Did you know that autumn olive was once planted by many conservationists, including ACRES’ Tom and Jane Dustin, to provide wildlife habitat? Today, this invasive shrub is a prime target for removal on ACRES Land Trust preserves and on managed land across the U.S.

Why? Because its beautiful brush — with sweet-smelling spring blooms, signature silver-backed leaves and red berries — reaches heights of 20 feet, densely crowding out other plant life and taking over. And as a non-native, autumn olive benefits from a longer growing season, still thriving in late fall, giving it an advantage over native plants

For a time, ACRES’ land management philosophy was far more hands-off in relation to plants like autumn olive.

“Let nature take care of it,” was the motto, based on direct observation of formerly fallow fields reforesting naturally without help. Over time, land managers observed otherwise as non-native plants increasingly came on the scene. Now we know that if we don’t fight for the native trees that we plant, we’ll lose them to these faster-growing non-native invasives.

Bringing it home

Roughly 10 years ago, ACRES planted native saplings on the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve near Huntertown. Since then, each growing season we have battled to save these trees.

To welcome more participants to the cause and to the land, ACRES launched the Autumn Olive Project on the Dustin Preserve in 2017. We’re seeing positive results in inviting folks to the fight.

Taking it down — and keeping it down

As part of ACRES seasonal staff outing, the ACRES team launched the project on the 2017 summer solstice. Using chainsaws, hacksaws and loppers, we tackled the thorny brush, clearing this tenacious plant from the southeastern quadrant of the reforested meadow. Knee-deep in poison ivy patches, accompanied by angry bees, hungry mosquitoes, high humidity and hot summer sun, we held some ground for the native trees.

Following staff efforts, volunteers soon picked up the loppers and the pace. The project has moved four times to different locations on this preserve.

Charles Enea, now preserve steward, describes tackling two “walls” of the brush, roughly 20 feet high, 12 feet deep, 50 feet wide and 75 feet long. Working two-hour shifts in the heat of July, Enea returned over many weeks until he achieved victory, taking down the walls. Satisfied in the results of his effort, Enea was surprised he had never noticed the monstrous plants.

“Before it was pointed out, autumn olive was not something I was paying attention to,” says Enea.

Today, after two years, six private and public workdays and many hours of labor by some extremely motivated drop-in volunteers, ACRES reports that we’re winning the battle in many places on the preserve. But victory is temporary and incomplete as autumn olive is still thick in many other places on the preserve.

Autumn olive thrives in our region and is spread by wildlife. We must be vigilant. It will keep coming back.

Autumn Olive Workday

Will you join the fight? ACRES will host an Autumn Olive Workday, 10:30 a.m. to noon, on Saturday, Nov. 2, on the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve, 1802 Chapman Road, Huntertown. Tools and gloves provided or bring your own. Bathrooms and refreshments available at the ACRES office located on the preserve

Annual ACRES Member Meeting and Picnic

Not looking for a fight, but want to help? Come have fun! Join ACRES at the Annual Member Meeting and Picnic, 1-4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 20, on the Dustin Nature Preserve, Dustin Barn and ACRES Office, 1802 Chapman Road, Huntertown.

It is fun for all ages. ACRES members gather once a year for a state-of-the-organization update and to celebrate protecting local land. Picnic meal is optional, food by Feders Meats and beer by Upland Brewing. Picnic, $10 per person; children 10 years old and under are admitted free.

Read more about the event and register: acreslandtrust.org/annualpicnic. Or call the ACRES office at 637-2273 by Sunday, Oct. 13. All members are welcome to attend the member meeting at no charge. Membership starts at $15 annually for seniors, $25 for individuals.

Lettie Haver manages outreach for ACRES Land Trust. She grew up in rural DeKalb County.

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