Tag Archives: conservation

Invasive Species Guide

How Invasive Species Hurt Natural Ecosystems  

An ecosystem is a fragile natural network of animals, plants, bacteria, and other organisms living in the same area. Over many years, the organisms in an ecosystem grow, hunt, reproduce and live with a natural balance. For example, animals at the top of the food chain need to eat some of the smaller animals in that food chain or things will get overpopulated. And, if those smaller food sources disappear, the native predators will die out or migrate due to starvation.

When something is destroyed or added to a balanced ecosystem, native species may struggle to survive. Removing a lot of trees (deforestation) can ruin an ecosystem by killing the animals who depend on those trees for survival. A less noticeable threat is when an invasive species is introduced to an ecosystem.

What is an Invasive Species?

When a species is brought into an area where it doesn’t belong, it can take over and hurt plants or animals that normally live in that space. Invasive species are also called alien species or exotic species.

Invasive species are any non-native species that disrupt an ecosystem.

There are some non-native species that are not invasive or destructive to the ecosystem. Some food plants, like wheat, rice, and tomatoes, are not native to the United States and do not threaten the local ecosystem.

Sometimes, people bring plants or animals into an area and end up causing a lot of damage. While the plant or animal might seem like a harmless part of nature, it doesn’t belong in that region and starts to take over part of the ecosystem.

Introducing an invasive species can happen on purpose or on accident. There are many reasons someone might bring a foreign species into a space. A few of the most common reasons for intrusive species include:

  • Pets that escape into the wild
  • Pretty plants or trees that are added to gardens
  • Animals brought in as a solution for pest control
  • Bait that escapes
  • Organisms that “hitch a ride” and are carried in by mistake

Examples of Invasive Species in the USA

There are more than 6,500 alien species in the US. Each of these species has caused untold havoc to the ecosystems they have found themselves in. Here are just a few examples:

Zebra Mussels were brought into the Great Lakes of North America by mistake in the 1980s. They stuck to the bottom of large ships and were brought in as the ships traveled between areas. There are now so many Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes that they clog water intakes, filter out important algae, and kill off native mussels. Plus, they really hurt if you ever step on one!

Burmese Pythons were brought to Florida as pets and released when their owners couldn’t properly care for them. They are now rapidly reproducing and invading the Everglades, eating the rabbits and songbirds who are native to the area. Nothing in the Everglades naturally eats the Burmese Pythons, so they are growing to an enormous size.

House Cats have made the list of the top 100 invasive species in the world and are the most invasive killer of species in the world. They have no native ecosystem because they are bred from wild cats and brought to America by European colonists. Cats eat birds and other small wild animals in the area when they are allowed to roam outside. Ironically, they were brought here to help with another highly invasive species from Europe—house mice.

Brazilian Pepper Trees were brought to Florida from Brazil in the mid-1800s. People liked using the bright red berries for holiday decorations. This invasive species is an aggressive and woody weed, producing a lot of seeds and creating shade that kills off native shrubbery.

Japanese Stilt Grass is one of the most damaging invasive plants, according to the US Department of Agriculture. This non-native plant isn’t eaten by deer or even goats (and they’ll eat almost anything!). Instead, it quickly replaces plants local wildlife typically eat.

What Can I Do to Help?

Once an invasive species is introduced to an area, it can be extremely hard to remove. If you want to support your local ecosystem, you need to support the native plants and wildlife. Some people aid in the efforts to remove the invasive species as often as possible. You will also make a big difference by researching any plants and animals you want to plant or release into the wild. 

America’s Greatest Idea: The National Parks System

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”― John Muir

The United States would be a lot less beautiful without the National Parks and all they have to offer. “On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” creating the National Park Service”; this meant that the inspirational beauty of Crater Lake’s deep blue waters, the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and pillars of Bryce Canyon could not be destroyed. Giant sequoias—some of the oldest, most magnificent trees in the world—are protected because of the NPS. These unique, educational, and, frankly, breathtaking places have been preserved and are one of the greatest things about this country.

The National Parks Service (NPS) came about to preserve the untouched, natural beauty of this country. This means that these wonders cannot be built over and turned into infrastructure. Some things, such as nature, are sacred. The National Park Service is a government institution that ensures dams cannot be built, hundreds-year-old trees cannot be logged, and endangered species of animals cannot be hunted. 

The National Park idea came about when, in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President and created the United States Forest Service. Did you know that Roosevelt protected “approximately 230 million acres of public land” while he served as President of the United States? It is because of this that he is known as the “conservationist president.”

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

― John Muir

  • John Muir was also a famous figure who played a key role in securing that certain areas of bucolic tranquility, intense wilderness, remote desert, immense beauty, and wonder were protected and not destroyed. Known as “Father of the National Parks,” John Muir (1838-1914) was a mountaineer who is known for his early advocacy for the conservation and preservation of the American wilderness. 
  • Stephen Mather (1867-1930) was another important person who helped to establish the National Parks Service. An American Industrialist who was drawn to the parks, he became the first director of the NPS.

“A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness…. He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.” –Stephen Mather

Travel with Spartan and the Green Egg

  • Bryce Canyon National Park is a “Southern Utah Reserve hosting the largest collection of erosion-formed, odd-shaped pillars in the world. These giant pillars are known as ‘hoodoos’ and the Bryce Canyon hosts a series of crimson-colored hoodoos that are common spots for cross-country skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing. Bryce Amphitheater is a collection of giant hoodoos that provide ideal spots for sunrise and sunset viewing. Rims at Bryce are between 8000 feet (2400 m) and 9000 feet (2700 m) high.”
  • Crater Lake National Park: Located in Southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, “Crater Lake” was formed in a dormant volcano. It is the deepest lake in the United States (over 1,900 feet) and is known for its clear, sky-blue water. “The lake is fed entirely by rain and snow. Scientists consider Crater Lake to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.” “Volcanic formations still stand around the lake, and the park is pampered with an additional small island, numerous trails, hills, and forests for visitors to explore.”
  • Acadia National Park is “a recreational area along the Atlantic coast located specifically at Mount Desert Island of Maine. It covers a vast area of 47,000 acres, and its landscape is characterized by rocky beaches, woodland, and granite peaks. The park is a host to wildlife, including seabirds, bears, moose, and whales (among others). It is also characterized by harbors, shops, and restaurants where each year nature lovers vacation.”
  • Zion National Park “is located within Springdale, Utah, in the southwestern part of America. Zion National Park is filled with many mountains and rivers, but the most well-known is Zion Canyon. The Zion National Park is also filled with many different species of plants and animals. It is very easy to identify the Zion National Park because of the tan and red colors in the sandstone.”
  • Grand Prismatic Hot Springs, Yellow Stone: “The Grand Prismatic Spring, found in Yellowstone National Park, is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third-largest on the planet. It is called ‘prismatic’ because the vivid colors surrounding the springs correlate with the rainbow dispersion of white light through an optical prism. The coloration comes from microbial mats located along the edge of the hot springs.”
  • The Great Smoky Mountains are “part of a national park that runs through different parts of Tennessee and North Carolina. The national park actually has parts that run through the Appalachian Mountains. Many hikers that are going through the Appalachian Trail end up visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. The highest part of the mountains is known as ‘Clingmans Dome.’ Many hikers like to explore in that area and reach the top, which is known as the ‘Chimney Top.’”

To learn more about Spartan and the Green Egg and the hundreds of explorer destinations detailed on the website, follow this link.

For more information on the specific sights/National Parks mentioned in this blog, check out the links below (and don’t forget to collect your explorer pins):

To discover more about the National Parks Service (NPS), how it came about, the important people involved, and how you, too, can visit, explore, and educate yourself on conservation, visit the links below (referenced in the blog):