Congressional Cemetery’s Not Kidding Around: Environmentally-Sensitive Invasive Plant Removal in a Historic Setting

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Investigating the ever-present issue of invasive plant removal in a historic setting, the techniques of weed management, and the effects of these methods, the Association of the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery combined forces to conceive an innovative strategy that took into consideration the environmental, historical, and societal needs of the site.

Approaches to invasive removal, such as the use of chemicals, mechanical equipment, and natural resources, were examined and compared in regard to impact on the Anacostia River watershed, the safety and well-being of visitors, employees, and the cemetery’s K9 Corp dog walking community, in addition to the integrity of the historic monuments scattered throughout Congressional Cemetery’s 206-year old cultural landscape.  Viewed as an outdoor museum, the cemetery is the resting place of remarkable D.C. residents and persons of national significance, from the first decade of the nineteenth century to the present, and the setting for an impressive display of funerary iconography and architecture from an array of different cultures.  With such significant resources, it became apparent that action was necessary to prevent the decaying, vine-covered trees from falling on these invaluable historic memorials.

With the research collected, the association was able to arrive at an educated decision to employ fifty-eight “Eco-Goats” from Sustainable Resource Management, Inc.  Although this method was routine in past centuries, it is not commonly selected for cemetery maintenance in present day.  The goats, after grazing for eight days on invasive plants in the dense thicket along the southern perimeter of the site, were able to eradicate countless invasive species, including but not limited to Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and kudzu.  Due to the goats systems’ ability to break down the seeds’ physical properties, the plant’s ability to regenerate is significantly limited.  Spanning a 1.6 acre section of land, the Eco-Goats devoured the majority of the vegetation to approximately six feet off of the ground while also providing fertilization.

This creative and innovative solution efficiently produced the result desired and, in the process, also generated an influx of positive interest from the local community, city officials, social media, and press on the national and international level.  By exploring commonly used methods and impacts, the association was able to remove problematic plants and vines, decrease their environmental impact, and protect the cemetery’s historic resources, as well as educate the public about the harmful effects of herbicides on multiple levels.  The goats made it possible to protect the Anacostia River, the people and canines roaming the site, and the historic stones standing proud, all of which are iconic features of Congressional Cemetery.  This presentation illustrates Congressional Cemetery’s process of determining the appropriate techniques for removal of invasive plant species on a historic, publicly-used site with the objectives of having little environmental impact, protecting valuable historic resources, and educating the public about the benefits of choosing a natural alternative.

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