Exotic invasive species of plants, animals, insects, diseases and other organisms are non-native species that harm the native ecosystem, throwing the inherent balance of nature into disarray. According to Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) Land Steward Director Dennis Desmond, such species can have “substantial impacts on our nation’s ecology, economy, infrastructure and human health.”
To raise public awareness about the problem, the LTLT and the Friends of the Greenway (FROG) hosted an educational event March 2 at the Big Bear Playground alongside the Greenway. The public, along with students of every grade level from Macon County Public Schools, came to learn about the detriments of invasive vegetation and species.
“Our goal was to raise awareness about the threat that these invasives pose to our local ecology,” said Desmond, adding that the ultimate goal of the event was to get people involved in the protection of native species.
Getting the general public to understand the plight a foreign species can pose locally is paramount to the preservation of land, according to LTLT associate Sunny Himes. “Invasive species are the second greatest threat to our natural habitat, and that’s second only to habitat destruction,” she said.
Controlling invasive species can cost farmers, foresters, utility companies, governments, conservation groups, and land owners millions of dollars each year. Exotic invasive species are the greatest threat to biodiversity in the United States, second only to habitat loss according to the National Park Service. In the United States $1.1 to 120 billion per year is tallied in economic losses due to exotic, invasive species.
Ron Lance, a botanist with the Balsam Mountain Trust, was at the event. Lance described the proliferation of invasive vegetation that dominates areas of Macon County, such as the banks of the nearby Little Tennessee River.
Lance said that many areas in Franklin, especially along the Greenway, have issues with exotic invasive species taking over the land. “They are not native to the region and so when they come in, they don’t have any natural enemies. Sometimes they proliferate to the point to where they will dominate an ecosystem to the point where they exclude everything else that is supposed to be there. A kudzu patch is one example,” said Lance.
Though kudzu itself does not damage soil, it damages the potential for other plant growth. Lance said that most exotic invasive plants have the same effect on areas of land, once growth has spread to a certain point. “We have 30 or 40 invasive plants right now, and more show up all the time,” he said.
Privet, periwinkle and Japanese honeysuckle are all examples of invasive plant life covering large patches of land in Macon County, Lance explained, pointing out entire areas of brush along the Little Tennessee that consist of such vegetation.
Lance said that the majority of exotic invasive plants are here from intentional importation. “The seeds or plants are brought into the country for some purpose, whether they were ornamental or horticultural.”
The federal government has even brought in exotic invasive plants, without fully comprehending the ecological impact that it would have decades later. “Kudzu was brought in from Korea as an erosion control plant, and the Soil Conservation Service actually promoted its use,” he said.
There are ways to control invasive plant growth, however. Goats can be a great form of invasive control, he explained, because they eat nearly any kind of vegetation. Eleven goats were fenced in approximately one quarter acre of land, just off of the Greenway.
Ronald Searcy, of Wells Farm in Horse Shoe, N.C., brought the team of voracious vegetation eaters. He and his wife, Cheryl, rent out their goats to land developers for land management purposes.
It’s a growing industry, using goats to chomp and trim swaths of land by tapping into their formidable appetite for, and their ability to digest, almost any species of vegetation.
Searcy’s 300-goat farm stays busy nearly all year, as land clearing and invasive plant management are in demand all over the country. “We have been everywhere. These guys have been to Long Island in New York even,” said Searcy, indicating the goats.
In Washington, DC, the week of February 28 through March 4, 2011 was declared National Invasive Species Awareness Week and promoted a host of activities, events, and government and non- profit agency briefings highlighting what is being done across the nation and around the world to stop and slow the spread of invasive species.