Stopping the spread of invasive species

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yellow sweet clover
The yellow sweet clover found at Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, is just one example of the invasive species that can force out native plants. (Julie Geiss photo)

Our trip home from Badlands National Park in South Dakota provided many hours for discussion about invasive species. We talked about different invasive species and how they spread quickly if left untreated.

A recurring theme of our conversations was that native plants have to compete for soil and water in order to survive. It was easy to make a correlation between the yellow sweet clover we saw in the national park and an invasive plant on our farm in Ohio.

Multiflora rose

Multiflora rose thickets form barricades in our woods with angry thorns that snag jackets and slice our skin. The sneaky and resilient plant attempts to take over favorite hiking trails and invades forest edges climbing as high as 10 to 15 feet. Native plants are choked out and pastures are penetrated which disrupts grazing.

When multiflora rose bushes were brought to the U.S., they were used as ornamental shrubs or as a living fence to contain livestock. Similar to the attractive yellow sweet clover found in the Badlands, multiflora rose has blooms that brighten up the landscape in summer months.

Deceptive beauty and sweet aromas are common themes in invasive plants. Another similarity is the viability of seeds. Multiflora rose seeds are viable for 20 years, and yellow sweet clover seeds are viable in the soil for 30 years. A single multiflora rose plant can produce half a million seeds.

Unfortunately, there are too many other examples of invasive species in our area. On our local hiking trips, we have spotted kudzu along trails. This plant is annihilating acres of forest land in the southern U.S. and has made its way north.

Southern naiad, also called bushy pondweed, slowed our trolling motor in Mosquito Lake. The aquatic plant is crowding out other natural aquatic grasses that fish prefer. After cleaning our motor twice, we went home empty handed. Local farmers in Ohio are trying to protect their crops from palmer amaranth, waterhemp and pigweed.

Early detection

The adaptive management system used at Badlands National Park relies on early detection. Rapid response to an identified invasive species is the next step. The road to eradication of yellow sweet clover in the park takes multiple forms. The adaptive management plan includes prescribed burns and application of herbicides among other things. Ecologists monitor the success or failure of different treatments. Through monitoring and management, native plants can once again flourish and provide nourishing food for animals.

While trial, reflection and adjustment are integral parts of adaptive park management, the goal is preservation and protection of natural resources. Early detection is crucial in our area as well. Invasive species need to be stopped before becoming widespread. Luckily for us, we can easily be a part of early detection.

Smartphone app

The Great Lakes Early Detection Network (GLEDN) app allows people to report sightings of invasive species directly from their smartphones. The data is used to stop the destruction of agriculture, public lands and animal habitats by invasive species. Through early detection and rapid response, the spread can be slowed or stopped before becoming an extensive problem like kudzu.

We just let our boys chop at the multiflora rose with axes. For some unknown reason, they can be entertained by this for hours. One year, we experimented and fenced in our meat turkeys near a thicket of multiflora rose. They actually ate the entire plant.

However, there are better methods for eradication that are successful for other invasive plants as well. The most common treatments for invasive species include cutting or mowing, applying herbicides or controlled burning. Many circumstances need a combination of several methods to be effective.

America’s backyard is our national parks and farmlands; they are invaluable to our nation, and fast-growing invasive species are not welcome.

President Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted as saying, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through it.”

In our great country, this means sustaining native plants which ultimately enables animals to thrive.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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