It’s the middle of the summer, the time of year when many teenagers are on break from school and looking to make a couple extra bucks with a summer job. For a few Petersburg teens that means traveling around Mitkof Island lighting the side of trails on fire, tearing plants out of the ground… and getting paid for it. They’re stopping invasive plants in their tracks.
Walking up the bottom of Raven’s Roost trail I can feel the heat and smell the fuel from 19-year-old Dustin Galaktionoff’s torch as he burns the vegetation along the edges of the path. It’s a warm day for Petersburg, nearly 70 with the sun overhead and little breeze. With the open flame it’s even warmer but Galaktionoff seems unfazed in his long sleeve shirt, pants and Xtratufs.
“I’ve been helping them clear trails, pick up weeds and other invasive plants,” says Galaktionoff. “So far it’s been quite fun.”
Galaktionoff recently started working with a small crew tasked with controlling invasive plants and sprucing up trails around Mitkof Island this summer.
He’s part of the team built through a collaboration between Petersburg Indian Association, the Petersburg borough and the U.S. Forest Service. Funding for the project came from both the state and from P.I.A. Project organizer Joni Johnson, a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service, says funding sources helped determine where work would be done. The state funding means more work is focused on areas near state lands.
“So that kind of covers the borough trails,” says Johnson. “And then with bureau of Indian Association grant money, it’s kind of transportation line but it works and PIA has agreements with both state and forest service so there it was kind of, these are developed rec sites that community members use.”
They started working last month at Manmade Hole lake, 20 miles south of town before starting on Raven’s Roost. The project will last through the end of July.
The most common weed they’ve seen so far is reed canary grass which has reddish seeds on top. That is one of the three invasive plants Johnson considers a priority. Along with Japanese knotweed and orange hawkweed.
“That has that beautiful orange flower,” says Johnson. “And it loves the roadside but it’s actually spreading up into muskegs and its spreading into harvested areas. And that one it’s a dirty player. It has basically plant chemical warfare where it secretes chemicals in the soil that prevent other plants from growing.”
Beyond those three priority plants, the team has a whole booklet with photos of weeds they might need to pull.
“There’s two types of buttercups,” says 15-year-old Holli Davis. “Native and non-native. So we pull the non-native. And then there’s daisies and hawkweed which is an orange type of flower with a black stem. And those ones are really hard and dandelions are also pretty common.”
Physically, removing invasive plants is not the easiest summer job in town. In fact, Lapeyri says it’s really tiring.
“Because you have to squat, you have to pick them up, and you have to stay in the squat position and cut all of it. Up here on the Raven’s Roost we’re not allowed to use the weed whacker because the seeds will spread everywhere and just grow more.”
Lapeyri and supervisor Jeannette Phillips are kneeling on the side of the gravel path, wearing knee pads. In the heat, under the sun, the two glisten with sweat. They’re pulling up weeds with root pullers and raking them into piles to bag and take to composting.
Lapeyri says last year soil was put down along the trail here that led to more unwanted grass in the area.
“They didn’t check what was in the soil so everything just started growing, all the grass did.”
Johnson says that’s a classic example of someone having best intentions…but…
“That soil that was brought in was loaded,” says Johnson. “It obviously came from somebody’s beachside home based on the different plants that were there.”
She says there are several ways that people around the community can help control the spread of invasive plants.
“Maybe don’t import soil in unless you know it’s weed-free or clean,” says Johnson. “Think about the plants that you’re putting in your garden… If you’re cleaning your garden and you just go or your yard and you just dump your weeds in the dirt somewhere else well you just passed on that weed problem elsewhere.”
Along with pulling out invasive plants, Johnson says the crew will also be re-vegetating the areas, with native seeds.