Winter hung around a little longer than we wanted this year, but as always, spring finally showed up. I remember seeing neighbors out in lawn chairs enjoying the first few warm days and even swatting a few mosquitos while the last piles of snow were still gradually melting. I don’t know if a longer winter means we will get to enjoy a longer summer, but I doubt it.
The mosquito’s and ticks appear to doubt that as well, since their numbers and aggressiveness is quite overwhelming this year; possibly to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, these blood-sucking pests aren’t the only species making the most of the shortened growing season ahead of us. Now that summer is in full swing, non-native, invasive species are once again surging northward and westward into every suitable habitat we allow them to dominate. Both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species are equally destructive in their own respect, but for those of us in the forest products industry, the terrestrial species are especially disturbing.
Every year, FISTA coordinates a handful of classes on Best Management Practices for Invasive Species in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR. For the most part, attendees in these classes are unaware of the threat non-native invasive species pose to our livelihood. Toward the end of this course, however, most are able to connect the dots and realize just how detrimental these threatening plants are to the future and viability of our forest resources.
Non-native invasive species attack from multiple angles and have few, if any, natural controls here in the US. Their ability to take over an area is due to several factors. First of all, they mature very quickly and have the ability to produce vast amounts of seed while effectively dispersing it over large areas. In many invasive species this adaptation is, unfortunately, very impressive compared to our native plants. Second, their resilience to varying conditions like draught, flooding, shade, sun and soil types help them to out-compete desirable, native species. Third, in their native regions, they typically have controls such as diseases or insects that feed on them. Once they enter our native forests, however, there’s not much to hold them back. Finally, non-native invasive species typically have self defense mechanisms, like being covered in thorns, or even something simple, like not being palatable to wildlife.
We’ve connected a few of the dots, but now let’s come full circle and tie this all together. So why should we care? Why is it so important to stop, or at minimum, slow the spread of non-native invasive species? Because we have a lot to lose if we don’t do our part!
When native plant communities are disrupted or displaced, the wildlife species that depend on the native flora suffer. Their habitat and food sources are degraded or eliminated, lessening opportunities for hunting and viewing them. Also, due to the aggressive nature of invasive species, they quickly invade and shade the forest floor, drastically reducing or eliminating tree seedlings for the future generations’ forest. Uh oh. We’re starting to get really close to home now, aren’t we?
Being from the southern US, I’ve seen, firsthand, areas of forest that have permanently been altered. Scenes like a mountainside that may forever lie under a blanket of kudzu, or an abandoned farm unable to enter natural forest succession but remaining swallowed in an impenetrable sea of autumn olive, barberry and multiflora rose are becoming more common. Once non-native invasive species become heavily established, significant amounts of time and money are required for even a possibility of returning the affected land to productive, native forest. Most areas in the Great Lakes region containing invasive species can still be recovered. Landowners and woods workers that care about our northern forests should be vigilant in removing all evidence of invasive plants to keep from losing monetary, aesthetic and sentimental property value. Let’s keep it from being a jungle out there!
Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University. Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments. He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA. For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org