This week has been designated as New York State Invasive Species Awareness Week and I offer in this column some personal thoughts about this subject.
First, let's see what the state has to say about invasives. Their definition: "An invasive species is a non-native species (plant, animal, insect or disease) that is accidentally or intentionally introduced and causes harm or has the potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy or human health." And the source of that harm: "Because invasive species did not evolve with the other species in their new location, they often do not have natural predators and diseases that would normally control their population within their native habitat. Thus they can reproduce quickly and out-compete native species."
Clearly then, there is a negative connotation to the word invasive. But not all newcomers to this region are harmful. The most notable welcome alien is the honey bee, first imported from Germany but later replaced by less aggressive swarms from Italy. Even the late-coming so-called killer bees from Africa produce excellent honey in large quantities and like all bees serve as excellent pollinators. In the Mexican border states where killer bees are now found, their aggressive character is being reduced by breeding with established bee residents.
Although others will probably disagree, I also consider the coyote a favorable immigrant to our region from the western states. Here the coyote fulfills in part a role that wolves used to play in control of the deer population.
And a check of the roster of garden flowers will show that many, if not most, are aliens. While I agree that native garden flowers should be substituted whenever possible, these non-natives lend beauty to our yards. Some of those that do escape, like dame's rocket, add a brief period of color to our roadsides without displacing natives as do its relatives of the mustard family. (In some western states the story is quite different: there dame's rocket is considered a noxious weed.)
Now I turn to the bad guys. And we are at the very top of the list. Unless you are a native American, you too are an invasive with a record that fits the definition perfectly. Since our arrival in the western hemisphere we have wreaked havoc with the men and women already here. We brought diseases like smallpox that decimated their population and we displaced them as we spread across the continent.
I'm sure that many native Americans wish they had some kind of pesticide like Roundup or an EPA-like agency that would control the number of us aliens, but, in our case like rats introduced to remote islands, sometimes the invasives win. And the situation with us is that it is now far too late for the original inhabitants to address the problem. The accommodations we have forced on them are evident.
Now, having placed invasives (and us) in perspective, I turn to the particular species I consider problems locally. The list is long.
Plants: common reed (phragmites), Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, black and pale swallowworts, purple loosestrife, lesser celandine, Japanese honeysuckle, buckthorn, multiflora rose and Norway maple. Insects: viburnum leaf beetle, emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, hemlock wooly adelgid and gypsy moth. Mammals: Norway rat. Aquatics: Zebra mussel, Eurasion watermillfoil and round goby.
Those lists are, of course, far from complete. We have serious problems with invasive species and new ones seem to pop up every year.
Once you can identify the plants, you will see immediately how some of them are out of control. Common reeds are taking over our marshes and roadsides: the eastern section of the Youngman Expressway is lined with them. Amherst State Park is strewn with invasives: garlic mustard, celandine and Japanese knotweed proliferating.
Clearly something needs to be done and our Western New York PRISM (one of the state's Partnerships for Regional Species Management) is addressing some of the almost overwhelming problems associated with invasive species management. The local group is led by Andrea Locke and Patrick Gormley serves as its outreach director but most of the participants in their activities are volunteers. Among the activities they are sponsoring this week will be a 12:30-4:00 p.m. information and identification program at Bond Lake. For more information visit their website.-- Gerry Rising