where the tide has pushed the seeds.

She said pepperweed "can spread quite rapidly, particularly with the storms over the winter bringing much higher than normal tides. We've been finding it (growing) in newer locations."

At the volunteer celebration, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Mass Audubon plan to celebrate the progress to date and lay out the plan of attack for 2018. The group is always looking for volunteers and welcomes the public for snacks, updates and a chance to talk with "weed warriors."

All who are interested in volunteering or learning about the project are welcome. Duff said that contractors had been hired in prior years to work on eradication efforts, paid for with money from a fund created after Hurricane Sandy. With that money gone, Mass Audubon and the wildlife refuge are hoping more volunteers can step in to adopt sites in the Great Marsh for monitoring and pulling weeds.  

"We're going to be relying on a lot of volunteers to help us address something we had contractors working on in the past," she said. 

Pepperweed competes with native plants, including marsh elder, in the upper edges of saltmarshes, and goldenrod, which is an important plant for migrating monarch butterflies, Duff said. 

"We feel good when we're helping improve habitat for monarchs as well" as pulling up an invasive species, she said. 

She said the contractors and volunteer "weed warriors" have gone far in "working not only to reduce it here but to prevent its spread to new locations." She said there are just a few patches of pepperweed in New Hampshire and the state of Maine, and the 2,000-plus patches in the Great Marsh have but dramatically reduced. 

A press release about the Thursday night event noted that Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Mass Audubon have been working "with many conservation partners, towns, the state, volunteers, and local schools to contain and eradicate this invasive plant before it takes over our salt marshes. Volunteers are an essential part of the project and help with mapping, hand pulling, monitoring, and outreach." 

As part of the ongoing monitoring and eradication efforts, pepperweed events scheduled in the coming weeks include the following:

Ipswich Adopt-A-Site Training Day & Pepperweed Pull: Contact Liz Duff at lduff@massaudubon.org for details. June 9, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at First Church, 1 Meetinghouse Green.

June 3, 2 to 4 p.m., meet at the refuge headquarters, 6 Plum Island Turnpike.

June 21, 2 to 5 p.m., meet at the refuge headquarters.

Plum Island Beautification Society friend and family pepperweed pull: June 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., meet at PITA Hall on Plum Island.

Pepperweed pull and pizza: Volunteers are invited to help pull weeds, then eat pizza provided by Dominos and Friends of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Pre-registration required via naturegroupie.org.

June 13, 9 a.m. to noon, meet at refuge headquarters. 

June 23, 9 a.m. to noon,  meet at refuge headquarters. 

Richard K. Lodge may be contacted at rlodge@gloucestertimes.com. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardLodge_DN.


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Source : http://www.gloucestertimes.com/news/local_news/volunteers-to-be-honored-for-work-battling-pepperweed-in-great/article_343515ea-e8c3-5855-b1ee-0c70fc979b20.html

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