By Tony Tocci, Acadia National Park Exotic Plant Management Program Leader
I started writing this, by chance, on the ninety-eighth anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS.) In the beginning the national parks had no NPS to oversee them. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now Kings Canyon) were protected by the Army. Back then the main concern was poaching and vandalism. Over time the NPS was established to protect and preserve the parks. Today the NPS is still worried about poachers and vandals, but we’re also worried about protecting natural resources on a larger scale. One of these new aspects of natural resource management protection is invasive plant management, which is what I do.
Invasive plant management in the NPS began for me four years ago in Asheville, North Carolina, with the South East Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT), based out of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was fortunate enough to land a student internship there that lasted a year. At the time I was in college, and had been seeking some answers about work in “the real world.” I wanted badly to find a fulfilling career. I’d had a profound experience climbing Mt. Katahdin the previous fall, which compelled me to explore work in conservation, as I wanted wholeheartedly to protect large tracts of land. I also wanted to see the country, and working for an invasive plant team with territory covering seven states of the southeastern United States (including nineteen national park service units) seemed like a perfect way to do both. We’d work for eight straight days at one national park and then go back to Asheville for six days off, only to travel to another national park unit the following week. It was hard to beat the traveling, which I loved, but more so it was hard to beat the work experience, on-the-job learning, and the unique firsthand introduction I was getting to national parks. I had a great teacher in my boss there, Toby Obenauer, and I left feeling very excited and motivated to continue protecting natural resources for the NPS.
Soon after I left Asheville, in the spring of 2012, I took my first official NPS seasonal position wearing the green and grey here at Acadia, again as part of an EPMT. I was unbelievably excited to come back to Maine, where I grew up. I’ve always been a very proud Mainer, and coming here to work protecting natural resources allowed me to give back to a place I love very much. That season was also the first time I worked at one park for longer than a one-week stint. Though the SE-EPMT taught me a lot, my experience at Acadia really showed me the ins and outs of operations in an individual park, its close-knit team of employees, volunteers, and partners, and allowed me to develop a deeper connection to the land itself. I had grown up on Maine’s coastline, but the peaks, valleys, and lakes that merge with the ocean here were so very different and uniquely special.
I left that fall to manage invasive plants on another NPS team based out of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. I expected to live in the desert southwest for four years, but a position to help lead Acadia’s invasive plant team in the field was announced that winter and I knew that if I was fortunate enough to land it I would gladly return to these rocky mounds of granite on Mount Desert Island. Lo and behold, I got the job and moved back in May to again work for Frank Archuleta and Judy Hazen Connery, who have since passed on immeasurable amounts of knowledge and wisdom about professional resource management to me. I had a great second summer as the assistant EPMT leader, and when Frank left this May to return to his home state of Colorado, I was able to fill in and help keep the EPMT moving forward.
One of the real pleasures of being here for consecutive seasons is getting to see the progress the team has made treating exotic invasive plant populations. Though I am not fond of these non-native intruders, I do have to acknowledge that their existence has allowed me to spend my time in the out-of-doors. Working for Acadia and the National Park Service has been an amazing experience. I wanted a career that entailed protecting large tracts of land; the necessary removal of exotic invasive plant species in Acadia and other national parks has made that possible. I feel indebted to Acadia especially for this, and I hope to continue this work for a long time.
Acadia’s Exotic Plant Management Team will be protecting biodiversity, and aiming to improve the ecology of Acadia National Park’s natural areas by removing exotic invasive plant populations through November of this year. If you’d like to volunteer with us we often could use a hand on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. If you have any questions or concerns regarding exotic invasive plant species I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org