The war on invasive species: Is it worth the fight?

Photo: NC State University

Photo: NC State University

By Caleb Thyer, guest blogger

As a member of the NPS Roving crew, I work with the Exotic Plant Monitoring Team (EPMT); as a part of that work I have spent nearly four months backpack spraying in forests and restored prairies throughout parks in the Midwest. We’ve treated exotic invasives such as sericea lespedeza, Johnson grass and Japanese stilt grass, to name just a few, but also focused on native invasives like sumac, dogwood and plum. When we first started working we were really eager to eradicate these plants and change the world but as time wore on we started to realize that these plants are everywhere, to the point where they are the only plants we noticed. It didn’t matter where we were – in a park, driving down the road or out on hike – we could count a handful of these species. On many occasions there would be a monoculture that had completely taken over a prairie, especially with plants like sericea and Johnson grass.

We started to question why we were even trying — the invasive plants seemed to have won the fight and taken over the world. If it’s already everywhere and we aren’t controlling it, how do we justify our effort? What’s the point? Why do we spend the money and our time fighting a losing battle?

I struggled with this question for quite some time, even to the point of thinking I chose the wrong career because we are never going to win. I had to get back to the basics of it all; the real purpose, which can be summed up with one word: conservation. Merriam-Webster defines it as a careful preservation and protection of something; planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect. That’s exactly it. We will never see these plants eradicated but we must protect the natural resources we still have. With an already fragmented landscape, encroaching invasives further diminish the remaining natural resources and make our efforts as conservationists even more important.