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WNF still fighting invasive plants

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — Most of the leaves have fallen from the oak, chestnut and sycamore trees prevalent throughout the Wayne National Forest, allowing forest officials another look at the varieties of invasive plant species that attempt to overtake native vegetation.

It is an ongoing battle rangers and botanists fight on a yearly, monthly and even daily basis — how to curb the spread of non-native plant life that could, if unchecked, overtake much of the current ecosystem.

“Its on ongoing job in eliminating them,” explained Chad Kirschbaum, botanist for the Ironton Ranger District of the Wayne National Forest. “These plants unfortunately fill an empty niche by taking advantage of the extra sunlight available when the leaves drop from the native trees.”

According to Kirschbaum, many of the most abundant non-native invasive species “leaf out” earlier in the spring than the trees and native plants and subsequently drop their leaves later. Most are berry producers.

With nearly all the leaves off the trees, Kirschbaum was easily able to point out many of the non-native plants growing in the national forest as most still had color.

More than 500 non-native, invasive plant species are naturalized in Ohio. The most abundant ones in the Wayne National Forest include the Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive and Amur Honeysuckle.

Once in the ground, a fast-growing, invasive species can choke off a section of forest quickly by decreasing habitat value and creating tree degeneration.

To combat the spread, Kirschbaum said the forestry service used a two-pronged, multifaceted approach.

Forest officials can either “mechanically” eliminate the non-indigenous plant by either cutting it down, pulling it out or digging it out of the ground.

They can also take the “chemical” approach by spot spraying herbicides in specific areas.

“At times it’s a species by species thing and at other times it’s an area by area thing,” Kirshbaum said when asked about getting ahead of the growth.

Annually, between $100-$200 billion is spent throughout the United States attempting to prevent the spread of non-native invasive plant species.