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Here's how to combat invasive species in your yard, according to a Pittsburgh conservationist

Conservationists talk about Invasive Species Awareness Week
Conservationists talk about Invasive Species Awareness Week 03:51

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's Invasive Species Awareness Week, and local conservationists are spreading the word about the species that are entangled in our ecosystem, damaging our gardens, farms and rivers. 

An invasive species is any living thing -- plants, animals, bugs, fish -- that isn't native to an ecosystem and is thriving at the expense of the species that are supposed to be there. But some are now so well established that it could be harmful to remove them from our local ecosystem without a plan to replace them.

If there's one invasive species Pittsburgh is very aware of, it's the spotted lanternfly. But not every invasive species is flapping right into your face. Some could be growing in your yard, or at the Color Park along the Allegheny Riverwalk, where conservationist Hayly Hoch with the Allegheny County Conservation District took our investigative producer on an invasive species spotting tour.

"Japanese honeysuckle is a vine, it's really aggressive, it will outcompete -- you can see it growing on quite a bit of tree species here," Hoch said. 

Invasive plant, animal, fish and insect species are all over southwestern Pennsylvania, from Japanese knotweed on the hillsides to snakehead in the Mon River, even to the burning bush in your yard that turns blazing red in the fall.

"It also is very competitive so it can outcompete native species either by reproducing really quickly and spreading and the fact that it doesn't have any natural predators here," Hoch said. 

But combating an invasive species isn't as simple as chopping it down or stomping it out. Take the tree of heaven, an invasive tree species first brought to southwestern Pennsylvania back in the 1800s. But while invasive, this one is not all bad.

"It is a tree, like any other tree, it does produce oxygen, it filters pollutants, it's combating that urban island heat effect," Hoch said.     

If you do rip out that invasive bush in your landscaping, you can't just stop there.  

"Then you're left with bare ground and potentially create additional problems like erosion and removing all habitat," Hoch explained. 

The next step is replacing it with a native species that will bring more benefits to your yard and the environment.

"Think about what butterflies you want to attract to your home, what moths or other pollinators, what beneficial insects," Hoch said.  

And there are lots of knowledgeable people around here, ready to help you repel the invaders and cultivate a native landscape. 

"Support your local nursery business. The folks who own and operate those local nurseries are incredible wealths of knowledge, so you can ask them your questions as well and they're gonna have some great options for you," Hoch said. 

Contributor: KDKA-TV Producer Tory Wegerski

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