Invasive species can be really bad news for our country’s native plants and animals. From white pine blister rust in the West to the emerald ash borer devastating trees across the Midwest, nonnative species can throw ecosystems completely out of balance.

white pine blister rust
White pine blister rust affects a number of white pine species, eventually growing these sores in the process of strangling the tree. Credit: Bruce Watt, University of Maine,

But what can be done to stop these species from getting out of control? What can individual people do to help? In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, we’ve compiled a list of simple steps that you can take to prevent the proliferation of invasive species.

  • Plant native species of trees and shrubs on your property. Although some plants may look aesthetically pleasing, they are not always beneficial to the local environment. In addition to preserving your lawn’s soil, consciously choosing to landscape with native plants will make your yard into a suitable habitat for birds and other wildlife. Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website to find out what nonnative species may inhabit your backyard already.
  • Get involved with a local effort to remove invasive species. Many environmental groups organize events for volunteers to help remove invasive plants from parks or other wild areas.
  • Never release pets or exotic animals into the wild. Scientists have discovered giant goldfish living in Lake Tahoe. It is believed that these fish ended up in the lake after people dumped the contents of their aquariums into the water. Now that these goldfish are eating large amounts of smaller fish, they are threatening to disrupt the natural food chain of Tahoe’s ecosystem. If you ever need to find a new home for an animal, contact a local rescue group or nature center.
  • After spending time in nature, be sure to clean off the outside of your boat or camping equipment. Invasive plants and seeds can become easily trapped in outdoor recreation gear, and you could accidentally help them spread to new environments.

Finally, you can support organizations that work to combat invasive species. Since 2011, American Forests has been working to protect Lake Tahoe’s forests against white pine blister rust. Although sugar pines used to cover the region, they now account for less than five percent of the tree cover around Lake Tahoe because of this invasive fungus. American Forests also supported a project in Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota to reforest an area with native plants that had been overrun by nonnative plant species, including tansy and honeysuckle.

By becoming educated about invasive species, we can all take action to mitigate the serious effects they can have on our environment.