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Lend a hand eradicating bird cherry

  • Author: Hans Thompson
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 21, 2018
  • Published July 21, 2018

Volunteers pull bird cherry to remediate Anchorage park land during summer 2018. (Hans Thompson photo)

I've seen Anchorage grow and change during the past couple decades. I can remember a time biking as a kid, when the streets weren't nearly as busy and the trucks weren't so big. We've gotten more sophisticated, too. A Lycra or Patagonia garment was uncommon to see on the trails, unlike today, when it has replaced work wear commonly worn more casually. Xtra-Tufs are holding on for now and have taken on a new fashion role.

The spike in property crime in the past years has not just hit the "bad" neighborhoods, as it did decades ago. Like a big city, we are all living in it now. This is likely to the misfortune of you, your family and friends. In my neighborhood, walking through the wooded area near Valley of the Moon Park, I've found hundreds of dollars in salvageable items, originally belonging to my neighbors, at abandoned camps. Certainly, this is some of the most out-in-the-open crime we can stop together as a community. To help solve it, we need to remove the walls around the perimeter of the trails of Prunus padus, or European bird cherry. These trees have been unchecked, are not native vegetation and have been choking out ferns and native shrubs.

A core value that distinguishes forests of Anchorage parks from elsewhere is that, except for during the Good Friday earthquake, they have not been disturbed much during a century of history. There is good reason to try to maintain this as a value. However, the attitude that the best way to preserve native ecology is to cordon it off from human use is outdated with respect to our multi-use creek trails. We have already impinged on it by passively introducing this foreign species of bird cherry, and now we need to take the appropriate intervention of eradicating it manually — and in the larger trees, with professionals, using animal-safe herbicides. The parks department has been doing good work to organize volunteer events to pull and cut during the past several years, but we need more volunteers and a bigger strategy. Otherwise, the improvement year to year is only incremental. Although regrowth does occur, removing new growth in subsequent years takes a tenth of the work that removing well-established trees requires.

We should commit to the time and work necessary to clear this trail and the surrounding area of these opportunistic bird cherry trees with the initiative that makes Alaska special. This is a robust and virile alien species that we can control with action, and we can turn back the clock on the 40 years it has been encroaching on the public space. Moving forward, we can start much sooner to stop it from shadowing native flora. This tree can look nice and is manageable when it has been planted ornamentally, but its rugged nature also makes it adaptable to our cool winter conditions.

This is why, with the municipal parks department, I'm organizing a volunteer event to eradicate this species at the western end of the problem on Chester Creek at Valley of the Moon Park that I believe will help restore native ecology and prevent hiding what I think many believe are illegally obtained and fenced property. This will take place on July 28th from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There was a similar event near the crossing of the trail and New Seward Highway earlier this summer that was amazingly successful and transformed and renewed the landscape to how I remember biking around town.

Hans Thompson is an Anchorage resident and member of the South Addition Community Council.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

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