Invasive Species Across the Country: Southern Piney Woods

Nonnative invasive species are a threat across the entire country and Derek Alkire, NWTF regional biologist reveals how dangerous they are in the Southern Piney Woods region of America's Big Six including the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas.  

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.

“A wide variety of nonnative species inhabit the region making a negative impact on the habitat,” Alkire said. “Not only do they grow so densely that they reduce animal movements, but this density also can shade out the understory and thus reduce native vegetation.”

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. The NWTF Mississippi State Chapter provided funds to help treat 216 acres of bicolor lespedeza to create brooding habitat on the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. The invasive species outcompeted the native vegetation. So, herbicide was applied to control infestations, and a follow-up burn was conducted.

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. Invasives are an evergrowing 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,” Alkire said.

Some of the most common and problematic species from the Southern Piney Woods include:

  • Cogongrass – This invasive grass affects pine productivity and survival, wildlife habitat, recreation, native plants, fire behavior and more.
  • 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.
  • Privet – This dominant shrub invades habitats, thus altering species composition and natural community structure by choking out native plant species.
  • Tallow tree – Introduced in the 1700s, this tree crowds out native species on riverbanks and upland sites because it is shade and flood tolerant.

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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