Invasive Species Across the Country: Colonial Forests

Nonnative invasive species are a threat across the entire country and our team of NWTF regional biologists, including Doug Little, Mitchel Blake and Cully McCurdy, reveal how dangerous invasives are in the northeast states from Maine to West Virginia.

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. Invasives 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.

“Nonnatives can quickly take over old fields that otherwise would provide quality brood habitat for wildlife,” Little said. “For example, autumn olive and bush honeysuckle outcompete beneficial plant species that turkeys may forage on or around.”

Biologists in the Colonial Forest states say invasive species are just as big of a concern as the lack of old field habitats and the decreasing percentage of forest land that is made up of mature forests. The deficiency of young forest cover brings down the diversity in this region, causing trouble for certain species and the environment.

The NWTF is taking the fight to invasives. On the Finger Lakes National Forest, the NWTF New York State Chapter and the U.S. Forest Service partnered on a project in the Curatola area to reduce invasive species. The land consists mainly of successional old forests, and a good majority of the unit is invaded by all forms of nonnative plants, prohibiting native shrubs and species from flourishing. Crews are working hard to eradicate nonnative species using chemical treatments.

This project and many others conducted by state or federal agencies are large-scale and not conducive to volunteer assistance. Little recommends that private landowners have professional foresters develop forest management plans to treat, control and eradicate invasive species on their land.

If you don’t have land of your own, becoming an NWTF member helps the organization and its partners with a wide variety of habitat enhancement projects, including the control of invasive species to improve habitat for wild turkeys and other species.

Some of the most common and problematic species from the Colonial Forests include:

  • Multi-flora rose – Introduced for ornamental use and erosion control but forms dense thickets that invade pastures and crowds out native species.
  • Bush honeysuckle – This aggressive shrub is shade tolerant and forms dense thickets that block sunlight, preventing native plants from growing underneath.
  • Autumn olive – This woody, nonnative invader creates a monoculture that prohibits native plants from flourishing.
  • Japanese knotweed – Native to Asia, this noxious invasive weed spreads rapidly through areas overtaking native species, especially along waterways.
  • Glossy buckthorn – An invasive shrub of hardwood forests that spreads rapidly, shading out native shrubs and forest plants.
  • Japanese stiltgrass – This plant threatens native understory vegetation and spreads quickly through disturbed shaded areas, displacing native wetland and forest vegetation.
  • Mile-a-minute – First introduced in the 1930s, this weed produces a thick tangle of vines, blocking sunlight and killing the plants underneath.  
  • Oriental bittersweet – Smothering native plants, this invasive species grows as a vine and often uproots trees due to its weight.
  • Japanese barberry – This exotic invasive shrub can tolerate a range of varying site and soil conditions, creating a dense stand that outcompetes native trees and herbaceous plants.

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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