A Mutually Symbiotic Relationship: PCTA Collaborates with USFS Botanist!

PCTA Volunteers show off their collection of invasive ivy at Herman Creek!

When Joseph “Brance” Morefield, a US Forest Service Botanist and Invasive Plant Coordinator, reached out to PCTA’s Columbia Cascades Regional Representative Jeanine Russell to collaborate on volunteer projects, she felt like they’d struck gold in a field of four leaf clovers. Providing a variety of opportunities for volunteers to get involved in the PCT has been an ongoing discussion within the organization and, while trail maintenance is an integral part of PCTA’s work, it was exciting to finally begin the process of offering a new type of volunteer work that allows greater accessibility to those with different interests and needs.

The synergistic union of Brance and the PCTA feels like a match made in heaven. With over 20 years of field experience, beginning with an education in botany in the forests of Virginia that eventually led him to the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, Brance felt drawn to more collaborative experiences after spending most of his career in solitude within the forests of the Pacific Northwest. When he arrived in the Gorge in 2023, a highly trafficked area that is susceptible to the spread of invasive species, he decided to get involved with local volunteer and restoration groups like Friends of the Columbia Gorge to raise environmental awareness, educate folks about their local flora, and cultivate his newfound love for teaching.

USFS Botanist Brance in action with fellow volunteers at Herman Creek.

Flash forward to March of 2024: Brance works alongside Jeanine to host PCTA’s first invasive species plant removal project near Herman Creek, where he, PCTA staff members Jake, Claire, and Jeanine, and seven volunteers helped remove six 38-gallon trash bags of invasive ivy. Though it may look beautiful and lush, this particular species of ivy poses a major threat to native plants by shading out understory plants and can also be toxic to humans and cattle if consumed in large quantities. If these efforts weren’t impressive enough, the group went even further by helping restore a switchback, creating space for natives to regrow around .2 miles of trail, and conserving both the natural viewshed and ecosystem of the area.

PCTA was fortunate enough to work with Brance again near the Bridge of the Gods for another invasive species removal project just a short week later in April. Regional Trail Stewardship Coordinator Jake Rawdin reported back that the group “removed several hundred Herb Robert from .7 miles of trail, saving tens of thousands of future seed dispersals!” According to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, Herb Robert, also known as “Stinky Bob,” is a low-growing, shallowly rooted plant that poses a threat to the forest understory and plant diversity in the Cascades and Olympic forests, as it is capable of growing under a full, closed canopy. Of course, Brance’s years of expertise were put to use, and no guidebook was needed for this wildly successful volunteer project.

PCTA Volunteer discovers a patch of invasive Herb Robert in the Bridge of the Gods area. Photo provided by Jake Rawdin.

The projects were well-received by those in attendance, many of whom expressed enthusiasm and gratitude about Brance’s impressive botanical expertise and the opportunity to socialize with fellow plant lovers, get outside and learn. A true example of mutual symbiosis in action, Brance highlights that one of his favorite things about getting out with groups is empowering people to give him answers to things he doesn’t know! It is exactly this kind of affinity for communal education that makes Brance’s involvement with PTCA even more special. The spectacular combination of nature walks, plant identification, species removal, and community engagement proved to be a major success for all. We’re thrilled to offer more of these projects in the future and start caring for not only the trail, but the wildlife its path crosses through.

It is worth mentioning how important this type of work is for the health of the trail. Due to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people traversing the length of the PCT every year, the trail’s native ecosystems become vulnerable to the spread of invasive species. People travel from far and wide to experience the trail’s environmental diversity and, unknowingly, carry foreign pests, plants, and bacteria on their boots or packs onto the trail. This can be detrimental to the surrounding wildlife, particularly in areas of the trail that are popular. As an advocate for the trail’s health, Brance expressed how imperative it is that trail users wash their shoes and carry a boot brush to clean off any debris that they might’ve tracked from previous travels before getting outside. These simple steps can help prevent the further spread of invasive species and have long-lasting positive impacts on local ecosystems so that wildlife will continue to thrive and we can continue to appreciate the trail’s beauty.

PCTA Volunteer inspects for invasive Herb Robert. Photo provided by Jake Rawdin.

Thanks to the ongoing and collaborative efforts of volunteers and educators like Brance, the PCT remains in great health. As we continue to care for the trail, we hope to host more invasive species removal events alongside our usual trail maintenance projects as a way to increase accessibility for volunteers and cater to a variety of interests. For all the green thumbs out there looking to get involved in an upcoming project, check out PCTA’s project schedule page for the most up-to-date information about volunteer opportunities, or email [email protected] with any questions. We hope to see you out on the trail!


Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.