Plants have been “immigrating” to North America ever since the first Europeans arrived and earlier, depending on how you define non-native. Many of our main agricultural crops, such as corn and wheat, are not native to the United States. These, along with over 50,000 other non-native species, currently live within our borders. Fortunately, most of these immigrants are not invasive and many contribute to various industries, sport and ironically, even pest control.
It’s the 1400 exotic plants defined as “pests” that cause lots of trouble and even more so, the 94 of those that are considered “Federal Noxious Weeds” by the Federal Interagency Committee on Noxious and Exotic Weeds. Exotic, invasive plants infest an estimated 4,600 acres per day throughout the U.S. and are a major reason that nearly half the native threatened and endangered species are imperiled. (TNC, 1996; Wilcove et al. 1998). If the basic ecology of this situation isn’t compelling enough, perhaps what hits your wallet is.
It is estimated that invasive pests, these illegal immigrants, account for $137 billion in damages, loss and control each year in the U.S. (Pimentel, D. et.al. 2000) In Virginia alone, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (the Commonwealth’s lead agency regarding invasive pests) estimates we spend $1 billion a year. Even if you don’t consider yourself an environmentally-oriented person, this issue touches us all, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, to the wood our houses are made from.
It’s a huge problem and some would argue for throwing in the wrench and letting “nature take its course.” This logic is flawed, however, because the reason we are discussing this at all is because the “nature” of North America, in this case, is not very natural anymore. Putting aside any arguments about the role of people in the natural environment and what brought us to this point, the fact is, we have an ecosystem struggling against the aggressive nature of invasive species. Doing nothing, in the mind of most land managers, biologists and scientists I have discussed this with, would be irresponsible.
But what can we do? As a nation, we already “do” something in the form of shipping restrictions and inspections at ports of entry. This first line of defense is important and perhaps could benefit from additional resources.
As individuals, we can educate ourselves.
There are things we can do ranging from what kinds of plants we buy for our landscapes to knowing an invasive plant when we see one and what to do about it. We can also band together as neighbors, volunteers or otherwise to combat invasive plants on public properties we enjoy. Check with local and state environmentally oriented entities in your area for opportunities to get involved in on-the-ground eradication efforts. It’s great exercise for you and helps get our earth “in-shape” at the same time.