Invasive plants threaten area lakes
Dec 28, 2008 | 771 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUSTIN — As the Texas landscape changes colors this season, untrained observers may be admiring species which are actually invasive and damaging to the Lone Star State. In order to protect Texas wildlife and restore the state to its original beauty, experts are urging citizens to try to identify these invasive species, and avoid spreading their impact this holiday season.

They also adversely influence lakes in East Texas.

During the fall and winter, several invasive plants flourish and are easy to recognize. Most of these troublesome invaders are non-native exotics; they were brought here from far-off places and can cause serious problems for people and for native plants and animals. What many people don’t know is that they could be unwittingly contributing to the problem by buying these plants and adding them to their land or gardens.

The problem has become so widespread it’s given rise to the Pulling Together Initiative, described as “a Texas-sized partnership to manage non-native invasive plants.” This group has created a robust Texas Invasives Web site containing a large plant database to helps people identify and control invaders. The initiative is launching a new program called Invaders of Texas. This volunteer campaign is run by “citizen scientists” who detect and report invasive species, and it offers free workshops to train participants to slow the spread of harmful invasives and reduce environmental and economic damage.

Another way citizens can help, besides getting educated and acting to stop invasive species, is by purchasing a Texas Horned Lizard License Plate for their car, truck, motorcycle or trailer. Sales of this specialty plate are helping to pay for the Texas Invasives Web site and the new Invaders of Texas program.

“If a plant flourishes everywhere, in any climate, and reproduces easily, it might become invasive,” says Kelly Bender, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban wildlife biologist. “Most invasive species are not regulated in our state, so the best thing people can do is become educated and refrain from buying and spreading them.”

Bender says three species to look out for this season include:

• Chinese tallow — an exotic tree with leaves that change to bright red in fall. Chinese tallow was originally brought to the region for soap production and ornamental purposes. Unfortunately, the plant is so aggressive that it out-competes all other plants in its path. Areas that were once coastal meadows are now completely covered in dense stands of tallow trees, and habitat for Attwater’s greater prairie chickens, dickcissels, and other grassland-loving species is being lost.

• Ligustrum ­— an evergreen often used in home landscaping, this large shrub completely replaces the understory (shrub-layer) by shading out all other plants, especially in woodlands near water. Among other negative results, this causes increased erosion that can turn crystal clear springs into murky waterways.

• Giant cane — a tall grass that can choke natural waterways, originally introduced for erosion control and ornamental use.

The Texas Wildlife Action Plan identifies invasive exotic species as a significant problem statewide, one that can “displace native species, threaten habitat integrity and can profoundly alter the landscape.” The annual cost of invasive species to the U.S. economy has been estimated at more than $130 billion.

Invaders of Texas was created to increase early detection, reporting and monitoring of invasive species in critical wildlife habitats of Texas, reducing damage to the native landscape and helping to preserve threatened and endangered species. Volunteers use a kit to identify and report invasive species in their area. That information is then validated and delivered into a statewide database and to agency partners who can take action.

The Texas Horned Lizard License Plate is one of four conservation plates that support the work of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Each of these specialty license plates costs $30 (in addition to regular vehicle registration fees), with $22 going to fund conservation efforts across Texas.

All four of TPWD’s conservation plates are available for motorcycles and trailers and can be purchased at any time; it’s not necessary to wait for a registration renewal notice. Plates can be purchased online or at any county tax office, and will be ready for pickup in about two weeks. More information about the department’s conservation plates, including specifics about conservation efforts funded by plate sales, is on the TPWD Web site.

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