2018-03-10 / Viewpoints

We’re being invaded by aliens


(Kimberly Bohn, Ph. D., is a forestry and natural resources educator with Penn State Extension.)

Invasive species are an ecological threat to the outdoor places we love -- from our backyards to where we farm, hike, camp, fish, hunt, and otherwise enjoy.

They come as plants, insects, or animals. Many of them spread rapidly, reproduce in new areas without assistance, and overwhelm native species.

You have probably seen the rampant growth of Japanese knotweed along our rivers, or the non-native invasive honeysuckles shrubs and buckthorns taking over in our forests. Other invasive plants, such as Japanese stiltgrass and goat’s rue, aren’t always so obvious on the landscape, but they are here and have real potential to spread and harm the environment.

Because invasive species spread so easily, we can only combat them if we work across the entire landscape. In our area, the Allegheny Plateau Invasive Plant Management Area (APIPMA) was recently formed to educate the public and to combat invasive plants within the Upper Allegheny watershed in a five-county area.

Led by the McKean County Conservation District and Penn State Extension, APIPMA brings together federal, state, and local agencies along with private industry and local citizens to work toward invasive plant awareness, inventory, prevention, early detection, and control.

Ultimately, APIPMA would like to prioritize the most critical areas in our region to target invasive plant control and eventually offer assistance to private landowners as well.

One of the first goals is also to better inform the public and develop a Citizen Science volunteer network to help monitor and map invasive plants in critical habitats.

Because these plants have been left untreated for so long, they dominate a large part of our stream sides and forests. Controlling them can seem like a daunting task.

Most invasive plants produce a great number of seeds annually, and can spread quickly. But if these plants had been recognized and treated early, it would have saved much time and effort, and preserved the landscape.

The best approach is to prevent them from coming into a new area in the first place. The main pathway for spread of invasive plants is by transportation of their seeds by humans. Seeds that get deposited in the soil then get trapped and transported in tires, equipment, and even the tread in one’s shoes.

The second best approach to stopping invasive plants is to catch them early and attack them before they can reproduce. Anyone can help in this fight. It simply requires that one watch out for these plants. If caught early, many invasive plants can be controlled mechanically by simply pulling them out.

Several potentially invasive plants are ornamentals residents may have in backyards that can escape into the wild. One is burning bush, popular for its brilliant red foliage in the fall. Unfortunately, this plant has also been known to escape the back yard and take over forests. While not problematic in this area yet, it is considered a serious threat in other northeastern states -- to such a degree that its sale has been banned.

To learn more, check out the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resource’s “Watch List” online. For local information, contact Kimberly Bohn at 814-887-5613 or the McKean County Conservation District at 814-887-4001.

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