Biologists battling invasive plants on wildlife management areas
By Steve LeMaster
FRANKFORT - Imported plants which have established footholds in Kentucky’s fields and forests can pose a threat to the state’s native plants and animals.
Employees of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are fighting back at wildlife management areas throughout the state.
“A habitat team from the department’s Wildlife Diversity Program has completed hundreds of acres of invasive species removal and over 1,000 acres of other habitat work,” said Chris Garland, an assistant director in the wildlife division for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Additionally, our staff on wildlife management areas (WMAs) focuses a portion of their time and annual budgets on invasive species removal.”
Recent projects include removal of bush honeysuckle and autumn olive on Clay WMA and Griffith Woods WMA; and aerial spraying on White City and Peabody WMA to take out the European common reed, an invasive, exotic grass.
Reeds, which thrive in wet soils and can grow taller than 10 feet, clog streams and wetlands.
Exotic, invasive plants can damage to natural systems. The effects are cumulative. “It’s much easier and cost effective to remove and control invasive species before they become established,” said Garland. “I urge private landowners to take action if they have invasive species on their property.”
In the U.S., it is estimated that the financial and environmental impact, loss of productivity, costs of herbicides and other control measures for invasive species exceeds $120 billion annually.
At Clay WMA, there are ongoing efforts to remove invasive bush honeysuckle and autumn olive shrubs. “We had several fields that were completely grown up,” said Area Manager Nathan Gregory. “We used a forestry cutter. It grinds up the whole plant until what you’ve got is bare ground and mulch.”
Later, the area is sprayed with herbicide to prevent the stumps from sprouting. “We cleared the fields and forested areas with the densest stands of invasive plants first, including one 10-acre field,” said Gregory.
Bush honeysuckle impacts wildlife by shading out everything in the understory, eliminating other plants that wildlife need to thrive. “Once the treated area was opened up, we started getting a lot of native plants that are beneficial to rabbits, quail, songbirds and other wildlife,” said Gregory.
Some of the invasive species of most concern in Kentucky include bush honeysuckle, tall fescue, multiflora rose, kudzu, autumn-olive, garlic mustard and about 10 exotics that impact wetlands, such as purple loosetrife.
Not all exotic plants are considered invasive and likely to cause environmental or economic harm, or pose a direct health threat to livestock, wildlife or humans. But, in 2008, the Kentucky Exotic Pest Plant Council declared that 92 species in Kentucky were considered exotic invasive plants.
“All of our WMAs are impacted to some degree by exotics,” said Ben Robinson, a small game biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Every area has a different set of challenges. It’s a top priority to remove exotic invasive plants and replace them with native plant communities.”
Author Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.
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