Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’ve almost certainly been in contact with an invasive species. You may have pulled them from your garden, brushed their pollen from your clothes, seen signs of them in the yellowing leaves of forest trees, or heard them calling from window ledges in your neighborhood. Without training to recognize these species, however, most of us don’t experience them as anything out of the ordinary. Shrub Honeysuckle, for instance, appears as just another bush with bright berries, Purple Loosestrife adds color to the roadside at a certain time of year, and House Sparrows simply contribute to the chatter above our heads in spring. While they may appear innocuous, or even beautiful, invasive species like these are leading to the loss of native plant and animal species throughout the State, degrading our ecosystems and our health along with them.
So, what exactly is an invasive species? Invasive species are plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, and, yes, even viruses that have arrived someplace new, only to wreak havoc on what was there before. By most definitions, including the one used by the New York State legislature, in order for a species to be invasive, it must be non-native and pose a significant threat to the economy, the environment, or human health. Thus, invasive species are, by definition, causing big problems – even as we fail to notice them in our day-to-day lives. It is for this reason that State legislators have followed the lead of the federal government, and created an annual NY Invasive Species Awareness Week (this week!) to help all of us become a little better at spotting the things that don’t belong and taking action to make things a little better.
What do invasive species have to do with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? The short answer: a lot. Invasive species are particularly prevalent in places where there are many people bringing in goods from far-off places. Transportation has played a large role in Albany’s economy for hundreds of years, with people and goods from around the world passing through the city. Non-native species are one legacy of this past. Today, more than 28 species listed by NYS as highly invasive have been recorded in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. We know this number precisely because Preserve staff are dedicated to monitoring the ecosystem, identifying invasive species, and taking action to reduce or remove them. As the organization in charge of protecting one of the largest, publicly accessible, natural areas within Albany County (also a National Natural Landmark), the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has a great responsibility to ensure that native plants and animals will continue to persist here. This means keeping invasive species in check.
One of the highly invasive plant species that preserve managers at the Albany Pine Bush have been successful in removing from many locations is Black Locust. This tree was introduced to the Northeast from the southeastern United States because of its value for fence posts, erosion control and firewood. Unfortunately, when this species becomes established in pine barrens, it can decimate the ecosystem. It is a fast-growing and tenacious species, that outcompetes native pine barrens plants, reduces the amount of light reaching the ground, and prevents ecologically necessary wildland fire. It is able to send up new sprouts from from stumps and roots, and dramatically alters soil chemistry to the detriment of native plants. Recently, managers at the Albany Pine Bush cleared Black Locust from large sections of Preserve land along Washington Avenue Extension, a process that involved removing the trees and digging up the interconnected root system of the expansive locust grove (also called a clone).
A critical part of the restoration process at the Albany Pine Bush is making sure that once invasive species are removed, another invasive species will not simply take its place. To prevent this, Preserve managers quickly plant native species where invasive species have been eliminated. Once the vegetation in a site is restored to native plants, hand pulling, targeted herbicide, mowing, and periodic prescribed or controlled fires are used to keep invasive species from returning. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission also works with municipalities, agencies, and our neighbors to reduce the risks of invasive plants by providing information about invasive species and about native species alternatives that can be used in landscaping. Conservation of the Albany Pine Bush will require that we all do what can to protect this globally rare, nationally significant, and locally distinct natural area.
To find out more about invasive species and events happening in throughout NY in recognition of Invasive Species Awareness Week, please follow the links below: