Invasive Species Across the Country: Great Open Spaces

Nonnative invasive species are a threat across the entire country and Collin Smith, NWTF regional biologist, reveals how dangerous they are in the northern plains states of Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

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.

“Invasive species are very widespread throughout the Great Open Spaces region of America’s Big Six,” Smith said. “They compete with native plants for space, nutrients, water and sunlight, resulting in reduced plant diversity, often decreasing quality forage for wild turkeys and other wildlife.”

Smith notes that nonnative species occupy a lot of acreage and are the biggest threat to the water corridors, followed by grasslands and forested habitats.

The NWTF is taking the fight to invasives. The NWTF receives funding from the Northern Plains Riparian Restoration Initiative to supplement riparian restoration efforts, including the removal of invasive species like Russian olive and salt cedar. Smith said NWTF State Chapter Super Fund dollars are frequently awarded to aid state and federal agencies to control nonnative species on publicly managed lands, as well.

Some projects conducted by state or federal agencies require mechanical, chemical or biological assistance meaning that certified applicators or contractors are hired for the jobs. But, if you’d like to get involved, it’s easy.

“The best way for interested individuals to aid in NWTF efforts is to support their local NWTF banquet,” Smith said. “The funding derived at these events are often utilized to assist in these types of projects.”

Becoming an NWTF member also 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 Great Open Spaces include:

  • Russian olive – A shade tolerant shrub, the Russian olive outcompetes native vegetation, interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling.  
  • Salt cedar – Introduced in the 1800s, this invasive shrub absorbs large amounts of water and creates large deposits of salt, negatively impacting the surrounding environment for native species.
  • Emerald ash borer – The beetle bores through the bark of ash trees in its larval stage; the tree loses its bark in areas and eventually dies. 
  • Honeysuckle – This aggressive shrub is shade tolerant and forms dense thickets that block sunlight, preventing native plants from growing underneath.
  • Garlic mustard – A very invasive vascular plant found in woodlands and forests that causes a decline in native herbaceous cover within 10 years, altering habitat suitability for native insects and forcing out birds and mammals.

Smith advises folks to report invasive species outbreaks when they see them and help combat the spread of nonnatives by following these 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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