Have you ever seen a forest with many dead ash trees and wondered what happened? Have you ever tried to kayak in a lake that was choked with thick, floating mats of plants and wondered where they came from? Have you ever hiked a trail that was being closed in on both sides from a spiny vine and wondered how it got there? Chances are the answer to each of those questions relates to an invasive species.
What is an invasive species? Simply put, it is a plant, animal, insect, or disease from another country that grows and spreads quickly, taking over an environment and causing lots of harm. Some invasives like emerald ash borer and spotted lanternfly kill beloved trees. Some invasives like hydrilla and water chestnut make boating and swimming difficult, if not dangerous. Some invasives like Japanese knotweed and tree of heaven take over an ecosystem, making it tough for native plants to survive.
Invasive species arrived in Pennsylvania through many routes: in shipping crates, through the plant trade, escaping from captivity, and even stuck to the bottoms of people's shoes. Yes, our enjoyment of the outdoors can contribute to the spread of these unwanted pests. Thankfully, there are big and small things we can do to help stop the spread of invasive species and enhance the habitat for our native plants and animals. This Earth Day and beyond, consider taking on one or more of the following actions to help combat invasive species in Pennsylvania.
Don't move firewood. Buy it where you're going to burn it so you don't help invasive insects hitch a ride across the state.
Wash your gear. Kayaks, paddles, waders, pants, sock, and hiking boots can all help spread invasive plant seeds and roots that can then take root the next time you head outdoors.
Pull 'em out. If you see an invasive plant in your yard, get rid of it. This might be as easy as pulling it out, but some may require more heavy duty methods. Consider volunteering for an invasive plant pulling event at a state park near you to do even more (good) damage.