Missourians Making a Difference: Interview with Angela Sokolowski

July 12, 2023 | Missourians Making a Difference, News

Missourians Making a Difference: Angela Sokolowski, Invasive Species Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation

Throughout Missouri are many individuals making significant progress in the early detection and control of invasive plants. The Missouri Invasive Plant Council (MoIP) is pleased to highlight their work!

Angela Sokolowski, Invasive Species Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), and MoIP Council member, took time out of her busy schedule to describe her work. Enjoy! —Carol Davit, MoIP Chair

How long have you been in this position at MDC? What is your professional background?
I started in this position at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in May 2022. My background is primarily in terrestrial plants, including botanical surveys, invasive plant control, and wildland/prescribed fire. I have a B.S. degree in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University. During college I worked at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, where I carried out native plant propagation, invasive plant control, and prescribed fire on reconstructed prairie.

After college, I enjoyed working all over the country for several years as a seasonal employee with the National Park Service. I worked summers on fire effects crews, monitoring native vegetation in prescribed burn units, and winters on the Lake Mead Exotic Plant Management Team, serving National Parks in the Desert Southwest. I came to Missouri in 2009 to work at Ozark National Scenic Riverways as part of the Fire Effects Crew. Most recently, I worked for several years on the Mark Twain National Forest as the Zone 3 Plant Specialist, focused on invasive plant management planning and implementation.

Please give us a summary of the invasive species work you coordinate for MDC.
My position involves state-wide coordination for all invasive species: terrestrial and aquatic plants, animals, and insects. My coordination work is at the broader organizational level, focusing on strategies, connections, and information sharing, while the operational day-to-day invasive species management activities are coordinated by MDC staff at the regional and district levels. My work includes providing guidance on invasives-related strategy and policy within MDC, coordinating with our species and habitat specialists, working with partnerships, and assisting with communication staff within the agency and for the public.

How is MDC managing invasive plants on their lands?
MDC’s land managers are managing invasives across the state using a variety of tools, techniques, and approaches. Our regional resources staff and technicians treat invasives mechanically and chemically in a wide variety of habitat types across our conservation areas.

For some projects, our managers have contracted specialized equipment including aquatic vegetation harvesters, as well as helicopters and drones for aerial spraying of bush honeysuckle. We employ several specialized crews including the Central Region’s Invasive Plant Crew, which treats terrestrial plants in conservation areas, and the Southwest Region’s Hydrilla Crew is dedicated to surveying and treating infestations of the aquatic invasive plant hydrilla in public and private waterbodies.

How does MDC decide which species to manage, and where?

MDC manages nearly 1 million acres of public land for conservation and public use across the state, so each region is dealing with its own list of invasive threats, priority invasive species, and habitats to protect. Managing invasives is just one element of the conservation work we do, which means time and resources to accomplish that work are limited, so we have to take a strategic approach. The general strategy is to manage the invasive species that pose the biggest threat to our natural communities—the ecosystem changers—in the highest priority areas. Priority areas have been identified by our Comprehensive Conservation Strategy, which helps guide all our management decisions on where we focus our work.

We also provide information and guidance to help private landowners. Our Community and Private Land Conservationists work with communities and private landowners in Missouri to help them develop land management plans that include invasives management. And we share a variety of invasive species Outreach and Education so citizens can understand the problems posed by invasives, learn how to identify them, how to prevent their spread, and how to manage them.

Our website has pages on Nuisance and Invasive species (including plants and animals), our Conservation Nature Centers host invasives-themed programs, our social media pages regularly feature informative posts, and we host special events like Invasive Species Day at the State Fair, this year on August 11th.

Does MDC partner with other organizations for invasive species efforts?
We partner with several agencies and organizations on invasives-focused organizations and for invasives projects. We see great results when we combine forces with partners to accomplish shared goals!

Missouri Invasive Plant Council (MoIP) is one of our valued partners. The State Botanist, Malissa Briggler, and I both serve on the MoIP Council and several subcommittees. MDC offices and staff have helped host Callery Pear Buy-Back events over the years, and we help distribute messaging for the Buy-back and other events through our social media outlets.

Another important partnership is with the Scenic Riverways Invasive Species Partnership (SRISP), which is the first Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area in Missouri, covering nine counties in the Ozark region. MDC was involved with the inception of this partnership, and we continue our support with the vision that it will serve as the first of many in the future.

We are also proud to partner with Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and Missouri Prairie Foundation to support the Invasive Species Strike Teams run by MoDOT to treat priority invasive plants on state highway rights-of-way. This program recently expanded into all districts of the state, and we are thrilled to have dedicated MoDOT Strike Teams covering so much ground across Missouri!

If visitors to MDC conservation areas or nature centers see invasive plants, who should they notify? And, can citizens help control invasive plants on MDC land?
In general, our field staff has a good awareness of the invasives on the MDC lands they manage, but visitor reports could be helpful for early detection of new populations, especially species that aren’t common to the vicinity. Early detections can be reported to the local MDC district office.

If citizens are interested in helping with control efforts, I suggest they contact their local MDC district office or Conservation Nature Center to find out how they can help. We don’t want folks to take matters into their own hands unless they have coordinated with the local MDC manager and have permission to do so.

One of the best and easiest ways folks can help us with invasives is to prevent their spread. Visitors to our conservation areas should come with footwear, clothing, and gear free of dirt and debris that could contain invasive seeds. They should also take an extra moment to clean off their gear before they leave, to ensure they don’t transport any seeds with them when they go.

Homeowners who choose not to plant invasives on their property also indirectly help keep invasives off MDC land by not hosting a seed source, which could be spread unknown distances by people or wildlife.

We appreciate everyone taking steps to prevent the spread of invasive species in Missouri!

Support MoIP, the Grow Native! Program, and the Missouri Prairie Foundation

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