As the need for human expansion arises, plants and animals are able to hitch rides and go with us. These foreigners are known as invasive species. They upset the natural balance in nature by outcompeting native animals and plants. This new competition can remove the native species of plant and animals and negatively affect people by killing crops or game in an area. Once spread to a new area, these plants and animals are very hard to remove. We need to be proactive in keeping invasive species from spreading throughout the US, not reacting to them when they do.
When traveling throughout the southeastern US and even parts of Kansas, it is hard to miss the lush green vines cover entire fields and forests. This vine is known as Kudzu, a plant native to Asia which was planted heavily throughout the southern US in the 1930s through 50s. This once seemingly harmless plant has become known as “the vine that ate the South.” Unknown to many, these vines annually cause the US to lose up to $500 million in forest upkeep according to the National Forest Service. They also threaten to destroy entire ecosystems since they smother and crush local plant life.
Another example of invasive species is the Asian carp. First arriving in 1970 as a cleaner fish for fish breeding farms, they were voracious eaters that easily overpopulated rivers and waterways when they escaped their ponds via floods. They have since traveled hundreds of miles to the borders of Lake Michigan. If they cross the lake boundaries, it could help destroy ecosystems across all of the great lakes.
These invasive species are not only national issues, but smaller, local problems as well. For example, in 2009, the population of deer in Shawnee Mission Park had greatly continued to exceed the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. By the end of the summer, the deer had picked off anything edible from trees and bushes that they could reach. The result was a line without vegetation that was within the range of a deer’s mouth. Everything they could reach had already been picked. Another year or two and there would be mass starvation for wildlife in the park, including the deer. As a result, Johnson County Parks and Recreation organized a mass culling of the deer herd spread across three nights. They killed a total of 313 deer which were donated to Harvesters food pantry after being prepared by local butcher shops. Though protested by some, this act was necessary to help keep the ecosystem balanced.
As our technology grows, so does our capacity to spread invasive species. It could be a seed on a boot or even a small zebra mollusk on the underside of a boat. The way to solve this is quite simply to not spread invasive species. All we need to do is make sure no plant or animals are brought along or home with us in our travels. All it takes is a scraper to remove that weirdly shaped zebra mollusk from your boat or a hose to clean the burrs and seeds from your shoes.