District receives grant to combat invasive species

Provided photos by Emily Finch
Bradford pear trees, a species of the Callery pear tree, line a road in Jasper.


Invasive species live and thrive in Dubois County.

“It’s kind of that level up from a weed. It’s not just that it’s unwanted,” said Emily Finch, invasive species specialist for the the Dubois County Soil and Water Conservation District. “They aggressively spread and invade because they’re not native to our area.”

Ongoing efforts continue to curb and eliminate those problems.

The county soil and water conservation district was awarded on Wednesday a $99,000 grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and its state Soil Conservation Board through the Clean Water Indiana program. It is the second time Dubois County has received an award. The last one funded the invasive species specialist position from 2018 to 2020; the position serves Dubois, Daviess and Martin counties.

This grant will be used in a similar manner, but had a new component. The conservation district plans to conduct roadside surveys in the three counties.

This will be done “to get a better idea of the distribution of some of these species, and also find landowners that are adjacent to the roadways,” Finch said, “to contact them about doing some management and conjuncture with like the highway departments, to really get it under control.”

An invasive species is a non-native species that spreads and negatively alters the environment in which it’s spreading. “Generally it’s something that’s not native to our area that spreads and causes some kind of damage. So they can impact the environment,” Finch said. “They can sometimes have economic impacts as well, and a few of them can also really impact human health.”

The burning bush is an example of an invasive species. At certain times of the year, the bush changes into vibrant fall colors.

While there are many in the area, a couple that are notable and noticeable are the burning bush and Bradford pear tree.

“The burning bush is really popular right now in people’s yards, (and produces) beautiful fall colors. But it’s not from North America,” Finch said. “Birds will get the seeds and they’ll spread it to natural areas where it will grow and produce more seeds and spread some more.

“It will physically shade out other native species,” she said. “Because it’s not from here, insects and other animals really don’t eat it, which makes it almost like a food desert.”

The Bradford pear tree, which is a kind of Callery pear tree, is also prevalent in the area.

“Bradford pear is one of those cases of like the best intentions,” Finch said. “When it was first introduced it was advertised as sterile because pear species need to be cross pollinated to produce any fruit,” she explained. “So when we were only planting Bradfords, they had nothing to pollinate, so they never produced any fruit. But, because they were so popular people came up with other varieties. And suddenly you had other trees that could pollinate.

Because so many had been planted, especially close to cities and towns, “they suddenly pretty quickly exploded and all these trees will produce,” Finch said. “And it’s just an abundance of seed that birds also helps spread. You can really see it a lot along our roadsides, particularly under power lines where birds might sit after and drop a bunch of seeds.

“That’s why they’re there, and they are a problem.”

There are other invasive species in the county besides these two. Finch can give anyone education outreach related to invasive species in the area, and provides technical assistance to landowners.

“I can answer questions that they have about invasive species. But I can also go and do personalized site visits at their property,” she said. “I can walk around with them identify the invasive species, pretty much plants, they have and get them the information that they need on how best to control them.”

She works with a variety of landowners. “We have larger landowners that might have 100 or more acres. It could be 100 acres that’s fully wooded,” Finch said. “it could be a small landowner who has 10 acres, or even someone’s backyard where they have a vine that’s climbing up a tree and they don’t know what it is or what to do about it.”

Finch can be reached at (812) 482-1171 ext. 3 or at Emily.finch@in.nacdnet.net.

The Clean Water Indiana program is administered by the state’s conservation board. The program provides financial assistance to landowners and conservation groups that are working to reduce runoff from non-point sources of water pollution, whether it’s on agricultural land, urban areas or eroding streambanks. Once received, districts can use the funds to partner with other counties or address specific needs within their jurisdiction. Some examples include participating in a cost share program, hiring staff, providing technical assistance, implementing cover crop incentive programs or increasing watershed capacity.

“Indiana is committed to soil conservation and improving water quality across the state, this funding will allow these conservation districts to do just that,” said Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. “I am looking forward to seeing each districts’ plans come to fruition and am confident the future of soil conservation in Indiana is long-lasting.”

The agriculture department and conservation board awarded $975,651 in matching grant funds to 15 soil and water conservation districts and organizations. For southern Indiana, that include $42,000 for the Pike County Soil and Water Conservation District, $80,100 for the Spencer County Soil and Water Conservation District and $66,000 for the Southern IN Cooperative Invasive Species Management. The Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts was also awarded $90,000.

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