Invasive Species Across the Country: Western Wildlands

Nonnative invasive species are a threat across the entire country, and Kevin Vella, NWTF regional biologist, reveals how dangerous they are in the Western Wildlands states of Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

America's Western Wildlands has a big problem with invasives," Vella said. "Due to the aridity of the Southwest and the continued likelihood of drought, invasives that have the ability to thrive in drought conditions are typically the biggest enemies to our native flora and fauna." 

An invasive species is a plant, fungus or animal that is not native to a specific location and has a tendency to spread and cause damage to the environment. Nonnative species affect the habitat of wild turkeys and other wildlife. They compete for resources and spell trouble for all native plants and animals by causing death or by degrading habitat.

“Yellow starthistle and cheatgrass outcompete native annual grasses and forbs," Vella said. "They dominate entire sections of the landscape, decreasing food sources and crucial nesting and brood-rearing cover for many upland game bird species, including the wild turkey."

According to Vella, nonnative species round out the top four threats to habitat degradation and loss in the Western Wildlands. Active forest management, catastrophic wildfire and drought are also major threats to wildlife habitat.

The NWTF is taking the fight to invasives. As one example, NWTF California used funds from the Upland Game Bird account. Grant programs, combined with super fund dollars, help fight the spread of yellow starthistle on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Knoxville and Sacramento River wildlife areas, as well as on the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. 

This project and many others conducted by state or federal agencies typically require the use of heavy machinery and licensed contractors. But Vella notes that citizens can assist in the projects in different ways.

"These projects are very costly, especially when treating large tracts of land," Vella said. "Donations and funding are always welcome and the funding is crucial to the success of a project." 

If you aren't financially able to contribute, it's important that you educate yourself about invasives, do what you can to prevent their spread and help eradicate them on your own property.

Some of the most common and problematic species from the Western region include: 

  • Yellow starthistle – These annual herbaceous plants choke out native plants and reduce biodiversity and wildlife habitat and forage. It’s also poisonous to horses.
  • Cheatgrass – A grass native to Eurasia that crowds out native grasses and creates wildfire hazards.
  • Juniper – This invasive degrades sage grouse and other wildlife habitat, shading out native grasses and sucking up ground water. 
  • Feral Hogs – Hogs wreak havoc on the environment because they spread disease and are voracious eaters that directly compete with wild turkeys for food.

If you want to take action and help combat the spread of invasive species in your area, read the following guidelines:

  • Learn to properly identify invasives, research treatment methods and treat nonnative species on your property.
  • Don't drive vehicles, including ATVs and mowers, through patches of invasives, and clean equipment of vegetation and dirt before moving to a new area to avoid the spread of seeds.
  • Don't plant ornamental invasive species in your yard where they can spread to surrounding wild lands.
  • Thoroughly clean boats of vegetation and drain live wells when traveling between lakes.

If you’d like to learn more about nonnatives in your area, visit your state agency website for rules and regulations restricting the transport of species, recommended treatments and more.

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