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DEP report notes invasive species found for first time in state

We’re leaving the county’s history for a week.

But it’s for a good reason.

I just recently learned that state agencies – Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – are fighting back against an invasive plant species that was first discovered in Pennsylvania here in Warren County.

This was news to me.

The story comes from an October blog post put together by DEP Community Relations Coordinator Tom Decker.

And the invasive species is the European Frog-bit.

“With its heart-shaped leaves and white flowers, it’s easy to see why some may mistake European Frog-bit for a water lily,” Decker wrote. “What you may not know is that European Frog-bit (known to scientists as Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is an invasive aquatic species and it is being found in more and more bodies of water in Pennsylvania.”

The focus of the blog was efforts to combat the species in the Pymatuning Reservoir – it had been discovered there in recent weeks.

“As a result,” Decker wrote, “the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Northwest Regional Office’s (NWRO) Waterways and Wetland Program’s Great Lakes and Coastal Resources staff teamed up with volunteers from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), PA Sea Grant and the Crawford and Mercer County Conservation Districts to help remove the plant before it spreads throughout the Commonwealth’s largest lake.”

He called it “a free-floating aquatic plant that resembles a miniature water lily. While this plant isn’t necessarily a new threat, having been in the Great Lakes since the 1930s, it is relatively new to Pennsylvania.”

Here comes the Warren County connection.

“In 2013, the first reported finding of European Frog-bit was found in Ackley Swamp in Pine Grove Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania,” the post states. “It has since found its way to other bodies of water in Northwest PA including Hartstown Marsh, Geneva Swamp, Lake Wilhelm, and now Pymatuning Reservoir.”

He gave some more detailed information about the plant: “European Frog-bit grows and multiplies, the dense mats restrict light penetration available to native vegetation attempting to grow beneath. European Frog-bit typically grows in still, calcium-rich areas such as marshes, fens, swamps, backwaters, bays, sheltered coves, poorly drained ditches, and slow-moving shorelines of rivers, streams, and lakes. It often becomes the dominant species in the wetlands and will come back annually unless it is removed.”

The concern is that it will take over the ecosystem where it exists.

Back in August, about one ton of the plant was pulled out of the Pymatuning Reservoir.

According to a field guide from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the plant is native to Europe and northern Asia and was “introduced intentionally in the United States as a commercial ornamental.”

It “escaped cultivation and spread to the Canadian shorelines of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River in New York, and Lake Champlain in Vermont. Populations are also present in Michigan and Washington.”

It’s been found in the Great Lakes system since the 1930s.

That guide identifies the plant by its “small, thick, heart-shaped, and leathery leaves” that “occur in clumps and are not anchored to the bottom sediment. They have smooth edges resembling those of a miniature water lily. A dark purplish-red spongy coating is present on the underside of the leaves, allowing it to float on the water’s surface…. Plants form thick mats with tangled roots and runners.”

An additional state government source – naturalheritage.state.pa.us – gives details on the Akeley Swamp, describing it as a “section of floodplain forest along Conewango Creek, a 158-acre impoundment” that “has been anthropogenically influenced through the construction of the now abandoned Penn-Central railroad grade which runs north to south paralleling Conewango Creek and is maintained by the PGC (Pennsylvania Game Commission).”

Along with water chestnut, the source indicates that “these floating plants may compete with the bog-mat, and may alter the habitat for the aquatic animal species of concern that live here.”

Officials ask that fishermen and other outdoorsmen take precautions to limit the spread, including cleaning and drying boats, fishing gear or other equipment that will go from one body of water to another.

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