"Just because it's here, and it's pretty, doesn't mean that it's what should be here."
The plague of invasive species that have wreaked havoc on our environment is now almost commonplace. Many of us are familiar with the high profile invaders like the Zebra Mussel and Round Goby, but many invasives escape detection until it's far too late to stem the flood.
Invasive plants are a prime example. Many are quite beautiful, and other than stopping to smell them, we often think nothing of their presence.
"By the time the public is aware of a specific species, by the time they're seeing it everywhere and wondering what it is, it's already to the point where it's really outside of our ability to manage effectively or eradicate, which is really the goal for a lot of the species," explains Andrea Locke, WNY PRISM Coordinator.
These lovely invaders are often unwittingly planted in home gardens, or in the case of aquatic vegetation, are cultivated in aquariums. Eventually they end up in the wild.
"I don't believe that anyone intentionally brought over an invasive species thinking, 'this is definitely going to cause some havoc, let's put this outside.' It has all been innocent, but that's where we can step in. We can say that we're not going to be planting invasive plants in our landscaping. We're going to stick to native or non-invasive plants," said Locke.
In their natural habitat, these plants are kept in check by nature's control, but those elements are not present in their new environment. That is why they cause so much trouble.
"Invasive species tend to have a competitive advantage over our native species. That competitive advantage may simply be they don't have any natural predators, so while our native species are busy getting eaten, the invasive species are not. It could also be that certain alterations to our habitat have just made it more favorable for invasive species," said Locke.
Some of these stunning plants, like Giant Hogweed and Wild Parsnip, can cause serious damage to the human body. Their sap causes photo sensitive burns, but the real damage goes far beyond that. "When we think about human health impact, it isn't always this plant causes this damage," says Locke.
"We have to think about water quality, we have to think about air quality, and a lot of our invasive species just do not provide the same ecosystem services that our native species do."
There are a number of groups that are fighting to get invasives under control, including WNY Prism, which is part of a statewide program. However, Locke believes that the citizen scientist remains one of the most effective weapons in their arsenal.
"With WNY Prism, we cover the eight western most counties in New York State, and that's a very large area. For the most part, I have a seasonal crew for three months out of the year, and they do a lot of work. They get a lot done, but we really depend on those citizen scientists, those volunteers, everyday people out there making changes, because we can't do it on our own. We need that help," said Locke.
For more information about WNY PRISM, click here