Vegetation management in forests, parks, and privately-owned woodland areas is performed to control threats to native plants and natural habitats. In many forests throughout Pennsylvania, if invasive, non-native plants are allowed to spread, the entire makeup of the forest will change. Invasive plants are those introduced into a region far from their natural habitat.
How Invasive Species Do Damage
In their natural habitats, these plants are limited by environmental, pest and/or disease conditions, keeping these species in balance within their ecosystem. When introduced into an area without these limitations, however, some plant species can become invasive and take over native forests and meadows with little or no resistance. These invasive species are a major concern for Pennsylvanians interested in conserving our forests, meadows, fish and wildlife.
Consider Japanese Stiltgrass. Japanese Stiltgrass is an invasive grass that adapts very well to shade, is unpalatable to wildlife and grows 12” – 36” in height. Stiltgrass spreads quickly and is often aided by Pennsylvania’s abundant white-tailed deer population, which avoids the Stiltgrass but feeds on the native plants. In many cases, sections of forest floor are overrun by the Stiltgrass in only 2 – 4 years. When this happens, seeds from native plants cannot grow. For example, an acorn may germinate but, since the Stiltgrass is tall and dense, the acorn seedling will not get the sun or nutrients needed to grow. What happens when we have no acorns surviving? We will eventually have no oak trees in these areas. This is just the beginning of a cascading adverse effect on our natural environments and our balance of nature.
There are currently close to one hundred non-native plants that are aggressive enough to be considered “invasive” in Pennsylvania. In the future, areas with invasives will likely have no native plants due to the ability of the invasives to out-compete them. These plants actually compromise an area’s biodiversity, and in many instances, the native wildlife, birds, and butterflies find these invasives to be less desirable. The word preservation is used so much today but, in reality, we’ve actually preserved the wrong plants because we’ve introduced so many bad species over the years. Eliminating the invasive competition and allowing the natives to flourish again should always be the goal.