When determining how to conserve and protect the natural resources of the Township, both plant communities and land functions must be considered. The ENAs contain examples of the best quality habitats and richest plant communities and should be the top priorities for preservation. Several already have some degree of protection, but others are vulnerable. Surrounding lands that may not have well-developed native plant communities but which function as buffers or connectors might be critical to the long-term health of contiguous ENAs, and should also be protected if possible. Specifically:
- Protecting the high-quality habitats on the airport property should be a high priority. Most of these habitats were created and managed for the functioning of the airport, and they have coexisted for some time, so the biggest threat is changing the use of the property without considering the significance of its natural features.
- Another high priority should be protecting the Cockeysville corridor from further development. Most of the land between Baltimore Pike and the railroad has been industrialized, but there is still enough undeveloped land south of the railroad to secure a nearly continuous strip of open fields and wetlands along the stream corridor from Newark Road to Scarlet Road.
- The third high-priority area should be the White Clay valley, especially the steep canyon country. The Township has already secured several critical areas, and should encourage preservation and sensitive management of the remaining land, both developed and undeveloped.
- As mentioned in the explanation of ENAs, all the remaining parts of older woods as shown on the 1956 aerial photo are also important areas to protect.
In addition to the designated ENAs and the priorities mentioned above, there are areas in the Township that have significant plant species or communities and are worthy of conservation attention. Some of these habitats are undervalued and easily lost by short-sighted management. Some are mapped or included as part of wetlands, woodlands, or riparian buffers, but others are not accounted for. They can be described in the following general categories:
- Small wetlands. Wetlands species can be surprisingly resilient, and stream edges, the lower edges of hayfields and pastures, and even ditches, can support a diverse native wetlands flora. No wetland should be considered too small for protection, and existing wetlands should be preserved rather than replaced by created wetlands, especially in non-wetland areas. Numerous studies have shown that created wetlands are never as rich in either plant or animal life as naturally-occurring ones, although there are several enhanced wetlands in the Township that have done quite well.
- Storm-water detention basins. These constructed features are wasted as habitat if they are maintained as lawn. They can encompass a number of micro-habitats from dry slope to wetland, and can make a suburban area a little less barren.
- Ponds. Ponds, especially shallow ones with fluctuating water tables, usually contain a specialized group of wetland plants growing on their banks and edges, species which often also occur both in storm water detention basins and in larger stream sand and gravel bars. A pond edge or detention basin that is not mown, or infrequently mown, provides habitat for insects and amphibians.
- Floodplain wetlands. All floodplain wetlands are essential components of a natural flood control system which is increasingly needed with continued development and resultant rapid runoff from hardscapes.
- Meadows. Open areas managed to sustain native grasses and herbs are uncommon in the Township. Much more common are hay or grass fields (not harvested for hay), and lawns, which are usually extremely sterile habitats. Some of these grasslands, especially in wetter and drier areas, have significant native components that could be encouraged. Esthetic and economic compromises and decisions could easily make parts of these managed habitats more diverse and richer in native species, more resilient under stressful weather conditions, and more easily and cheaply maintained.
- Roadbanks. These infrequently or indifferently managed habitats can support surprisingly rich native plant (and animal) communities, including pockets of dry meadow and woodland edge, the last of which are often richer than adjacent forest interiors. More knowledgeable management could restore dry edge communities which have been nearly eliminated in many places. These communities require less maintenance than close-cut grassy banks and with their variety of plants are more pleasing to the eye.
Protection and management of many of these habitats depends on education and cooperation of landowners. Some tracts of older woods in the Township have been fragmented and divided into small lots with houses, but generally still have some functioning native plant communities along edges and property lines that are valuable resources for regeneration. Significant plant resources are also found in open spaces of developments controlled by Homeowner Associations that may be unaware of the natural value of the land. Deer and invasive aliens are two of the biggest threats to native plant communities, and education and cooperation are needed to help control them. These strategies are described as follows:
- Deer. Fencing, birth control, and hunting are the three main methods used in controlling our native ungulate. All have drawbacks. Fencing is expensive, since only metal fences erected high enough to keep deer from leaping over them are effective and have the additional drawback of confining deer to smaller areas, with resultant greater devastation to unprotected flora. Birth control has not proven effective except when used in isolated populations, and is also expensive, time-consuming, and requires specialized knowledge and application. Hunting is the simplest and least expensive way to control the number of deer, but it must be coordinated over a fairly large area and intense enough that the number of breeding deer are reduced.
- Invasives. Many woody invasive plants such as Japanese honeysuckle and bittersweet have become widespread and thoroughly established, and can be controlled in small areas only by continuous effort since they have ample seed sources nearby. Others such as lesser celandine buttercup and Japanese stilt grass may be more site-specific and may not spread as readily from their redoubts, but can form such dense stands in their preferred habitat that they are impossible to eradicate. The most controllable are the newer horticultural woody invaders (e.g., callery pear, viburnums, photinia, Asian hercules‘-club) that are still not widespread or dense.
Education is crucial so that residents managing land know the enemy and do not plant or otherwise encourage invasive species.
The means to control invasives are as varied as the plants themselves. Mechanical means (e.g., cutting, girdling) are the preferred methods for shrubs and trees. Spraying is more cost-effective with herbaceous species (although hand-pulling small or isolated populations is preferable), but both drift and non-specificity of sprays have been problems in the past. Biological control has had mixed results. Rose rosette disease, which afflicts multiflora rose, is now established in the area. Although it has seriously weakened local populations of rose, it remains to be seen whether this virus will eliminate it. The same is true for both the weevil recently introduced to control mile-a-minute, and pests brought in for purple loosestrife; the latter control seem to be less effective this far south. Some biological controls have been counterproductive, such as BT spraying for gypsy moth; not only does the spraying not control that insect, but it has also seriously affected native moths and butterflies, and as a result, the plants they pollinate. One method that has not been locally tested is fire, which further west has been shown to be effective in reducing the populations of our generally fire-intolerant alien invaders. It must be emphasized that when engaging in alien removal, soil disturbance should be kept to a minimum, since freshly broken ground is usually quickly taken over by especially noxious species such as stilt-grass.
Mechanical removal of invasive aliens, especially shrubs and garlic mustard, make good community service projects, but monitoring and follow-ups should also be planned to ensure that the initial effort is not lost.