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Invasive Management Area (IMA) - Volunteer Program



Climbing vines a problem? Shrubs with thorns keeping you from exploring the woods? Many invasive plants are preventing us from enjoying our forests and are degrading our natural ecosystems.

Want to help with parkland restoration or use cool tools? Students or scouts, do you need to earn some community service hours?

IMA is the program for you! Check out our website, then call or email us to get involved and help remove non-native invasive species and plant native species.

What is IMA?

The Invasive Management Area (IMA) Volunteer Program is a community-based project designed to reduce invasive plants on our parklands. This unique, volunteer-led program gives residents an opportunity to connect with people while taking care of the natural resources around us. IMA enables community members to help protect the plants and wildlife of Fairfax County's forests while spending time outdoors, meeting new people and restoring natural habitats.

IMA is more than just pulling weeds. Key components of this program are habitat restoration and a long-term commitment to the park. Invasive plant species are difficult to remove and control, but with the help of IMA volunteers, undesirable non-native, invasive plants are removed manually and native plants returned to the habitat. The job of volunteers doesn’t end once the invasive plants are removed, often it is necessary to plant native species. Native plantings take place in the spring and fall.

Volunteers remove invasive plants The IMA project began in 2006 with just 20 sites. Since then, over 35 acres have come under IMA management and there are 40 active IMA sites. Many more acres have been treated and restored by contractors and staff. The goals of IMA are:
  • Focus community support and momentum to do something about non- native, invasive plants
  • Garner more community involvement and support
  • Educate the public about the effects of non-native, invasive plants
  • Participate in outreach opportunities regarding non-native, invasive plants
  • Develop healthy habitats such as meadows and forests that are free of invasive plant species

Currently, funding is provided by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in support of the Environmental Agenda. Grants were provided by REI in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.  The IMA program is supported in part by the Fairfax County Park Foundation.  To learn more about how private and corporate donations help restore parkland habitat, please visit  http://fairfaxparkfoundation.org/our-projects/invasive-management-area-program-ima/.

What are Invasive Plants?

Mile-a-Minute/Devil's Tear Thumb

Invasive species are, generally, non-native species that cause ecological or economic harm. They share certain characteristics, such as being able to mature quickly, generate many offspring and can tolerate a wide range of habitats. For example, Japanese stilt grass will produce seed in as little as 1% sunlight!

Because of the characteristics that allow a species to successfully establish in new territory, invasive species make terrible neighbors. They out-compete native species for the same resources, eventually reducing the populations of native species (and in some cases even removing species from a community altogether). Some invasive species have more complicated effects which have ramifications higher up the food chain, resulting in fewer native birds and wildlife. The third main effect of invasive species is that they have the ability to alter natural functions of communities and ecosystems by changing the soil conditions.

Species that IMA Volunteers may work on:

Although the prevalence of invasive, non-native plants throughout parkland is of concern, habitat recovery following an invasion is still a relatively new concept. There are over 200 different species of invasive plants found in Fairfax County. Below are species that many of the IMA volunteer sites focus on, as they respond well to manual control.

Garlic Mustard Garlic mustard has been linked to poor regeneration of our native oak-hickory forests, where it can change the soil chemistry such that it discourages native species from growing near it.
English Ivy English Ivy threatens the health trees by weakening the bark and eventually growing over the top of the tree which cuts it off from sunlight. Eventually Enlgish ivy will kill trees it is growing on if not removed.
Stiltgrass Stiltgrass is the dominant plant in the understory many forests and forms a carpet that does not allow any native species through. Seeds can last in the soil for up to 7 years.
Burning Bush Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush can escape cultivation and grow in the natural areas.
Mile-a-minute Mile-a-Minute grows very fast forming a dense carpet and can grow over native species.
Japanese Barberry Japanese Barberry threatens the forest by altering soil pH and nutrients. Bush honeysuckle produces copious amounts of "junk food" berries that birds eat and disperse into our pristine forests spreading this highly invasive shrub.
Japanese Honeysuckle Japanese honeysuckle is a non-native vine that strangles trees and other native vegetation. Don't let its sweet smelling flowers fool you, this plant is a real threat!
Pachysandra Pachysandra creates a monoculture; displacing and out competing native plants.
Autumn Olive Once touted for its benefits to birds, Autumn olive, has now out-competed much of the other vegetation in some stream valleys and meadows.
Wintercreeper Wintercreeper creeps along forest floors and up trees where it will mature and fruit, damaging the tree and eventually killing it.

calendar The IMA calendar is full of opportunities to volunteer. We welcome youth, adults, scouts and groups. If you have a group that would like to volunteer but do not see a date that works for you please contact the IMA coordinator who would be happy to assist placing your group.

The minimum age to volunteer is 11, although there are occasional opportunities where younger children can participate. Please contact the IMA Coordinator to discuss, Volunteers 13 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.

Students that need community service hours- please bring your form to be signed at the end of the workday.

To sign up, please contact Erin Stockschlaeder at 703-324-8681 or Lindsay Edwards at 703-324-2598.

IMA workday sign-ups must be received by Noon the day prior for weekday workdays, and by noon on Friday for weekend workdays.

Volunteer during Take Back the Forest and make a difference you can see.

Check out our calendar to see what sites are convenient or are hosting workdays when you are available.

Contact us by email, or call 703-324-8681 for workday details (time, place, directions…)

Wear sturdy shoes, gloves, long pants and long sleeves, and bring some water. Tools are provided.

Enjoy the company of others who care about the environment while learning about our local forests.

Invasive Backyard Plants Invasive Backyard Plants Brochure

Invasive Forest PlantsInvasive Forest Plants Brochure

gardening gloves

We thank our many partners for their continued support

  • Fairfax Master Naturalists
  • Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Earth Sangha
  • Fairfax ReLeaf
  • Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services
  • Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter
  • Weed Warriors, The Nature Conservancy

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

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