Pennsylvania is home to a $135 billion agriculture industry and boasts some of the country’s finest forests and waterways. At every turn, there are uninvited guests threatening the state’s natural resources.
At the Pennsylvania Farm Show, an exhibit features the work of the Invasive Species Council, a collection of representatives from state and private agencies who meet quarterly in Harrisburg. The goal of the group is to raise public awareness of problematic non-native species of plants, insects, aquatic creatures and other animals that can range from annoying to devastating.
“We’re dealing with an invasive emerald ash borer that has essentially annihilated and destroyed all of our ash (trees) in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Fred Strathmeyer, a deputy secretary for the Department of Agriculture. “Along with losing those trees as habitat for native species, they pose a safety risk. We have to worry about them falling onto people and property, or the highway.”
Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order late last year, expanding the efforts of the Invasive Species Council.
At the Farm Show, a major campaign is at work to raise awareness of the state’s current emerging pest, the spotted lanternfly. The insect native to Asia was first detected in Berks County, threatening the health of grapes and other fruit trees and plants. The result is a current 13-county quarantine area that places restrictions on the movement of certain articles including the insect itself, lawn mowing equipment and yard waste in and out of the quarantine area, which includes Lancaster, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties.
Other state agencies also deal regularly with invasive species.
“One that comes to mind right away is (Japanese) barberry,” said Mike Kutzmonich, park manager of Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County. “It has really taken hold along South Mountain.”
Kutzmonich says while some invasive species can be attractive, they can rapidly displace native species and work against the natural order of the food chain. In many cases, invasive plants take hold in forests when someone illegally dumps unwanted potted plants and yard waste.
“Most invasive species have come out of the landscape environment,” Kutzmonich said. “The reason they’re popular in the landscape environment is because they don’t get eaten by deer, they don’t get eaten by native animal species. They have those natural defenses.”
Kutzmonich says the removal of invasive plant species can vary from simply pulling them out by the roots to using chemical treatments.
Both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission also deal with the threat of invasive animals and aquatic species.
“The rusty crayfish is a really big problem,” said Anthony Quarracino, a waterways conservation officer with PFBC. “They disrupt the food chain for the crayfish that are supposed to be here. Eventually, that affects the fish. We have specific regulations in place that prohibit the use of rusty crayfish as bait unless you remove the head. That ensures that they will not be spread to other bodies of water.”
Quarracino says the round goby, a small bottom-dwelling fish native to parts of Europe and Asia, has been detected in several lakes including Lake Erie. Additionally, efforts are underway to control the growing range of the zebra mussel.
To help prevent the spread of unwanted species, boaters are encouraged to perform thorough cleanings of their boats, live wells and trailers before and after entering new bodies of water. Fishermen are asked not to dump unwanted bait into waterways unless the bait was collected from that same body of water.