The Invasive Alien Plant Crisis

A rash of new trees, shrubs, vines, creepers, wild flowers, grasses and fresh water aquatic plants are in the process of taking over vast areas of our remaining wild lands.

These “new” plants evolved thousands of miles away across oceans and continents, but in a corner of its continent with a climate similar to ours. The part of the world with same “four seasons” climate as New England is northeast Asia. Three quarters of our worst invasive plants are indeed from the mixed hardwood and conifer zone of snowy winters and humid summers found in the Soviet Far East, NE China, Korea and northern Japan.

A “new” plant is considered invasive if it appears capable of taking over major portions of an entire habitat or ecosystem. If uncontrolled, entire suites of native plants and the animals that depend on their variety of fruits, seeds and foliage will decline and fade out. Do we give upon nature or fight back?

Massachusetts and a number of other states have recently voted on lists of plants that can no longer be brought into or sold in their states.  Unfortunately, that’s a two-legged tripod. The third leg is to make it illegal to have any of these plants growing on one’s property. There are already vast populations of several dozen of these throughout much of the state.  In order to begin to control the spread of invasive alien plants, our mantra must be “No import, no sale, AND no grow.”

Once a state law is enacted, state GIS and town authorities need to coordinate maps and deeds of each parcel in town. These will be a mix of federal, state, county and town owned lands, transport rights-of-way and roadsides, NGO and land trust parcels, business, and private properties. With a year or two of training, education, mapping and meetings, work should proceed first on private properties. Neighbors and neighborhoods can pick dates to aid eachother in ridding properties with serious infestations. Herbicide-only licenses should be free to several hundred capable volunteers or for-hire workers in each town. Students could aid in mapping and tagging near their homes. Larger landowners might hire teams of licensed workers. Some prison teams might work state and federal lands.

New threats, such as Mile-a-minute vine and Japanese Stilt-Grass (both from NE Asia) are creeping towards us from Connecticut. Invasive plant science must be taught in schools and to adults and action started pretty soon. There’s a hundred issues to sort out, but doing a checkerboard of actions is futile with constant re-infestation from abandoned lands full of Oriental Bittersweet and all those new fruiting bushes. Rescuing our thousands of native birds, butterflies, flowers and trees from these few dozen invaders deserves immediate attention.