Pennsylvania’s forests face imminent threats that could catastrophically alter the state’s landscape.
Two academics, Ryan utz, Assistant Professor of Water Resources at Chatham University, and Walter Carson, associate professor of plant community ecology at the University of Pittsburgh, are studying causes, solutions, and what may be on the horizon.
“For most people, including many who come to visit this campus, it looks like a green Eden and a place of natural rejuvenation, but for environmentalists like us, we look at this and see a disaster in the making and in. course, ”says Utz, referring to the suburban forest on the Eden Hall campus of Chatham University in Richland Township.
The team is studying invasive species, such as Emerald ash borer. Carson says what really threatens urban forests are “alien plant invaders.”
“They come here and often leave their enemies behind, and they start to spread through our undergrowth. Forests are taking a double whammy from too many invaders, many species, and too many deer.
Japanese Stytgrass is another invasive species that researchers are observing at this facility and throughout the Appalachians.
“It just forms an overgrown carpet of grass under the forest,” says Utz. “It effectively outperforms many other species, including the saplings which are supposed to replace the large canopy we have here right now. “
Young trees, according to the two researchers, are in grave danger if nothing is done to deal with this growing threat.
“What’s a little more alarming for us are these invasive shrubs taking hold, and many people who just profit from forests don’t even realize that they are invasive species,” says Utz. . “But they can have as much impact, if not more, in conjunction with the problem of too many deer.”
There may also be indirect effects that damage the ecosystem, such as invasive shrubs providing more cover for small mammals, which then eat more young trees and seeds.
Without these seeds and saplings, the forest is unable to regenerate its next generation of trees. “Between invasive species and overgrazing by deer,” Carson says, “these regenerating saplings have often disappeared. “
Deer don’t want to eat a lot of invasive species – either because they don’t taste good and don’t have the nutrients animals need. They eat some invasive species, like oriental sweet and sour.
Carson says tackling invasive alien species and the deer population is a tough needle to thread.
“We have decades and decades of excessive boating,” he says. “We also have decades and decades of invasive species. So how do you come in and fight this problem? “
Both agree that deer are the number one problem in the forests of Pennsylvania. The animal has had a tumultuous history since European settlers settled in the state. In the late 1800s, the the deer population has been wiped out and the newly formed Pennsylvania Game Commission was formed to help protect the state’s wildlife.
“Of course they have a place here, they are native species,” says Utz. “But their predators are gone. Now we no longer have these predators. The main predators we have are hunters and cars, but they don’t do a good enough job.
At Eden Hall, they erected a fence to eliminate the deer population in this area. While fences can be useful, Carson says they’re expensive to maintain, even when the entities are studying the impact of deer, they’re looking at the canopy of trees rather than the understory, wildflowers and native shrubs.
Carson says most states are not maintaining their deer populations well.
“They are [states] manage to have a lot of deer in the landscape because many groups of hunters want to see a lot of deer, ”he says. “Because a lot of times they don’t hunt for a trophy deer, they hunt for game, and if they don’t see a lot of deer in the landscape, they hold the National Wildlife Agency responsible or the Pennsylvania Game.” Commission. So this can be a big problem. “
The most environmentally friendly thing a person can do to help combat the deer problem, says Utz, is to go hunting. However, hunting in urban areas can be particularly difficult due to safety concerns.
The deer hunting season started in September and until early 2022.