Global swarming — invasive species in our midst

Invasive bugs, bushes, fish and pigs are changing our eco-system here in the Wabash Valley. There are more than 50,000 foreign species in the Unites States, where they have been able to outcompete or simply eat our native flora and fauna. As global trade increases, so do our chances for losing more of our natural habitat.

While the problem is overwhelming, the invasive species task force of Indiana has developed a website/app to help us get a grip on the never-ending problem. “I have been working on this issue for 20 years. I have watched one site after another be lost to invasive plants.

In places that were once covered with spring wildflowers everywhere, turned into nothing but garlic mustard and you realize, we have so much to lose,” said Indiana Nature Conservancy Northern Stewardship Director Ellen Jacquart.

There’s an app for that 

Now enter an invasive species reporting system for Indiana, Report IN, Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS. org/indiana). On this site you can set up a profile and immediately enter what you saw and where. Those with a smartphone can download the Great Lakes Early Detection Network application to take note while out in the field. The information will decisions.

“Not only is garlic mustard replacing the wildflowers, but it can greatly slow down tree growth, tree establishment. Researchers have found that garlic mustard exudes a chemical that kills all the beneficial fungi in the soil.

Those fungi are what allow our native trees to establish and grow, and garlic mustard is using chemical warfare to beat them out,” Jacquart said.

Local YouTube video shines light on problem 

Four years ago, Vigo County resident Brendan Kearns never could have imagined a typical day out on the Wabash River would produce the video he shot of Asian carp jumping and turn it into an Internet sensation.

With nearly 2 million hits, the video showcases an underlying problem in our waterways, the invasion of Asian carp. They were imported in the 1960s and ‘70s by fish farmers and escaped via flooding and proliferated through the rivers of the Midwest. The Asian carp is a voracious filter feeder and will compete with native marine life for food, costing the region $200 million a year.

The silver carp leap into the air when it hears a boat motor, threatening boaters.

Just this month Kearns was out shooting another famous fish video when a 15-20 pound one struck his knee while going 10 mph. “My main concern is from a safety aspect. There is a high probability that someone will be seriously injured by them. I cannot take out my 2-year old daughter, Mia, on the river. We fear that she would be hurt by a silver carp,” Kearns said.

Fighting for our forests

Those of us who took a vacation to Michigan this summer may have noticed all the dead trees along the interstate. Many of those trees fell as a casualty to the Emerald Ash Borer, a tiny green bug native to Asia and eastern Russia. It was accidentally carried into the U.S. in wood-packing material from Asia. In its larval stage, the insect bores holes in trees, eventually killing them. More than 8 billion Ash trees are at risk.

Indiana State University’s campus was home to over 450 Green and White Ash trees. Most were around 25-30 years old, some were older. They treated 180 of them beginning in 2013.

Meanwhile, the insect is becoming more widespread on campus, and probably 25-30 percent of the untreated trees are showing symptoms of Ash borer infestation at this point. They removed about 24 ash trees in 2013 and another 14 this year, due to the fact they were becoming a hazard when limbs would fall unexpectedly. Next year the removals will increase markedly.

“As a species they will be sorely missed on the ISU campus. The treated trees will be treasured and cared for as long as they last, but we have no plans at this time to replant Ash at any time in the future,” said Indiana State University Landscape and Grounds Manager Stephanie Krull. Terre Haute’s Urban Forester Sheryle Dell is treating some and removing others.

Dell says about 300 trees have been treated through injection but before doing so she decides their fate using the following criteria: Is the tree healthy. Does it have a sound structure. Does it have enough rooting area to sustain it to maturity. Are there overhead utilities or other obstacles for the tree. And what is the tree population and diversity in the neighborhood.

“I have created a tree replacement program. As long as funding is available the city will plant a tree and provide a water bucket for each resident who requests a tree. The homeowner must request a replacement tree by calling 311. The homeowner must agree to water and maintain the tree,” Dell said.

From EAB to Asian Bush Honeysuckle, trees are under major attack. ABH doesn’t kill mature trees but it does kill tree seedlings, thus ABH prevents trees from replacing themselves. There is a 70 percent reduction in the growth of hardwood trees in any woods infested with ABH. “ABH grows very aggressively in our part of the world. There are no other plants or animals able to keep it in check. As a result of these massive advantages, once ABH comes into an area it spreads exponentially throughout the woods forming a dense monoculture of honeysuckle, and only honeysuckle on the forest floor,” TREES Inc. Invasive Species Coordinator Jane Morse said.

The most important thing people can do is remove ABH from any property, which they own. Morse says once a bush reaches 3 to 5 years of age it begins to produce berries in the fall. Each berry contains dozens of seeds, each of which is a potential new plant. To learn more about ABH one can participate in a dedicated removal day at Dobbs Park in Terre Haute from September to May. For more information, call the Dobbs Park Nature Center at 812-8771095.

Feral pigs going hog wild 

It is rumored that feral swine made its way into the state because someone wanted to hunt them. They didn’t just bring one, they brought a whole truck load. Indiana is now dealing with what Texas farmers have been fighting for quite some time.

Feral swine have expanded their range from 17 to 39 states in the last 30 years and cause damage to crops, kill young livestock, destroy property, harm natural resources and carry diseases that threaten other animals as well as people and water supplies. According to Judy Loven, Indiana director for USDA, APHIS wildlife services, feral swine are classified as an invasive species so they don’t have a season, bag limit or required tags.

But she warns, “We need to be extra careful as far as consuming feral swine meat. One can’t use the same cooking procedures that they would for USDA inspected pork products, because of the disease potential in parasites that are found in swine.”

While the war on invasives seems unwinnable, we must carefully define win. Will we ever see a time when there are no invasives? Probably not, but we can help prevent them from overtaking a new area by identifying where they are by using the newest tool in our toolbox.


Submitted by:

Jane Santucci SI2016 Regional Coordinator, Terra Haute

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at

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