A council created by the state Legislature has begun an effort to help agencies and the public better understand the need to prevent invasive plant species from getting established and spreading in Indiana.
Invasive plants are a major threat to Indiana and the nation and, when left uncontrolled, spread quickly, said John Jachetta, chairman of the Indiana Invasive Species Council, which has secretarial offices at Purdue University.
"They are a form of biological pollution that disrupts the function of our natural ecosystems," he said. "What were once unique regional characteristics resulting from thousands of years of natural selection start to blur, and decades of conservation achievements are lost."
Jachetta, a weed scientist at Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences, said invasive plants crowd out desirable species and forage used by game and livestock, reduce land productivity, degrade the aesthetic qualities of land, increase soil erosion, threaten the reliability of utility power lines, add to the need for railroad and road maintenance, and increase the likelihood of wildfires.
"Collectively, these impacts can severely interfere with recreational activities in parks, forests and other public lands, resulting in reduced property value, eroding local tax bases and harming local economies," he said.
Lawmakers created the council in 2009 to enhance the ability of government agencies to detect, prevent, monitor and manage new and long-established invasive plant, insect, fish and animal species, as well as increase public awareness. The council currently consists of 10 members from various governmental offices and groups representing industries involving hardwood trees, horticulture, agriculture and aquaculture. It includes a representative of Purdue, which provides the secretary. Jachetta meets a council requirement that board membership includes a researcher.
The council has prepared a set of best management practices to help landowners and managers reduce economic and environmental damage from invasive plants. Available at http://www.entm.purdue.edu/IISC/bmps.php, it offers advice such as taking steps to avoid disturbing infested areas when planning major land developments, using native plants and seeds, and educating the public against using invasive plants in landscaping.
The council is encouraging certain state agencies, land trusts and other organizations with an interest in invasive plants to participate in a two-year pilot project that will assess the feasibility of implementing best management practices broadly across Indiana.
It also has recommended that the state Department of Natural Resources, the regulatory agency for invasive plants, explore whether all plants the council rates as highly invasive should be taken out of commercial trade in Indiana. The full list is available at http://www.entm.purdue.edu/iisc/invasiveplants.php.
One such plant is crown vetch, a perennial legume native to Europe, southwest Asia and northern Africa. U.S. transportation departments plant it along highways to help prevent erosion. But it spreads easily and can quickly cover and shade out native vegetation.
Coordination is needed among state agencies, industry and the public to prevent invasive species from getting established, said Steve Yaninek, Purdue's representative to the council and head of the university's Department of Entomology.
"Once a species gets established, the probability of eradicating it is near zero," Yaninek said. "A better strategy is to manage habitat so it doesn't get invaded in the first place."
Other council members are Amy Cornell, Indiana State Department of Agriculture; Bill Fielding, Indiana Department of Transportation; Sandi Norman, Indiana State Board of Animal Health; Eric Fischer, Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife; Phil Marshall, Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology; Philip Gramelspacher, Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association; Kristopher Krouse, Shirley Heinze Land Trust; and John W. Williams, Indy Parks and Recreation.