Nonnative invasive species are a threat across the entire country and Derek Alkire, NWTF regional biologist, reveals how dangerous they are in the Mid-South Rebirth region of America's Big Six ranging from the Mississippi River to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
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 are a problem in several areas across the region and in some cases have completely outcompeted native species,” Alkire said. “They negatively impact nesting and brood-rearing habitat, because preferred nest location is limited and predation increases.”
Alkire notes that invasives are able to thrive because forests and habitats aren’t actively managed. Due to the lack of timber thinning, the understory becomes shaded, and many native species are unable to grow, leaving room for shade tolerant nonnative species to take over. Another factor in the equation is the lack of prescribed burning; it’s a great tool to reduce unwanted competition and increase native plants. But, in areas with little to no prescribed burning, it’s easy for invasives to grow out of control.
The NWTF is taking the fight to invasives. For example, NWTF Missouri project forester, Chad Doolen, is working with the Ozark Highlands Restoration Partnership to help private landowners improve turkey habitat by removing nonnative invasive species. The OHRP provides funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. If you live in Missouri and would like to receive technical or financial assistance to accomplish a number of land management goals on your property, visit the NRCS Missouri home page or the USDA service center locator to explore your options.
This project and many others vary from state-to-state. “The best way to get involved and get more information about programs in your state is to contact your NWTF regional biologist,” Alkire said.
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.
“Education is key," Alkire said. "Invasive are an ever growing problem across this country and are only going to get worse if we don’t educate ourselves on the proper treatment and control of these species.”
Some of the most common and problematic species from the Mid-South Rebirth include:
- Kudzu – First introduced from Asia in the late 1800s, kudzu is a vine that grows, climbs and overruns areas killing native plants and deterring wildlife.
- Autumn olive – This woody, nonnative invader creates a monoculture that prohibits native plants from flourishing.
- Sericea lespedeza – A warm season, perennial legume native to eastern Asia, first planted in the U.S. in 1896. It's unpalatable to native wildlife resulting in mass native species takeovers, and its deep tap root makes it drought tolerant, so it can outcompete many native plants.
- Johnson grass – This plant invades riverbank communities and disturbed sites. It quickly dominates the herbaceous flora and reduces plant diversity.
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.